'Game of Thrones' Before the Storm: Who Will Sit on the Iron Throne?

Game of Thrones S08 Premiere_Daenerys 3 - Publicity - H 2019
Helen Sloan/HBO

As Game of Thrones rushes toward the finish line, time is running out for predictions about how David Benioff and Dan Weiss' fantasy epic will end. Enter: Before the Storm, a weekly column wherein The Hollywood Reporter's Westeros guru Josh Wigler and THR's chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg put on their Valyrian foil hats and muse aloud about the next steps of the story.

This week, Wigler and Fienberg focus on one of the biggest questions surrounding the series: the fate of the Iron Throne. Will Jon Snow (Kit Harington) end the series as King of the Seven Kingdoms, now that he knows the truth about his Targaryen roots? Will Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) seize her destiny as the ruler of Westeros? Perhaps it will be no one — or "No One," in the case of Fienberg's personal favorite theory. 

Read on for their thoughts on the subject, which originate from their Series Regular podcast conversation about the final season premiere. For that full conversation, look no further.

Josh Wigler: Most of the season premiere takes place in Winterfell. There are a couple of exceptions, including a series of scenes in King's Landing, the site of the Iron Throne. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) remains large and in charge at the heart of Westeros. Few people expect it will stay that way. Dan, did the season premiere move you one way or the other in terms of who might wind up on the Iron Throne in the end? And perhaps as importantly, how much does that question matter in terms of your enjoyment of the final season?

Dan Fienberg: I think it will matter in exactly the one moment [creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss] where they decide they want to tell us who's going to be there. If it plays right, I'll go, "Okay! At least they did it in a way that plays right." If not, I'll raise my eyebrow in confusion. In terms of the buildup to it? Thankfully, I have not had to write up a "who's going to sit on the Iron Throne?" story, and I'm glad, because I really don't care. I understand on a sensibility level which characters make more and less sense to sit on the Iron Throne, and who wields power in the way that would put them there. For example, I know it makes no sense for Varys (Conleth Hill) to sit on the Iron Throne. That makes no sense. It's not who he is. It would be like electing Karl Rove president. If that's what it ends up being? I would raise my eyebrow. It's not a thing that bothers me. In the short term, I like watching Cersei on the throne, sneering at people. That, to me, is enough.

Wigler: Let's look at some of the specific contenders for the Iron Throne, beginning with the frontrunners, and starting with Cersei, who is there now. Is there any chance the show ends with her on the Iron Throne?

Fienberg: I think that would be a bore, honestly. She's spent so much time being there and sometimes literally sitting on it that it wouldn't be exciting. It would be like a college football season that starts with Alabama as your preseason number one and ends with Alabama as your postseason number one: "We just went through an awful lot of work to get to the place where we were when we started." I would hope Cersei will not be on the Iron Throne — not because I don't like booing for the character! I think Lena Headey is great. What about you?

Wigler: Unless David Benioff and Dan Weiss really want to leave us with a scathing indictment of mankind, no. I don't think Cersei will remain on the Iron Throne. I don't think that's the story they are trying to tell. I think the likelier candidates are Jon Snow and Daenerys — Jon because of birth, not because of desire. I don't think he wants the burden. I like how that played out in the premiere, actually, when he learned that he is Rhaegar Targaryen's son. His primary concern was how this impacts Daenerys. How did you interpret the way the revelation played for Jon? Did it feel to you like he was concerned mostly about how it would impact Daenerys, and do you feel like there's any chance that it could actually be Jon on the Iron Throne at the end?

Fienberg: I think Jon's aware that he's a person who keeps being put in positions of authority that in terms of basic qualifications, he doesn't have. He wasn't really qualified to be in charge of the Night's Watch. He wasn't really qualified to be King in the North. Now, he's qualified by birth to be the King of Westeros. Here's what I can imagine: Jon winding up on the throne with 20 minutes still go in the finale, and then proposing open democratic elections, and then melting down the Iron Throne. That's the context I can imagine him ending up in charge, insofar as the second he's put in charge, he would say, "No thanks."

Wigler: That's my favorite "King Snow" theory I've heard. How about Daenerys? There are a lot of open questions about her leadership style in this episode, including from Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), typically the most level-headed person in the room, often the voice of reason. Did the premiere do anything for you in scaling back the odds for Daenerys who, for so much of Game of Thrones, has been viewed by a large swath of the audience as the likeliest contender to end the series on the Iron Throne?

Fienberg: To me, she can only end up on the Iron Throne if the show is aware that her being on the Iron Throne isn't good. If the show is aware that when you give Daenerys too much power, she's like everyone else: a questionable ruler. She can be vengeful in ways that she could stand to be forgiving. Sometimes, she's autocratic in ways she could stand to listen a little bit better. If the show recognizes that on one level, it makes sense for her to be on the throne (she has dragons, it's tough to argue with that) but also recognizes her tendencies aren't always the best tendencies — that maybe this is only something we think we want — then that would be the way to do it. I don't think it can end with her on the Iron Throne as pure, uncluttered and triumphant. If it did that, I think I would be ticked off.

Wigler: Honestly, I like transposing your idea for Jon Snow onto Daenerys. In season five, in one of her very first conversations with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), she has the great line: "I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel." She wants to shatter the Westeros status quo, and if she means that, then it would mean an end to dynasties, not a return to glory for House Targaryen. It would mean actually acting on behalf of the people, doing what's in service of the realm, letting them have a voice in who's going to lead them. I really like that idea for Daenerys. I'm very interested in charting both the fans' and characters' reactions to Daenerys throughout the season. There have been enough moments since she's arrived in Westeros where she feels unshakable on her path of destiny, that she feels this is what she's meant for. As long as her storyline stays in that space, of her rejecting advice from people who we as an audience either know as reasonable or reasonable enough? It'll send up red flags for me.

Fienberg: Ultimately, I think this is what I'm rooting for: either someone ends up on the Iron Throne with fifteen minutes to go and says, "This is a really stupid way to have power," and no one ends up sitting there — or, it ends up being Arya (Maisie Williams) but with someone else's face.

Wigler: Yes! (Laughs.) I was going to ask you for some wild card picks for who winds up on the Iron Throne. There was certainly a lot of screen time for Arya this week. Maybe you're onto something.

Fienberg: Arya with someone else's face on the Iron Throne would make me happy, but that could just be because I like Arya. Who's your dark horse?

Wigler: I'm not sure how dark of a dark horse it is, but I can imagine the scenario where Gendry (Joe Dempsie) is on the Iron Throne at the end. We began the series with a Baratheon on the Iron Throne, and he is the last Baratheon standing — which is not the name of one of the successor shows on HBO, as far as I know. For him to correct his father's mistakes, whether through marriage to Daenerys and the two of them are ruling and it's a commentary on how if a Targaryen and Baratheon can heal their rift, then why can't we all? It's a direction I could see the show going toward… but to be completely honest? Now I can't stop thinking about Arya wearing someone's face and being in charge of Westeros. I had never thought about it before, and now I really hope you're right!

Fienberg: Excellent. I will definitely hold onto that as my official prediction going forward.

Listen to more of Wigler and Fienberg's discussion in the Series Regular podcast below, and keep checking every week for another edition of Before the Storm.

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones all season long for more coverage.