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The first Game of Thrones book may tell us who sits on the Iron Throne
With the arrival of Game of Thrones Season 8, fans will finally learn the way the story ends. Despite how many times the show has used the audience's expectations against them to subvert fantasy tropes, it seems most viewers are functioning on the assumption the ending will be fairly traditional.
Jon Snow, the downtrodden bastard, will learn his father did marry his mother, and even better, was Crown Prince to the Seven Kingdoms, making him the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. Daenerys Targaryen, his current lover, will marry him and rule by his side, as Targaryens have done for generations.
However, anyone who has been paying attention should be suspicious of such an ending. This was the show, after all, that killed off the leading man whose face adorned every advert in Season 1. When fans switched allegiances from the hero Ned Stark to his son, Robb Stark, the result was the Red Wedding. At every instance, this story has flipped the narrative readers and viewers expect. Moreover, a careful study of the A Song of Ice & Fire novels suggests the answer has been staring us in the face the whole time.
Jon Snow hates ruling. He didn't want to be Lord Commander, but Sam nominated him, and he got elected. Jon didn't want to be King in the North either, but Lyanna Stark named him thus, and next thing you know he couldn't get out of it. Now he's about to learn his name is Aegon Targaryen, the rightful King of Westeros, a responsibility he doesn't want at all. Meanwhile, Daenerys is right there. She's been training for this role for years. Nearly everything she's done throughout seven seasons was in preparation for when she would become Queen of the Andals. Not the wife of the King of the Andals, mind you. She was planning to run the joint herself.
Snow could step aside. But, as everyone knows by now, that's not how the Great Game is played. Besides, the story has at this point maneuvered key characters so when Jon learns the truth about his heritage, the majority of the Seven Kingdoms will automatically line up behind him. Sansa rules Winterfell, controls Robyn Arryn (The Eyrie), and most likely can persuade whatever Tully takes over The Riverlands to follow her lead as well.
With the Tyrells all dead, their stewards, the Tarlys, are now the rulers of the Reach, and the oldest living son is… Sam. Add in the likelihood Theon takes the Iron Islands, and there are five kingdoms in Jon's corner, including the two biggest landholders.
How does Jon get out of this? The answer has been in front of him since the very first book when Maester Aemon revealed he was a Targaryen.
The third son of King Maekar I Targaryen, Aemon was an unlikely candidate to rule Westeros, but a combination of insanity and disease removed those ahead of him. Aemon could have claimed the Iron Throne. However, he did not want the responsibility and felt his younger brother, Aegon, was the better candidate. What did he do? He joined the Night's Watch, the only guaranteed way to remove himself from the game, leaving Aegon the Unlikely to rule.
The critical question is, why is the subplot there at all, other than as a foreshadowing of how to untangle a future lineage problem? Nowadays, its understandable fans write off all Martin's filling in of Targaryen history, as there's a new series of books. (Fire & Blood is excellent, by the way.)
But this subplot has been there since the very first novel, A Game of Thrones, when Aemon reveals his story in Chapter 60 (Jon VIII.) Martin didn't casually throw it in there because one day he might write a history of the Targaryens. Nothing in the early books is extraneous (except maybe the food passages) when it comes to leading up to the major beats of the story.
Jon already walked away from the Night's Watch once, but that was under another name. As lovely as Dolorous Edd is as the 999th Lord Commander, chances are by the end of the series, the 1000th Lord Commander will be elected, and he will oversee the rebuilding of the Wall. How is a Stark-Targaryen not the perfect candidate for this project?
Aemon and Aegon's story of how to remove oneself from the game is a part of the narrative that's been overlooked and may hold the answer to how the story ends. How much of a bittersweet ending would it be where both Jon Snow and Daenerys survive, but the only solution for who rules the Seven Kingdoms is for Jon to take himself off to the Night's Watch, so they can never be together?
Aegon Targaryen becomes the 1000th Lord Commander, overseeing the rebuilding of the Wall, as his Stark ancestors did before him while Daenerys oversees the rebuilding of Westeros. It's not the happy ending fans might want, but it is the one we probably deserve.