(This post contains spoilers for Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne,” and the series as a whole.)
Game of Thrones wrapped up for good on Sunday night with an episode titled “The Iron Throne,” and as most observers of the show predicted, who actually ended the series as the king (or queen) of Westeros figured heavily in the endgame of the series, which can be viewed in full on HBO Go.
The actual ending, however, was more of a surprise.
Daenerys Targaryen, who had been on a series-long quest to take the throne and restore her family’s claim to it, successfully toppled the previous queen, Cersei Lannister, in the penultimate episode, and finally touched the Iron Throne in the finale. However, she was soon stabbed to death in the throne room by her former lover Jon Snow, leading her last surviving dragon, Drogon, to incinerate the throne itself.
While Jon, as the secret son of a Targaryen prince, had a claim to the Iron Throne himself, he was soon imprisoned and exiled, leading to a summit of the lords of Westeros to select a new king. The surprise choice was Bran Stark, the Three-Eyed Raven.
The name Game of Thrones, which was also the title of the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, implied that obtaining the Iron Throne was a matter of who played the game best through scheming and political savvy. Some of the characters most associated with such shenanigans, like Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, were known to have ambitions to take the Iron Throne themselves.
However, that hasn’t been how it’s traditionally worked throughout the show, as most kings and queens of Westeros have earned their throne either through hereditary selection or overpowering violence.
Robert Baratheon, the king at the start of the series, became king by winning a war that overthrew the previous king. His son, King Joffrey — although not in reality his biological son — took the throne after Robert’s death, while Joffrey’s brother Tommen took over after Joffrey’s death. Cersei Lannister became queen after she engineered the fiery death of most of her enemies, which coincided with Tommen’s suicide.
Daenerys, of course, became queen by killing thousands of people in King’s Landing, which followed a pattern throughout the series of that character trying to govern through traditional leadership, failing at that, and then turning to destruction through dragonfire.
As for Bran, he became king through a semi-democratic process, even if, when Samwell Tarly suggested something resembling direct democracy, he was practically laughed out of the dragon pit. While there have been indications that Bran always wanted to be king, there was never any indication that he was spending the entirety of the series scheming toward that end.
Bran, while certainly opaque in his utterances, wasn’t duplicitous, and he never seemed to be manipulating or lying to people. His lack of underhandedness, it appeared, made him qualified, although how well that quality will serve him as king is another question entirely.
I DID NOT EXPECT THIS POST TO BE EVERGREENhttps://t.co/c4m6A7BVMy
— Kathryn VanArendonk (@kvanaren) May 20, 2019
Sure, there was some degree of political alliances in play in all of these cases, but Game of Thrones showed over and over that winning hearts and minds wasn’t nearly as much of a path to power as either being related to a previous king, or having the ability to kill a whole lot of people at once.
And if anything, the series showed that behind-the-scenes scheming was overrated. At the end of Game of Thrones, Littlefinger was dead, Varys was dead, and Tyrion Lannister was tearfully admitting to a council of lords that he’d been wrong about everything for years, even if he did get a third term as Hand of the King.