On ‘Game of Thrones,’ we’re only one death away from total societal collapse

All is fair in the Game of Thrones, but the Baratheons are quickly running out of heirs.

Excluding the White Walker threat*, the main source of strife in Game of Thrones is the fight for the Iron Throne. Or to be free from the rule of the Iron Throne. Nobles and smallfolk alike have perished in droves to see their side come out on top. For now, King Tommen Baratheon rules, but all signs point to him not making it out alive. Which would throw a massive wrench into everything.

*For all we know, maybe the Night King wants the Iron Throne too.

To explain why Tommen”s demise would be a crushing blow to the stability of the Seven Kingdoms, first we need a very brief recent history lesson. Less than two decades ago, Westeros was still ruled by the Targaryens. It wasn”t until the Mad King went well and truly around the bend – killing Ned Stark”s brother and father – that it all fell apart. Prince Rhaegar Targaryen got mixed up with Lyanna Stark, and it was the spark that ignited a war. Robert Baratheon became the figurehead of a rebellion and, once the Targaryens were vanquished, became King Robert I based on his own paternal grandmother having been a Targaryen princess.

When Robert took the throne, the Baratheon family was on solid footing. Cersei appeared to give her husband two healthy sons, Stannis had a daughter and therefore was capable of having more children, and Renly was young with a future household of sons ahead of him. By the end of A Dance with Dragons, only young Tommen remained. As Robert, Stannis, and Renly”s father was an only child, no great-nephews are waiting in the wings of succession. In the books, Tommen is too young to father a child; on the show, they”ve gone out of their way to say Margaery has been shirking her wifely duties. So no Baratheon heir is gestating either.

The Baratheon hold on the Iron Throne is both young and tenuous. As with most medieval monarchies, succession passes down to sons only. If Tommen dies, both of Robert”s “sons” are gone. With no blood ties to the king, it is highly unlikely Cersei or Margaery could hold the throne. Margaery would have a better chance, simply by the grace of being better liked by the smallfolk and having her father”s army and supply lines supporting her. But there”s no possibility that would happen, if only because Tommen”s death would set off a free-for-all scramble for the throne by every House in the Seven Kingdoms. The exact kind of instability both Daenerys and the Night King need if they”re to grab a foothold.

Who would be next in line for the Iron Throne in the case of the King”s untimely demise? There are several candidates.


#1: Edric Storm/Gendry
I”m lumping these two together, as that is also what the show has done. Both Edric and Gendry are the bastard offspring of Robert Baratheon. In the books, it is Edric Storm who is at Dragonstone with Stannis and Melisandre, and it is Edric that is spirited away in the night to keep him safe from the red priestess” machinations. The child of Robert and a noblewoman named Delena Florent, he”s an excellent prospect for king as far as bloodlines go. Even Stannis said, “He knows he is a king”s son, but chooses to forget that he is bastard-born.” Edric is also young enough to tempt any that would wish to make the next king a catspaw through which to rule. While not born to a noble mother, perhaps loyalists to the Baratheon cause would accept Gendry in lieu of a return to Targaryen rule.

#2: Jon Snow
By now we all know R+L=J (Rhaegar Targaryen + Lyanna Stark = Jon Snow), making Jon a Targaryen by birth. Though still a bastard, having the noble blood of ancient Valryia AND the blood of the First Men running through his veins makes Jon an attractive candidate for the Iron Throne. Jon is a good compromise of Targaryen dynasty and Westerosi independence. His father was beloved by the people (until the slander and/or reality that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna Stark), and the Starks are well respected as virtual kings of their domain. Jon”s ability to garner loyalty from his men, as well as his experience in the Night”s Watch makes him far more capable of ruling than some of his legitimized competition.

#3: Daenerys Targaryen
The prodigal daughter. The youngest child of the Mad King, Daenerys” could easily return to Westeros and declare the last two decades to be a rebellion against the crown that has now come to an end. With the amount of tumult and in-fighting going on amongst the Westeros Houses, they may welcome a return to the status quo and stability. If not, dragons are always great negotiators. Should Dany win the day, all of the Baratheon reign would be swept aside as a footnote in the history of the Targaryen royals.

#4: Tyrion Lannister
Should the fan theory hold true that Tyrion is actually the child of Joanna Lannister and the Mad King, it gives him a claim to the Iron Throne. While it would make Tyrion into a bastard, it would also make him older than his half-sister Daenerys. Cunning, kind, and politically-minded, having the Imp rule the Seven Kingdoms doesn”t seem like the worst idea.


#5: Young Griff
Cut from Game of Thrones, Young Griff is encountered by Tyrion Lannister in Essos. The boy”s true name is Aegon Targaryen. In keeping with deconstructing traditional fantasy tropes, George R.R. Martin introduces Aegon as the “lost prince.” The youngest son of Rhaegar and his wife Elia Martell, Aegon as supposedly murdered by the Mountain in infancy. But Young Griff escaped, and another baby was sacrificed in his place (much like Gilly with Mance”s baby or the farm boys Theon killed instead of Bran and Rickon Stark). Spirited away to safety, Aegon would have the strongest claim to the Iron Throne being both a direct descendant of Prince Rhaegar and a boy.

#6: Arianne Martell
The dark horse candidate, Arianne Martell is still in the running. Dorne is the only country in the Seven Kingdoms that recognizes women as rulers in their own right. As the Martell House was founded by the marriage of Prince Maron Martell to Princess Daenerys Targaryen, Arianne has Targaryen blood in her veins. As she is on her way to meet Aegon Targaryen in The Winds of Winter, it would be politically savvy for her to marry the boy and make her claim.

Plus, with a family tree as wide as the Targaryen, there are dozens of minor lords who could lay claim to the Iron Throne. Basically, anyone who wanted to completely destabilize the political climate (Varys) need only murder one boy to send Westeros careening off course. Will it happen? Probably.

[UPDATE: 6/27/16 – 12:50 PM EDT] – As of the season six finale of Game of Thrones, Cersei sits the Iron Throne. But there is no way she'll be on it long enough for the throne to even get warm. With the death of the Tyrells, the Queen of Thorns is coming with all of Dorne (and Dany) behind her. Even without that snag, Cersei would be dealing with a war on several fronts. The nobility of The Reach won't take their lord's death lying down; the North no longer recognizes the authority of the Iron Throne; with Walder Frey dead, the Lannister alliance with the Riverlands dies with him; the Vale has thrown in with the North, and I'd hazard a guess the lords of The Westerlands would rather Tyrion as their leader than a half-crazed Cersei. At best, Cersei is the Queen of King's Landing, and even that hold is tenuous. 

Donna Dickens and Roth Cornet discuss where all this is headed in the video above or below.