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Game of Thrones love pool: What’s the best ’ship?

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Who ends up together? Who should just be alone?

Game of Thrones Jon in Dany in the crypts episode 2 HBO

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that being able to set ’ships sail is one of the best parts of investing in any given fandom. Whether they’re platonic or romantic relationships (let’s be real, they’re romantic, let’s get those characters kissin’), the amount of time that you spend with the characters in any story — especially in epics like Game of Thrones — directly correlates with how intense your opinions are as to how they ought to end up. Or rather, who they ought to end up with.

Of course, ships in Game of Thrones are nothing if not contentious. The twists and turns of Westerosi politics aside, there’s also the fact that a lot of these people are, y’know, related to each other. To determine just how heavily these things weigh into the very precise science of shipping, the Polygon staff convened to discuss our favorite ships — and, by doing so, dig a little into the macro messages of Game of Thrones.

[Ed. note: Major spoilers (and hypothesizing) about Game of Thrones below.]

Karen Han: I wonder if there’ll ever be any payoff to Tormund/Brienne, given how much of a bit it’s become throughout the series (and, on that note, if there’ll be a more concrete resolution to the UST between Brienne and Jaime).

Emily Heller: My favorite ship was realized last week which is Brienne/knighthood.

Austen Goslin: Karen, would you rather see Brienne with Jaime or Tormund?

Emily: The Tormund-Brienne tension has mostly been played for laughs and I think/hope it’ll won’t amount to anything serious. And when I say tension I mean overt sexual harassment.

Chelsea Stark: Yeah, I would be rather uncomfortable with anyone who’s pickup game includes anything about giant’s milk.

Karen: Hmm! Honestly, maybe Tormund, mostly because I personally would never want to be romantically attached to someone who had formerly been romantically attached to his sister? But I would also need a series-long work-up to that, from where Tormund’s approach is now.

Austen: I kind of like the idea of Jaime confessing to Brienne and her turning him down?

Jaime and Brienne talk in the yard at Winterfell Helen Sloan/HBO

Emily: I would love that tbh.

Chelsea: Tormund is gross, but I also do love that he extremely values Brienne exactly as she is. (But also maybe fetishizes??)

Austen: Hear me out though, he knows Jaime’s nickname but can’t call Brienne her actual name?

Emily: Yeah, I think there’s a fine line that Tormund has just trampled over.

Austen: Not really a fan of that.

Emily: My dream is that Jamie sacrifices himself for Brienne but I don’t see that happening. Brienne is going to die in episode 3 and I’m already bracing myself for it. I think more realistically he realizes he loves her after she’s dead.

Karen: Oooh, yeah.

Chelsea: God, so depressing. But back to your earlier point, what does that love mean to Jaime when he’s only ever loved his sister?

Karen: I think it speaks a lot to his character development that he’s finally left her side and actually openly defied her by coming to Winterfell — Jaime’s one of the characters who’s developed the most since the beginning of the series, as per his discussion with Bran in the second episode of this season.

Emily: Woof. I think at the end of the day it’s a show about broken people who are trying to break out of toxic cycles. And to Karen’s point, Jamie’s done that! But I don’t think anyone on this show is capable of a healthy, loving relationship. Maybe Missandei and Grey Worm.

Karen: R.I.P. Missandei and Grey Worm.

Chelsea: I wish they would let characters who have never had happy lives be happy.

Grey Worm and Missandei, season 8, episode 2 Game of Thrones Helen Sloan/HBO

Emily: Holding out hope for Sam and Gilly?

Austen: I think Sam and Gilly probably have the best chance of any couple.

Karen: I feel like Sam and Gilly might have a chance, despite being down in the crypts, just because Sam has been so pivotal in terms of learning this world’s history and interpreting its significance to “current” events. Tangent to our theory about Bran having to die, conversely, Sam may just have to live. Also, he and Gilly are just very cute.

Emily: Right and if you go with the theory that he’s going to write The Song of Ice and Fire, he’s gotta be alive to do that!

Karen: Where do we stand on Jon/Dany, by the way?

Chelsea: Is anyone rooting for them? I can’t get past the familial shit, I”m sorry.

Austen: (I’m just setting the family stuff aside) At first my take was that Jon should sacrifice himself and Dany should be queen. But at this point, I’m not sure I would want either of them ruling separately.

Emily: Oh I think their relationship was doomed from the start. And I’m sorry but Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke have no romantic chemistry.

Karen: Agreed!

Emily: Plus, yeah, she’s his aunt.

Chelsea: Jon has more chemistry with a dragon tbqh.

Austen: It doesn’t help that the show seems to forget they even know each other when they aren’t having an officially romantic scene.

Chelsea: I think this whole series is interesting, because it’s about 3 (main) powerful women that almost always have to make partner choice for alliances, and are punished when they follow their heart. (Dario for Daenerys, for example.)

Austen: That’s part of why I think Jon and Dany might work out. she’s constantly telling us she loves him.

Emily: Speaking of powerful women having to make awful alliances, where are we on Sansa? I’ve seen Sansa/Tyrion pairings and even Sansa/Theon ships, but I am firmly in the “She’s too good for any of these jokers” camp. Plus, after being married off to...three people at this point, I’d love her to just refuse to marry and Virgin Queen the shit out of Winterfell.

Karen: She’s definitely too good for any of them. If I had to choose one, it’d probably be Tyrion, on the grounds of their arc together being more interesting. (Also, I’m sorry God and everyone, but R.I.P. Littlefinger, a horrible man and a great character.)

Austen: I agree that Sansa is too good for anyone, but I agree with Karen, the arc of her with Tyrion is really interesting for both characters.

Chelsea: I feel like they see each other as allies through terrible situations, and Tyrion may have a growing respect for her strategy skills. Maybe I’m in denial because I don’t want it to happen.

Austen: When they were married the first time, she was living a horrible tortured life in King’s Landing and he was the only person that was kind to her and cared. But she still hated him (which is pretty understandable imo) But now, they’re back together. Both have changed a lot and I think — if they fix Tyrion’s character up a little — they’re the two smartest people in any room on the show.

Emily: I guess I’ll devil’s advocate for Theon, because I do see genuine warmth between them now especially after they both went through being tortured by Ramsay. But I think ending it neatly with a romantic relationship would cheapen their bond.

Karen: Totally agree that it would cheapen their character growth! I think we can all agree she should just be freed to do whatever she wants, and freed of men.

Austen: So, wait, do we agree on any ships at all?

sansa stark and theon greyjoy embrace, game of thrones season 8 episode 2 HBO

Karen: Are there any significant ones we haven’t discussed? I guess there’s Jaime/Cersei, which we touched on, depending on what we think the chances are of them reuniting before the series ends.

Emily: I think we can all agree that is BAD.

Austen: I like the chances of them reuniting. and ... probably killing each other.

Chelsea: Even if they weren’t siblings, they are toxic as helllll.

Emily: Jamie’s gotta kill Cersei, right?

Karen: Yeah, either Jaime and Cersei are going to kill each other or she’s going to die in childbirth.

Emily: Ooh. I like her dying in childbirth theory.

Austen: That would be interesting!

Emily: Fulfilling the prophecy in a really unexpected way.

Austen: But i’m not sure that would work with the younger brother prophecy? (Supposing we can put any weight on that at all.)

Emily: I think it could be interpreted as Jamie killing her because it’s their child? Or if its a boy, he’s a younger brother. I suppose he wouldn’t literally be choking her.

Austen: I kind of like the idea that she made almost every choice in her life based on the prophecy, and the one part she couldn’t control didn’t come true, which would really put the whole thing in question. It would fit pretty well with the show’s idea that prophecy is what you make of it.

Chelsea: Damn, that’s good. I like it.

Emily: Hm, I’m really into the idea of letting us debate whether it was truly decided by fate or if she caused it all to happen. So I like fulfilling it in a roundabout way.

Austen: Also, i really like Grey Worm and Missandei, but we can all agree that making big plans for “after the battle” is a really good way to die right?

Karen: And oh, for sure, just like how Brienne finally getting what she’s always wanted signals doom for her, too.

Emily: Ugh, when I saw that beaming face I knew she was a goner.

Austen: Wait if Tormund dies too, does that mean that telling that story was also what he always wanted?

Chelsea: It’s like finishing all the character development in an RPG, and you know the final battle is coming. Do we think Arya and Gendry will last, If they both live?

Arya and Gendry kiss in Winterfell, Game of Thrones, Episode 2, Season 8 HBO

Austen: I really like the idea of them together, but I don’t think Gendry will make it

if he does though it’s a nice little closed loop on Robert’s “I have a son you have a daughter” line from the first episode (edited)

Karen: I agree that Gendry is doomed, though I do think they’d have a shot at making it work if he makes it out! He’s always treated her the way she wants, e.g. as a person rather than as a name/title.

Chelsea: Also he’s the only Baratheon left

Austen: But he’s also “low born” so we could just totally set aside the idea of high-born people having to marry within their station.

Emily: I don’t know, I think Arya might be too far gone into the God of Death stuff to, like, settle down

Karen: I would have agreed if not for their scene last episode, which I think still indicates that there’s some “normal teen” left in her.

Austen: Emily, you might be right, but I think they’ve gone a long way to telling us she’s still human. That’s part of why she left the house of black and white right?

Emily: Oh, interesting, I was thinking she left the house of black and white because she was focused on vengeance over discipline and didn’t want to let anyone dictate how she lives her life. Which, on the other hand, could go with your point of her marrying a “low-born.”

Austen: but that’s very human! She’s just, you know, a little weird about everything. Sometimes she throws knives.

Emily: I just don’t see her willing to settle down and I think that’s what Gendry wants. Just let the boy make his swords. I would be super happy with her going off on adventures and coming back to him at home every now and then when she needs a new weapon and some cuddles.

Austen: I would watch a show about a wandering adventurer and her sidekick blacksmith

Chelsea: Does anyone have any final thoughts?

Austen: Sansa probably deserves better than anyone on the show, but if she’s gonna end up with anyone it should be Tyrion.

Karen: It’s very, very fun to me that we can’t seem to agree on any ships with regards to the series’ big characters beyond “Sansa should not have to deal with men ever again.” It speaks a little to how much we know about all of them, I think!

Austen: Yeah! I also like how often we’ve mentioned that we ship ... friendships?

Chelsea: I think I want the best for these characters, but also realize they are in the middle of war and feelings sometimes just happen.

Emily: Yeah I do love the idea that the relationships aren’t going to neatly work themselves out. That’s not what this show is.

My final thought:

Austen: I think that’s a funny one, because I actually think of it the opposite way: the show never lets Ramsay be right, not even about Theon.

Karen: Ooh, I hadn’t thought about it that way! I guess that’s kind of true, though; even though things like Ned’s death and the Red Wedding occur, there’s still a net good that keeps characters like Ramsay and Joffrey from taking it all.

Austen: They are also moment that result from characters’ decisions. Robb betrays an alliance, Ned commits treason, but Ramsay always thinks people are weak and will break and that things are terrible but the show doesn’t let it be true.

Chelsea: Because the show and books sort of punish people who are pure good and pure evil. The best way to survive Game of Thrones is in shades of gray.

Austen: As weird as it seems, I definitely think it’s a series about punishing evil but dealing with the complications and bad decisions of people who want to be good

Emily: Interesting! I think about the moral of the series as “There will always be unforeseen and often very bad consequences for even the most noble intentions.”