Who will win Game of Thrones

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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."  

11:09 a.m. ET, May 11, 2019

Cersei Lannister: Making Westeros great again

Cersei Lannister, the current occupant of the Iron Throne, is the clear pick to retain her title. Though she is not without her flaws, she is strong on the economy and strong on defense. Most importantly, she understands the need to continue building a great wall around King’s Landing to keep out the criminal “Free Folk” and “wildlings.” (NOTE: These are the same thing.) These reprobates are now streaming through a big hole in the underfunded wall of “Dead Jon Snow, the King in the North,” as Cersei calls him.

One of her endearing qualities is a fondness for nicknaming her rivals and publishing these funny creations on small pieces of paper via the Westeros Raven Network. As she has explained to her loyal followers, the “Snowflake Snow gap” was created by one of Daenerys Targaryen’s out of control and overly pampered dragons. The result: a caravan of criminal migrants headed south to steal the jobs of peasants throughout the realm.

Notably, Cersei is the first woman to break the glass ceiling and assume the Iron Throne. But she didn’t just break the glass ceiling; she blew it up with wildfire -- destroying the High Sparrow and his male-dominated council. It would be gender discrimination to replace her with a male, particularly a “dead” one like Jon Snow. 

In addition, Cersei’s economic credentials are impeccable. Unlike her pathetic socialist rivals, such as animal rights advocate and “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys, Cersei always pays her debts. As a result, she enjoys a sterling credit rating with The Iron Bank, the Federal Reserve of Westeros. This relationship will ensure low interest rates and an economy capable of funding a powerful military with advanced crossbows in the years ahead.  

Yes, there have been rumors about Cersei’s alleged incestuous relationship with her twin brother, Jaime Lannister. Whoever revealed this has likely violated a non-disclosure agreement and will find justice at the sword of Ser Gregor Clegane, commonly referred to as “the Mountain.”

Cersei is also tough on crime, particularly when it comes to the incest of others. And her supporters suggest that if Jon marries Daenerys, his aunt, as a ploy to seize the Iron Throne, there will be a royal succession problem. The offspring of this aunt -nephew union would be Jon’s first cousin and therefore ineligible to inherit the Iron Throne under traditional laws of succession.

This would likely trigger a whole new war to determine the leadership of Westeros. It’s way too complicated. Cersei remaining on the throne creates no such problem -- as nobody really knows who has fathered her next child. 

She has earned the right to keep the Iron Throne, if you disagree, Ser Gregor knows where you live. This is The Game of Thrones, and you’re not in Kansas anymore. 

Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York homicide prosecutor and of counsel to the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan

11:09 a.m. ET, May 11, 2019

Team Jaime Lannister

In the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell, when Lord Varys asks Tyrion Lannister “Have you considered the best ruler might be someone who doesn’t want to rule?” viewers perhaps thought first of Jon Snow’s newly revealed claim. But the Spider chooses his words carefully, and viewers should take note that his “someone” may not be Jon Snow. So who else “doesn’t want to rule” but perhaps could and should?

The Lannisters may have ruled terribly so far, with Joffrey and Tommen botching the job and Cersei sweeping in to clean up their mess, but their (ahem) brother-father-uncle Jaime may very well be the Lannister’s payment for the debt the family owes to Westeros. And the Lannisters always pay their debts.

Jaime Lannister may be hateful, as he told Brienne before abandoning her at Winterfell, but he is also complex, brave, strong, persistent, sharp, quick, and quite capable of both monumental (“Kingslayer”) and flippant (“the things I do for love”) brutality. Most of all, Jaime is human.

Like Jon Snow, Jaime Lannister has never reached for the throne—not necessarily because of his bloodline, but because of a vow. If Jaime can’t be king because he is a member of the Kingsguard and therefore compelled never to hold a title (a sure sign of his ability to commit, since he took his vow in order to insure proximity to his sister-love), then neither can Jon—as a man who decided to “take the black.”

Unlike other contenders who have coveted the Iron Throne, Jaime had the fortitude and self-discipline to kill the Mad King, sit on his throne, and wait, protecting the realm until Robert Baratheon ended his rebellion and take the crown. If Jaime soon reaches King’s Landing, he may finally put an end to the absurdity of Cersei’s claim and become the queenslayer. And maybe this time he’ll sit on the throne and stay there.

Sara Brady is co-editor with Lindsey Mantoan of "Vying for the Iron Throne: Essays on Power, Gender, Death, and Performance in HBO's Game of Thrones (McFarland, 2018). She is an Associate Professor at BCC/CUNY and Managing Editor of TDR: The Drama Review. 

11:10 a.m. ET, May 11, 2019

Varys: A voice for the common man

The question we should be asking isn't who should sit on the Iron Throne -- it's whether there should be an Iron Throne at all. The Seven Kingdoms' highly uncomfortable seat of power, forged from the blades of the conquered, symbolizes the pathological nature of government in Westeros, resting on the murder and ceaseless exploitation of the “smallfolk” who are the first to die when war erupts, and the first to die when famine or disease break out. The 1% live like lords (because that's what they are!) and borrow from the Iron Bank to cover their deficits. And scientific knowledge is locked up in the Towers of the Maesters, who use their skills solely in the service of the Great Houses, keeping the poor uneducated and unable to better their lot.

All of which underscores the fact that there's only one person in “Game of Thrones'” vast cast who has put the needs of the common people at the top of his priorities -- and he's my pick as the best individual to survive the coming bloodshed and rule the remaining wreckage: Varys, the Spider.

He rose from the streets, learned how to organize, built a constituency among the common folk and gained firsthand experience in the workings of political power that exceeds anyone in the series other than the now-dead Littlefinger.

Among the leading players, only he is truly equipped to -- as an increasingly out-of-control Danaerys Targaryen once put it -- "break the wheel" that has crushed the poor and weak beneath it. If he took power, he could raise up the smallfolk, while instituting a constitutional democracy that shifts rule over Westeros from hereditary leadership to elected representatives. And he could guarantee this democratic transition, since as a eunuch, he can have no offspring of his own. In conclusion: #ImWithTheSpider

Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications, and the co-host of the podcast "They Call Us Bruce." He co-wrote Jackie Chan's best-selling autobiography, "I Am Jackie Chan," and is the editor of three graphic novels: "Secret Identities," "Shattered" and the forthcoming "New Frontiers."