Back in Season 1 of “Game of Thrones,” Cersei Lannister told Ned Stark, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Well, we know that Ned (Sean Bean) lost both the game and his head. Cersei (Lena Headey) is still in the running as the eighth and final season of the hugely popular HBO series begins on Sunday.
And fans are dying to find out how it ends. We’re just five weeks away from finding out who wins; the series finale is scheduled for Sunday, May 19.
If I knew how it ends, I wouldn’t tell you. I hate spoilers. But here’s one prediction that’s guaranteed to be 100% true: “Game of Thrones” will end amid controversy. Some fans will love it; others will hate it and take to social media to rip the show.
In an interview with Emmy Magazine, Kit Harington (who plays the King in the North, Jon Snow) called the ending “strong.” But, he added, “I haven’t watched a single series that has a following like ‘Thrones’ does where everyone is satisfied with the ending. I don’t think that it’ll be any different with this. I think it will divide opinion.”
Absolutely. But it’s fun to speculate. And here are a few guesses from Salt Lake Tribune readers and staff:
• Reader Alex White, who’s a “big fan” of the show, thinks that “Jon Snow and Khaleesi (Daenerys Targaryen) will defeat Cersei and ultimately prevail against the White Walkers after a long and devastating battle. But then winter will come. Ultimately, Westeros will survive in the end just like it always has, regardless of who is currently seated on the Iron Throne. As far as the dragons, Khaleesi will maintain one or two dragons who will help her maintain her grip on the throne. She is the true heir to the Iron Throne.
“Full disclosure, I was raised on Disney so this might all be wishful thinking.”
• Tribune movie critic/reporter Sean P. Means said, “The character with the biggest claim on the Iron Throne is the one we haven’t seen yet: The child of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. So what if the kid’s parents are related? [Note: Turns out Daenerys is Jon’s aunt.] That child could end up being the symbol around which Winterfell, the Dothraki, and everybody who’s not a Lannister supporter rallies to defeat the Night King — and then knock over Cersei as an afterthought.
“The question then becomes who will raise the child. My guess is Daenerys will sacrifice her life, probably to the zombified dragon Viserion, leaving Jon Snow to be a single daddy and regent to the baby monarch.”
• Tribune marketing coordinator Jennifer Fitzgibbon is of a similar mind. “I think the HBO show will cater to its fans and end with Jon Snow (Targaryen) ending up on the Iron Throne while Daenerys dies heroically in battle.
“When it comes to those dang White Walkers, I have no idea. Maybe aliens will take care of them.”
• Tribune reporter Ben Wood proposes a “happy (sorta) scenario“ in which Jon Snow will kill the Night King, ending the war with the dead, but Jon will also die in the process. The war in the North will have prompted a southward evacuation by the people of Westeros, putting strain on King’s Landing and tying up Cersei’s armies with riots and uprisings. Jaime will return from the North to find the capital in chaos, and will once again be the Kingslayer, stopping a mad monarch from (metaphorically and/or literally) burning the city to the ground.
“Daenerys will then reclaim the throne, pregnant with Jon’s child, restarting a Targaryen royal dynasty allied with Sansa Stark as Warden of the North in Winterfell.
“But that’s the happy scenario, and that’s not exactly the ‘Game of Thrones’ style. So I put it as even money the Night King will end up just killing everyone and covering the known world in an endless winter.”
• Tribune reader Stuart Johnson comes down strongly on the opposite side of the happy scenario. “Given the history of the show, I highly doubt we end up with a happy ending — i.e., Jon and Daenerys defeat the Night King, marry, then rule. I think the Night King will destroy most of the armies of Westoros, but in the end, Jaime will turn on Cersei for the good of the realm, and leave the throne to Tyrion or Sam to shepherd.”
• Tribune web manager Kelly Cannon is basing her theory “on the assumption that Cersei is actually pregnant. She will lose the baby either in a miscarriage or in childbirth. This will cause her to go mad and she will become the Mad Queen. It will be up to Jamie to then kill her to save Westeros. He’s already the Kingslayer because he killed the Mad King. He will now have to kill the Mad Queen and become the Queenslayer. Afterward, he’ll either kill himself or (in a better plot) Brienne of Tarth will have to kill him because she will be honor-bound to do so.”
• Tribune sportswriter Alex Vejar predicts that “with his last dying breath, after helping defeat the White Walkers and the Lannisters, Jon Snow graciously gives the Seven Kingdoms to the mother of dragons [Daenerys]. I think most everyone dies, including Cersei, Jamie, Melisandre, Davos and Varys. And I think Dany loses another dragon somehow.”
• Tribune reader Scott Hansen is an optimist. “Daenerys will win the Iron Throne, and Jon Snow will be her hand.”
(The hand of the king — or queen — is the ruler’s chief adviser. Sort of a prime minister/grand vizier.)
• Tribune photo editor Rachel Molenda is convinced that “Jamie has to kill Cersei. Also, I think even though Jon is heir to rule over everyone, he’ll give the throne to Daenerys. It doesn’t seem like he really wants to be king. But the statues of Jon, Arya and Sansa [in a promo clip] throw me off and I don’t want to think about everyone dying, but maybe everyone will die because the writers just seem that rude. And none of that considers whether everyone who has died up to now will rise because of the ice zombies showing up. I am stressed.”
Molenda’s husband, Jeff Rock, takes a dark view of what’s coming: “Cersei takes her own life to become one of the dead. She wins. Arya and Sansa die.”
• Molenda isn’t the only one feeling “Game of Thrones” stress. Tribune reader Taylor Jolley describes himself as a “big fan” who is “way too emotionally invested.” And he thinks “the only fitting ending is in a way that is completely unexpected, and sure to stir lots of emotion in fans. For example, many or all of the key players either dying or renouncing the throne, and a smaller character such as Gendry being crowned after all the dust settles.
“This won’t stop me throwing things at the TV if Jon dies (again).”
• Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle said that the show “reminds us how choices made long ago influence us today. So why not have the show end much as it began?
“Daenerys Targaryen returns to Essos to continue liberating people there. Jon Snow returns to The Wall to protect Westeros from whatever remains after the final battle with the Night King. Sansa Stark takes her father’s place as Warden of the North. Likewise, a Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne.
“Congratulations, Gendry, and your wife/Hand of the King, Arya Stark.”
• I’ve watched every “Game of Thrones” episode multiple times. I’ve read all the books. I’ve interviewed many of the actors, the producers and author George R.R. Martin himself. And — based on absolutely no inside information whatsoever — here’s what I think will happen:
Something will bring an end to magic. I’m guessing it will be the destruction of the Night King, or something related to that. But Westeros will lose magic, and the seasons will return to normal — no more yearslong summers and winters.
But the end of magic will mean the end of magical things. Bran Stark’s abilities as the Three-Eyed Raven are magic. Melisandre’s ability to appear young is magic. Dragons are magic. Jon Snow being alive is magic.
I’m expecting a bittersweet ending.