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With a New Queen and King in Westeros, ‘Game of Thrones’ Enters Its Final Act

HBO/Pilgrym
HBO/Pilgrym

Cersei rules in King’s Landing. Jon is a Targaryen. There’s a new King in the North. Dany’s fleet is heading west. There’s open warfare in the South. Sam needs someone to tell him how the Dewey decimal system works. SO MUCH HAPPENED SUNDAY NIGHT. Best episode ever? Yes.

On to the questions.

Brian asks, “Uhhh … how did Varys get from Dorne to Meereen so fast?”

Screenshot via HBO Now
Screenshot via HBO Now

Dany’s grand armada sets sail some months after Varys’s meeting in Dorne. See the above. Dornish sails on the right, the rose of Highgarden on the left. The Master of Whisperers obviously got a ride back to Sla — excuse me, the Bay of Dragons from Dany’s new allies. Not the most elegant of time jumps, but whatever.

Katie asks, “Technically speaking, what claim does Cersei have to the throne? Is she considered Tommen’s heir?”

Well, she considers herself Tommen’s heir. And who will object? Certainly no one inside King’s Landing. Cersei’s claim to the throne is built on fear. She commands the City Watch, whatever Lannister troops are in the capital, a 7-foot zombie, and a spy network of stab-happy Oliver Twist poppets who can inform her of any overheard whispers of dissent. That’s it, but for now, that’s enough. We’re in a revolutionary period of Westerosi history; the traditional rules of who inherits what and who can rule where have gone out the window like King Tommen.

That said, Cersei, the first of her name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, the First Men, and the Rhythm Nation, is in a tenuous position. Her family’s last ally, Walder Frey, just had his throat slit as he sat in front of a pie made of two of his sons. Walder was infamous for his prolific production of offspring. Now, that panoply of Frey kin will be at each other’s throats trying to succeed him.

To the south of King’s Landing, the Reach has joined forces with its ancient enemy Dorne, and their combined strength alone might be enough to smash the Lannister army and take the capital. But, of course, the Reach and Dorne are not alone — they’re part of Dany’s ginormous alliance — joining 140,000 Dothraki, as many as 8,000 Unsullied spearmen, and three fire-breathing dragons.

Cersei isn’t even safe in King’s Landing. If she leaves the Red Keep, she will need to worry about the thousands of people in the city who lost family and friends when the Sept of Baelor went up in a bloom of green fire. And, lest she think she’s safe within the castle walls, Arya Stark is back in Westeros, with a pocket full of faces borrowed from the House of Black and White and a fully leveled-up murder rating. There is no end game for Cersei. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s finished, and House Lannister, in its current form, is finished too.

Chappell asks, “What will happen to Ser Pounce? Will he be forced to fend for himself in Flea Bottom like Arya in Season 1?”

Sad day for Ser Pounce, who will mourn by clawing a tapestry and urinating on a pair of silk slippers before eating a mouse and falling asleep in a sunbeam.

HBO
HBO

Alejandro asks, “Has R + L = J been confirmed? Is Jon the ‘ice and fire’? Please tell me Jon is a Starkgaryen!!!”

I think we can say without a doubt now that Jon is half Stark and half Targaryen.

Let’s quickly recap the (now confirmed?) R + L = J theory. Roughly 19 years before the events of the show, Lord Whent of Harrenhal hosted a tournament at his gigantic, cursed castle in the Riverlands. It was the greatest tournament of its day and all the houses of the realm were in attendance. Rhaegar Targaryen, the crown prince of Westeros, won the tournament and shocked the realm by passing over his wife, the Princess Elia Martell, to name Lyanna Stark — Ned’s sister, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon — the tournament’s Queen of Love and Beauty. A short time after the tournament, Prince Rhaegar (allegedly) abducted and raped Lyanna, sparking Robert’s Rebellion. Nine months later, Ned — with a clutch assist from his hype man, Howland Reed — fought his way through members of the Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy, where Lyanna had just given birth to Jon.

From what we know of Rhaegar’s personality, he was a music lover and a poet, not a mad-dog rapist. It’s assumed that his relationship with Lyanna, though unspeakably tragic and the source of tens of thousands of deaths, was an affair of the heart. Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon. Jon is the song of ice and fire.

OK, now let’s get weird. What if it isn’t R but A + L — as in Aerys the Mad King? (I touched on this theory in my book reader’s shootaround with Mallory, so if you’re a book reader or a person who doesn’t care about spoilers, go check it out.) There’s scant but tantalizing evidence.

First, it’s kinda suspicious that the sound drops out when Lyanna tells Ned who the father is. This, after all, is ostensibly the final reveal of the mystery of Jon’s parentage, and the show doesn’t actually tell us who the father is.

Second, problem pregnancies were a trademark of the Mad King. Most of the pregnancies the Mad King produced with his wife, Queen Rhaella, ended in miscarriage, stillbirth, or early death. Additionally, if you subscribe to the theory that Tyrion is also Targaryen (I’m not a huge fan of this, but there’s a lot of supporting circumstantial evidence), then you can add Joanna Lannister’s death while giving birth to Tyrion — a mirror image to Lyanna’s demise — to that sad list.

I don’t buy A + L = J. In fact, I kinda hate it, just for what it likely would mean Lyanna went through (not to mention it would make Jon and Dany half siblings). But, I have to admit, it’s a possibility.

Brad asks, “Since Jon is (finally!) officially a Targaryen, what is the new order of succession to the Iron Throne? Does his claim trump Dany’s even though Rhaegar died before Aerys, and was never more than a prince?”

As I wrote above, it’s not about claims anymore. It never really was. Stannis had a better claim than his little brother Renly, after all, and no one cared. Will the Unsullied or the Dothraki take orders from Jon? No. So, forget claims.

But, just for the sake of tits and dragons, let’s play this out. Pretend, for a moment, that Robert’s Rebellion failed and all the children of Aerys the Mad were still alive. Aerys would be followed by Prince Rhaegar, who in turn would be followed by his firstborn legitimate son, the infant Prince Aegon. Then Prince Aegon’s firstborn son, and so on, and so on. If Rhaegar and all his male children die, then it goes to King Aerys’s other son, Viserys, Dany’s brother, who we last saw getting his dome enameled by molten gold. Jon, remember, is still a bastard; R + L = J doesn’t change that (though, technically, he should be “Jon Sand” now). In short, between Dany and Jon, the Khaleesi still has the stronger claim.

Stephen asks, “Is Bran the only person in Westeros who knows that Jon is not Ned’s son (i.e., does Littlefinger know)?”

Revealing that Jon is a Targaryen to the audience was the easy part. The difficult part is: How does the rest of realm find out?

So, who knows? Bran, obviously. And, while we don’t know exactly how his greenseer powers work, I would imagine Bran is capable of demonstrating the veracity of Jon’s lineage in persuasive fashion.

Howland Reed — Meera and Jojen’s father — was at the Tower of Joy. Though Reed didn’t go inside, seeing Ned Stark walk out with a newborn and Lyanna’s body probably spoke for itself. The reclusive Lord of Greywater Watch is well known for having been one of Lord Eddard’s most trusted confidantes, and his words would carry real weight, especially in the North.

In the Season 5 scene in the crypts of Winterfell where Littlefinger recounts the story of the tournament at Harrenhal, Baelish makes a I-know-something-you-don’t-know face when Sansa repeats the “Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna” story. He may know something but I doubt that includes Jon’s parentage, simply because it’s hard to imagine Littlefinger holding on to such sensitive information for decades without trying to profit from it. This doesn’t preclude him — or anyone else, for that matter — from plain figuring it out! I mean, it is kind of mystifying that no one in Westeros has made the connection before. Lyanna Stark gets kidnapped by Rhaegar and dies nine months later, then the famously honorable and practically virginal Ned Stark comes back from the war with an infant bastard? It’s not calculus.

Dean asks, “If Jon has been declared King in the North, could he in theory royal decree himself to be a Stark?”

Maybe, but why would he bother? HE’S JUST BEEN DECLARED KING. You get legitimized so you can inherit lands and titles. Jon skipped step one and went directly to being king. He’s king because the North considers him — as the kwane Lady Mormont stated explicitly — to be a Stark.

HBO
HBO

Gabriel asks, “If Dany’s looking for marriage alliances, what are the chances Tyrion and Sansa stay married?”

Tyrion and Sansa’s union is a footnote at this point. Both parties, not to mention the realm, have moved on from it. Also, the marriage, as I’m sure Tyrion and Sansa would happily admit, was never consummated; they should be able to marry again without too much fuss.

Tyrion is, marital status aside, a pretty poor match for Daenerys from a political perspective. House Lannister is isolated and reviled throughout the realm. Not to mention, the famed Lannister gold mines are tapped out, meaning any wedding to a Lannister breaks the TLC “No Scrubs” rule. Tyrion is also a kinslayer with a low, though somewhat undeserved, reputation throughout the Seven Kingdoms. I mean, he did kill his father on the toilet, but, you know, long story. Anyway, there’s no value added for Dany in such a marriage. Wedding alliances are used to bring two sides together, and Tyrion and Dany are already allies.

My Targaryen-spouse power rankings:

1–9. Jon Snow. A no-brainer. A marriage to Jon — the King in the North and already a legendary figure in his own right — would deliver the largest region of Westeros to Dany’s reconstituted Targaryen regime. The Targaryens traditionally married within their family to keep the bloodline pure and power concentrated in their hands; Jon’s recently revealed lineage fits this custom nicely. He’s kind of boring and mopey and has had sex only in caves, but, for the good of the realm, you work past that.

10. Bran Stark. Also brings the North into the fold, and, technically, he has the strongest claim to Winterfell. Greenseers are useful to have around. But can he produce heirs?

11. Yara Greyjoy. She’s clearly DTF and having the future queen of the Iron Islands on your side is a net positive. But, to gain the chance to win that title, Yara has already given Dany the thing she needed: ships. Marrying Yara would be like buying the ships twice. Dany should just hit her with the odd late-night “you up?” raven and leave it there.

20. Tyrion Lannister. See above.

23. Euron Greyjoy. The sitting king of the Iron Islands isn’t Dany’s type. And, anyway, she already promised to overthrow him.

35. Jaime Lannister. He is, at least, the Lord of Casterly Rock. No matter, he’ll probably be dead soon.

87. Some random noble from Dorne or the Reach. WHERE YOU AT, QUENTYN???

235. Samwell Tarly. Swore a solemn oath to never marry. Whatever, there aren’t a lot of bachelors out here.

399. Theon Greyjoy. Various obvious reasons.

400. Littlefinger. Just, no. Please, no.

Satya asks, “Who funds the Citadel? Is it like a consortium-type situation, like when a bunch of companies fund a research park?”

The Citadel receives payments from the various noble houses for the services of its maesters in addition to an unknown percentage of Oldtown’s tax revenues.

Patrick asks, “Why is Sam still on the show? Four armies are converging; what’s a guy in a library have to do with it?

Sam is the person who discovered the importance of dragonglass and Valyrian steel. How were the White Walkers originally defeated? How was the Wall built? HOW IS VALYRIAN STEEL MADE? Those are the problems that Sam will be working on that no one else is.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.