This much is for sure: not everyone will survive.
But for those who do, there’s an increasingly good chance that Game of Thrones will end with a better, brighter Westeros. Or, to be more precise, a Republic of Westerosi states.
This idea in itself isn’t new. A year ago, this Reddit thread suggested that we’re actually watching an allegorical tale about how dictatorships transition into democracy; that its characters will ultimately shun the uncomfortable Iron Throne, that it will end with the wheel of monarchical misrule finally broken.
Such fan theories sounded a lot like wishful thinking — until now. Developments in the epic “Beyond the Wall” episode signal that the story is heading in a democratic direction.
At Dragonstone, Tyrion badgered Dany on the question of succession (something I’ve called the show out for been particularly lax about in the past). She shot back something she’s often stated, that she can no longer have children. This was repeated to Jon at the end of the episode for good measure.
Tyrion’s response was to point out, as much for our benefit as Dany’s, that not everyone in the world subscribes to this whole succession-as-inheritance thing. He mentioned the Night’s Watch, an organization that just happens to elect its leader in true democratic fashion.
(Tyrion also mentioned the Iron Islanders, but their Kingsmoot “elections” are decided by aristocrats. Besides, they just voted for a guy who killed his predecessor, so let’s ignore their example for now.)
In any case, Tyrion has now planted the seed of elections with Dany. Varys would likely whisper his support, given the scene in “Stormborn” that told us his allegiance was with the common people of Westeros. If this seed bears fruit in eight episodes time, it’s because the ground has been well-prepared.
Jon, meanwhile, the former elected leader of the Night’s Watch, doesn’t need any seed-planting. He spent a good portion of last week’s episode hoping Dany could be truly different as a Queen, someone who really would break the wheel as promised and not be “more of the same” — ie. rule by population-terrorizing war-mad monarchs.
The showrunners appear to be filling large chunks of time in the show, an increasingly precious resource, with dialogue that has little purpose other than to prepare us for the arrival of some sort of Westerosi democracy. One that may be brought about, ironically, by a King and a Queen.
Democracy needs a boost
Let’s be honest here: it just feels right that the most popular entertainment in the world in 2017 should have an ending that gives us a small semblance of hope for the rule of law above the rule of dynastic dictatorships.
The showrunners live under the Trump administration too, after all, and may have as much to say about politics as their viewers do. Yes, entertainment that trades in monsters and mythology can still be a commentary on our world; you may have heard of Star Wars (yep, it’s political) and a utopian vision known as Star Trek.
As the much-better received seventh season shows, Messrs. Benioff and Weiss are finally giving fandom exactly what it wants to see. Here’s how their pro-democracy allegory might play out in Season 8.
First of all, let’s take it as read that Jon and Dany are headed for an alliance, romantically and politically speaking (there was often little difference between the two in medieval times, after all). The two biggest heroes of the story are almost certain to hook up, if their smoldering eyes thus far and internet chatter about the next episode are to be believed.
If it happens, this is no Daario-like dalliance. You don’t just have one-night stands between monarchs. This is the Dragon and the Wolf making a pact, just as Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark changed the history of Westeros by hooking up and creating Jon in the first place.
The combined strength of these two monarchs, both in their storytelling power and in Westerosi military terms, seems unstoppable. They’re fire and ice, literal dragon and Direwolf; they have dragonglass by the ton and an actual demigod by the name of Bran Stark. (Not to mention the help they’re getting from Westeros’ smartest drinker, Tyrion.)
Eight episodes seems the right number for this group of heroes to overcome their two main obstacles, Cersei Lannister and the wight army (whom we’ve just been told will all die if the Night King dies, setting up a final duel with Jon Snow).
And then what?
Then they melt down the damn Iron Throne with dragonfire, and declare themselves the last King and Queen of Westeros. They will have no children. After them power will be vested in an elected leader — President, Prime Minister or Hand. Whatever you want to call the role, Tyrion is a shoo-in to be the first one.
And if her curse gets lifted and Dany gets pregnant by Jon after all? (Yes, they’re related Targaryens, but that never stopped any Targaryens, nor a couple of Lannisters we know.) What if they want their children to succeed them after all, but still want to put an elected official in charge of actually governing? Then we may be witnessing the beginnings of a constitutional monarchy.
This would be the George R.R. Martin equivalent of what the UK still calls the Glorious Revolution of 1688. That was when England installed a foreign king and queen on the understanding that they’d break a wheel — the mad and murderous parade of Stuart kings who thought they ruled by divine right. Sound familiar?
The story may kill off one of this power couple to satisfy its previously established gruesome narrative conventions, but at least one of them will live. Game of Thrones without heartbreaking deaths isn’t Game of Thrones, but the show is also defined by its hope. For all the devastation wreaked on them, remember, there are five members of the extended Stark family from episode 1 still kicking.
If the story kills off one of Dany and Jon, then the other becomes even more likely to start some kind of constitutional, democratic republican experiment to honor what the other wanted — “breaking the wheel” and Night’s Watch-style democracy respectively.
Martin’s unwritten final book may or may not be intended to go in this direction. But with its very un-Game of Thrones title, “The Promise of Spring”, there’s a good chance this was part of the plan all along.