12:30 pm EDT, April 13, 2019

Nobody should win the Game of Thrones

Winter is here for Game of Thrones, and we need to recognize that the Iron Throne presents no promise of peace and prosperity to the people of Westeros — in fact, it’s small potatoes in terms of the future of the Seven Kingdoms.

My colleagues have presented some compelling arguments for their chosen parties which you can read below, but there’s a number of factors — aside from the fact that many of those characters are dead meat in season 8 — that lead me to believe that the most practical and perhaps even the most preferable conclusion for Game of Thrones is to see the concept of this type of rulership dissolved full stop.

In reality, any one ruler taking the throne at the end — whether they’re a rightful heir to a dynasty, a conquerer, a duty-bound peacemaker, a tactical genius, whatever — is going to present the same problems for Westeros that kicked off this whole situation in the first place once we bid farewell to the characters onscreen for the final time.

Plus, with things going the way they are, there may not even be a Westeros as we know it to rule at the end of it all. Given the civil discord amongst the Seven Kingdoms after years of divided leadership and the outside threats from other nations, any new king or queen is going to face all the same problems that their predecessors failed at handling — and that’s if the human race even survives the incoming terror at the frozen hands of the White Walkers.

A newly instated monarch on the Iron Throne at the end of Game of Thrones leaves Westeros pretty much exactly where we found it — or worse — and while no one’s claiming this is a fun and cheerful show, it is an epic, and the point of epics is for their journey to usher in massive change — a new age, even.

Petty — albeit deadly — squabbling over who, at the end of the day, gets to sit on a big old ugly uncomfortable chair made of half-melted swords is just not going to solve anything or offer any of the sort of progress that would narratively allow an epic like this one to end.

We’ve heard it so many times: When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. But watching Game of Thrones has proven to viewers that taking the Iron Throne is a no-win scenario, so let’s Kobayashi Maru this bitch and change the odds of success by rewriting the terms of play.

Westeros has bigger problems

First of all, the show is now tackling in earnest the rather pressing issue that the Night’s Watch has been trying to draw attention to for seasons: the fact that the whole landmass and the entire population is in grave danger of an invasion from White Walkers and their army of wights. I don’t know about you, but in my book, if this enemy is able to descend upon Westeros, they’re fucked no matter who’s sitting on the throne, and the endgame for the Seven Kingdoms will just look like an post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Some of the contenders in this series of articles, like Jon Snow, aren’t gunning for the Iron Throne in actuality — they have their priorities in order about what the real threat is and what really matters. Given the events of the season 7 finale, it seems like several major parties are on board with this — finally — and that politics pale in comparison to what the country is facing. Unless, of course, you’re Cersei, and you want to cling to power more than you want to cling to life.

The Iron Throne literally does not matter any more, and it needs to be treated as such. If the characters don’t adopt this attitude and stop playing the game, I don’t necessarily believe that there will be anything left to win.

Reuniting the Seven Kingdoms is unlikely

Say Westeros United does actually prevail in the North and manage to keep the continent safe from the Walkers and we do need to look at everyday leadership once again. Might the people willingly pledge allegiance to the hero who spearheaded the saving of the continent, be it Jon, Dany, Sansa, or whoever? Maybe, yeah. Protecting an established nation from a terrible supernatural threat is a rather more earned way of winning trust than your basic conquering technique.

But once the snow melts and the dust settles, as people who never saw a Walker with their own eyes resume their normal routines, the cultural climate of Westeros will inevitably revert back to the friction of yore, much of which stems from the fact that the Seven Kingdoms used to be, well, seven kingdoms — smaller areas, each governed by people from their own “tribe,” as it were — people who understood the history and needs of each unique region first-hand.

When the story starts and Robert Baratheon visits Winterfell, it’s been how long since he and Ned saw one another? Ten years? As king, what did he know of the needs of the Northern people? Or the Dornish? Or those in the Iron Islands? The fact is that you can’t be a good ruler of people you don’t understand. People won’t — and shouldn’t — live under the governance of a king or queen who knows nothing about the unique circumstances that affect their lives, be it due to climate, agriculture, or a million other things. A monarch’s duty is to care for the people in their charge, and this is impossible for a kingdom like Westeros, especially now.

Robb Stark, naive as he was, was onto something with the whole King in the North play. Government focused on the regions by people from those regions — leaders who understand the needs of the community and are expertly educated and dutifully dedicated to fulfilling it — works. Especially if those leaders are focused on getting their own house in order rather than looking to take over others. So, if everyone involved is sensible about it, it’s possible that the best case scenario for Westeros is for it to be dissolved back into those seven kingdoms, perhaps with a treaty in place to agree to coexist peacefully, with each country receiving personal care from a leader much closer to home.

Because after all the conflict that playing the game of thrones has wrought — betrayals of bannermen, changing allegiances, civil war — the Seven Kingdoms may never function again as one nation with a ruler in a palace in a distant city most citizens will never see, and it might be a better course of action to lean into that development as peacefully as possible and form a sort of EU situation on the landmass.

Democracy does exist, JSYK

Say the people of the Seven Kingdoms actually do want to stay together as one nation with a central government. That’s fine, but things still need to change.

In support of Jon Snow as the winner of the game of thrones, my colleague Katie says “[…] if Westeros is to stop living in chaos, the first big step is to hit the reset button, starting from the top, down.” This is in defense of Jon’s claim, who is by all current guidelines, the rightful heir of the Westerosi royal family, as opposed to someone else seizing power.

I agree with Katie’s “reset” statement, but not quite in the way she means it. Westeros does need to hit the reset button in how it’s ruled. Jon has inspired loyalty, forged treaties, garnered respect from all sorts of unlikely allies. Jon is also the #1 proponent for the idea that the kingship means nothing compared to the White Walkers.

Jon, if he survives and leads the human race to victory against the Night King, may very well be a leader that inspires the whole nation. Cool. Elect him. Let people choose him. Or Dany, or Sansa, or Tyrion, or any of the others.

Westeros as we know it was taken by conquest. The Iron Throne was forged with dragonfire, and this is a reminder that the Targaryens — starting with Aegon The Conqueror — were able to seize power because they had weapons of mass destruction. Authority in the form of “who has the biggest nukes” is never a great angle, but as time passed and the dragons died out, this “trump card” — that the Targaryens used to have the biggest nukes — no longer holds much weight in terms of right to rule.

If there is one thing that this series has taught anyone in a position of power, it’s that your right to rule is dictated by your people. If enough of them don’t want you in charge, if enough of them feel wronged by you, then you’re done. Of course, Dany has dragons and that’s apparently a sign of her destiny, but like, a) they’re probably going to get killed by the end of the series and b) if they don’t and Dany does take back the seat of her family because of her dragons, we’re back to that old chestnut: conquered by force, fealty through fear. Be my subjects or I’ll set my dragons on you. Dany is already acting a touch tyrannical and has been for a while, so this is not a good look. Even if Dany is the right leader for Westeros, she can’t do it through dragonpower.

If the seven kingdoms do survive unscathed and do want to remain as one nation, then perhaps — you know — give democracy a try. If the Night’s Watch can hold an election then so can the rest of Westeros. Whether that’s for a single head of state — a sort of president rather than a monarch, someone who is held accountable through the will of the people with no hereditary factor, or a privy council with no hierarchy where all parties have an equal say — perhaps one representative from each of the Seven Kingdoms, to speak for the needs of their people as part of a whole, working together to make the puzzle pieces of their land fit — who’s to say.

But the fact of the matter is, the point of Game of Thrones is that whether you play by the rules or break them, the game of thrones simply does not work. The way the governance of Westeros is established needs to change, and the Iron Throne needs to be melted down, dismantled, or left out in the wilderness to be buried by the sands (or snows) of time. Flip the table, change the game, it’s the end of an era — onscreen and off.

Still want to leave Westeros with a ruler on the Iron Throne? Here are some contenders!

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