Game of Thrones: The final contenders for the Iron Throne

We assess the chances of 12 contenders: Lannisters, Starks, Targaryens and more

It's crunch time on Game of Thrones. And that isn't a reference to Daenerys and her presumed plan to have Cersei eaten alive by Drogon. With just two super-sized episodes remaining, the HBO fantasy saga to rule them all is hurtling towards its denouement.

In one corner, is Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and angriest person in all of Westeros following the execution of best pal/indentured translator Missendei (Were they friends or just especially chummy colleagues? We’ll never get to find out.).

Opposing her is Cersei Lannister, self-styled ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, with crazed sidekick/lover Euron Greyjoy. Once the dust has settled, who will be last despot standing?

Game of Thrones being Game of Thrones it would be far too neat were either Daenerys or Cersei to claim the crown in a straightforward manner. Even this late in the game, many twists surely remain. Nor are they the only power-players with a shot at the Iron Throne.


Prepare for a fight to the death: here are the contenders . . .

The incumbent

Cersei Lannister
She's mad, she's bad, she's just told Euron Greyjoy a whopping porkie-pie regarding the parentage of her unborn child. He think he's the big daddy. But, at the gates of King's Landing and within earshot of Euron, Tyrion has just referenced Cersei's impending motherhood. If Cersei has only just revealed her pregnancy to Euron, how could Tyrion have known?

This is sure to set bells clanging with Euron – who probably won't take well to being misled. That aside, Cersei is certainly ruthless enough to retain the throne. And with the 20,000 strong Golden Company of sellswords, she's not lacking for manpower.

But she’s always been a short-term schemer, blowing up the Sept of Baelor and all her enemies without any thought as what this would do for her image (not much). She also failed to stop Joffrey executing Ned Stark (thus beginning the War of the Five Kings). So she may be snug on the Iron Throne now – but what a miracle it would be if she was still there come the end of our tale.

If she were an Irish political entity she would be…
... Fine Gael. Part of a long running dynasty but can come across as out of touch and distant from the people. Attempts at rehabilitating her image not necessarily successful. Popular with the poshos in leafy Casterly Rock.

Chances of winning the throne
Less than fantastic. She has maintained an iron grip. But executing Missandei was all about projecting her indomitability and now she has a very angry Daenerys with whom to contend.

The challenger in chief

Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys has had a rough several months. First the Night King slew her dragon Viserion, then Daenerys was forced to grin-and-bear her new boyfriend's disapproving sister (Sansa). And now she's lost Jorah, her dragon Rhaegal and the aforementioned Missandei.

The last two are being pitched as the fatalities that have finally driven her over the brink. But there’s an argument that it’s the death of the cool and clear-headed Ser Jorah that has really unmoored her.

She has never felt more alone than at the post-battle feast in Winterfell, where everyone was falling over themselves to congratulate Jon Snow. And that despite the fact Daenerys had arguably done as much to turn the tide – and certainly paid the heavier personal price.

All alone, without any friends, how she could do with Jorah’s steadfast companionship and calming influence. The blazing fury that seized her after the execution of Missandei has seemed to confirm the “Mad Queen” theory: that Daenerys will follow in the footsteps of her psychotic father Aerys II and try to burn King’s Landing to the ground.

If she was an Irish political entity she would be ...
... Fianna Fáil. Believes she is marching hand in hand with destiny and that, as the rightful rule of Westeros, she has the backing of the "plain people". Has been involved in the occasional scandal and property dispute, such as when she remodelled the great pyramid of Meereen without planning permission.

Chances of winning the throne
Have nose-dived in the past several weeks. Two of her three original dragons are dead, as are her top advisers. Her boyfriend is also her nephew and biggest rival for the throne. And now she's really, really angry and about to lash out.

The reluctant ruler

Jon Snow
All he really wants to do is mope around with his new girlfriend. But he's just discovered that Daenerys is also his secret auntie and that his claim to the crown takes precedence over hers.

Jon has never sought glory – it was Sam who nominated him to lead the Night’s Watch and he became King in the North largely by dint of expelling the loathsome Ramsay from Winterfell.

Jon’s ultimate goal in life is really to live up to the standards of honour and set by his father Ned Stark. Only Ned wasn’t really his father. Added to all that, Jon finds himself in the middle of a power play between Sansa and Daenerys, two strong women far more interested in ruling than is he – and united by their deep dislike of one another. Whatever happens next, the going promises to be treacherous for Jon.

If he was an Irish political entity he would be …
... Labour. He makes the right noises – but is really prepared to do what it takes to gain power?

Chances of winning the throne
Making Jon ruler of the Seven Kingdoms would undoubtedly complete his heroic arc. But George RR Martin has promised a bittersweet ending to this story. Jon claiming the throne would be slightly too clichéd for our story.

The Queenslayer?

Jaime Lannister
Jaime has abandoned Brienne and is clopping back to King's Landing at top speed. But is he returning to be at the side of Cersei at her time of greatest need – or to bump her off and save Daenerys and Jon a world of trouble?

As has always been the case between the Lannister siblings, it’s complicated. Jaime, of course, has no designs on the throne for himself. After all, when he killed Aerys II all those years ago he did so to save King’s Landing – not because he coveted power.

But while King Jaime, first of his name, is a long shot it’s clear that he will have some significant part to play in the reckoning to come. The popular theory is that it is he who delivers the bittersweet coup de grace and finishes Cersei. But Game of Thrones has been all about “subverting expectations” this season, so it’s possible it has something else in mind for Ser Jaime.

If he was an Irish political entity he would be ...
... Sinn Féin. Used to hang around with some slightly iffy friends (Cersei, Tywin) and has a few skeletons he'd rather not be dragged out of the closet on the campaign trail (pushing a kid out a window, his punishment beating of his cousin in that cage).

Chances of winning the throne
Less than zero. Jaime doesn't want to be king and even if he was all he would do is mooch around and ask Cersei for advice. And he'd probably have had to kill her to become regent in the first place. So that would be a mess.

The ‘hard bstrd who’s good at killing people’

Bronn of the Blackwater
Ser Bronn is dead keen on become Ser Bronn, Lord of Highgarden. But to do so he will have to ensure that Daenerys becomes Queen – and that Tyrion is still her serving hand (by no means a certainty, given the poor quality of the Imp's recent advice).

Considering all he really wants is an easy life, a rich wife and a very large country pile, it is, however, unthinkable Bronn would have any designs on ruling from King’s Landing. For one thing it would place him once more in the vicinity of one of more Lannisters (“that f**king family”).

And for another, the last time he saw Daenerys she was trying to flame him and Jaime with Drogon. So if he were offered the Iron Throne he’d probably have it melted down and the scraps sold off.

If he was an Irish political entity he would be ...
... Independent: Bronn is a single issue candidate – the issue being making as much gold as possible.

Chances of winning
It's all relative. Bronn would be thrilled to end up with a castle and a rich wife. And also to have the Lannisters stop hiring him to do their dirty work.

The insurgent

Along with Sansa and Tyrion, Varys is the character whose personality has arguably changed the most across the past eight seasons. He used to be pragmatic and Machiavellian – thinking nothing, for instance, of taking out a hit on the newly pregnant Daenerys while she was horse-lording it up in Essos.

Now he’s turned into the biggest bleeding heart on Team Daenerys, and has quibbled with her plan to terrorise King’s Landing into submission by making the ordinary people suffer. With a humanitarian streak like that, how much longer will he last?

If he were an Irish political entity he would be ...
... The Social Democrats. Wants to please everyone, and has a hard time making his voice heard over the unruly din.

Chances of winning the throne
Slim. Varys, previously so circumspect, spent most of the recent episode telling Tyrion why betraying Daenerys was a good idea. That's unlikely to end very well for him.

The voice of reason

Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion Lannister had something of a return to form in the most recent episode when negotiating face to face with Cersei outside King's Landing. Fair enough, the tete-a-tete concluded with the execution of Missandei, so it wasn't a success on every front.

But at least her death could not be pinned on Tyrion’s bad advice – as was the case in the previous season when he suggested that Daenerys invade Casterly Rock only to be blind-sided by Euron Greyjoy and his magical flying fleet (happily Daenerys learned her lesson and would never again forget about Euron).

But let’s pretend for a moment that Stupid Tyrion of the past several reasons never existed. The old Tyrion – from Game of Thrones when it was a political drama rather than a Marvel movie with swearing – would have arguably made for the ideal ruler.

He had no interest in power for power’s sake and seemed genuinely engaged with the boring minutiae of running Seven Kingdoms (what to do with all that Wildfire when an invading fleet was en route for instance). Alas, he’s a much diminished figure now and has never really got over shooting his father, Tywin Lannister, on the privy.

But he’s even-tempered, fair-minded and isn’t one to bear a grudge. Were I a hard-scrabbling citizen of Fleabottom, Tyrion would get my non-existent first preference.

If he were an Irish political entity he would be ...
... The Troika. Even-tempered, not concerned with being personally liked and imposed on the people by an overseas ruler.

Chances of winning
A few seasons ago, Tyrion would have hands-down made for the best ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. But that was before exile and a streak of bad decisions.

The Long-Shot

Euron Greyjoy
He's rude, crude and can take down an airborne dragon a 500 yards. But though impressive on the campaign trail, what sort of ruler would Euron make? He certainly doesn't play well with others – recall how he pushed his brother Balon Greyjoy to his death back on Pyke?

The Euron of the books cuts a far more menacing figure, with his mystical “Dragonbinder” horn and ship crewed by men with their tongues cut out. Alas, on the show he serves largely as comic relief. Euron on the Iron Throne is a punchline we could frankly do without.

If he was an Irish political entity he would be ...
... Libertas. He's out there on the fringes and his policies will not meet with universal approval. But he also knows how to make a song and dance.

Chances of winning the throne
Euron won't end up on the Iron Throne. But if, as goes the speculation, he turns on Cersei after discovering she lied about the father of her child, he may have a part to play in the eventual shakedown.

The dark horse

Sansa Stark
Forged in the dragon fire of brutal captivity at the hands of the Lannisters and the Boltons. Sansa combines the political skills of her mother Catelyn – who arguably saw the Red Wedding coming where her idealistic son Robb did not – and the unwavering resolve of her father Ned.

And if she doesn’t covet power for its own sake, it is clear that Sansa would a) do anything to ensure the independence of the north and b) thinks Daenerys is as big a threat to the common good as Cersei. If peace and the security of Winterfell necessitated her sitting on the Iron Throne, would she refuse?

If she was an Irish political entity she would be ...
... The DUP. Believes the North should stand alone and has little time for the south and its moral degeneracy.

Chances of winning the throne
Sansa is the little bird who has grown steely talons and knows how to use them. Neither as bonkers as Cersei nor as distrusted as Daenerys, when the dust settles she might well be the last player standing.

The grass-roots candidate

Bran Stark
He stares into space and speaks gnomically – and that's on a good day. But has Game of Thrones dropped a Drogon-sized breadcrumb when having Bran and Tyrion speak off camera several weeks ago? A ruler who can see the past and has fleeting glimpses of the future – and can also warg into crows – would have a distinct advantage at the negotiating table. If only he wasn't so weird, this might be a leader Westeros could get behind.

If he was an Irish political entity he would be ...
... The Greens. Loves to sit in the woods contemplating nature but a bit of a bore when he gets going. Enjoys contemplating life from the perspective of wolves and crows.

Chances of winning the throne
Bran doesn't want to rule. But could his immense breadth of knowledge and the ability to project his consciousness across time give him the edge?

The take-no-prisoners firebrand

Arya Stark
Arya knows what she wants: and what she wants is to tick off as many names as feasible from her kill list. As a single platform contender, there's something refreshingly straightforward about the youngest Stark sister.

She certainly can’t be accused of dancing around her position on killing Cersei (pro), defeating the Night King (all for it) and the desirability of a Targaryen restoration (actually…she’d rather not comment).

If she was an Irish political entity she would be ...
... People Before Profit: Knows how to raise a ruckus and has unyielding views on a variety of subjects. Once quizzed Tywin Lannister on his knowledge of the working classes

Chances of winning the throne
Arya is the literal knife in the dark on the show and is clearly planning to slip into King's Landing and kill Cersei. But beyond vengeance, what motivates her?

The carrier of the family name

Gendry Baratheon
One of the many illegitimate children of King Robert, Gendry has never had any interest in ruling and certainly doesn't seem very adept at playing the Game of Thrones. But he is the last living Baratheon and nobody hates him particularly – which certainly sets him apart from other contenders. He's not dead (yet) so for that reason alone he's in with a yell.

If he was an Irish political entity he would be ...
... Independent Fianna Fáil. The family name is a massive leg-up and, while he doesn't really fit in with the establishment, there's a lot of tradition at his back. Promise to fix the pot-holes around Riverrun and who is to say how far he might go.

Chances of winning
Gendry vanished from Game of Thrones for three seasons without anyone really noticing or caring. Were he to end up on the Iron Throne it would be definitive proof the show truly is trying to blindside us.

Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics