Targaryen-schmaryen, let’s talk about Gendry Baratheon, First of His Name, Hammer God of the Seven Kingdoms and potential future king of Westeros.

Game of Thrones season 7, episode 5, “Eastwatch” marked the long-awaited return of the Prince That Was Promised — no, not that one (well… probably not that one).

Gendry Waters (Joe Dempsie), aka King Robert Baratheon’s only living child (raise your glass for Mya Stone), hasn’t been seen since he escaped Dragonstone in season 3, aided by Davos Seaworth.

But as Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss explain, it was finally time to bring him back! They just had to think of a way to do it:

Gendry has clearly been as impatient to return to the show as we have, because he picks up his Robert-esque battle axe and follows Davos without preamble. He meets Jon, they become instant besties, and off they go to steal a White Walker. (What could go wrong?!)

“Eastwatch” is also the episode where we learn, through an off-hand comment from Gilly, that Daenerys is not in fact the Targaryen with the strongest claim to the Iron Throne: It would appear that Jon’s real father Rhaegar Targaryen got an annulment from his wife Elia in order to marry Jon’s mother, Lyanna Stark, making him the legitimate son of King Aerys’ eldest son.

Related: Yes, Gilly totally just figured out who Jon’s dad is on Game of Thrones

As per Westerosi customs, the last Targaryen king’s legitimate grandson has a better claim than the king’s legitimate daughter (make of that what you will), so Jon Snow is officially the ‘rightful’ heir to the throne — that is, if you believe the Targaryen family has a better claim to the throne than the Baratheons!

Because Robert Baratheon, of course, was also a king; when he led the rebellion against the Targaryens and took the throne from Aerys, the Baratheons became the new rightful ruling family of Westeros.

While Robert’s council was fully aware that the surviving Targaryens would try to take the throne back (hence why they schemed to have Daenerys and Viserys killed), once Robert became king, succession would theoretically stay in his family forever. Cersei’s children were first in line (as long as people believed they were Baratheons), then came Robert’s brothers Stannis and Renly, and then any children they might have.

Before Robert died and everything went to hell, Gendry — being Robert’s bastard rather than his trueborn son — had no more claim to the throne than Jon had to Winterfell. With the Baratheon family as good as gone (only Cersei remains, only a ‘Baratheon’ in that she was married to Robert and had three children everyone knew weren’t really his), Gendry’s potential claim would now seem even more diminished. Or is it?

After all, even before Jon’s legitimacy as a trueborn Targaryen was confirmed by Gilly, there were fans who wondered if the fact that he was the bastard son of Rhaegar might not be enough to gather supporters around him, what with him being male and having grown up in Westeros (despite the fact that unlike Daenerys, he has not grown up as a Targaryen).

And if they can gather around a Targaryen bastard, why not a Baratheon? There are very likely people in Westeros who would be ready and willing to acknowledge the Baratheons as the true heirs to the Iron Throne, and Gendry is the only person left in the Seven Kingdoms who can claim Baratheon status. Indeed, Melisandre’s Lord of Light recognized his kingly blood as powerful — who’s to say others won’t?

Depending on how staunchly anti-Targaryen some Westerosi families might be (Dany did just burn a bunch of dudes), Gendry’s Baratheon blood might be enough to gain him the ‘popular vote’ over Dany/Jon, and he’d have the people’s support if he were to, say, stage a rebellion. 👀

However, realistically, Gendry needs to be legitimized as a trueborn Baratheon son by someone with the kingly/queenly authority to issue a royal decree before he can use his lineage to claim succession rights. Lucky for him, there are actually several players with the power to do so.

In fact, some people believe that Gendry was already legitimized by Stannis, in order to strengthen the power of his blood. If that were the case, this reveal would have to come through Davos (who was very insistent on keeping his identity a secret on Dragonstone) or Melisandre.

And, in lieu of that retroactive plot twist, Cersei herself might be interested in legitimizing Gendry, seeing as her only actual claim to the Iron Throne comes from her ties to the Baratheon family.

If she can produce a Baratheon heir — as opposed to the child she is apparently now carrying, which she will proclaim as Jaime’s — suddenly, that House is back in the running, and she has a symbolic future for the people to rally around.

Or perhaps she doesn’t need to legitimize him at all, because — hold onto your heads, because they’re about to roll — Gendry might already be Robert and Cersei’s trueborn son!

In the ASOIAF book series, Cersei only had three children, as per Maggy the Frog’s prophecy. However, in the show, Cersei revealed that she’d given birth to a dark-haired baby by Robert that allegedly died in infancy; some fans believe that the reason the showrunners made this change was to set up a reveal down the line which would position Gendry as a trueborn Baratheon.

Seems crazy, right? Well, in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Dempsie himself made reference to this unsolved plot point, saying:

“There are certainly unanswered questions about him. You remember it the first time you ever see Gendry in Game of Thrones, when Ned Stark (Sean Bean) comes to visit him in the forgeries and asks him about his mother. He says: ‘I don’t remember her. All I remember is she had yellow hair and she used to sing to me.’ It’s the only time it’s ever been referenced. You hope there are some answers in terms of who Gendry’s mother might be, and maybe that could have a domino effect.”

Whether or not there’s a backstory to be unraveled there or if Gendry is a bastard who becomes/has already become legitimized, the poetic irony would be undeniable: Gendry and Jon, a pair of fellow bastards currently fighting side-by-side like Ned and Robert, could in fact be rivalling legitimate heirs to the Iron Throne — and Daenerys and Cersei, the only ones who actually seem to want the throne, would each have a king piece to protect on this giant chess board.

Of course realistically, the story doesn’t have time to go down this road, and the only potential claim Gendry might have to the Iron Throne is if Daenerys and Jon both died and it came down to Gendry vs Cersei (lol good luck Gendry), or if Daenerys somehow felt it was in her best interest to legitimize Gendry and marry him, making their combined claim to the throne stronger than Jon’s.

And it’s safe to say that, right now at least, Gendry Waters and his warhammer are less interested in ruling Westeros and more interested in smashing White Walker skulls and/or marrying Arya Stark. (What? This is canon, I don’t make the rules.)

But we know that the showrunners brought him back for a reason, in this 11th hour of the series. Why now? And why did the show make such an effort to cast him in young Robert’s image, complete with warhammer and cute banter with Ned 2.0? What kind of a wrench might a Baratheon bastard throw into the game of thrones?

I’d personally love to see him take on a central role in the battles to come, whether those battles are fought at King’s Landing or beyond the Wall. But, hey, this is Game of Thrones. Let’s see if he survives next week’s episode before we get too attached…

Game of Thrones returns Sunday on HBO for the penultimate episode of season 7, titled “Death is the Enemy.”

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