Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario for Dark Phoenix—the X-Men movie released Friday after an uninspiring rollout punctuated by the intentional spoiling of a significant character’s death—came true. The film is quite bad, while also notching the worst opening-weekend box office total of any X-Men movie. For a long-tenured franchise that’s been so influential to the current boom of superheroes on the big screen, Dark Phoenix is a disappointing footnote before the X-Men go on hiatus until eventually being inserted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But if there’s any solace to be taken from the Dark Phoenix cinematic experience, it’s the resounding confirmation that Sophie Turner knows what she’s doing. Fresh off the final season of Game of Thrones, a Vegas wedding with a Jonas brother, and an unimaginable amount of Juul inhalation, Turner commands the spotlight in Dark Phoenix, as Jean Grey slowly succumbs to the powerful force the character absorbs in the beginning of the film. The lead role is a tricky balancing act that requires Jean Grey to simultaneously exude terrifying strength and empathetic vulnerability. (Also, much of Turner’s work required screaming in front of green screens, which is a lot harder to pull off than it sounds.) Jean Grey’s angry and can’t control her newfound powers; she also, it goes without saying, doesn’t intend to be a mass killer of mutants and humans alike, especially if her dweeby boyfriend Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) is caught in the cross fire.
What Turner pulls off between 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix is an accelerated version of Sansa Stark, who, over the course of eight seasons, transformed from a naive teenager into a strong-willed, uncompromised leader of an entire kingdom. The end of Thrones hasn’t exactly gone over swimmingly with the show’s ardent fan base, but—reasonable Bran-specific issues aside—Sansa’s arc did reach a thematically rich and satisfying conclusion. Turner, meanwhile, solidified her acting bona fides in a decade-long role that saw her share memorable scenes with the likes of Lena Headey, Sean Bean, and Peter Dinklage at different stages of Sansa’s evolution.
Playing an essential role on one of the biggest shows of all time, and then appearing in two X-Men movies, is as enviable a one-two punch as a young actor can have. Now with Thrones and Dark Phoenix wrapping up within a month of one another, Turner’s schedule is suddenly wide open. Marvel could theoretically bring back some of the younger X-Men actors, but it’s more likely it’ll start from scratch; plus, the end of Dark Phoenix doesn’t exactly lend itself to more Jean Grey–related possibilities.
Which leaves Turner in perfect position. Young stars in Hollywood rarely emerge from a huge role (or two) with a clean slate. Turner has a couple of post-Thrones projects on the docket—a drama about a veteran with PTSD called Broken Soldier, and the crime-thriller Heavy—but with both films in the postproduction stage, her work there is, quite literally, done. Along with her IRL best friend Maisie Williams—another emerging Thrones alum, who stars in the perpetually delayed The New Mutants, a horror-centric X-Men spinoff theoretically coming out in April 2020—Turner’s Hollywood future is ambiguous. But it’s also undeniably exciting.
Should Turner feel weary about this newfound freedom of choice, thankfully, there are some helpful precedents. The last time young actors were freed from a hugely popular franchise that enveloped their entire childhoods was Harry Potter. That franchise’s three main stars—Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint—took divergent post-Potter paths. Radcliffe became an indie starlet (he starred as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings; he played a putrid farting corpse in Swiss Army Man); Watson used her stardom for social activism and the occasional blockbuster, such as the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast; Grint, well … he’s somewhere, and he’s definitely loving those Harry Potter royalty checks.
Turner’s magnetic presence should ensure a wealth of options (and perhaps a partnership as a Juul spokeswoman), whether those pursuits are on the big screen or a streaming platform. The ability to vacillate between Sansa’s early-series vulnerability and her late-series steely resolve invites myriad possibilities for future roles, as a protagonist sympathetic or powerful, or both. Dark Phoenix, however contrived, also proved that Turner can break bad; another role as a villain—more nuanced this time around—would be welcome. And if Turner isn’t offered a leading role in a raunchy, booze-soaked coming-of-age dramedy—the Instagram Stories are an audition reel in and of themselves—everyone ought to be fired.
Turner’s commanding of the screen and downing of as much as red wine as Peak Cersei Lannister has made her one of the defining stars of 2019. Now with a wide-open slate, the Queen in the North may wield that power for many years to come. Long may she reign.