There’s much to consider in bringing this story to a close. I consider some of those things, and offer the nuts and bolts of my own fan theory.
This post begins with a broader philosophical consideration of what would make for a satisfying conclusion. If you just want to read my proposal/prediction, skip to that heading.
Like many seemingly ordinary humans, my thoughts have been dwelling much in Westeros for a few months now, putting my mental powers towards mapping out possible conclusions for the story of Game of Thrones. Musing, fussing, plotting, hoping – it’s a fun and exciting act of fandom, even as it is stressful, too, because the weight of our last piece of monoculture, one of the great stories of our time, rests on these six episodes. It’s thrilling to see the final act, but it also matters – really matters – that the finale is satisfying, which is of course true for any story, but finishing Thrones is particularly tricky because of its simultaneous complexity and subversiveness (and because it’s in hands other than the original loremaster’s).
So, as we review plot permutations, we have to grapple with the most basic question: What are we actually measuring when we decide if the conclusion is satisfying? To what extent does each element of the text and its context factor into our individual and collective matrices?
- The fates of the characters matter, but this is not as simple as who wins/loses lives/dies.
- The outcomes of various wars matter, but one war might need to be more important or climactic than the others, and the resolution could be anything but tidy.
- There are prophecies, fan theories, and fan service to be reckoned with, but prophecies can be tricky, confirmed theories can be a letdown, and fan service can feel cheap.
- Conversations between two people in a room have to provide some of the best moments, but there’s still got to be time for some thrilling battle sequences.
- Each episode and the season overall needs to be well-written and well-paced, but there’s also a ton of story that needs telling.
- The ending of the show should be true to the spirit of the books as best as it can given the circumstances. That is going to be some combination of the “correct” events and the overarching themes. Where it cannot be true to the books, it has to at least remain true to its own spirit and mythos.
- And, on top of everything, the show needs to do the thing that made it a phenomenon: be shocking and subversive.
Meeting all of these demands might be impossible, and so we need to ask how we prioritize these demands and what balance would be acceptable. But, given that the fanbase for this show is massive but also varied in levels of commitment and involvement in the fandom, it is at the very least impossible to come up with an ending that is satisfactory to everyone. If the showrunners try to please everyone, it is likely the result will fail to please anyone. There’s the disturbing notion that a satisfactory ending isn’t possible, but we mustn’t think like that. There have to be effective ways to manage the complexity of this assignment, but that complexity has made theorizing what might happen this season fun and somewhat frustrating – frustrating not because it is tough to predict what will happen, but because it’s tough to know what to base those predictions on. When we don’t even know if the characters will care about the throne on which the game is based by the midway point of the season, then we’ve kinda lost the original true north.
Below, I describe an outline for the show’s conclusion which would be satisfying for me based on service to the above considerations and things I value about the show. It’s a prediction of sorts, even though I would be quite surprised if this is the way things play out, and it is based on events that few people are anticipating. That’s not to say this couldn’t happen, and while I think it holds up to scrutiny, there are valid counterpoints to be leveled against it. Anticipating some of these counterpoints will form part of my description and justification of this theory.
My Interpretation of the Comet
In the words of the icon Lyanna Mormont: I think we’ve had enough small talk.
Overview: I think the show should end with Cersei Lannister on the Iron Throne. In order for this to happen, Daenerys would have to die, and I think she will, most likely in some battle involving the Night King and his forces. Stricken with grief and wanting to avoid more loss of life, Jon will not pursue the throne. Instead, he will declare the North independent, swearing to Cersei that if she invades he will use Rhaegal and Drogon to incinerate her army and then the Red Keep itself. Cersei will see the wisdom in backing off and will turn her attention to managing claims for independence made by other kingdoms. She will give birth to a son, and while Jaime is the father she will claim that it is a legitimate heir by her husband, Euron Greyjoy. She will have Euron killed soon after the wedding. With the defeat of the Night King and the arrival of winter, most of the realm will settle in to hearth and home, hoping the young Lannister boy who comes of age in Spring will be a worthy ruler.
Why This Makes Sense Big Picture: This is the right tone, isn’t it? There can’t be a happy ending, but one of the most “likely” scenarios is that the Night King is defeated and Jon and Dany marry and rule together, and that counts as a happy ending no matter how many characters die along the way, right? If either of the long-lost Targaryens reclaim their family’s throne, that is just a little too perfect. The throne isn’t going to become obsolete, because at some point the Night King will be defeated, and then someone is going to try to take power, and then more power, and then all the power, and after Jon and Dany I don’t see a likely candidate to do that besides Cersei. The Wheel doesn’t get broken in this world, and sometimes the baddies get to win. Seeing Cersei on the throne in the end would be upsetting, but it’s not the end of the world. Winter has come, and there’s not a lot that she can really do to make life miserable for anyone, or at least more miserable than winter already makes everything. This winter is going to be very, very long, and by the time it is over Cersei will be an old woman and her son will be close to ruling age. He is the Dream of Spring, the hope the realm has to build a better world after the somber song of ice and fire. And, of course, as much as it would be a bummer for Cersei to win, let’s remember that our heroes beat the Night King, which counts for quite a lot.
Why This Makes Sense for the Targaryens (and Chosen One prophecies): As I mentioned above, it’s a little too perfect if Dany and/or Jon ends up ruling. While Jon might be willing to pass on kingship, Dany is going for the throne as long as she’s alive, and if she goes for it she’s probably going to win given her military advantages. So Dany needs to die, either at the hands of the Night King’s forces or at the hands of her allies after she goes full Mad Queen (which is still on the board). Dany, as she is happy to tell you, has really been through it on her way towards the throne, but for her to then finally make it, to break the wheel and rule and do exactly what she has said she will do, just seems too simple. If Dany is out of the picture, I can’t see Jon deciding to pursue the throne, especially if it would require an invasion south. It’s more likely he would leave the North to Sansa and take the dragons somewhere spacious in the hopes they might produce more eggs. Who knows? He might even take them to Dragonstone, which would be an ideal place to keep an eye on Cersei and reestablish House Targaryen.
If the story doesn’t end with a Targaryen on the throne, it doesn’t mean that the various prophecies (Azor Ahai/Last Hero/PWWP) are all for naught. The show and the books have made sure to keep things in perspective and emphasize the threat of the Night King, and if the union of ice and fire results in the defeat of the White Walkers and the salvation of the realm, that’s a fulfillment of a chosen one prophecy even if neither chosen one ends up ruling.
Maybe Jon should die too, seeing as his character arc is headed that way, but there has to be a Targaryen left as long as dragons survive. The return of the dragons changed the world, and that change has to be cultivated. Some combination of Jon, Bran, Sam, and Tyrion could discover great things about dragons, Valyria, and the higher mysteries.
Why This Makes Sense for the Lannisters (and Maggy the Frog’s prophecy): This ending seems to run afoul of our expectations for Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion. Cersei has been marked for death for quite some time, and it seems a forgone conclusion that she will not live through this season, let alone rule at the end of it. The valonqar prophecy indicates, for many, that she will be killed by a little brother, and most seem to think (and hope) that this will be Jaime. There’s good reason to think this will happen, and there are a number of recent developments that increase the chances. It might be fitting if the fulfillment of this part of the prophecy goes this way, but I would be sad to see it because I don’t understand why it would be satisfying or cathartic to see Jaime murder Cersei (and an unborn baby he believes to be his), no matter the extent of Cersei’s villainy or their estrangement. Cersei has meant the world to him, and has been one of his only sources of happiness (not to mention he’s clearly desired to be a father to his biological children), so no matter what killing her would be a traumatic experience for him, and I can’t see my guy go through that. It’s true that Jaime as valonqar would be a fitting way for a misinterpreted prophecy to unwind, given that Cersei has reaped much ill that she has sown in response to Maggy’s prophecy, but, on the other hand, it would also be a fairly tidy way for the entire prophecy to be fulfilled, and in a story about choices and consequences, I’d rather not see one prophecy be so accurate. So, please: no Jaime as valonqar.
This also makes sense for Tyrion, and I think he might even have a vital role to play in securing Cersei’s reign. His conversation with Dany about the long term rule of Westeros and his concerns for an heir if Dany is indeed barren reveals he has an eye on the future and how to preserve whatever good Dany achieves. If Cersei has a son, a son who might receive council from wise advisers (himself, even, if he plays his hand correctly), that boy might represent the best chance at a stable monarchy, especially if the boy would go on to marry a lady from the right house. I also think it’s clear, no matter what he says, that the Lannister legacy still matters to Tyrion, especially after his private audience with Cersei in the season 7 finale (and I still think it’s interesting we didn’t get to see the end of that conversation). After everything, Tyrion would still be tempted to maintain a Lannister monarchy – after all, he is the most like Tywin of the three children.
This all assumes that Cersei is pregnant, that the pregnancy will go to term, and that Jaime is the father. I’ll just say that I think the first two are almost a certainty, otherwise the showrunners are out of touch with the world Martin created. Royal pregnancies are a big deal, so to just throw a fake one in there would be frivolous and there’s not enough time to plot out a miscarriage. They’ve made the choice to make Cersei pregnant, and that has to really, really matter in some way. This is, I think, the best way for it to matter.
I really, really hope Tyrion is not a Targaryen.
What About Euron and the Golden Company?: Like it or not, Euron and the Golden Company are here, and they have to have some part to play, and, given their proximity to Cersei, I have to reckon with that. Euron is going to play Cersei false at some point, even if he is able to earn her marriage. I think it makes sense for Cersei to go ahead with this marriage so her son can be seen as legitimate (even if she told Jaime they would tell everyone Jaime is the father), but she’s not going to let him hang around long after that. It seems likely Euron tries to pull a fast one with the Golden Company, but at some point the Mountain, Jaime, or Theon (he’s got to have some role to play, right?) is going to put an end to him. As for the Golden Company, their involvement is strange, given that now they’re here they have to earn their screentime. I foresee an epic clash between the GC and the Dothraki, given that the Dothraki are probably limited in what they can do where the snows have already fallen and would be better served fending off an invasion south of the Neck. I’m not sure when this would happen, and I don’t know that Cersei would be comfortable sending them out and leaving King’s Landing undefended, but an army like this won’t enter into the show just to be well-paid security guards. Long-term, they might operate as the Crown’s sell-swords to manage the realm post-Walkers.
Potential Show Problems: The show has always had to make decisions based on what works for TV, but even more so after moving beyond the books. It’s likely that the events of this season will be heavily influenced by what the showrunners think will please the audience. With that in mind, it’s unlikely that Cersei – the only big baddie left with any personality, is going to survive and win. Too many people have been looking forward to her demise. By the same token, too many people want to see Dany and/or Jon on the throne, and so to deny that might also be widely unpopular. There’s also a slight problem with pacing, because if the Night King is taken care of by episode 3 or 4 (and I think that’s a possibility) but Dany has fallen, that’s a long denouement that ends with an unchanged monarchy. If Dany falls after the humans have turned their attention on Cersei, then it would be a tough sell to have Jon not seek revenge on Cersei.
Potential Book Problems: I think this theory holds up well compared with the trajectory of the books, but there’s that pesky dragon-sized omission in the show named Young Griff aka Aegon Targaryen aka Fake Aegon Targaryen. It seems that Young Griff and Jon Connington are going to have a significant role to play in the books, big enough that, even if they do not appear in the show, the effect they have on the world will translate in some form (especially given the appearance of the GC and the transfer of greyscale to Jorah). I’m fascinated to find out what happens with Young Griff (you can do it George!), but for now I’m confounded as to how his impact will translate into the world of the show. If the books ended with three Targaryens coming for the throne and Cersei still winning, that would be kind of a stunner, and so it seems like the books are not trending towards Cersei winning. But, then again, Young Griff may indeed be a pretender, and Connington’s greyscale might infect their entire army, and all of that will come to nothing.
Arya, though: Okay, so there’s also the fact that some Starks might not be so happy to see Cersei rule, and it so happens that one of those Starks has sworn to murder Cersei, and that certain Stark is also one of the most dangerous assassins in the world and seems to care a lot more about personal matters over politics. So…yeah. If Arya has anything to say about it, Cersei is not going to make it to the end. Can’t say I have a particularly good counter for this, unless Arya doesn’t make it out of the Battle of Winterfell, but I’m almost certain she survives. So…look no theory is perfect.
Conclusion: Let’s see how this theory measure up to the various criteria I mentioned in the intro:
- The fates of the characters matter, but this is not as simple as who wins/loses lives/dies. I explained why this makes sense for the main parties involved, and while it would be a bummer for Dany to die, for Cersei to live, and for Jon to be even more sad, it’s fitting.
- The outcomes of various wars matter, but one war might need to be more important or climactic than the others, and the resolution could be anything but tidy. I don’t think there is room for two wars this season. The big armed conflict should be versus the Night King, and then maybe there’s one battle involving the GC before attention turns to sorting things out after the apocalypse has been avoided. This would also strike a decent balance of emphasizing the importance of the war against the Night King with the continuing importance of the throne.
- There are prophecies, fan theories, and fan service to be reckoned with, but prophecies can be tricky, confirmed theories can be a letdown, and fan service can feel cheap. I’ve reckoned with the prophecies and some major fan theories. This ending would certainly not be cheap fan service.
- Conversations between two people in a room have to provide some of the best moments, but there’s still got to be time for some thrilling battle sequences. Yeah there will be a big battle at Winterfell, but I think what happens after that as our characters struggle to shape the new world could be even more compelling.
- Each episode and the season overall needs to be well-written and well-paced, but there’s also a ton of story that needs telling. I think this theory would allow time to tie up loose ends because it won’t take on too much – if this season tries to cover a battle against the Night King and a full scale invasion south, then I don’t see how it can account for all the story that’s left to tell.
- The ending of the show should be true to the spirit of the books as best as it can given the circumstances. That is going to be some combination of the “correct” events and the overarching themes. Where it cannot be true to the books, it has to at least remain true to its own spirit and mythos. I’ll combine this one with the next one…
- And, on top of everything, the show needs to do the thing that made it a phenomenon: be shocking and subversive. Dany’s death would be shocking, and could be one of the defining moments of the series along with whatever happens in the Winterfell crypts (I cannot wait for this) and whatever we finally learn about Bran and the Night King. For all the death in this story, Arya, Sansa, Bran, Jon, Tyrion, and Dany are all still here. One of them has to go, right? Well, okay, maybe not necessarily, but it is a little odd that Ned remains the most important POV character to die (and stay dead).
But this conclusion is not just about the shock value; it’s about subverting our fantasy tropes and storytelling expectations. Some versions of this tale end with Jon reclaiming his birthright, born again as the Prince Who Was Promised, the good king the realm needs. Others end with Dany returning from exile and doing the same, bringing magic back into the world and smashing the oppressive cycles of Westerosi government. Some versions end with both of those things happening. That’s a great story – really, it is – but besides being a little too convenient, it fails to see the big picture. Jon would be a great king, but Westeros has had great kings before, and eventually those great kings give way to bad kings. Dany might break the wheel and change the way the land is ruled, but things like that have happened, too. No matter what, people with power will fight for more power and will abuse those without it. The rule of either one of these heroes is not a lasting salvation. Life will go on, and lords, ladies, and smallfolk alike will have to hope that whoever sits the throne will be good, even if they are born of a monster.
Think about what Dany has said about her quest to rule: “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel,” and “I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and I will.” Or, consider what Jon says to Dany about her prospects: “The people who follow you know that you made something impossible happen. Maybe that helps them believe that you can make other impossible things happen. Build a different world from the shit one they’ve always known. “
Does any of that sound like the moral of the story? Does that strike the right tone? I prefer the words of Davos and Beric to Jon:
Jon: I did what I thought was right, and I got murdered for it. And now I’m back. Why?
Davos: I don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know. What does it matter? You go on. You fight as long as you can. You clean up as much of the shit as you can.
Jon: I don’t know how to do that. I thought I did, but, I failed.
Davos: That’s good. Now go fail again.
Beric: Death is the enemy. The first enemy, and the last.
Jon: But we all die.
Beric: The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.
Defeating the Night King is a worthy accomplishment for two chosen ones like Jon and Dany. It’s an act of heroism that will preserve life itself in Westeros, and thus it is an exploit that will outlive them. Whatever they would do as rulers would eventually fade into history books while other, lesser rulers undid their works. But that’s the way it goes – and that’s okay. Not only is it okay, it’s part of the magic of the story. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is violent and cruel, but the beauty in the story can be found in characters doing what they think is good and right because that’s all they can do, not because they think a resurrected warrior or a dragon-riding revolutionary will save the day.
I still believe what I wrote long ago, that this is, in some ways, still Ned Stark’s story. We are where we are because Ned brought home his dying sister’s son, claiming it as his own bastard. He didn’t do it because he believed Jon was the Prince Who Was Promised, or that the boy would grow up to become a ruler who would change the world. He did it because he loved his sister, and because if he didn’t the boy would die, and he did it knowing it would be a mark on his spotless honor. As it turns out, that boy would go on to do extraordinary things, but he couldn’t have known that. He was just doing what he thought was right.
“What is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?” asks Stannis, regarding Gendry. To which Davos replies, “Everything.”
This story ends with A Dream of Spring, but it is only that – a dream. That dream exists amid feasts for crows and storms of swords and clashes of kings, and yes, even dances of dragons, and while the realm can hope for something better, the song of ice and fire remains – and will remain – a tune in harmony with the winds of winter as the game of thrones goes on.
Forth now, and fear no darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria