As the conclusion to Game of Thrones draws ever close, the pool of potential victors, and thus heirs to the Iron Throne, is rapidly slimming down. To the south, Cersei Lannister holds the throne, with her brother Jaime by her side and Euron Greyjoy and his fleet’s undying loyalty, while to the east Daenerys Targaryen has been biding her time at Dragonston while a ragtag team of advisers help her create a strategic approach to taking down Cersei.
Since Jon Snow has pledged the allegiance of House Stark to the Mother of Dragons at the end of “Beyond The Wall,” the paradigm has been set: it’s the Breaker of Chains vs. Lady Paramount of the Westerlands for the most coveted seat in Westeros. Of course, first there’s the whole matter of stopping the White Walkers and the Army of the Dead from killing every living person that stands in their way.
A particular moment of note from this season was the discussion between Tyrion and Dany about “breaking the cycle.” Danaerys wants to be queen, but she wants to be a distinctly different monarch to any in recent memory. She wants to be a ruler who brings peace and prosperity, continuing to oppose oppression as she has done up to this point. While admirable, Tyrion questioned how she means to “break the cycle” if she takes the Iron Throne by the same means Cersei would employ in the same position. Danaerys has good aspirations, but already she’s starting to slip into the ways of war on the continent – the unrelenting, unflinching cruelty that’s been so standard so for so. In the game of thrones, you either win or you die, and Dany is already being corrupted by this cutthroat environment.
Jon had a similar conversation with Daenerys, arguing that she’s really only more of the same if she takes down the Lannisters with fire and threatens all who will not bend the knee. Both scenes are very subtly pointing towards a single idea idea: presuming Dany’s side is victorious, what if they retire the Iron Throne altogether and install a new mode of leadership?
Such a thought isn’t exactly radical as thematically the show’s been dealing with the idea of dismantling the established ruling order since the first episode. Routinely the rulers of the Seven Kingdoms have been displayed as cruel, easily corrupted and nihilistic, driven by their own selfish desires. Those who cross their path in opposition are persecuted, often by torturous, hellish means. Until now, this has led down a path of gradually dismantling the patriarchy – the slow, methodical removal of the men in charge, to be replaced by the women that have overthrown or otherwise out-survived them. But now it looks like the series may go further, and use the opportunity to do away with the monarchy altogether.
Looking at the current standings, one way or another each of the still living leaders will need to play nice if they want to have anything left to rule over. The Great War has come and it’s very much a fight-together-or-die-alone scenario. The White Walkers’ abilities are far beyond anything anyone has fought against, and with a zombie-dragon in their employ, they have an even greater upper hand than before. There may be displeasure at the idea, but it’s the only option. Cersei, if even for self-preservation, will have to agree to an alliance of some sort. It may be just in the nick of time, arrogant as she is, and it will doubtless come with ulterior motives, but she can’t be queen if she’s dead.
This union presents a unique moment for re-evaluation. Most of the living major characters were raised in a world of bad history and strife, of families begrudging of each other on principle. Every banner and family has actively participated in the bloodshed that brought everyone to this point. But there’s nothing like unification against a single enemy to put things into perspective. It may humanize many of the major characters to each other, and make working together seem more viable. Ruling the Seven Kingdoms through a means other than shaky agreements made by parents and grandparents might not be such a fantasy.
Indeed, it may even be something those left in charge need to do to convince those who would serve them or live in their domain. Dany is the last living relative of the Mad King, and the common folk under the Lannisters and the Starks would have no interest in mingling if it’s strictly under the flag of the opposing side. These histories won’t disappear under mere promise of prosperity. Stories of execution by dragon-fire certainly won’t help either. No, the people will need to see that change means change, and in the Seven Kingdoms, change begins and ends with the Iron Throne until it’s taken out of the equation.
Everyone is exhausted by the experiences that have gotten them here. Those who are left have all lived through calamity after calamity, dire situation after dire situation. Sansa, Danaerys, Arya, Jon, Tyrion – they’re all now intimate with what happens when the current system goes haywire. How little protection there is from someone patient, clever and power-hungry enough. For all their good intentions, there’s nothing they can do to prevent the same thing from happening again and again, if not with them, then their children, or their children’s children. That is unless the one common element, the thing that fuels so much of the evil from Westeros to Winterfell and beyond is removed. Only then will the game of thrones be finished for good.
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