The mystery of who would win Game of Thrones’ game of thrones has dominated water cooler chatter, Twitter trending topics, and Reddit threads for the better part of a decade. After all, the question is right there in the title. Then, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) famously sneers, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” at the series’ first doomed hero, Ned Stark (Sean Bean). That little prophecy by way of shade was dropped eight full years ago.
Well, now we know the answer to TV’s greatest question mark: Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). Yes, Bran, the bird is now Bran “The Broken,” a sorta-king and the first person to lead representative government in Westeros, as series finale “The Iron Throne” reveals. After all that scheming and warring, the metaphorical Iron Throne (the physical one no longer exists, having been reduced to molten metal by Drogon) has gone to Bran, of all people. Bran, whom Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) inexplicably alleges has a “better story” than anyone on the show.
If this is where Game of Thrones has been leading viewers all along, it was always bound to give the women at its center — from Cersei Lannister (at one point Baratheon) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) — the brush off. Thrones was always building them up to tear them down.
Over the years, the HBO fantasy epic has seen many a wannabe king. None of them ever seemed destined to actually sit upon the Iron Throne. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) was too rigid and too obsessed with a foreign god to lead Westeros. His brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) was never serious about ruling. Robb Stark (Rocketman’s Richard Madden) didn’t even want Westeros — he simply desired Northern independence. And his inadvisable marriage to Talisa (Oona Chaplin) suggested he would never get that. Westeros isn’t a place where one can “have it all,” especially not when “it all” would include a loving wife, brand new baby, and control of nearly half a continent. The Red Wedding confirmed as much.
In comparison, Thrones has treated three women far more seriously in the game of thrones than the any of those men: Cersei, Dany, and Sansa. Along with Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen (Kit Harington) these women’s transformations serve as GoT’s narrative foundation. And, each one grew to be a fearsome politico and oftentimes terrifying warrior in their own right. Dany sacked cities and burned men alive. Cersei exploded her own sept, killing thousands. Sansa saved the day during the Battle of the Bastards, bringing in the Knights of the Vale to finally defeat her sadistic husband Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Sansa's sister Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) killed the Night King.
All of these moments built these women into GoT's most serious power players. That is why Thrones’ final season is set up as a confrontation between Dany and Cersei, with Sansa, de facto leader of the North, as a dubious, decisive onlooker.
Then, we get into the final six episodes of Thrones. Cersei, a woman who spent the previous seven seasons plotting, poisoning, and murdering throughout the Red Keep, is almost only seen sipping wine from her favorite window in the capital. One of the series’ most dynamic characters was trapped like a caged bird for her big farewell. This move alone should signal to fans the series planned to betray the women at its very center. This red flag only intensified when Daenerys finally arrives in King’s Landing to take the city for her own.
When you think back all of the work Daenerys did to get to her ancestral home, her final decision to torch the place with fire and blood is relentlessly frustrating. The bells are ringing, the city is hers for the taking… and, with one snarl, she destroys everything. Everything Danerys had ever said about “breaking the wheel” and not wanting to be “the queen of ashes” goes up in dragon smoke. Not only does this final vicious move set Dany’s doomed fate forever, it kills Cersei Lannister, who finds herself corned in the Red Keep’s deepest crypts. Cersei, one of the most fearless woman is Westeros, leaves the series a sobbing mess, begging the man in her life, twin/lover Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), to protect her. It’s impossible not to be reminded of the fact that Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), the first woman knight in all of Westerosi history, also ends her story with Jaime by crying and pleading.
Unfortunately, Dany’s journey closes similarly, with wide eyes as she begs her nephew/lover Jon to join her in building a new world order. After the carnage of her sack of King’s Landing, Jon can't agree. Instead, he stabs Dany in the heart and she falls to the ground with blood pouring down her face like tears.
With endings like these, Jon's portrayer Kit Harington recognizes the series may be accused of sexism, but doesn’t agree with the claims. “The justification is: Just because they’re women, why should they be the goodies? They’re the most interesting characters in the show,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “You can’t just say the strong women are going to end up the good people. Dany is not a good person.”
But the problem here isn’t that Cersei isn’t good or Dany isn’t good. We’ve always know they weren’t good people. Cersei committed Westeros’ largest terrorist attack before Dany one-upped her. Over the years, the Khaleesi has crucified people and set fire to buildings.
The issue is that these messy, wonderful stories were quickly imploded in Thrones’ last hours for the rise of Bran Stark. After all of Dany and Cersei’s clawing towards power — and even Sansa Stark’s political evolution — it’s Bran who ends the series the central power of Westeros, with Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunnigham), Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) backing him up as the biggest political players in the continent. Sansa is given the North while her weirdo brother, who doesn’t really want anything, is handed six kingdoms.
You may be asking, “What about Brienne — she’s on the Small Council?” But you must remember Ser Brienne is simply leading the Kingsguard, Westeros’ Secret Service equivalent. The Kingsguard has little power in the face of the Hand, the Master of Ships, the Grand Maester, and the Master of Coin, which is what Tyrion, Davos, Sam, and Bronn respectively represent. Eight years after the death of Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and men have a firm grip on the capital once again.
It's a shame Daenerys Targaryen, or Cersei Lannister, or Sansa Stark was never able to really break the wheel, let alone Game of Thrones' glass ceiling.