In the world of Game of Thrones, conventional wisdom would suggest Daenerys Targaryen has proved herself a fair and just leader, powerful, and compassionate, but firm. Others may see it that Jon Snow, aka Aegon Targaryen, truly is the rightful ruler by Westeros tradition, given that his father was the uncrowned king of the land Rhaegar Targaryen, killed before he could reveal his legitimate marriage to Jon’s mother, Lyanna Stark. Or maybe possession really is nine-tenths of the law, and Cersei Lannister, who in no other way is the legitimate ruler, should continue to reign.
Why bother watching season 8, when you can read our hot takes on who should sit the Iron Throne?
Some in Deanery’s shoes would be content to rest on their laurels: She has two dragons and a rightful claim to the throne – case closed. But Daenerys has gone above and beyond to earn her place on the Iron Throne. She’s endured personal losses (her dear dead Drogo, their unborn child, her dear undead dragon) and inspired audiences over and over again with moments of strength and steeliness. Most of all, across seven seasons of city-hopping and army-charring, she’s proven a master strategist and builder of alliances, bringing together groups as disparate as the Dothrakis and the Unsullied to form a formidable force as she moves towards what’s rightfully hers.
Don’t dismiss Tyrion Lannister as the Miss Congeniality of Thrones’ remaining contenders. He may be likable and gentle-hearted – at least in Westerosi terms – but he is also the shrewdest political mind left, a key skill to have in a place that gets so stabby. He’s in many ways one of the series’ ultimate survivors, managing to make it to adulthood despite his family’s unbridled hatred of him, and working his way to Daenerys’ side (the likely winning side). It should be noted he’s also part of the reason there’s still a throne for the series’ aspirants’ to sit on at all, stopping the destruction/sacking of King’s Landing not once but twice – and earning his scar in the process.
One key to good leadership is growth, and few characters have grown quite as much as Jaime. After all, the wounded, chisel-jawed hero who has slowly won your heart over seven seasons was not so long ago the sister-bonking cad who pushed Bran out of a tower in the final moments of Thrones’ first-ever episode. It’s been a “journey.” Throughout that journey, we’ve seen Jaime develop a number of the traits that would steer him well as king (but perhaps make his reign somewhat short): a developing sense of selflessness, a propensity for mercy (it was to be a painless death for Olenna), and an eye for talent in people, as demonstrated by his connection to Brienne.
If Game of Thrones were a particularly bloody and blindside-filled season of Survivor – Outwit! Outslay! – no one could compete with Cersei’s case at final Tribal Council. Just look what she’s both achieved and been through on her little island of King’s Landing. No one has suffered as much: she’s lost, what, all of her kids; her glorious long locks; her dad; her lover/brother/Hand; and been paraded through the streets totally naked (shame!). And she arguably pulled off one of Thrones’ most stunning strategic moves in the destruction of the great Sept of Baelor. Sure, you can admire all those fresh-faced and ambitious kids in the North, forming unlikely alliances and proving themselves in battle as they seek to usurp her, but sometimes staying in power is harder than taking power. For holding on so tightly – and never dropping a drop of red while doing so – Cersei deserves to maintain her place on her throne.
We learned in season 7 that Jon has the strongest claim to the throne, given that his dad was Rhaegar Targaryen, whose marriage to his mother Lyanna Stark was legit, but he also has Thrones’ ultimate mic-drop argument: He died and came back. Who else among these would-be throne-sitters can top that? (Berric Dondarrion isn’t really in the running.) Or say that they led a successful defense of The Wall against attack by the Wildlings? Or that they later forged a key alliance with those same Wildlings – an alliance that could prove key to defending everyone against the oncoming White Walker invasion? No? No one? We’re listening… As if that wasn’t enough, Jon has proved himself the bravest of Thrones’ lead contenders. Recall when he went beyond the Wall. Or when he stood, sword raised, circled by enemy forces in the Battle of the Bastards? And it’s not just cocksure bravery and resurrections that have us rooting for Jon. He’s a sharp mind, too, and one who puts ego aside to “bend the knee” for love.
Sure, Jon’s survived the Wall, epic battles and, well, death. And Arya has been dodging swords and arrows all across the continent for several years now. But Sansa is the Stark offspring who has survived in arguably the most dangerous places in all of Westeros: under Cersei’s roof, under Littlefinger’s thumb, and in Ramsay Bolton’s bed. The once-naïve wannabe princess has had to grow up very quickly over seven seasons of Thrones, and her developing understanding of how the world really works and a growing skill to move within it have led her safely and triumphantly back to Winterfell. Also, if ruling the Seven Kingdoms requires a strong ability to deal with toxic men, Sansa should be your top pick: Not only did she manage to outlive a spiteful Joffrey, she escaped the physical and mental clutches of Ramsay and Lord Petyr Baelish, before killing both in wonderfully satisfying fashion.
A girl has no name, perhaps, but she is a strong contender for the throne. More than any other Stark – living, at least – she has had to fight for her life, time and time again, and prove her skills in deception and combat (who else can go toe-to-toe with Brienne, as she did?). Arya’s racked up quite the lethal résumé in her journeys through Kings Landing, Braavos, Riverrun, and beyond: She can fully disguise herself, thanks to skills picked up with the Faceless Men; she’s developed a ruthlessness – sorry, Hound! – that will serve her well when ruling over a court of would-be usurpers; and she’s executed some of Thrones’ biggest moves, chief among them her delicious, crusty vengeance against the House of Frey. “They’re already here, my lord…” Chills.
If we’re going to consider other Starks for the Iron Throne, why not also the god-like all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven? Voted “Most Likely to Know About His Surprise Birthday Party” among the Stark kids, Bran’s childhood physical agility has given way to supernatural mental acumen now that he’s in his teens. He’ll foresee any and all plots against him, he can time travel to take lessons from the greatest rulers in the history of Westeros and beyond; with his all-seeing eye, he can find more dragons in the east and train them based on the methods of the best dragon riders ever; and he was a kind and sweet child and still seems so at heart. Honestly, other than his unsettlingly detached demeanor — which is far sight better (pun intended) than some of the crazies that have sat the Throne recently — Bran may actually be the very best choice to rule.
You may not think Thrones’ own Ol’ Blue Eyes has much of a claim, given that we haven’t seen so much of him over the shows’ seven seasons and that we don’t actually know too much about his motives. But when we have seen him, he has almost always outsmarted the living. Case in point: In season 7’s mammoth battle north of the Wall between Daenerys and her dragons and Jon’s forces against the White Walkers and wights, he saw an opportunity in battle to take out Viserion and then resurrected the beast as a Wall-felling ice dragon. So, he’s smart. He’s strategic. And he’s patient, another key quality for a good ruler. He has waited some 8,300 years for summer to end, after all.
Game of Thrones season 8 premieres on Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. on HBO.