Who will win Game of Thrones

6:48 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Arya Stark is the GOAT of GoT

For most of the run of “Game of Thrones,” I was a loyal devotee of Daenerys Targaryen. Dany had been my favorite contender for the Iron Throne because of her narrative arc from captivity and sexual bondage toward independence and liberation. I also cathartically cherished her vengeful spirit. And at the end of season 1, she promised that “[my] enemies will die screaming.” What’s not to love?  

But Missandei’s tragic death in the May 5 episode shifted my position. Watching her handcuffed body fall into the dirt outside King’s Landing after uttering her last word (“dracarys” -- the same word Daenerys spoke in season 2 to unleash the dragonfire that freed Missandei and the Unsullied from Slaver’s Bay), I realized that I didn’t care that much whether my enemies died screaming. I just wanted them dead. And that is what Arya Stark does like no one else.

Notwithstanding the fact that Arya does not want the Iron Throne, her rule would represent the fulfillment of the most important Game of Thrones ethos: you win or you die. And if you are on Arya’s list of enemies, you usually die -- making her arguably the most effective player in the Game of Thrones.

To be sure, Sansa on the Iron Throne with Arya as her Assassin Advisor would be acceptable. Yet Arya has her own merits. Her rule would radically and positively change all of Westeros. She has the power to do what Dany said she would do (but has yet to manage despite nearly 8 seasons): Arya Stark would break the wheel of cyclical power that grinds the oppressed beneath it. Arya would bring strategic, absolute justice to the powerful -- as she did to traitor and pedophile Ser Meryn Trant and the male line of House Frey.

Arya’s rule would also bring more gender equity in the kingdoms since Arya is one of the few point-of-view female characters to initiate sex for her own pleasure and curiosity. She seamlessly transgressed social boundaries and reciprocated no-frills compassion long before her transformative time in Braavos.

As Arya told Lord Tywin Lannister in season 2, “Anyone can be killed,” but it usually takes Arya to do it. She’s killed the living and the undead. Westeros isn’t good enough for her but she is the GOAT of GOT. Long may she reign.

Lisa Woolfork is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia, a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project and an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville.

7:06 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Jon Snow: The right character and the right lineage

I try to steer clear of politics, but with the battle for the Iron Throne getting hotter by the minute, I have to throw my weight behind the one true king of Westeros: Jon Snow. 

Jon -- or Aegon Targaryen -- has both the right lineage and the right character to sit on the Iron Throne. As the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Jon is the rightful heir. In fact, it’s his birthright. But if his lineage alone doesn’t convince you, his actions should. He has the intellect, experiences and skills to effectively rule Westeros.

Jon is familiar with many parts of the Seven Kingdoms and many of his would-be subjects. While he grew up in Winterfell, he spent a significant amount of time traveling in the North and exploring other parts of the Seven Kingdoms. Everywhere he went, as he made new friends and allies.

Whether in Winterfell, Dragonstone, King's Landing, or even beyond the Wall, Jon has a proven track record of building powerful relationships with the people whom he meets.

This will serve him well when he is king. After years of war, bloodshed and divisions, Westeros will benefit from Jon’s abilities to connect with all of his subjects and, when necessary, to unite them. He’s a diplomat and a bridge builder -- we saw him work with the free folk, Daenerys Targaryen and so many others to fight the “Army of the Dead” -- and once he defeats Cersei Lannister, he will help bring the people of Westeros together.

Jon also has a record of service. He left his whole life behind to serve at the Wall as part of the Night’s Watch. He served then -- and he can serve now as King. Plus, during his service, he traveled beyond the Wall, which shows his willingness and ability to do whatever it takes to protect his people and his home.

A gifted warrior and strategist who isn’t afraid to make personal sacrifices for his people, Jon also has the humility necessary to rule. He put his own ambitions aside when he thought that Dany had the best chance of defeating the Night King. He pledged himself to her because he cared more about saving his people than he did about his own title.

Throughout almost eight seasons of “Game of Thrones,” we’ve seen a diverse parade of rulers. While a steady stream of kings, queens, princesses, ladies and lords have accompanied us, the people of the Seven Kingdoms finally need a leader who can take them forward, together. It’s time for Jon to assume his rightful position on the Iron Throne.

Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She served on President Obama's National Security Council from 2009-2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her @sam_vinograd

7:06 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Sansa Stark’s ascension would be the most delicious revenge 

Sansa Stark deserves to assume the Iron Throne, with Tyrion Lannister as her hand and Arya Stark as the head of her military.

Sansa is the only character on Game of Thrones, besides Cersei Lannister, who knows how to wield power behind the scenes, think ten steps ahead of her enemy, as well as her so-called “allies.” However, unlike Cersei, Sansa maintains a moral core. Sansa’s bloodline does not entitle her to claim control of the Seven Kingdoms, but her ascension would be the most delicious revenge for all she suffered as a result of Cersei's ruthless pawning of her when she was only a child. 

Over the course of eight seasons, Sansa went from a timid, callow, and impressionable “Little Bird” to the canniest leader on the show, even smarter than Tyrion - as evidenced by her admonishment that he ought not have trusted Cersei’s promise to send troops for the fight against the Night King. The tortures and betrayals she endured from King Joffrey, Ramsay Bolton, and Littlefinger have made her impervious to the romantic manipulations her brother/cousin Jon Snow falls prey to with his open-hearted gullibility and, unlike him, she wants to rule. She lived in King’s Landing, so she knows the Lannisters intimately and is therefore not susceptible to Cersei’s cunning. She used Littlefinger’s machinations against him to devise the strategy that enabled Jon Snow to win against Ramsay Bolton in the “Battle of the Bastards.” 

Sansa doesn’t force allegiance, she earns it with her brilliant mind and regal presence, as Danaerys once did. In Sansa’s case, though, she makes cool-headed calculations, rather than retaliating on impulse. And unlike Danaerys, Sansa has the trust of the North. Through her brother/cousin Jon Snow, and her own leadership qualities, she could conceivably also earn the trust of the South. She is the best-rounded leader. If it were not for patriarchal lineage she would be the obvious choice to assume the Iron Throne.

Lucia Brawley is a co-founder of amp.it, a new digital media network for cosmopolitan youth, and an executive producer of two-time Interactive Emmy finalist, "Take Back the Mic: The World Cup of Hip Hop." She has performed in theater, film and television in New York, Los Angeles and Europe and was a political organizer for the Obama presidential campaigns. She is also the author of the Consenting to Lead Facebook group and a graduate of Harvard with a master's in acting from Yale. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters. 

7:06 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Davos could set Westeros on a path to democracy

I was promised a “broken” wheel. “Game of Thrones,” Season 6, Episode 10. I remember it like my name is Bran Stark. I wasn’t promised another Targaryen or Lannister or Stark, I was promised a new kind of ruling structure. As we approach the end of the series two seasons later, Ser Davos Seaworth, “The Onion Knight,” is the only person left alive in Westeros who can deliver it to me.

Davos is not one of these nepotism-fueled lordlings who have dominated Westeros for a millennium. He’s from the streets of King’s Landing. He hasn’t risen on the backs of others; instead, he was elevated for using illicit skills to bring hungry people some food. He’s suffered the barbarous so-called justice of having his fingers cut off, but has never sought to revisit that kind of justice on others. The only time he’s flashed a violent streak was when he was confronted by a woman who burns children alive. He can’t sing, he can’t dance, he can’t fight, but he can read.

We know George R.R. Martin is a student of history, and there is a real-world historical precedent for Davos’s claim to the Iron Throne. After the death of the Roman Emperor Nero, Rome experienced a year of civil war, known as “The Year Of The Four Emperors.” Sound familiar?

Titus Flavius Vespasianus, a man of humble birth, emerged from that tumult to be named Emperor Vespasian. Vespasian was a plain spoken man, known for his simple tastes and dry wit. He restored the political and financial stability the Empire had squandered. Oh, and he started construction on what we now call The Colosseum. 

Just as Vespasian ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Davos on the Iron Throne would end the cycle of great houses ruling Westeros. Davos is an older gentleman who has no issue, so his successor would likely be a man or woman hand picked based on merit. Or maybe, Davos would ask the people who they thought should rule after him. Davos could set Westeros on the path to merit-based rule, or even democracy. That’s what smashing the wheel looks like.

Elie Mystal is the executive editor of Above the Law and a contributor at the Nation.

7:07 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Bran Stark: The darkest horse on the board

In many ways, he’s the darkest horse on the board. But then, the deck has been stacked against Ned Stark’s second and sole-surviving son from the beginning. He was, after all, this series’ first inadvertent witness to Westeros’ twisted underside -- and, consequently, its first hapless victim.

As soon as Jaime Lannister shoved Bran from a tower window for espying his illicit liaison with his sister Cersei Lannister, “Game of Thrones” viewers realized that this wasn’t going to be their parents’ or grandparents’ swords-and-sorcery genre piece. It’s one thing to wipe out a royal flunky for seeing what he shouldn’t have. To kill or, as it turned out, maim for life an innocent young boy for walking in on incest showed depravity -- whose oily, bloody depths we could only begin to foresee that first season.

Bran, as things turned out, was the one who could foresee (almost) everything. Though at first comatose and then left paralyzed because of Jaime’s attempt at cold-blooded murder, Bran became the series’ equivalent of Doctor Strange, the one most prone to prophecy and adroit at deciphering enigmatic visions.

With most of the other Starks, men and women alike, flashing metal and wielding swords in battle, Bran didn’t need weaponry to survive beyond the “greenseeing” abilities bestowed upon him by the all-powerful Three-Eyed Raven – which (spoiler alert!) by this point in the story he has actually become. (He did physically survive with the help of those who carried him during wartime.) He couldn’t walk, but he could fly -- and in doing so, he has been able to move farther and, yes, more cleverly than even Daenerys Targaryen and her remaining dragon.

Smart enough to sit on the Iron Throne? Why not? It wouldn’t be his first brush with monarchy after his late lamented brother Robb Stark was crowned King of the North, making Bran the next Lord of Winterfell. And while he may not be able to wield a sword or lead a battalion, he possesses talents that could contribute to the defense of the realm.

But let’s remember that Bran isn’t really Bran any more, but the Three-Eyed Raven. Those who’ve read George R.R. Martin’s books know that carrying that alternate identity requires a steady diet of hallucinogens that stoke Bran’s compulsive and mostly effective clairvoyance. All of which gives him the kind of power that neither wants nor needs a throne as validation.

Put more simply: Bran’s comfortable enough in an alternate world. Why would he care to rule in this one?

Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour

7:07 a.m. ET, May 13, 2019

Gendry is a more charismatic Fortinbras

Gendry Baratheon is the revolutionary monarch Westeros needs after a generation of blood and false promises.

'Game of Thrones' leading characters have often longed for a good monarch to bring peace and prosperity to the common people of Westeros. But why trust another hereditary high-born to guess at what the common people want? Why not put one of those common people on the Iron Throne?

Gendry is a brilliant blacksmith, a Fleabottom native, a newly minted war hero, and now Lord of Storm’s End and perhaps the most eligible bachelor in Westeros. He’s one of the few genuinely good characters in a show chockablock with despicable knaves and duplicitous schemers. He understands the plight of the working class of Westeros because he’s lived it.

Yet this is not just some proto-democratic dream. Gendry really could be king when the final credits roll.

He’s now officially the eldest trueborn son of Robert Baratheon, the last monarch that everyone agrees was legitimate (well, everyone except the Targaryens). His claim is thus stronger than any of the Lannisters' as their reigns originated in the fraud that Cersei’s children were Robert’s rather than Jaime’s.

The only stronger contenders are the Targaryens, if you believe that Robert was a usurper. But what if Dany and Jon can’t resolve their drama? What if they’re killed in the looming battle with Cersei? Isn’t Gendry then a more charismatic Fortinbras, the last man standing after everyone else dies?

Gendry could even create a strong alliance with the North if he can just win over Arya, perhaps by promising that she need never be a lady but shall be a queen (and he can put her in charge of the army). Or if that doesn’t work, maybe Arya can just introduce Gendry to Sansa, who would finally get to be queen after all.

Tristan Snell is a lawyer and entrepreneur who was formerly an assistant attorney general for New York state.

11:08 a.m. ET, May 11, 2019

With Daenerys on the Iron Throne, Westeros can heal

After years of war, Westeros has a chance to rebuild, and the leader best positioned to lead that effort is Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. She has secured alliances with almost every major region of the continent, brought together different cultures, engaged in compromise for the good of the community and proven her commitment to the people of Westeros by risking her life for them.

The Iron Born have raided and pillaged mainland Westeros for centuries; with Daenerys as Queen, Yara Greyjoy will end these violent practices to the mutual benefit of the Iron Islands, Westerlands, Riverlands, and North. Dorne, historically prickly in its relationship with the rest of Westeros, has sworn for Daenerys. Given the sacrifices Daenerys made fighting alongside the North and the Vale, they have every reason to honor their allegiance to her. By elevating Gendry to Lord of Storm’s End, Daenerys will have the support of the Stormlands. These strong relationships forge communal identity across Westeros, deterring future violence. 

Daenerys has developed a coalition of supporters from multiple cultures. She respects social practices even when she disagrees with them, as seen through her compromise regarding the Meereen fighting pits. By ending slavery and offering former slaves leadership positions, Daenerys has dismantled hierarchies and overthrown unjust leaders.

Unlike Cersei, Daenerys puts Westeros before herself. Varys talks of loyalty to the realm? Daenerys shows it.

Although criticized for her ambition, Daenerys suspended her quest for the Iron Throne to protect the North. Unlike Jon, who jeopardized his entire army when he rushed into battle after watching Rickon die, Daenerys is channeling her pain into rethinking a losing battle strategy. Tormund praises Jon for befriending an enemy, going north of the Wall, and flying a dragon into battle; Daenerys did these things and more. In addition to attacking the Night King directly and killing wights with a dragonglass sword in ground combat, she’s rescued Jon twice – north of the Wall and during the Battle of Winterfell.

With Daenerys on the Iron Throne, Westeros can begin to heal from war and trauma.  

Lindsey Mantoan is an assistant professor of theatre at Linfield College. She is the co-editor with Sara Brady of "Vying for the Iron Throne: Essays on Power, Gender, Death, and Performance in HBO's Game of Thrones" and the author of "War as Performance: Conflict in Iraq and Political Theatricality."