Game of Thrones landmark episode, “The Long Night,” ends a big chapter for the HBO epic: the threat of the Night King (Vladimir Furdik). Most of the series’ greatest heroes survive the Army of the Dead’s lengthy siege of Winterfell thanks to Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who kills the Night King once and for all. With supreme wintery evil eliminated, the heroes of Team Targaryen-Stark can get back to business as usual. As previews for GoTs mysteriously titled “Game of Thrones 71” prove, the final three episodes of the drama will follow the fight for the Iron Throne and the traditional, non-supernatural politicking that has been the bedrock of Thrones since the very beginning.
With Westerosi politics comes questions of succession. As Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) makes her way South to take the Iron Throne of her ancestors, we're left wondering what happens once she's done. Or, now that the Starks have protected their ancestral home from the dead, what is the future of Winterfell? Because, absolutely no one on Team Stark-Targaryen is talking about settling down and having babies. And, you need heirs for the type of dynastic rule our heroes have been fighting for over eight seasons.
Everyone might be worried about the coming chaos of Dany's “Last War” against Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), but the strategy for what to do once that war is done may be Thrones’ final crisis. This problem is much bigger than anyone realizes.
In Thrones season 8’s second episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the now-late Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) makes a very good point about his cousin, fan-favorite Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsay), fighting in the Battle of Winterfell. “Please, listen to me, you’re the future of our house,” he tells the young teen, begging her to ditch the looming battle for the assumed safety of the crypt. After all, if the Battle of Winterfell is about saving humanity, there has to actually be a future to save. You need surviving young people for that and for those young people to procreate. Lyanna ignores Jorah… and dies mid-battle, bringing down a wight giant with her.
Since Jorah also dies in “Long Night,” House Mormont has officially been snuffed out. The Northern bears are now part of a growing graveyard of extinct high-born lineages, which also includes the Baratheons (Gendry is but an unlegitimized bastard), Tyrells, Martells, Umbers, and Boltons (good riddance).
While these houses were eliminated through the tragedies of war, the Starks, the centre of the Thrones universe, are also headed that way. But, on-field casualties aren’t their only problem — a lack of calculated interest in the future is. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is a survivor of abuse, rape, and countless other forms of manipulation. So, as far as viewers can see, the Lady of Winterfell isn’t looking to get married and start popping out little Starks. Sansa's little sister Arya, officially Westeros’ greatest warrior, has spent eight seasons rejecting the expectations of a noble daughter, and just started having sex a few hours ago in the GoT world. It is unlikely Arya wants to begin aristocratic motherhood anytime soon, if ever. And, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is a bird.
We’re a long way from the strategic marriage plots, and failures, that fuelled the narratives of characters like Sansa and her big brother Robb Stark (Golden Globe winner Richard Madden) during Thrones’ first seasons. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, and yet, not one of the trueborn Stark kids is working on ensuring that promise stays true well after they fade from memory. What happens after the remaining trio dies?
Unfortunately the current male head of the family, Jon Snow can’t answer that question. At face value, Jon is a bastard without the Stark name. Even when he was crowned King in the North during season 6, it was unclear whether he could continue his family’s official line. Now, Jon isn't even the son of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), the last Stark lord of Winterfell. Instead, “Jon” is Aegon Targaryen, son of Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi) and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (Wilf Scolding). That means Jon/Aegon’s seat would technically be the Iron Throne in King’s Landing rather than his mother’s castle of the North's Winterfell. Westeros loves male primogeniture.
So, the only “Stark” in the world who’s actually in a relationship that could produce heirs, AeJon Targarystark, doesn’t exactly count — and he’s avoiding his current sexual partner, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), because she’s his aunt. Even if Jon/Aegon wanted to start a family with his queen, she’s convinced she is barren. This also makes the future of Dany’s prospective reign from the Iron Throne shaky at best. Fans everywhere may believe Dany is already carrying Jon’s child, but what if she’s not? What if, after over 70 episodes of clawing her way to the Iron Throne, Dany’s legacy ends with herself?
As we saw with the rise of Dany’s father Aerys Targaryen (David Rintoul), the kind of messy succession drama Daenerys is looking at is bad for the realm. After all, Aerys only took the throne because, as Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) tells Jon early in Thrones, he, the third son of an old Targaryen king, said no to the crown. So, his unlikely brother, Aegon V ascended to the Iron Throne. Aerys is Aegon V’s son. Aerys nearly burned down King’s Landing. This is what happened when there were a plethora of individuals to choose from for succession.
Imagine what happens when there is not one royal option. With three episodes left of Game of Thrones, Westeros is fresh out of heirs. Is it time to pivot to democracy?