Despite the presence of dragons, smoke demons and ice zombies, many fans praise Game of Thrones for its foundation in historical realism. It's fairly well known that George R.R. Martin based much of the political framework for A Song of Ice and Fire on the War of the Roses, and many fans cite historical accuracy when issues of violence against women (among others) pop up on the show. So, while we're all dying to know who will end up on the Iron Throne in the series' finale, the issue of historical realism begs the question: What would happen after the wars are finally over? Let's take a look at some of the most likely scenarios featuring three royal frontrunners.
3. Cersei Lannister
As disappointing as it would be for Westeros to stay firmly in her grasp, Cersei's intelligence and ruthlessness give her a clear edge in the coming war. But what would happen after she crushed all of our hopes and dreams by remaining on the Iron Throne and defeating the beloved Targaryen/Stark alliance?
In all likelihood, nothing good.
Completely ignoring Cersei's status as a woman in an openly sexist society, her claim to the throne isn't strong. She married a usurper, then proceeded to only produce heirs that were widely known to be bastards (with her twin brother, no less). She doesn't have many — if any — political allies, the general population isn't fond of her, and she's already racked up significant debt before the war has really taken off. Worse, her position will only further decline after the end of the war with Daenerys and the White Walkers. She will accrue more debt, lose much of her army and lose any support of her subjects north of King's Landing after abandoning them during the Long Night.
We can also count on the usual horrors of war doing real damage on her kingdom, including mass starvation from crop failure, rampant spread of disease and moral/religious panics. If Cersei has any intention of making good on her family's motto: "A Lannister always repays his debts," we can predictably know that she will be forced to raise taxes — which will be extremely unpopular. Finally, she's generally cruel to her subjects and is completely authoritarian in her reign, with no empathy for the common people. From this, it's clear where Cersei's reign is headed.
In a best case scenario, the serfs of Westeros could decide they're sick of this "game of thrones" nonsense and storm the capital to create a people's revolution a la the French or Chinese Revolutions. This is a long shot, seeing as the Enlightenment Era is quite a ways off in the Seven Kingdoms, but maybe these ideas will be imported from elsewhere (Braavos could have a thriving Intelligentsia). Much more likely, a surviving house will stage a coup on King's Landing, because almost anybody with noble status has a stronger position from which to rule the Seven Kingdoms, if looking from a strictly political perspective.
So even if Cersei does live to sit on the Iron Throne, her head's soon going to be on the chopping block.
2. Daenerys Targaryen
If you're a fan of Game of Thrones and you have a heart, you've probably been eagerly watching Dany's journey to the Iron Throne since Season 1. Her triumphant story arc from her brother's political pawn to the Mother of Dragons ("Queen of the Andals, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi" etc.) is one that begs to be rooted for. She postures herself as socially and politically different than any of the other players in the game, as she has an idyllic vision for the future and broad empathy for the people around her. She frees slaves, she listens to her subjects and she intends to permanently change the political structure of Westeros. One of her most famous lines from the show is: "I'm not going to stop the wheel — I'm going to break the wheel." She says this in reference to Tyrion talking about the spinning "wheel" of power in the Seven Kingdoms, but how likely is she to actualize her desire for political restructuring?
Not very likely.
A look at history tells us that having too many changes too quickly rarely works out well. Much like how rightfully and suddenly freeing the slaves in Meereen had dramatic and unintended consequences, so have problems arisen when other monarchs attempted vast, liberalizing reforms.
When Joseph II of Austria ruled as a proponent of enlightened absolutism, ending most instances of the death penalty and freeing the press, huge riots broke out across his empire and he was forced to withdraw most of his decrees. While he was never overthrown (he died soon after), territories were lost in the protests against his ideals and the monarchy returned to business as usual. Similarly, when Johann Friedrich Struensee ruled as a regent for Christian VII of Denmark, his radical reforms and dismissals of political officials made him many enemies. In the end, a coup forced him out of power and he was executed (by beheading, followed by being drawn and quartered). Both of these examples show a quick destabilization of the regime and discontentment across all classes of society. They also highlight the inherent tension between liberal ideals of freedom and an absolute monarchy.
This doesn't spell a bright future for Dany. We've seen her experience backlash before, and her stubborn attitude shows that while she is a great liberator, she's not a tactful politician. Furthermore, she will still face all of the same logistical obstacles as Cersei with starvation, disease and fear. She will not be popular in Westeros, even if her ideals are in the best interest of her subjects. What the Seven Kingdoms need after the devastation of the wars is a strong leader with solid support from many houses, and a leader who knows how to restore order after a time of chaos.
Regrettably, everything we've seen from Daenerys thus far does not point in this direction. From this, it's extremely likely that her reign would be short, tumultuous and end with her death.
1. Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen)
From bastard relegated to the Night's Watch, to King in the North and legitimate Targaryen son, Jon's story arc on the show has had its ups and downs. While we now know that he is the "true" heir to the Iron Throne, there is still a plethora of problems with his potential reign.
Jon faces two primary issues in maintaining his claim: 1) He doesn't have a strong desire to rule, and 2) The proof that he is the Targaryen heir is weak. Regardless of Jon's proclivity for honor and his well-documented ability to lead, he's shown time and again that he isn't motivated by power. He understands that people trust him and will follow him, but he has never expressed any desire to sit on the Iron Throne, nor is his tenure as King of the North self-motivated.
As ideal as it sounds to have a leader who cares more about people than power, this is trickier in practice. Monarchs that didn't have a desire to rule were usually lackluster (at best) leaders. In times of peace and stability, this isn't necessarily a problem, but — as noted several times — this is a time of high instability. The infamous Louis XVI of France was another monarch that did not want to be king in a time of crisis, and his hesitant leadership was a major factor in the onset of the French Revolution.
Yet even if Jon rises to the demands of the Iron Throne, he still faces the issue of proof of his birthright. The audience knows through clever storytelling that Jon is actually Aegon Targaryen, but that does not translate into a strong claim to the throne. Yes, there is a record of his father's first marriage annulment and subsequent marriage to his mother, but it doesn't place him as an heir. Honorable Ned Stark could vouch for this story, but he's dead. The only other person who knows definitively is Bran, but his transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven has been unnerving, to say the least.
With this flimsy foundation, Jon faces the same issue that Cersei does: other noble houses have a broader claim of support and a stronger position from which to rule. Jon's past leadership roles and experience with politics give him a better grasp than Cersei or Dany, but his rule would undoubtably be marked by massive challenges and widespread skepticism.
As much as fans hope that the ending to #GameOfThrones is emotional and worthy of the seasons of build up, the show's historic realism might signal a far darker end for these beloved characters. As dynamic and interesting as they've all been to watch, none of the current contenders for the Iron Throne are politically safe after the war is over. Their claims to dominance are weak and their leadership abilities all feature serious flaws. Still, we'll be wondering who ends up on the Iron Throne up until Season 8.
What do you think? Does anyone in Game of Thrones stand a chance at a successful reign on the Iron Throne?