Who will win Game of Thrones

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7:24 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

When politics is a "Game," we all lose

By Jeff Yang

We've all been playing guessing games, trying to decide who should sit on the Iron Throne (my preferred candidate, Varys the Spider, whispered his last whisper in a torrent of dragonflame during the first ten minutes, and Cersei and Jaime Lannister are also now permanently off the board).

This episode underscored a key point that the series has been making since its very first moments: It doesn't matter who wears the crown, because no one who ends up with it will deserve it. Varys himself said it best, when he noted that the best ruler might well be one with no ambition to hold power. Meanwhile, those who want power desperately often find the path they must walk for it corrupting. 

Daenerys has in the past made bloody compromises in the name of justice; in this episode, she engages in a one-woman genocidal assault on a city of innocents -- a city that had already surrendered -- for nothing more than revenge. The behavior of her army afterwards, as they throw aside any pretense of "liberating" King's Landing in favor of looting, raping and the cold-blooded massacre of its inhabitants, shows how lawless, monstrous acts committed by a nation's leaders unleash the very worst in their followers and supporters.

And now we have just one episode left in the story; one 90-minute chapter to wrap up all the remaining threads. Next week, who'll end up winning the Game of Thrones? Will Dany kill Jon? Will Arya kill Dany? Is Gendry still somewhere out there, safe in the North with his bastard Baratheon claim? It doesn't matter as much as we thought. The message of the series is straightforward: When politics is treated as a "game," all of us end up as losers. 

Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications, and the co-host of the podcast "They Call Us Bruce." He co-wrote Jackie Chan's best-selling autobiography, "I Am Jackie Chan," and is the editor of three graphic novels: "Secret Identities," "Shattered" and the forthcoming "New Frontiers."

6:48 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Humankind’s own greed will destroy the throne 

By Amanda Wills

Although there has been a physical Iron Throne at the center of this story since the very beginning, it’s never been about the pieces of twisted metal or even what they symbolize.  

The Game of Thrones isn’t even what its title implies. The story is about man vs. man and how our relationships with each other can either define us -- or break us.  

Look no further than the unceremonious and swift killing of the Night King as proof. For years, you thought the show would come down to an epic battle between humankind and its very existence. But in the end, the being who symbolized what seemed to be most horrifying theme in the show -- eternal death -- was actually more fragile than we thought. So fragile and meaningless that his entire storyline could be wrapped neatly with a bow in a single episode.  

Now as the series is coming to an end we see that the scariest thing is no resolution. Men and women will fight against each other for the ultimate power, but what will fall is humanity -- and it’s not at the hands of the wights or the Night King. Rather, it’s humankind’s own greed that will destroy the throne, leaving nothing to claim but ashes. Everyone will die. There will be no throne to ascend. It’s the end of the show. It’s the end of this monarchy. It’s the end of the law. It’s the end of everything.

Amanda Wills is the Director of Breaking News at CNN. 

7:21 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Saying goodbye to 'Game of Thrones'

These commentators made their case for which character should win the Iron Throne. In doing so, they also shared personal insights about how they enter and connect with the world created by “Game of Thrones.” They open up about the resonance they see between Westeros and our own reality and the human complexities evoked by the show’s main characters and storylines.

As the show moves toward its final moments, CNN Opinion wants to hear from “Game of Thrones” fans. Tell us not just who you think will win, but what the fantastical universe this show has created has meant to you. How has the experience of watching changed you?

Click here to share your story.

6:48 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Tyrion Lannister: Someone who can do politics

By Kate Maltby

Let’s face it, the warriors of Game of Thrones have been pretty useless as rulers and tacticians. Robert Baratheon: victorious war hero, sleazy king. Robb Stark and Jon Snow: gave rousing battle speeches, got murdered by their own mutinous men. (And only one of them could rely on Melisandre’s resurrect-out-of-jail-free card.) Daenerys Targaryen: great on a dragon, heavier on the crucifying and burning than on building a civic society.

No, if someone’s going to rule Westeros peacefully, it’s got to be someone who can do politics. It would be useful if that person had a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, although claims seem to be pulled out of top hats like rabbits in Westeros these days.

Fortunately, that person exists. Tyrion Lannister, since the show’s first episode, has been the smartest person in any room in Westeros. He understands what motivates people: sex, money and revenge. (He’s experienced with all three.)

He can be ruthless when he must -- remember how he dispatched Janos Slynt to the Wall? Sure, he’s been off his form recently, but that just feels like showrunners losing interest in him. What a victory his comeback would be for the many of us who, like Tyrion, identify with “cripples, bastards and broken things.”

Does he have a claim? It’s a bit late in the series for D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to surprise us with yet another secret Targaryen -- popular though this theory is. (And how awful to vindicate Tywin Lannister’s insinuation that no dwarf could be his true son.) One popular theory suggests he has a claim through his Baratheon heritage, although it's a stretch.

But conquest has been the foundation of many a dynasty in Westeros, most notably Aegon Targaryen. Cersei Lannister once suggested Ned Stark should have claimed the throne the moment he found himself in the throne room with the corpse of the last ruler. Perhaps her brother will do just that. And despite a recent dry spell, he’s got the sexual function to build a dynasty.  

He’s far superior to the other contenders. Unlike Cersei, Daenerys, Arya Stark, and Jaime Lannister, Tyrion’s never killed anyone who didn’t have it coming. But unlike Sansa Stark and Jon, he’s never been too merciful or trusting. He’s been key to this game from the very first episode, unlike Gendry. And he’s human, unlike Bran.

Kate Maltby is a broadcaster and columnist in the United Kingdom on issues of culture and politics, and a theater critic for The Guardian. She is also completing a doctorate in Renaissance literature.

6:48 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Arya Stark is the GOAT of GoT

By Lisa Woolfork

For most of the run of “Game of Thrones,” I was a loyal devotee of Daenerys Targaryen. Dany had been my favorite contender for the Iron Throne because of her narrative arc from captivity and sexual bondage toward independence and liberation. I also cathartically cherished her vengeful spirit. And at the end of season 1, she promised that “[my] enemies will die screaming.” What’s not to love?  

But Missandei’s tragic death in the May 5 episode shifted my position. Watching her handcuffed body fall into the dirt outside King’s Landing after uttering her last word (“dracarys” -- the same word Daenerys spoke in season 2 to unleash the dragonfire that freed Missandei and the Unsullied from Slaver’s Bay), I realized that I didn’t care that much whether my enemies died screaming. I just wanted them dead. And that is what Arya Stark does like no one else.

Notwithstanding the fact that Arya does not want the Iron Throne, her rule would represent the fulfillment of the most important Game of Thrones ethos: you win or you die. And if you are on Arya’s list of enemies, you usually die -- making her arguably the most effective player in the Game of Thrones.

To be sure, Sansa on the Iron Throne with Arya as her Assassin Advisor would be acceptable. Yet Arya has her own merits. Her rule would radically and positively change all of Westeros. She has the power to do what Dany said she would do (but has yet to manage despite nearly 8 seasons): Arya Stark would break the wheel of cyclical power that grinds the oppressed beneath it. Arya would bring strategic, absolute justice to the powerful -- as she did to traitor and pedophile Ser Meryn Trant and the male line of House Frey.

Arya’s rule would also bring more gender equity in the kingdoms since Arya is one of the few point-of-view female characters to initiate sex for her own pleasure and curiosity. She seamlessly transgressed social boundaries and reciprocated no-frills compassion long before her transformative time in Braavos.

As Arya told Lord Tywin Lannister in season 2, “Anyone can be killed,” but it usually takes Arya to do it. She’s killed the living and the undead. Westeros isn’t good enough for her but she is the GOAT of GOT. Long may she reign.

Lisa Woolfork is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia, a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project and an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville.

7:06 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Jon Snow: The right character and the right lineage

By Samantha Vinograd

I try to steer clear of politics, but with the battle for the Iron Throne getting hotter by the minute, I have to throw my weight behind the one true king of Westeros: Jon Snow. 

Jon -- or Aegon Targaryen -- has both the right lineage and the right character to sit on the Iron Throne. As the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Jon is the rightful heir. In fact, it’s his birthright. But if his lineage alone doesn’t convince you, his actions should. He has the intellect, experiences and skills to effectively rule Westeros.

Jon is familiar with many parts of the Seven Kingdoms and many of his would-be subjects. While he grew up in Winterfell, he spent a significant amount of time traveling in the North and exploring other parts of the Seven Kingdoms. Everywhere he went, as he made new friends and allies.

Whether in Winterfell, Dragonstone, King's Landing, or even beyond the Wall, Jon has a proven track record of building powerful relationships with the people whom he meets.

This will serve him well when he is king. After years of war, bloodshed and divisions, Westeros will benefit from Jon’s abilities to connect with all of his subjects and, when necessary, to unite them. He’s a diplomat and a bridge builder -- we saw him work with the free folk, Daenerys Targaryen and so many others to fight the “Army of the Dead” -- and once he defeats Cersei Lannister, he will help bring the people of Westeros together.

Jon also has a record of service. He left his whole life behind to serve at the Wall as part of the Night’s Watch. He served then -- and he can serve now as King. Plus, during his service, he traveled beyond the Wall, which shows his willingness and ability to do whatever it takes to protect his people and his home.

A gifted warrior and strategist who isn’t afraid to make personal sacrifices for his people, Jon also has the humility necessary to rule. He put his own ambitions aside when he thought that Dany had the best chance of defeating the Night King. He pledged himself to her because he cared more about saving his people than he did about his own title.

Throughout almost eight seasons of “Game of Thrones,” we’ve seen a diverse parade of rulers. While a steady stream of kings, queens, princesses, ladies and lords have accompanied us, the people of the Seven Kingdoms finally need a leader who can take them forward, together. It’s time for Jon to assume his rightful position on the Iron Throne.

Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She served on President Obama's National Security Council from 2009-2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her @sam_vinograd

7:06 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Sansa Stark’s ascension would be the most delicious revenge 

By Lucia Brawley

Sansa Stark deserves to assume the Iron Throne, with Tyrion Lannister as her hand and Arya Stark as the head of her military.

Sansa is the only character on Game of Thrones, besides Cersei Lannister, who knows how to wield power behind the scenes, think ten steps ahead of her enemy, as well as her so-called “allies.” However, unlike Cersei, Sansa maintains a moral core. Sansa’s bloodline does not entitle her to claim control of the Seven Kingdoms, but her ascension would be the most delicious revenge for all she suffered as a result of Cersei's ruthless pawning of her when she was only a child. 

Over the course of eight seasons, Sansa went from a timid, callow, and impressionable “Little Bird” to the canniest leader on the show, even smarter than Tyrion - as evidenced by her admonishment that he ought not have trusted Cersei’s promise to send troops for the fight against the Night King. The tortures and betrayals she endured from King Joffrey, Ramsay Bolton, and Littlefinger have made her impervious to the romantic manipulations her brother/cousin Jon Snow falls prey to with his open-hearted gullibility and, unlike him, she wants to rule. She lived in King’s Landing, so she knows the Lannisters intimately and is therefore not susceptible to Cersei’s cunning. She used Littlefinger’s machinations against him to devise the strategy that enabled Jon Snow to win against Ramsay Bolton in the “Battle of the Bastards.” 

Sansa doesn’t force allegiance, she earns it with her brilliant mind and regal presence, as Danaerys once did. In Sansa’s case, though, she makes cool-headed calculations, rather than retaliating on impulse. And unlike Danaerys, Sansa has the trust of the North. Through her brother/cousin Jon Snow, and her own leadership qualities, she could conceivably also earn the trust of the South. She is the best-rounded leader. If it were not for patriarchal lineage she would be the obvious choice to assume the Iron Throne.

Lucia Brawley is a co-founder of amp.it, a new digital media network for cosmopolitan youth, and an executive producer of two-time Interactive Emmy finalist, "Take Back the Mic: The World Cup of Hip Hop." She has performed in theater, film and television in New York, Los Angeles and Europe and was a political organizer for the Obama presidential campaigns. She is also the author of the Consenting to Lead Facebook group and a graduate of Harvard with a master's in acting from Yale. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters. 

7:06 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Davos could set Westeros on a path to democracy

By Elie Mystal

I was promised a “broken” wheel. “Game of Thrones,” Season 6, Episode 10. I remember it like my name is Bran Stark. I wasn’t promised another Targaryen or Lannister or Stark, I was promised a new kind of ruling structure. As we approach the end of the series two seasons later, Ser Davos Seaworth, “The Onion Knight,” is the only person left alive in Westeros who can deliver it to me.

Davos is not one of these nepotism-fueled lordlings who have dominated Westeros for a millennium. He’s from the streets of King’s Landing. He hasn’t risen on the backs of others; instead, he was elevated for using illicit skills to bring hungry people some food. He’s suffered the barbarous so-called justice of having his fingers cut off, but has never sought to revisit that kind of justice on others. The only time he’s flashed a violent streak was when he was confronted by a woman who burns children alive. He can’t sing, he can’t dance, he can’t fight, but he can read.

We know George R.R. Martin is a student of history, and there is a real-world historical precedent for Davos’s claim to the Iron Throne. After the death of the Roman Emperor Nero, Rome experienced a year of civil war, known as “The Year Of The Four Emperors.” Sound familiar?

Titus Flavius Vespasianus, a man of humble birth, emerged from that tumult to be named Emperor Vespasian. Vespasian was a plain spoken man, known for his simple tastes and dry wit. He restored the political and financial stability the Empire had squandered. Oh, and he started construction on what we now call The Colosseum. 

Just as Vespasian ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Davos on the Iron Throne would end the cycle of great houses ruling Westeros. Davos is an older gentleman who has no issue, so his successor would likely be a man or woman hand picked based on merit. Or maybe, Davos would ask the people who they thought should rule after him. Davos could set Westeros on the path to merit-based rule, or even democracy. That’s what smashing the wheel looks like.

Elie Mystal is the executive editor of Above the Law and a contributor at the Nation.

7:07 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Bran Stark: The darkest horse on the board

By Gene Seymour

In many ways, he’s the darkest horse on the board. But then, the deck has been stacked against Ned Stark’s second and sole-surviving son from the beginning. He was, after all, this series’ first inadvertent witness to Westeros’ twisted underside -- and, consequently, its first hapless victim.

As soon as Jaime Lannister shoved Bran from a tower window for espying his illicit liaison with his sister Cersei Lannister, “Game of Thrones” viewers realized that this wasn’t going to be their parents’ or grandparents’ swords-and-sorcery genre piece. It’s one thing to wipe out a royal flunky for seeing what he shouldn’t have. To kill or, as it turned out, maim for life an innocent young boy for walking in on incest showed depravity -- whose oily, bloody depths we could only begin to foresee that first season.

Bran, as things turned out, was the one who could foresee (almost) everything. Though at first comatose and then left paralyzed because of Jaime’s attempt at cold-blooded murder, Bran became the series’ equivalent of Doctor Strange, the one most prone to prophecy and adroit at deciphering enigmatic visions.

With most of the other Starks, men and women alike, flashing metal and wielding swords in battle, Bran didn’t need weaponry to survive beyond the “greenseeing” abilities bestowed upon him by the all-powerful Three-Eyed Raven – which (spoiler alert!) by this point in the story he has actually become. (He did physically survive with the help of those who carried him during wartime.) He couldn’t walk, but he could fly -- and in doing so, he has been able to move farther and, yes, more cleverly than even Daenerys Targaryen and her remaining dragon.

Smart enough to sit on the Iron Throne? Why not? It wouldn’t be his first brush with monarchy after his late lamented brother Robb Stark was crowned King of the North, making Bran the next Lord of Winterfell. And while he may not be able to wield a sword or lead a battalion, he possesses talents that could contribute to the defense of the realm.

But let’s remember that Bran isn’t really Bran any more, but the Three-Eyed Raven. Those who’ve read George R.R. Martin’s books know that carrying that alternate identity requires a steady diet of hallucinogens that stoke Bran’s compulsive and mostly effective clairvoyance. All of which gives him the kind of power that neither wants nor needs a throne as validation.

Put more simply: Bran’s comfortable enough in an alternate world. Why would he care to rule in this one?

Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour