The Most Plausible Theories on How George R. R. Martin Could End 'Game of Thrones'
Cersei Lannister tried to warn Ned Stark right before he died in the first season of Game of Thrones: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." That simple, iconic statement only became more complicated as the episodes rolled by and as the stakes ratcheted up. Through eight seasons of prestige television, medieval kings and queens made political plays; Jon Snow discovered some truths about his parentage; Daenerys seemed like she had learned how to govern and then burnt it all to a crisp. After the the last dragon in the world melted down the Iron Throne and Jon killed the second love of his life, a council of Lords and Ladies elected Bran the Broken as their King, exiling Jon Snow, the last Targaryen in the world, to the Night’s Watch.
Luckily, for those who felt the series ended without exploring all the narrative possibilities, Game of Thrones started as an adaptation of a series of novels by George R. R. Martin, and there are still two books left to be published. We haven’t caught up with the characters in Martin’s novels since A Dance With Dragons from 2011, so a lot of the end of TV’s Song of Ice and Fire could be relitigated in the upcoming text. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the Game of Thrones showrunners, were told the ending of the master arc of the series by Martin when they started, but have otherwise remained silent about what those specific details were when it comes to the ending. The show may be over, but the race to the Iron Throne still has a larger conclusion that needs to be reached.
Below are the players in the literary Game of Thrones world with the best chance at winning King’s Landing and control over the realm. Thanks to the scope of Martin’s sprawling epic, this list is far from complete. We highly suggest you read the novels yourself: You a lot of time to catch up before the series is completed.
1. Daenerys Targaryen
When we last left Daenerys Targaryen in A Dance With Dragons, the latest novel, she was stuck in Meereen, trying to rule the liberated city while beating off external threats. She’s chained two of her dragons and Drogon flew off. Book Dany is sleeping with Daario Naharis (like she was in the in the show before demanding he stay behind to rule as she goes off to conquer King's Landing), but is married to Hizdahr zo Loraq (also like in the show). Unlike Game of Thrones Meereen, the city of the books is being ravaged by a disease called the "Pale Mare." Eventually, the showdown at the dragon pit happens, Dany rides Drogon away from Meereen and gets ill on the way back, where she runs into a Dothraki Khalasar.
Martin has described the character’s situation in the novels as a "Meereenese Knot" because of the complexity of Daenerys story in Slaver’s Bay. We know the character’s ultimate ambition to re-claim the throne of her ancestors is probably going to come to pass. If you believe the visions and prophecies in Martin’s work, then Dany is destined to make it Westeros, to King’s Landing, and to the Iron Throne. All of that happened to her in the series, but at the price of her sanity. It’s likely this turn towards her "fire and blood" nature will also come to pass in the books, but over a longer arc with the benefit of point-of-view chapters. Either way, Dany’s brief reign as the Queen of Ashes seems like a momentary win for her, so she’s at the top of the list to win it all in the books.
2. Aegon Targaryen (no, not Jon Snow)
There’s another Aegon Targaryen in the books, one that the show left out entirely: the son of Rhaegar and Elia Martell, and not Lyanna Stark, though there's that "Aegon Targaryen," too, the Jon Snow we know and tolerate. In the books, this Aegon, going around with blue hair and purple eyes as a guy named Griff, claims that the Aegon thought murdered by The Mountain, like the rest of Elia Martell's children, when he was just a baby had actually been swapped with another baby, and Varys snuck the true Aegon out of the castle.
Novel version of Varys has pivoted to this guy, assuming he’s the best option for the Targs to retake the Iron Throne (Varys has been anti-Lannister for a long time). Because of some key passages, a lot of book readers think that this Aegon is a fake, but still, he managed to raise an army (well, he bought the Golden Company) and is assaulting the Stormlands as King’s Landing deals with its forehead carving Faith Militant infestation and the Tyrell power grab. King Tommen -- still alive! -- has declared this Aegon a pretender as well, obviously to keep the throne to himself. But this book Aegon/Griff, claiming to be a descendant of Rhaegar, has as good a chance at the Iron Throne as Jon Snow did in the back half of Season 8 of Game of Thrones: He’s a Targaryen with the "right" genitals.
3. Arianne Martell
If you haven’t read the books, but were a fan of Game of Thrones, you might have caught the backlash on how the TV series dealt with the country of Dorne (and women, just in general). On the show, we met Prince Doran and the Sand Snakes after Oberyn Martell had his head crushed by The Mountain, but the series pivoted to Ellaria and her daughters before writing Dorne off entirely. Reduced to a wordless, princely appearance at the dragon pit in the series finale, the Dornish were mostly forgotten and weren’t serious players for the Iron Throne. That’s different in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, where there is a Martell Princess who actually has a good shot at grabbing power.
Arianne is the eldest child of Prince Doran and heir to all of Dorne (replaced by Trystane Martell in the show), and after a minor misunderstanding where she thought he was showing preference to her younger brother Quentin (don’t worry too much about him, he dead), she’s now all-in for a Dornish Queen in King’s Landing. Arianne is smart, quick witted, and not above using her looks to seduce people into playing their parts in her schemes. She also currently has direct access to Myrcella (Lannister) Baratheon in Dorne, so she has some sway over the crown. Some released chapters from the next novel, The Winds of Winter, show that Arianne is off to investigate the legitimacy of this other Aegon/Griff in the Stormlands. If Aegon’s chances are good to rise to the Iron Throne, so is Arianne’s, and there's no question about her lineage.
4. Stannis Baratheon
That’s right, your boy Stannis is alive and well in the books. Actually, "well" is probably an over-statement of how his armies are doing. Currently, they are stuck in the snow outside Winterfell (where the Boltons are also still alive and in control of the Stark family seat). Things aren’t going well inside the castle, with the Manderlays and the Freys causing disruptions, a series of unexplained murders, and rumors milling about that Stannis is about to attack at any time. What people don’t know is that Stannis’ army is in bad shape and can’t proceed forward. Remember, this happened in the show and the troops were about to turn to eating their horses.
Sadly, how Stannis manages to free his army from being snow-logged is probably also something you remember from the show: he sacrifices his daughter Shireen to the Lord of Light by burning her at the stake. Supposedly, that and the reveal of how Hodor got his name were two plot points given to the showrunners by Martin, so it looks like Shireen of the books will help her father continue his quest to be king. It’s much more likely at this point that Stannis retakes Winterfell than there being a Battle of the Bastards, and Stannis always was a good candidate for the Throne. If he can make it south of Winterfell, he has a good shot at winning it all.
5. Euron or Victarion Greyjoy
Euron is fighting in the Iron Islands after having returned from Essos and murdered his brother, Balon. Then there was a Kingsmoot, then he became King, basically like his early introduction on the show. Novel Euron though, is much more extreme in his wizard piracy and probably has a special horn that allows him to control dragons. It’s a type of horn magic that the show never introduced and a type of magic that has been expected by fans of the books who know the lore about horns with magical powers (like one that can bring down the wall instead of having to create a zombie dragon). If Euron’s Iron Fleet surges to the power it was on the show, his dragon horn could replace giant ballistas as the object that makes him a threat to Daenerys.
...Or, his brother Victarion could marry Daenerys before she even gets to Westeros. That’s correct: There is another Greyjoy brother. This one is a bit more devious and less showy. After losing his bid to be King of the Iron Islands at the Kingsmoot, he was sent to make an alliance with the Dragon Queen of Meereen. Victarion plans to double-cross Euron and marry Daenerys, then bring her across the Narrow Sea to Westeros for a Greyjoy/Targaryen rule. Ambitious, but this guy didn’t even make it to the television adaptation, so how important could he be? Where’s his magic horn?
5. Margaery Tyrell
Since Cersei hasn't blown up the Sept in the novels, Margaery Tyrell is still alive and still a player. Cersei’s plan to get her arrested by the Faith Militant for adultery backfired, and if she plays the game as well as her television counterpart, Margaery’s got a strong shot at staying Queen and keeping control of young Tommen (who is younger still in the books). Margaery is seen as a woman of the people and would be a more popular female monarch than Cersei, who has recently driven the Crown into deep debt by serial mismanagement. If Margaery can hold the status quo in King’s Landing, her climb to ultimate power would just be one of outlasting: outlasting Cersei, outlasting Aegon, and outlasting Dany, who is taking fucking forever to get to Westeros.
6. Jon Snow (the other Aegon Targaryen)
It’s crazy that Jon Snow’s true parentage didn’t amount to much on Game of Thrones outside of a handful of scenes where the secret was shared and made Dany very, very upset. By the time Jon is exiled up North, no one even mentions that he’s Aegon Targaryen. The books will probably make more of this reveal and will press Jon’s claim as Aegon (if he can prove it better than the other Aegon listed above). Given that Jon Snow and Tyrion get the most point-of-view chapters across all the books, it’s very, very, very likely that Jon Snow is the "Ice" in the Song of Ice and Fire that the series is named after.
The one complicating factor, and the reason Jon is at the bottom of this list, is that he’s dead. After suggesting he was going to take the Free Folk (Wildlings) down south of the wall to fight Ramsay Bolton (in the book Battle of the Bastards) was reason enough for his fellow Night’s Watch brothers to stab him in the heart and leave him dead in the snow. The books have not resolved that cliffhanger yet, so even though Jon Snow has excellent odds at winning the Throne on a meta level… the text does not back that up -- yet.
7. Bran Stark
The crippled Stark who was crowned King of the Six Kingdoms in the final episode of Game of Thrones is mostly on this list because he won on TV. Bran of the Books is still North of the Wall in the cave of the Three Eyed Raven. There, he’s being fed Weirwood paste and slowly learning about his green-seeing abilities. Because the novel’s prophecies aren’t as straightforward, and due to the greater number of characters and houses explored in GRRM's world-building, it’s very hard to tell how important Bran will be in the final two novels. Martin does love his broken characters, so Bran making it to the end tracks -- but does it make sense for him to be King?
Still to come in the novels is a further exploration of Bran’s powers and his ability to communicate magically. Theon thought he heard a whisper during Ramsay Bolton’s wedding ceremony to Jayne Pool that could have been Bran, and Bran’s already whispered at his father Eddard in the past. One choice in the show that was ported directly from Martin was the meaning of "Hodor" and the origins of the gentle giant’s condition. That means we have Bran’s discovery of his time-looping abilities still to come, and maybe the Three Eyed Raven has more wisdom to impart about the meaning of it all before Bran’s training is over. He’s a long way from being King of anything, but so was show Bran… until he was… elected(?)... King… because a prisoner (??) called for it. Who could have predicted that?
But what about…
Cersei, as she’s portrayed in the books, is drinking wine and slowly going mad. Maybe not like she did on the show, blowing up the Sept of Balor and all, but she did set fire to the Tower of the Hand. She may not be the power-player of the Cersei on TV, but she does currently have a son on the Throne. Odds aren’t great that Cersei gets a shot at total rule right now. She has Ser Robert Strong (pretty much agreed upon to be the Zombie Mountain) to act as her representative in any trials by combat, so she should be free of being executed, but she has the Tyrells and the Faith Militant to deal with.
Tyrion is travelling to Essos to help Daenerys, presumably. He’s fled King’s Landing after shooting his father Tywin, but he doesn’t aspire to the Throne and is in no position as a noseless incognito dwarf to take a shot at getting back in the game. Is it possible his trajectory intertwines with Dany’s to bring them both back to Westeros like in the show? Yes, but it hasn’t happened yet and Tyrion is a long way from the Throne.
As for Jaime -- he doesn’t have a legitimate path to the Throne right now without admitting to incest and dooming his sister. Plus, Brienne is leading him into some sort of Lady Stoneheart trap.
Still at the House of Black and White. She’s just recovered her sight, but -- like Tyrion -- has shown no indication that she’s headed back to Westeros to seek the Throne. Seeking revenge seems likely, but not the Throne.
Sansa dodged her in-show fate and was not married to Ramsay Bolton (that dishonor went to a book character named Jayne Pool). Instead, she’s in the Vale where she’s been hiding as an illegitimate daughter of Littlefinger. She might be in a position to become Lady of the Vale at some point, but she’s not the power player Sansa grew into on the TV show.
A book favorite that never came to fruition in the series, Catelyn Stark is resurrected as Lady Stoneheart, running around the Riverlands exacting vengeance as an undead. There’s some debate around if she’s going to end up killing Jaime Lannister in the next book, but the Valonqar prophecy complicates that as Jaime and Cersei’s fates are intertwined. Lady Stoneheart has vengeance on her mind, of course, not the Iron Throne.