[Warning: SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season five ahead.]
Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark and Tyrell may just be spokes on a wheel that's forever crushing the poor citizens of Westeros, but the turning of that wheel has been the driving force so far in HBO's Game of Thrones. From the War of the Five Kings that dominated the second and third seasons of the show to Daenerys Targaryen's continued ambitions to rule on both sides of the Narrow Sea, the turning of the wheel and the game of thrones are two sides of the same coin.
Back in the real world, there aren't a lot of kings and queens left and for the most part monarchs have lost much of the political power that they once wielded. Yet even viewers in the most democratic of countries can't help but get caught up in the question of who should be King or Queen of the Andals, Lord or Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm in Game of Thrones' tumultuous land of Westeros.
The rulers who have sat on the Iron Throne so far have left quite a bit to be desired. There was the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, who was supplanted by the Drunk King Robert Baratheon, who was succeeded by the Evil King Joffrey Baratheon, and following his death the Timid King Tommen Baratheon was crowned. How long is it going to be before Westeros gets a Good King/Queen?
As the War of the Five Kings demonstrated, the question of who has the most right to rule on a technical basis isn't easy to answer. Nonetheless, here are some of the potential candidates for the job, and the reasons why they should (or shouldn't) be in charge of the Seven Kingdoms.
Claim to throne: Pending paternity test
Strengths: Nice to cats; not the worst Lannister; keeps the Iron Throne warm
Weaknesses: Could be usurped by a strong breeze
In a fair world, Tommen might have gotten a nice job working in a bakery or a library. Unfortunately for both him and Westeros in general, he acquires the Iron Throne through no effort of his own and without much interest in the job, and spends his days as a monarch dithering over whether to let himself be manipulated by his wife or his mother.
As a bastard claiming the name of a usurper, there are a number of ways that Tommen might end up being ousted from the Iron Throne. To be honest, though, it could probably be achieved by simply throwing a tennis ball very far and telling him to go and fetch it.
Claim to throne: Strong
Strengths: Huge army; progressive politics; lovely hair; dragons
Weaknesses: Family history of mental illness; dragons
Khaleesi. Mother of Dragons. Queen of Meereen. The Breaker of Chains. From her humble beginnings being sold off to Khal Drogo like a prize mare, Daenerys Targaryen has proven herself to be quite the social climber and now claims the loyalty of both the Unsullied and the Second Sons. As a fan favorite character, there has been plenty of speculation that Game of Thrones will conclude with Daenerys ruling over both Essos and Westeros.
As powerful as she is, however, Daenerys isn't a perfect monarch. Of her three dragons, two are chained up underground and no doubt harboring a great deal of resentment, and the third is off terrorizing the countryside. She also has a somewhat worrying determination to conquer by sheer force, which could make things very unpleasant for the common folk of the Seven Kingdoms if she decides to invade. In light of her new alliance with Tyrion Lannister, however, Daenerys could become unstoppable.
Claim to throne: Considerable
Strengths: Powerful allies; personal army
Weaknesses: Irrepressibly dour
As the last surviving brother of Robert Baratheon, Stannis is probably right to be annoyed at seeing two tow-headed, teenage Lannister boys ascend to the Iron Throne before him. Although no one in King's Landing seems to be paying much attention to him, Stannis has the spell-weaving Melisandre and the Lord of Light backing his claim, and a sizeable army if those two should fail him. If he succeeds in taking Winterfell from Roose Bolton, he could become a serious threat to the Lannisters' hold on the Iron Throne.
Stannis might make a good king, but he has a lot of blood on his hands (including that of his own family) and it's hard to get behind a man who, in the words of Loras Tyrell, "has the personality of a lobster." At least Joffrey was capable of inspiring passion, even if it was a passionate desire to fling manure at his head.
House: White Walkers
Claim to throne: Built-in crown
Strengths: Unstoppable army of the dead; killer blue eyes; likes babies
Weaknesses: Commits atrocities; probably has cold toes
Winter is definitely coming, and with it comes the Night's King, the White Walkers and their ever-growing army of wights. The battle at Hardhome proved that the Night's King is difficult to defeat, since any warriors slain in battle will get up and join his side. He might be the only leader who can walk away from a fight with a negative number of casualties.
If the White Walkers do end up conquering Westeros and murdering everybody, the silver lining is that the people of Westeros won't have to worry about the cold any more. There will be no more food shortages, since the dead don't really need to eat, and the reduced fuel demands will limit the risk of deforestation. The argument could be made that the White Walkers are stone cold evil, but at least they're well-suited to the oncoming climate.
Claim to throne: None*, but he's quite handsome
Strengths: Big wolf; cool sword; leadership skills; quite handsome
Weaknesses: Oath of neutrality; limited knowledge; possibly too handsome
What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or was Jon Snow just born with a heart full of neutrality? Whatever the reason, Eddard Stark's eldest living son is currently Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and sworn not to get involved with the politics of Westeros. So neutral is he that this season Jon Snow has even managed to find a middle ground between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings, forming the beginnings of a tentative alliance against the White Walkers.
His current occupation is a pretty significant barrier to Jon ever sitting on the Iron Throne, but there's no telling what Westeros will look like when the thaw finally sets in. There might not even be a Wall left to guard, in which case Jon would have to find a new job. Why not become a king?
*Barring certain fan theories about his heritage.
Claim to throne: Next in line
Strengths: Potential alliance with Dorne
Weaknesses: Potential murder victim of Dorne
She might be another pampered, sheltered love child of Cersei and Jaime Lannister's illicit union, but if a terrible fate should befall Tommen then Myrcella is (convoluted Westerosi line of succession rules notwithstanding) next in line to the Iron Throne, under the current charade of Cersei's children being labelled legitimate Baratheons. Little is known about Myrcella since she only recently returned to the show, but she seems to lean more toward Tommen's personality than Joffrey's.
Young, romantic Myrcella might seem like a footnote at the moment, but Game of Thrones' fifth season opened with a prophecy in which Cersei was told, of her children, "Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds." This indicates that all three of them will become rulers, and all three of them them will end their reigns by dying. Nevertheless, Myrcella's betrothal to Trystane Martell could mean a powerful alliance if she ever becomes Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Claim to throne: Wobbly
Strengths: Blacksmith skills; royal blood
Weaknesses: Poor hygiene; can't swim
Gendry might be an unacknowledged bastard, but he has a better claim to the Iron Throne than Joffrey and Tommen combined. He is one of many illegitimate children sired by Robert Baratheon, but one of only two to have appeared on screen in Game of Thrones. Gendry has already inadvertently defeated some of his competitors when his stolen blood was used in a spell by Melisandre to bring about the deaths of Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon (if you believe in that sort of thing).
Unfortunately, Gendry doesn't know who his father is and has no way of proving his lineage even if he did. He was last seen rowing away from shore after admitting that he doesn't know how to row or swim, so there's a decent chance that he ended up drowning. Assuming he survived, he'd probably be a lot happier as a blacksmith rather than a king.
Claim to throne: Hodor
Strengths: Hodor; Hodor; Hodor
Weaknesses: Hodor; Hodor
Westeros is not a democracy, so obviously your votes for who should rule the country don't count for anything. Nonetheless, let us know in the comments which of the potential monarchs listed above you think would be best suited to sit on the Iron Throne.
Game of Thrones season five continues tonight with “The Dance of Dragons” @9PM on HBO.