Well, we've made it: eight seasons, three dragons, four different butts atop the Iron Throne, at least five episode-length mega-battles, six fallen or otherwise discarded direwolves (I know, I know, poor Ghost), and one Night King who's currently cubed up in Sansa Stark's cocktails up in Winterfell. We've finally made it to the series finale. And even better, we are all on exactly the same page that this flawless series is headed to its end in the most correct and satisfying way possible, right??
Regardless, with one episode to go, and the last three episodes efficiently dispatching with so many characters we no longer have to worry about, now we can focus on the relatively limited set of options for how this series is going to shake out. And while the conventional question has always been "Who will sit atop the Iron Throne," there's a better than average possibility that the actual finale will be a lot more complex than that. For one thing, they're gonna have to dig that Iron Throne out from under the rubble of the Red Keep, like, smooth move, Daenerys.
So before Sunday night's finale, let's take stock of where our major characters are situated, what they stand to gain, and what they stand to lose.
All debates over whether Daenerys's heel turn was properly executed or not, there's no turning back for the Dragon Queen. She's gone full Targaryen and has made her decision to be queen of the ashes after all. Which means a lot of options — including, one imagines, her romantic relationship with Jon Snow — are no longer available to her. In fact, now that she's broken bad, Jon and his biological claim to the throne are loose ends she might have to consider cutting off. You know how sometimes instead of snipping a loose ends with scissors you just singe it off with a lighter? Like that. Only with dragonfire. The same likely goes for anyone else who knows about ol' Aegon Targaryen, including Sansa, Arya, Bran, Sam, and Tyrion. Whether Dany is ready to follow up her siege of King's Landing by wiping out the Stark family line is a story only David Benioff and D.B. Weiss can tell.
More likely, though, Dany's going to get taken down in this finale, one way or another. There's no way back from the willful slaughter of women and children. Whether her end comes at the hands of Jon, Arya, or Tyrion may well be the big question mark of the finale.
Daenerys' little joyride last week pretty much answered all the "should Jon or Dany rule the seven kingdom?" questions. There's only one thing: last we checked, Jon still really, really did not want to be king. Even more than he didn't want to be crowned King in the North. Even more than he didn't want to be named Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Both those times, the people rallied behind their short king anyway. Why should the Iron Throne be any different?
Unless, perhaps, Jon has seen enough of the consequences of warring factions in Westeros and decides to break up the seven kingdoms or something similarly more democratic. That feels, message-wise, a lot more likely a note to go out on than "and totalitarian feudal monarchy reigned as it always had." Look, I'm not saying that Jon has to literally break off pieces of the Iron Throne and hand one to Sansa, one to Tyrion, one to Gendry, one to Yara Greyjoy, one to Gretchen Wieners, one to Janis Ian, and one to Arya Stark, who crawled out from under the rubble of King's Landing and still looks like a rock star. But that would be a pretty cool ending.
After Arya became a folk hero in Winterfell after slaying the Night King, I wondered whether my take on her — that she was able to triumph not because she best little Faceless killbot in all of Westeros but because she was able to access the human and sometimes scared girl she was back near the beginning — was just a momentary touch of Melisandre-induced red-witch poetry. But last week, as Arya ran for her life through the crumbling streets of King's Landing, helpless to save anyone, unable to do what she thought she was there to do and kill Cersei, having thrown away any lingering notions of kill lists, with her sword Needle useless by her side, it feels like something has definitely shifted in Arya. This cannot be said of pretty much anybody else on the Game of Thrones canvass, but Arya might be having her best season. And hers is the resolution that feels most wide open.
If Arya is the one who must kill Daenerys, don't expect it to be with the dispassionate confidence with which she wiped out the Freys. And Dany's might be the last pair of eyes that ever flicker out of this world at the hands of Arya Stark. Which isn't to say that Arya is destined to settle down at Storm's End with Gendry, happily ever after. But perhaps the post-finale Westeros will have less need of faceless assassins than it used to.
While there's a decent chance that Sansa sticks around Winterfell for the balance of the series, the true-blue Sansa stan in me really would like to see her ride on down to King's Landing and deliver a hearty "toldja so" to the likes of Jon and Tyrion. After all this setup of Sansa being a wise and pragmatic leader, it's insane to imagine she ends up anywhere but Queen in the North, unless there's some kind of brokered convention that puts her and Tyrion on the Iron Throne together. It seems rather unlikely that, after everything Sansa has gone through, the show would reward her with a loveless marriage to the last remaining survivor of the family that kept her in captivity and terrorized her, no matter how much he's "the good one." That said, if Sansa really did take lessons from the likes of Littlefinger and Cersei, a symbolic marriage to Tyrion would be the baller political move to unite what one imagines to be a badly shaken Westeros at this point.
Folks, I'm not going to sugar-coat this for you. Things are looking real bad for Tyrion right now. He made a last-minute decision to stick with the dragon queen he knew, trusting that she would stop short of the mass murder of innocents. And this was after he narc'd on his supposed best friend Varys and got him roasted by dragon-fire. Now, his family is gone, his queen's gone mad, and his choices are to either supplicate and play the Hand to a queen who no longer trusts him and has decided to solve all her problems with a quick "dracarys," or to band with Jon, Arya, Davos, and … honestly, that might be it, to make one last stand and take Dany down. Of everybody who's left, Tyrion's the most responsible for bringing Danaerys to his home land, so it might fall to him to take her out. We … don't love his chances.
Honestly? Who the hell knows, man. It's hard to feel like Bran has lived up to his full potential by simply surviving the Night King's attempt on his life. But what exactly is the Three-Eyed Raven's role in deciding the path forward for Westeros, when all he can do is gaze into the past. It's probably going to be really important, though. If we had to guess the one thing that makes Thrones fans/critics the angriest this Monday morning, it'll be about Bran.
Brienne of Tarth: will probably cry again when she hears of Jaime's death, and then if history is indicator, she'll race to King's Landing to try to skewer Dany and Drogon on the same lance. If she makes it through the episode, she's still got Tormund's affections to fall back on, and she'd make for a fine lord commander of whatever organization of knights survives intact.
Ser Davos Seaworth: I'm gonna be honest, I'm shocked our beloved Onion Knight has made it this far. But now that he has, let's see it through! He'll make a fine Hand for whatever king or queen would like to have him.
Grey Worm: Yes, he was grieving for Missandei. And yes, his psyche has likely been plagued with a lot of soldier/slave bullshit. But if Grey Worm survives the finale episode, he's probably facing down a war crimes tribunal, eh?
Bronn: Well, Cersei's not gonna be following up with her promise to gift Bronn Riverrun, and just guessing but Tyrion is probably in no position to convince Dany to give Bronn Highgarden, and since the Golden Company's sad, swift defeat last week gave a bad name to sellswords all over the realm, Bronn might be better off slinking away for good.
Ghost: Guys, Ghost is going to be fine, quit crying about Ghost.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.