For better or worse, Game of Thrones is headed back to its roots. The threat of a global calamity no longer looms over the realm, and the show is set to shift its focus back south to the Iron Throne. As Daenerys says in the teaser for Episode 4 of this season, “We have won the Great War, now we will win the Last War.”
Thrones will now center once again on the inter-human struggles and political scheming that have defined so much of the show. Characters like Bran, who connect the story to magic and fantasy, may take a back seat going forward, while Melisandre and Beric, two characters who represent the Lord of Light, died in “The Long Night,” potentially taking that aspect of the story with them. It also means that characters with a more political bent can be welcomed back into the fold. As my colleague Megan Schuster pointed out, Varys—for example—will finally have something to do again:
there is one positive about the Night King portion of GOT being over, and it's that my man Varys should have a much higher usage rate now that they're going up against Cersei— Megan Schuster (@megschuster) April 29, 2019
Of the main characters, no two have more potential to see their roles expand than Sansa and Tyrion. The two were sidelined in the Battle of Winterfell, with Sansa poignantly noting that “None of us can do anything.” Now that the battle is over, each can be a player in the so-called Last War. Sansa still yearns for an independent North, and is Jon’s most trusted confidant. Tyrion, meanwhile, is Dany’s key strategic adviser and will help her plan the war against his own sister. The two are playing similar roles: Tyrion as Dany’s hand, Sansa in essence the same for Jon (sorry, Davos).
The show is already positioning these two characters together as powerful behind-the-scenes players in the Jon-Dany alliance, if not a couple (we’ll get to that, shippers). They started off the season with a tense reunion (Sansa’s “I used to think you were the cleverest man in the world” is an iconic dunk), but in the last episode, the two reconnected in a significant way, sharing a handful of key moments in the crypts of Winterfell. It began with a conversation about their now-defunct marriage:
Tyrion: Maybe we should have stayed married.
Sansa: You were the best of them.
Tyrion: What a terrifying thought.
Sansa: It wouldn’t work between us.
Tyrion: Why not?
Sansa: The dragon queen. Your divided loyalties would become a problem.
Missandei: Yes, without the dragon queen there would be no problem at all. We’d all be dead already.
Then they shared a long, long—really, I can’t stress this enough, it lasts forever—look as wights emerge in the crypts:
Tyrion even kisses Sansa’s hand:
It’s a touching moment as the two face what they believe to be their imminent demise, but given that they both survived, these scenes bring up a new question: Is there something—political, romantic, or otherwise—going on here? At the very least, it’s clear that Tyrion and Sansa share an understanding that could have ramifications for Thrones’s final three episodes, especially as the truth of Jon’s real parentage looms over Daenerys’s own claim to the Iron Throne.
On the surface, Sansa and Jon represent the North, while Daenerys and Tyrion are after the throne. But zoomed out, this alliance is not so simple. Jon and Daenerys are in love. Sansa and Tyrion were once married, and appear to have an understanding with each other. Those connections could complicate the ones that unite Jon with Sansa and Daenerys with Tyrion, and both of those groupings have hit rough patches in recent seasons.
Sansa’s relationship with Jon has been rocky for virtually the entire time they’ve been together. Since Season 6, the elder Stark daughter has questioned Jon’s decisions at nearly every turn. Before the Battle of the Bastards, Sansa and Jon argue when she insists they don’t have enough men to fight Ramsay (and yet she also doesn’t tell Jon that she has the Knights of the Vale on the way). Then in Season 7, she takes issue with Jon when he returns Last Hearth and Karhold back to the Umbers and Karstarks, who fought for Ramsay. Afterward, Jon asks Sansa to not question him in front of the Northern lords, and the duo seem to come to an understanding … until the very next episode, when Sansa calls him out in front of the Northern court once again. “You’re abandoning your people!” she exclaims when Jon announces he’ll go south to meet Daenerys.
Jon left Sansa in charge in Winterfell, yet that didn’t thaw their relationship when Season 8 rolled around. The Northerners were aggrieved to learn that Jon had given up his crown and bent the knee, and Sansa makes sure to tell him as much in Episode 1 of this season. “You didn’t tell me you were going to abandon your crown,” she remarks. Sansa reiterates that she trusts Jon in that scene—they’re family—but the cracks are there. And the anger isn’t just coming from Sansa; when Jon reunites with Arya in the Season 8 premiere, he gets a dig in at her sister: “Sansa thinks she’s smarter than everyone.” He’s even surprised when Arya defends Sansa.
Tyrion’s relationship with Dany, meanwhile, is more tense than Sansa and Jon’s. Tyrion is supposed to be Daenerys’s most trusted adviser, yet has frequently shown skepticism toward her leadership, and the animosity between the two has been growing for the past several seasons. In Season 7, Tyrion’s plan to beat Cersei and take the Iron Throne fails miserably; Euron sinks Yara’s fleet and captures the Dornish leaders while Jaime sacks Highgarden. In the aftermath of those defeats, Daenerys openly questions Tyrion’s loyalty, saying “Perhaps you don’t want to hurt [your family] after all.” Just look at her face as she publicly dresses down her hand:
Later in the season, Tyrion challenges Daenerys when she decides to burn Randyll and Dickon Tarly and questions her about her commitment to her plan to “break the wheel,” but Daenerys is indignant, refusing to entertain the conversation until she wins the throne. He then advises her to stay on Dragonstone when they receive news that Jon and Co. are in danger beyond the Wall, and Daenerys once again disregards him.
The battle we waited nearly a decade for is over. So where does the show go from here?#TalkTheThrones: Breaking down the Battle of Winterfell and Episode 3 of the final season of #GameOfThrones. https://t.co/ZTl5ZrRrWr— The Ringer (@ringer) April 29, 2019
The trouble has continued into this season. Tyrion once again finds himself embarrassed in Episode 2 when Jaime arrives in Winterfell with news that Cersei is betraying Daenerys and Jon. It’s inexplicable that Tyrion trusted his sister, and after meeting with Jaime, Dany rages at her hand behind the scenes: “Either you knew Cersei was lying and let me believe otherwise, or you didn’t know at all—which makes you either a traitor or a fool.” Tyrion’s not blind to how his relationship with Dany is fraying, telling Varys and Jorah, “I suspect one of you will be wearing this before it’s all over.”
It seems significant that when Sansa questions Daenerys to Tyrion in the crypts, it’s Missandei who jumps to the mother of dragons’ defense, while Tyrion remains silent. It once appeared that Tyrion loved Daenerys, but she can barely seem to stand him now, and while he occasionally puts in a good word for his queen (he tells Jaime in Episode 2 that Daenerys is “different” and that he is “sure” about her), it’s notable that he hesitates to do so when speaking with Sansa.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, all of these characters are united against Cersei—but all of this tension was already showing when these characters were united against the Night King. Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon, and Sansa aren’t exactly singing Kumbaya in between war councils. Will that matter when there isn’t an apocalyptic threat facing Westeros?
It’s with all of this context that we circle back to the conversation, look, and kiss in the crypts. Sansa and Tyrion may have more in common with each other than they do with Jon or Daenerys, respectively.
Is it too aggressive to ask whether Sansa and Tyrion could form an alliance—or at least an understanding—behind the backs of Jon and Daenerys? We’re starting to get into tinfoil territory, but in George R.R. Martin’s original 1993 outline for A Song of Ice and Fire, he detailed that type of heel turn for Tyrion:
Exiled, Tyrion will change sides, making common cause with the surviving Starks to bring his brother down, and falling helplessly in love with Arya Stark while he’s at it. His passion is, alas, unreciprocated, but no less intense for that, and it will lead to a deadly rivalry between Tyrion and Jon Snow [who Arya loves].
The story has changed drastically in the 26 years since this pitch, clearly, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario that looks something like this in the final three episodes, with Sansa playing the Arya role and Jon in love with Daenerys (his aunt) instead of Arya (his cousin). Jon was originally supposed to fall in love with another relative—Arya—so the story has a history of subbing names but maintaining plot points. There are already hints of unreciprocated love for Tyrion here: He was the one who brought up their marriage (by saying “maybe we should have stayed married” no less!), didn’t really agree with Sansa when she said it could never work, and then gave her that notable kiss on the hand. Their marriage was a “sham,” as Tyrion once said himself, but a new union between the two could either create a massive problem for Jon and Daenerys (if done behind their backs) or even avoid a “rivalry” with Jon by helping unite the two sides of the Jon-Dany alliance.
There are countless ways for a Sansa-Tyrion relationship to go down: As a behind-the-scenes alliance, as an unlikely friendship, as a political marriage, or as a full-blown romance, just to name a few. But one thing is certain: While Sansa and Tyrion couldn’t “do anything” in the crypts, there will be plenty of opportunities for action in the final three episodes.
In the crypts, Sansa told Tyrion that the most heroic thing they can do is “look the truth in the face.” Soon, they may need to look at the truth of what some type of union between the two of them could accomplish.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.