As the final battle approaches, the question of who — if anyone — will end up on the Iron Throne intensifies. Game of Thrones has a number of viable candidates for the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, but Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen and Daenerys Targaryen are the most obvious choices. People have strong opinions over who would be the best, including our very own writers. Alyssa Fikse is staunchly Team Jon, while Jessica Toomer thinks that Dany deserves the crown. Who is correct? In the spirit of debate, they both make their cases for the new monarch. Who should win? You decide.
Alyssa: Alright, up until last season, this was definitely a category in Dany’s favor. A direct descendant from the Mad King, and all of that jazz. However, once R+L=J was revealed to be more than Reddit thread speculation, Jon Boy moved into the lead here, I think. We can argue about the unfairness of male prominence in lines of succession (it’s stupid unfair), but in the eyes of Westeros, Jon wins. My only concern is that the only confirmation of this is a diary entry and Bran’s whole deal, which, while accurate, may not hold up in a court of law.
Jessica: If we’re sticking to antiquated inheritance law then yes, it does seem like Jon has the upper hand in the “rightful leader” category. Dany, being the sister of Rhaegar Targaryen, the eldest son of the Mad King, means she would be behind Jon when the line eventually formed for the throne. However, I think you bring up a good point about proof of concept here. All we have to go on is one maester’s diary and the word of the most emo teenager in Westeros. I can’t imagine that being enough for the houses that support Dany’s claim, no matter how quickly Jon seemed to accept it as fact.
Also, and to me, this feels like a fact everyone just keeps forgetting, Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell before marrying Lyanna Stark. Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia was very public, it produced two children; his wedding to Lyanna was in secret where she birthed a secret child. Now, the maester says he annulled the marriage, but how common (or accepted) are annulments in Westeros? Is it a King Henry VIII thing where we have to check with Septons, have proof of wrongdoing, get Rhaegar declared head of the church? Legally, I need to know if Rhaegar was free to marry Lyanna before I can back Jon’s inheritance claim.
Alyssa: I admit that I do not know much about the legal systems in Westeros and if the High Sparrow is any indication of how strict the religious systems are, I think that’s a valid complaint against Jon. HOWEVER, I am not sure the lords of the North will think twice. Dany hasn’t made a great first impression, so I think that any indication that Jon — the person that they pledged to follow — is the one true king will be enough for them to throw their loyalties behind him. Whether it’s enough for Dany is the real question. Which, I don’t think it will be. And honestly, I am not sure if Jon will be willing to throw away his allegiance to Dany, which is partly why I think he really is the man for the job. Jon’s first thought is his people, not the line of succession.
Jessica: Well, up until this point, that’s true. But, to be fair to Dany, she’s been raised her entire life knowing her heritage, knowing she has a claim to the Throne, while Jon’s believed he’s just a bastard. Finding out you’re actually top billing for a seat as powerful as King of the Seven Kingdoms might change him, especially if he can use that succession clause to further his own goals of beating the Night King and saving the North.
Alyssa: See, I don’t think that’s fair to Jon. While he may be naïve at times, at his core he is good and generous. Whenever he’s given a position of power, he does his duty and what he thinks is right for the most people, even when it costs him everything. He kept the Wildlings alive, he got back Winterfell (mostly thanks to Sansa, let's be real), and he’s been rallying the Northmen to join together, which is no easy feat. Jon also surrounds himself with people who are loyal and wise, and while I may have included Tyrion in that camp in early seasons of the show, nearly every single bit of advice that he offers Dany has been absolutely terrible. So, I think Jon is winning in the experience bits as well.
Jessica: I take issue with having one of the arguments for Jon deserving the crown being his inherent morality. I completely agree that Jon Snow is a damn good human being. He legitimately cares about people, regardless of their station or what value they might be to him, which is a rare thing on this show. But when we point out how noble Jon Snow is all the time, it makes me question why we don’t do the same for Dany. Dany cares about her people. She cared about the Dothraki, before she had dragons and no khal and no idea where her life would take her after losing her husband and child. She cares about the Unsullied, offering them freedom after she killed their masters.
Sure, she went about her revolution in Slaver’s Bay all wrong, but I do think she genuinely cared about freeing those slaves too, because she knows what it’s like to be chained to someone, to be thought of as a pawn, a tool, in a bigger game. She can empathize with people in the same way Jon can because she’s suffered just as much, if not more than he has. I think we overlook Dany’s goodness because, while Jon’s had these leadership roles kind of thrust upon him, Dany’s actively sought them out and it makes people uncomfortable to see a woman make a play for power. It’s much easier to get behind an “aw shucks” type guy who doesn’t want to lead but will because it’s what people “need.” I mean, isn’t that what every damn superhero movie has taught us — people who don’t want power are best suited for it? I’m not sure I completely believe that.
Alyssa: First of all, pointing out Jon’s goodness doesn’t mean that I’m denigrating Dany’s. I definitely agree that Dany has been put through the absolute ringer by life and come out the other side a powerful and formidable player in the game. She has definitely shown empathy to a lot of people over the course of the series. Empathy to people that can ultimately help her, too. Yes, freeing the Unsullied was a real power move, but let’s not pretend that it wasn’t without ulterior motive. She wants an army that is loyal to her, and she got it. And while yes, she did free Yunkai and Meereen, she basically moved in and disrupted the system without putting anything into place that could serve as a viable substitute.
Dany is a conqueror at heart, and she’s quite good at that, but a ruler? No. Has anyone checked in on Meereen since she ditched them for Westeros. She basically left them in disarray with some sellswords in charge. Daario is a babe, to be sure, but he’s not who I would leave in charge of my recently conquered people. So yes, Dany has freed a lot of slaves, but she’s also built her attempts to ascend the Iron Throne on their backs.
Jessica: You’re definitely right about that. Without these armies and former slaves, she wouldn’t have made it to Westeros, and she knew that, which makes her a strategist too, not just a conqueror. Maybe it was manipulative to free them and then offer a choice — who wouldn’t choose to follow a woman with three dragons who just killed the people who’d put you on bondage? Still, a choice was given and I think that’s important. These people obviously believe in her, and she takes that trust seriously. What happened in Meereen was “How Not To Lead 101” for sure, but she inherited a lot of problems there and as terrible as her decision-making was, she was trying to do the right thing. Good intentions don't make up for sh*t reactions for either of these characters of course. I mean, Jon is equally terrible when it comes to leading people.
He inspires, sure, but he’s had his brothers commit mutiny because they hated his direction, he’s risked himself and his army by not listening to the council of people like Sansa, he’s been so gung-ho in his fight against the Night King (rightfully so) that he’s left the day-to-day management of things to others while he ventures beyond the wall to find wights and sacrifice dragons. We talk about Dany’s temper a lot but Jon is just as impulsive and his enemies have used that against him more than once.
What I appreciate about Dany, and what I haven’t seen as much from Jon, is her willingness to listen to opposing counsel. Varys, Tyrion, these are men who disagree with her constantly. She gets angry with them, yes, but she does take into account their points of view. Since Jon’s been King in the North, I’ve seen him argue publicly with Sansa in front of the other lords, refuse to let others go on dangerous missions while he stays safe for his people, bend the knee out of gratitude and love, not because it was the smart, politically advantageous thing to do, and dash any hope of recruiting the Lannisters in his fight against the White Walkers because he wouldn’t listen to counsel and agree to remain a neutral party once the Great War was over. Both Dany and Jon are stubborn people who like to think they’re always right, but I think because Jon’s motivated by such a noble goal — saving humanity from destruction — he’s almost less willing to listen when people tell him he’s taking the wrong approach.
Alyssa: I’m not sure one band of five cowards in the Night’s Watch stabbing Jon to death is proof that he shouldn’t rule, and the Wight Mission was Tyrion’s idea and at Dany’s request, so I don’t think the blame rests solely on Jon for that one either. Plus, Cersei was never going to side with them. Never. So yeah, Jon may have been foolish, to be honest (a common trait among dead Stark men), but I don’t think it really made a difference in Cersei’s decision, just in the political theater. And I guess with regards to temper and impulsiveness, Jon’s and Dany’s are very different and comes down to a question of intent. Dany’s temper manifests when people don’t bend the knee. If they don’t acquiesce, they get burnt to a crisp. Jon’s impulsiveness manifests as him making rash decisions to save people, like when he didn’t listen to Sansa (ALWAYS LISTEN TO SANSA) and tried to save Rickon from Ramsay. I think intent matters and their intents are quite different. And while Jon’s focus on the Night King has caused him to delegate too much and weirdly not enough at the same time, I think focusing on keeping his people alive to even have anything to rule is a pretty important goal.
Jessica: Alyssa, it’s like Dany burns two Tarlys for not bending the knee and people just can’t get over it? If I had a couple of dragons I’d be putting people who called my Dothraki army savages and told me I didn’t have a right to come back to my homeland because I’d been driven out when a murderous king threated to have me assassinated as a baby in their place, too. Granted, Dickon should’ve been spared. (His name is Dickon, he’s been through enough.) I guess what I’m saying is that yes, Dany can be ruthless, she’s had to be to get this far. Comparing her journey with Jon’s is like comparing apples and oranges at this point. They’ve both been through different versions of hell, they’ve both created their own sets of problems. I think Dany has more real-world experience ruling a wide variety of people while Jon’s made a minor attempt to be Commander of the Night’s Watch and unite the Free Folk, but they’ve both failed in ways there, too.
What really sways me to Dany’s side is her commitment to seeing this claim through. She’s always had her eye on the prize, she’s suffered much to even get to this point, she’s had a vision for what life could be like when she rules, she’s chased that responsibility. Even now, she’s given up a sure victory over Cersei to help Jon defeat the Night King. She’s not just doing that because he’s got good hair. She’s doing it to save her kingdom, and without any gratitude from the people in the North. I think Dany has learned from her mistakes across the Narrow Sea, and I think she genuinely wants to do better whereas Jon has always had leadership roles given to him. He’s suffered for it too, but he’s never wanted to lead people. In fact, when he argues with the lords in the North about going to Dragonstone he literally says, “I didn’t want this.” If we were crafting a political campaign in Westeros, that’s not the candidate I’d want to have to sell people on.
Alyssa: I’m not even talking Tarlys! Though I do think they’re relevant. Whenever Dany has to take out an enemy or punish an opponent, she chooses the more sadistic option every time. Every time. Crucifixions, locking people in vaults to starve to death, roasting them alive. Dany’s brand of justice has had an intrinsically dark streak from day one, and while she probably won’t go mad like Aerys, the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree. When Jon is faced with similar situations, he almost always chooses a merciful death, even when they don’t really deserve it. I think if we look ahead to potentially rebuilding a Westeros after the Night King does his thing, I don’t think that Jon’s mercy is something to sneer at. And while Dany may have her eyes on the prize, the Throne, she has not shown that she knows what to do with it after. Why should the lords of the North be all in on her? All the know about her is that she’s an invader coming to demand their loyalty with a show of force. If she showed up to my lands with a smug look and some dragons with a history of roasting children to feed, I wouldn’t exactly be singing her praises.
You mention that Jon hasn’t wanted to lead the people, and yet he always steps up. He’s always there to throw himself in the path of danger to ensure that whatever group of people he’s in charge of at the time has the best chance of making it. While I’m not necessarily in favor of people who don’t want power being the ones to take it, I think it’s important that Jon puts the safety of his people above everything else. As to Dany’s decision to side with the North, let’s not pretend that she doesn’t need them. She’s got a lot of Unsullied and Dothraki at her disposal, but with the Lannister army and the Golden Company, it’s not like Cersei is hurting for troops at this point. Dany needs all the help that she can get, and the North is included in that. Rolling into Winterfell and immediately throwing barbs at their beloved Wardeness… Dany, this ain’t it.
Jessica: Again, I feel like we always add ulterior motives to Dany’s decisions because she’s proven to be a smart, clever leader whereas Jon is just always about doing the right (sometimes stupid) thing. Why can’t Dany be in the North simply because she knows what a threat the Night King was and didn’t want to leave Westeros to die? I may be wrong, but I don’t think she knows about The Golden Company when she heads to Winterfell so I don’t think her gameplan is to recruit the Northerners to her cause. She wants to save them, earn their trust and loyalty, but I don’t think her reasoning is, “Let me ride up here, get people to join my army, then peace.” She’s putting a lot on the line — I’d say more than Jon certainly — for this fight. Strategically, it would’ve been smarter to stay at Dragonstone, let Jon and Cersei deal with the Night King and each other, then move in (or move on, you’ve got dragons, you can fly anywhere).
To your point about her unforgiving nature, Dany — as a woman who’s been underestimated, whose only real weapon is her dragons, not her fighting prowess — has had to take a different approach when dealing with traitors and threats to her life. Again, the argument here is that chopping off a head or beating the sh*t out of an enemy is somehow nobler than the ways Dany has disposed of her opponents, but Dany has had to deal with her enemies in more public settings. She’s had to use them to send a message to those who would seek to destroy her. She’s been very aware of the target on her back from a young age — something Jon’s never worried over — and she’d had to take preemptive measures to scare people off of trying to kill her. It’s not always been pretty, and I don’t think she’s ever taken joy in it, but was it necessary? Probably.
Alyssa: See, I interpret Dany — and to be fair, this is just my interpretation — as taking quite a bit of relish in enacting violence. I get that she has had to fight her whole life and that her struggles are definitely different than Jon’s, but can you imagine Dany firing the arrow at Mance Rayder or whatever her equivalent would be to give him a clean death instead of being burned alive? No. For Dany, there is no room for mercy, and I think that would ultimately be a liability for her in the long run. I think it’s really important that Sam, who the show has repeatedly told us is good and to be trusted, doesn’t trust Dany. When he asks if Dany would be willing to do what is right for her people at the expense of herself like Jon has done, the answer is no, and I think that’s telling. Dany is ultimately out for getting the throne, and I don’t think she really cares who she has to cut down to get in her way. She claims that she doesn’t want to be just Queen of the Ashes, but I just don’t see her having much of a plan beyond take the throne that she thinks she’s owed. Dany is the consummate white feminist of Westeros.
Jessica: *Gasp* Alyssa, how could you?! Look, Sam’s great and all but just because he’s good doesn’t mean he’s unbiased. Jon’s his best f*cking friend and he just found out this woman he doesn’t know killed his dad and brother. I believe Dany had good reason for doing it, but how do you explain that to a family member who wasn’t there? Sam’s upset and grieving (understandably) so I’m taking every sh*t thing he says about Dany with a grain of salt. I also disagree that Dany feels entitled to the Throne. She’s got a lot of history, a lot of baggage she’s carrying into this fight. I think what motivates her isn’t necessarily, “Oh, this crown is mine,” but a need to avenge her family, to restore her House’s good name, to prove she isn’t her father, to show people they were wrong to treat her and her siblings the way they did. I agree that ruling and leading are two different things — I just think Dany’s better suited to the political side of that coin and Jon, who’s spent his life on the battlefield, wouldn’t take to it as well.
Alyssa: While we may disagree about Dany’s entitlement and Jon’s fitness to rule, we can both agree on one thing: Sansa is a better option than both of them.
Jessica: Wait, was this whole debate just our clever way of proving that Sansa deserves the Iron Throne more than anyone else on the damn show? Yes, yes it was.