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Where does Game of Thrones go from here?

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The Battle of Winterfell is over, but there’s still plenty left to fight for

bran warging in game of thrones season 8 Helen Sloan/HBO

Since its very first scene, Game of Thrones set the stage for a great war between the living and the dead. For many fans, this seemed like it would be the show’s final conflict. But in season 8’s third episode, The Long Night, that battle came to an abrupt end. The Night King and his army were only one of the show’s main threats, but Game of Thrones is a story about people’s cruelty, not an ultimate evil power. And that’s exactly what we can expect from the show’s last three episodes.

Rather than a war against a faceless, decaying enemy, we’re back to the land of the living — and who finally gets the Iron Throne. So, with the Night King beaten, the North's forces nearly wiped out, and Cersei in control of a massive mercenary army, what happens now?

dead body burning - game of thrones season 8, episode 4
Is this all that’s left of the Northern army?
HBO

The North needs a plan

As we see in the preview from episode 4, the North isn’t wasting much time celebrating their victory against the dead. Instead, its leaders turn their sights south, toward Cersei, Euron, and King’s Landing. But claiming the Iron Throne won’t be easy.

We all know which main characters are left, but the real question is how many soldiers are in their armies? The battle against the Night King’s wights has likely left the North’s army in shambles, and Cersei has a fresh army of the Second Sons at her disposal. Even with two dragons, for the leaders in the North — Tyrion, Sansa, Jon, and Daenerys — to take back King’s Landing, they’re going to have to rely on their wits, and out-planning Cersei.

Alliances need to be built

Humanity’s best were all united under one banner to fight the Night King. He and his army was really the only thing keeping them from each others’ throats — and even that barely worked. Now that he’s gone, the show has room to explore the political maneuverings of each faction. Dany and Sansa are the two opposite sides in the North; they aren’t outright enemies at the moment, but that possibility doesn’t feel far off.

If Jon and Dany aren’t at odds now, they will be soon, thanks to his recently revealed parentage and stronger claim to the throne. Sansa would likely back him, too. Until last episode it seemed that Dany’s strongest ally was Tyrion Lannister, but his relationship to Sansa seems to be growing more complicated — that could mean that his loyalty is unsettled as well. Hopefully it won’t come to violence, but the shifting alliances of these four characters are sure to be a huge part of the episodes to come.

smiling dragon - game of thrones season 8 episode 4
What do the dragons do when they’re fighting among civilians?
HBO

They’ll need a game plan for the dragons

Dany’s always had some ... fiery impulses when it comes to leadership. While these are mostly kept in check by her smartest advisers, that may change as the odds shift in Cersei’s favor. With the North’s army mostly decimated and Dany facing worse odds than ever at King’s Landing, she may decide to stop listening to the people around her and start using her dragons a little more often. But if she starts burning castles and villages on the way to King’s Landing, she could put herself at odds with her fellows leaders — and common Westerosi citizens — pretty quickly. On the other hand, if she isn’t willing to use them in difficult situations, Cersei could use that to her advantage and make them non-factor by keeping her armies close to civilians. The dragons will be a delicate balancing act for the North.

Who’s going to rule Westeros in the end?

All these issues are still looming for our heroes, but there’s also the single biggest question: Who’s going to sit on the Iron Throne at the end of the show?

Daenerys

Dany is a much better conqueror than she is a ruler, as we saw with her three-season detour through Meereen. She’s also the only character that actually seems to want the throne, which isn’t behavior the show ultimately rewards. She isn’t a terrible ruler, but her intense commitment to (her version of) law and order means that she may not quite have the temperament to rule the Seven Kingdoms alone.

Jon

Jon’s never wanted the throne. Even after being told he has the best claim in the Seven Kingdoms he isn’t particularity enthralled in the idea of ruling. In its own way, that’s an admirable trait. He did a pretty good job when he was in the Lord Commander — at the start. As time went on and his impulses to help people got stronger, he was eventually murdered by the people he was supposed to lead for helping the wildlings and risking the starvation of everyone at Castle Black, including the men of the Night’s Watch. So, he’s also not the best to rule alone.

Jon and Daenerys

Marriage between family members is a grand Targaryen tradition that goes all the way back to Aegon the Conqueror and his two sister wives who first united the Seven Kingdoms. So, setting their familial relations aside, these two could make for pretty good rulers if they can put aside their individual claims to the throne and rule together.

They balance out each other’s worst tendencies. If Dany is too often a legalist and obsessed with following the letter of the law and Jon is too concerned with bending the rules to make peoples’ lives better, their combination might be a positive force for Westeros. On the other hand, it would once again mean a Targaryen on the throne, so in terms of names it wouldn’t be too different from the rest of the Targaryen dynasty. Hopefully the idea of both ruling together, as Davos suggested in this season’s first episode, would make all the difference.

Cersei

It doesn’t seem like there’s much chance for this, but she does have the best odds on paper. She’s got the bigger army and she’s already in King’s Landing sitting on the throne. Of course, Cersei also has a tendency to make extremely poor decisions and ruin her own success. Plus, it’s only a matter of time before the citizens or anyone else realizes Cersei blew up the Great Sept at the end of season 6. Maybe that will have consequences, too.

Sansa

There isn’t a single person in Westeros that makes more sense to rule the Seven Kingdoms. She may be young, but her political experience rivals that of Dany or Jon, especially inside Westeros. She’s also the only one to pull an entire castle through a few harsh winter months and a war. Despite all her experience, her only downside might still be that she hasn’t ever ruled a place as large or complex as King’s Landing — let along the Seven Kingdoms — but she’s a quick learner and more than capable of figuring it out.

Sansa and Tyrion

If Sansa can’t rule alone, and Westeros is destined to have a pair of rulers, then these two ruling together is probably the best option. On top of Sansa’s impressive resume, Tyrion has experience in managing the Seven Kingdoms as the hand to the mostly absent Joffrey Baratheon. It also doesn’t hurt that these two are the show’s smartest characters — outside of a rough season 7 for Tyrion. The only problem with either of these characters ruling is that the mechanics of putting them on the throne are pretty convoluted since they have no familial claim and no army.

Nation states

This might be the most appealing to many of the show’s biggest characters, like Yara and Sansa. Each has separately suggested Pyke and the North be separated from the Seven Kingdoms. Dany may not agree, as we saw from her reaction to Sansa in this season’s second episode, but sometimes compromise is important. If Game of Thrones is about changing the world we know and building something better, then perhaps breaking the Seven Kingdoms into several different nations that live and work together would be the best thing for everyone.