Game of Thrones: all the players' claims to the Iron Throne explained

Ed Power
Let battle commence: the Starks unite in a teaser for Game of Thrones season 8

The countdown to the return to Westeros has started in earnest. The final ever season of Game of Thrones arrives on April 14. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen will finally do battle with the Night King and his White Walkers. In her snake’s nest of King’s Landing, meanwhile, treacherous Cersei plots both the defeat of the undead invaders and the destruction of her erstwhile allies. 

Also sure to feature as the epic saga thunders towards its concluding chapter are shape-shifting, stab-happy Arya Stark, canny Sansa, wise Tyrion, unnerving Bran and rogue with a heart of gold Jaime. And let’s not forgot the Night King himself – the ultimate power-player in this earth-shaking conflagration.

But who will finally sweep to victory in the Game of Thrones? Here is an overview of the candidates, and an estimation of their chances of seizing the day. Find out the latest odds here.

Jon Snow 

Jon Snow is Game of Thrones’s resident brooding hero. He’s moody, low-key dashing and, following through on his Christ-like ringlets, has died and returned from the other side – the last turn of events suggesting fate has a grand purpose in store. But the biggest twist in his story is yet to come. Unbeknownst to the “Bastard of Winterfell”, he is actually the love child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, which technically gives him a claim to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms

Kit Harington as Jon Snow Credit: HBO

Having defeated the usurper Ramsay Bolton, Snow is currently installed as Lord of Winterfell, where his fight first, ask questions later style has put him in conflict with his step-sister Sansa Stark. Whether Jon craves rule over all of Westeros is not clear though it is a burden he would probably assume, were it asked of him. 

Awkwardly he is currently sharing a bed with would-be Queen of Westeros, Daenerys Targaryen – Rhaeger’s younger sister and, so, also his aunt (did we mention this was awkward?). Snow understands the White Walker threat could destroy all of the Seven Kingdoms and is less interested in the great game of power than in repulsing the invaders, who even now march on his seat at Winterfell. 

The last time he was in formal command of a group of men – as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch – things ended unhappily, with his troops knifing him in the front (and also the sides and back). He will hope that his rule over Winterfell – he inherits the title from his adoptive father/uncle Eddard Stark – goes more happily. He is as yet unaware of his lineage and his blood ties to Daenerys. Expect their alliance to turn rather wobbly if and when that bombshell drops. 

Will he win the Game of Thrones? Potentially. Snow is a the closest to a traditionally heroic figure. Although, this being Game of Thrones, it’s possible that his very heroism will be the blade upon which he is hoisted .

Daenerys Targaryen 

Mother of dragons, lover of Jon Snow and, would-be ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, nobody could fault the Head of House Targaryen for lacking ambition. But, having allied with the Starks to resist the White Walker threat, has Daenerys left herself exposed to the treacherous Cersei? (Yes…yes, she has). There is also the huge complication of her relationship with the Lord of Winterfell who, unbeknown to her, is the lovechild of her oldest brother and thus, depending on how you interpret the runes, her potential rival for the Iron Throne. 

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)

How far she has come since her introduction as a shivering naïf exiled in Essos. She started as a quivering damsel – terrified of her creepy, bullying brother Viserys, and seemingly too innocent and frail to survive in George RR Martin’s brutal universe.

But, with each episode, and especially after her union with Khal Drogo, it has become ever clearer that Daenerys is a formidable mixture of silk and steel. She is capable of tremendous tenderness and humanity. Yet her drive to win the Iron Throne of Westeros – which she believes rightfully hers – is unflagging and those crossing her usually live to regret it. Assuming they live at all.

However, these are challenging times. She has nurtured her three dragons to adulthood. Yet now, after Jon Snow and his posse’s ill-fated raid north of the wall, Viserion has been resurrected as an ice-dragon by the Night King and proven instrumental in breaching the divide between the White Walkers and Westeros. 

Will she win the Game of Thrones? She has dragons and knows how to use them. But her romance with potential rival Jon might prove her undoing. 

Arya Stark  

From flinty tom-boy to cold-hearted assassin, what a journey it’s been for adorable little Arya. She started out as the favourite daughter of Lord Eddard Stark – a feisty bundle of energy more interested in swordplay than sewing. But the destruction of her family at the hands of House Lannister has turned her into a brutalised young woman. After witnessing the execution of her father on orders of wicked King Joffrey, she fled north and blundered upon the Red Wedding, where most of the rest of her family were slaughtered. 

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark

Having parted ways from her frenemy The Hound she fled to Essos, training as a shape-changing assassin at the mysterious House of Black and White. Back in Westeros, she put her face changing skills to use taking revenge against Walder Frey, who betrayed the Starks at the Red Wedding. Her journey has now brought her back to Winterfell and a reunion with elder sister Sansa. 

As children they never got on and they have grown into very different adults. Slithery Lord Petyr Baelish sought to exploit their differences. It seemed he had succeeded when Arya menacingly suggested to Sansa that she could easily assume her sister’s identity. But Baelish ultimately tripped  up on his own scheming as the sisters turned on him and Arya slit his throat. All would now seem well between the sisters. 

Will she win the Game of Thrones? Quiet, quick Arya is not an obvious candidate – which is why this dark horse is worth keeping an eye on. Two eyes, if you can spare them. 

Sansa Stark 

Even by the gruesome standards of Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark has been uniquely brutalised – and that was long before clapping eyes on new husband Ramsay in season five. 

Sansa had witnessed the sadistic execution of her father on the orders of cackling fiancé Joffrey, then had to live among her enemies, concealing her hatred behind a smile that seemed to turn sharper at the edges with each fresh humiliation.

Sansa Stark 

But, as her circumstances have worsened, Sansa has become stronger, summoning reserves of steeliness no-one could have imagined she possessed. This was confirmed as she rescued hot-headed Jon at the Battle of the Bastards by arranging to have Lord Baelish’s Knights of the Vale swoop in just as all seemed lost (but erm, why not tell Jon in advance?) She then took revenge against the sadistic Ramsay by feeding him to his own dogs.

 Installed at Winterfell, she is now both ally to and potential enemy of Jon Snow. They have very different world views and she is the far cannier ruler. Littlefinger sought to exploit that tension and to encourage Sansa to imagine a future where she, not Jon, was the one ultimately in control. However, she has now reconciled with Arya and it remains to be seen whether her differences with Jon endure as the White Walkers descend upon Winterfell. Nothing brings family together like an imminent influx of ice zombies. 

Will she win the Game of Thrones? On paper, Sansa is the finest ruler Westeros never had. With Lord Baelish off her back, might she come into her own? Or will her loyalty to Jon prevent her from usurping him? 

Cersei Lannister 

If evil possesses a face in the Seven Kingdoms, it is that of the cruel and haughty Queen Cersei Lannister. She's a conniving diva and natural-born schemer who delights in inflicting misery on others. Cersei is entirely indifferent to human suffering and has a tongue like a poisoned blade. 

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

But above all, she is an ardent schemer. Having fallen foul of the Sparrows religious cult – whose rise she herself facilitated as a means of shoring up power –  she took her revenge by detonating a stash of wildfire under the Great Sept of Baelor just as all her enemies had gathered there (for Cersei’s trial for sleeping with her cousin, as it happened). She also, lest we forget, was culpable in the demise of the previous king, Robert Baratheon, spiking his drink before he departed on a fateful – make that fatal – deer hunt.

And though her incestuous relationship with twin Jaime is now common knowledge, Cersei is not for turning.  Brutalised by the deaths of all three of her beloved children, it is she who sits upon the Iron Throne and she is determined to use the White Walker threat as a means to cement her power. Thus, though she agreed to ally with Jon Snow and with her hated brother Tyrion against the undead menace, she was been crossing all her fingers and toes. 

She is pregnant by Jaime – a fact she let slip to Tyrion in order to humanise her. But with bawdy lunatic Euron Greyjoy as an ally, she has arranged for the mercenary Gold Company to sail from Essos. Once Daenerys and Jon have exhausted their forces against the Walkers, she will use her new army to ensure that she remains upon the Iron Throne. It’s so devious you almost can’t help admiring her. 

Will she win the Game of Thrones? She is certainly in pole position as things stand. But even a show as cynical as GoT wouldn’t sign off with despicable Cersei in charge…would it? 

The Night King 

There are many rulers in Westeros – but there is only one Night King. To those south of the wall the lord of the undead White Walkers is little more than a rumour, an ancient fireside tale to frighten children.

The Night King

But, as Jon Snow has discovered when he travelled to Hardhome to rescue the Wildlings, this zombie sorcerer is horribly real – a nightmare figure who can raise an army fresh from the grave simply by willing it and whose gleaming blue eyes promise an eternity of pain and terror. 

Bran Stark knows more about him than anyone – having visited him in his visions as the Three-Eyed Raven and then confronted him face-to-face. The Night King, Bran discovered, was one of the first men to come to Westeros, but was distorted into a vengeful monster by the Children of the Forest, seeking to create a super-weapon to keep humankind at bay. He alone can create new White Walkers, although whether he has a goal beyond plunging all of Westeros into eternal winter is unclear. 

Will he win the Game of Thrones? George RR Martin has promised his saga would conclude on a bittersweet note. But there’s bittersweet and there’s full-on dark – and a victory for the Night King would be very much in the latter camp. 

Tyrion Lannister 

Everyone is a little bit complicated on Game of Thrones. But even by the show's murky standards, Tyrion Lannister is inscrutable and riven with contradictions – a party animal with a heart of gold, an instinctive schemer who knows right from wrong, a short man made tall by his bravery and kindness (a dirty word in the Seven Kingdoms). As he put it himself: “I drink and I know things”. 

Tyrion Lannister 

He has lately found what he hopes to be his true calling, as advisor to Daenerys Targaryen. They don’t necessarily see eye to eye – she’s very much for torching her enemies, while he cautions winning the hearts and minds of the general populace (by keeping her dragons in reserve until absolutely necessary). 

And he has a complicated relationship with his family. He killed his father, Tywin, after discovering that the old man was sleeping with Tyrion’s true love Shae… which has made for some difficult reunions down the road. He has always been close to Jaime – a source of tension with Cersei, who hated Tyrion because of the loss of their mother during his birth. He has served as match-maker, too, in the alliance between Jon Snow and Daenerys – though it’s clear that their love affair is more than he had bargained for and perhaps not a positive development. Lovers, after all, can have tiffs – and tiffs can become awkward when dragons are involved (and the couple are, unbeknown to one another, close blood relatives). 

Will he win the Game of Thrones? Tyrion prefers to plot behind the scenes. Even if the throne was his, he would probably demure. 

Jaime Lannister

The incestuous, child-maiming villain with a heart of gold. Introduced as a bully and a braggart, Game of Thrones has peeled back the layers from the one-time greatest warrior in Westeros to show us the complicated individual underneath. The very first episode of GoT culminated with Jaime canoodling with his twin, Cersei and then shoving Bran Stark out the window after he’d stumbled upon their impromptu love nest. This was obviously a low-point but he has since made amends. 

Jaime Lannister Credit: HBO

He lost a hand defending Brienne of Tarth from Bolton soldiers and saved Tyrion from execution for the death of Joffrey (of which he was innocent) by freeing his little brother from prison – presumably not anticipating that Tyrion would kill their father on his way out. Horrified at Cersei’s plan to betray Daenerys and Jon, Jaime has abandoned her at King’s Landing and rides north, presumably to warn his new allies. He is conducting himself like a man given a second chance – which he essential is, having been miraculously saved from dragon-fire fire by his old road buddy Bronn. 

Jaime also has struggled lifelong with the reputational damage of betraying his Kingsguard vows when he killed Mad King Aerys during Robert’s Rebellion. He believed he was doing the right thing, as Aerys intended destroying King’s Landing with wildfire. Alas,the populace saw only a backstabber – not a man how had sacrificed his reputation so that others might live.

Will he win the Game of Thrones? It’s a leap to imagine flashy, callow Jaime would end up on the Iron Throne. Don’t be surprised if he has a big say in the final shakedown, though. 

Bran Stark 

Bran Stark

The youngest surviving Stark sibling – those three of you who have just paused to remember Rickon, we salute you – Bran isn’t really a flesh and blood mortal anymore. After studying with the mystical Three-Eyed Raven he has become an incarnation of the same ethereal being – able to wander across the timelines and given to sitting still and creeping out his family members.

Bran’s visions will undoubtedly prove crucial as the Night King comes knocking on Westeros – but, given that he has left the greater part of his humanity behind, whose side is he really on? 

Will he win the Game of Thrones? Let’s hope not. What a scary realm Westeros would become with a monosyllabic psychic in charge. 

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