Jon and Dany getting married wouldn’t make them, like, co-monarchs.

If Game of Thrones wants to remain true to itself and its ideas, it’ll ignore the big revelation about Jon Snow’s parents.

by MATT STOKES | AUGUST 28, 2017

The principal theme of Game of Thrones (both the TV show and the book series on which it is based) is powerful people squabbling with each other to either obtain more power or to preserve the power they already have, all the while ignoring the massive existential crises encircling all of humanity. It’s a version of the classic “fiddling while Rome burns” trope, and Thrones explicitly spells out this idea numerous times. Mystical characters stare into flames and declare the fight for the Iron Throne to be meaningless—”The real war lies in the North!” Woke nobles lecture each other for their elitism—”You think these peasants give a shit who sits on the throne?” This has been reiterated so much by the show that one gets the impression it’s the show’s own critique of the segment of fans (like me) who focus on the titular game for the throne rather than the plague of unstoppable ice zombies.

The great appeal of Game of Thrones is its marriage of power politics and high fantasy. But the major problem for ThronesI)I speak as both a show viewer and a book reader; I love both but I prefer the show to the books, and the show is my main focus here. is that the political story is far more interesting than the fantasy. Indeed, characters become progressively less interesting the farther away from politics and toward fantasy they move—which is why the LannistersII)This is why I prefer the early seasons to the later seasons. The early seasons had many great scenes of Tyrion, Cersei, and Tywin sitting in rooms, drinking wine, and trying to destroy each other… and it was delicious! Since Tywin Lannister died at the end of season four and Tyrion went to Essos to join Daenerys, this dynamic was lost. The season seven finale had a throwback sequence of Tyrion/Cersei one-on-one that was the best thing the show has done in years. are consistently the most fascinating characters while a figure like Bran Stark is generally a bore.

Now, I know this is not universally thought to be the case, that there are many fans who love Bran Stark, love the White Walkers, love the dragons, direwolves, witches, wargs, and warlocks. But for me, the political struggles involve complicated characters and an intricate sense of history, while the magical elements are more one-dimensional, could easily come from a more conventional TV show or book series. It’s not that the fantasy elements aren’t of any interest to me, but I mainly enjoy them when they are in service of the political stories.

The White Walkers work very well as an unseen colossal threat, menacing in the background to show how poorly entrenched interests deal with abstract threats—climate change, economic collapse, famine, pandemics, natural disasters, whatever it may be. But the White Walkers are not themselves interesting; they have been used well within the show with their limited screen time (especially in “Hardhome”), but large-scale battles against thousands of silent, mindless killing machines can only be so compelling. Rather than the White Walker peril itself, how the powerful react to that peril should and most likely will be the focus of the final Game of Thrones season. That is what the show has always been at its best, and that’s what it ultimately is: a political story with fantasy elements, rather than a fantasy story with political themes.

Where does power come from, and why must people respect it? This is a fascinating question that Game of Thrones has explored for its entire run. Varys’s riddleIII)“In a room sit three great men: A king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?” from season two/A Clash of Kings sums up the central quandary, demonstrating that power is bottom-up, that it comes from the people… but if that is the case, why are the people so powerless? Ned Stark lost his life when he mistakenly thought the truth of Joffrey’s parentage would remove him from power. Technically, he was correct—by the letter of the the law, Joffrey was not a legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, but the law relies on people to carry it out. The Baratheon line of succession Ned was trying to protect, after all, had only obtained power by seizing it in a coup—from a family (the Targaryens) that had itself invaded the country, conquered, and consolidated its rule. The authority to rule will flow to whoever is able to make the most people obey them, because it is conditional and fungible; it doesn’t come from natural laws of the universe. Presidents obey court orders, but what if they didn’t? They might get impeached and removed from office, but that would rely on Congress moving to act, and what if Congress didn’t? The force of the law comes from the willingness of people to obey and respect it, and in Game of Thrones, the characters who have advanced have generally been those most willing to disregard the existing order.

Which is why I don’t think season seven’s big reveal about Jon Snow is all that interesting. Jon (thanks to some specious, “Actually, it turns out…” explanation) is the legitimate son of the late Rhaegar Targaryen, and thus ahead of Daenerys in the Targaryen line of succession. But if we are remaining consistent with the rules of the game of thrones, well, who cares? Dany’s claim to the throne isn’t that she’s the rightful heir, it’s that she can fucking kill everyone with her dragons if they don’t listen to her. And if not that, it’s that she has the most kind heart, that people will want to follow her. Jon made a big show in the finale of his keeping true to his word, and because he already pledged fealty to Daenerys and her project of building a new world in which the old rules don’t apply, he shouldn’t be bound by the old rules of succession.

Fans of the show think that this new Aegon Targaryen will clash with Daenerys over who the rightful ruler should be. They also think a good solution is for the two to get married. Then they could share power, I guess? But that doesn’t seem right to me. There have been examples in history (of our world, not the World of Ice and Fire) of dual monarchies (or “diarchies”), but based on what we know about Dany (“Bend the knee!”), she won’t be interested in this. Perhaps the new King Aegon will be fine delegating his power to his wife, like the emperors of feudal Japan granting governing authority to the shoguns, but this seems unlikely. A happy ending that stays true to the spirit of Game of Thrones will have Jon Snow—legitimate lord of House Targaryen—stepping aside for his aunt/wife Daenerys to rule. That would break the wheel.

Footnotes

I I speak as both a show viewer and a book reader; I love both but I prefer the show to the books, and the show is my main focus here.
II This is why I prefer the early seasons to the later seasons. The early seasons had many great scenes of Tyrion, Cersei, and Tywin sitting in rooms, drinking wine, and trying to destroy each other… and it was delicious! Since Tywin Lannister died at the end of season four and Tyrion went to Essos to join Daenerys, this dynamic was lost. The season seven finale had a throwback sequence of Tyrion/Cersei one-on-one that was the best thing the show has done in years.
III “In a room sit three great men: A king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”