This article contains spoilers for the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones.
There was a scene midway through the sevventh season of Game of Thrones that does not get the kind of scrutiny it deserves. Occurring in the penultimate episode of the penultimate season, “Beyond the Wall,” it was less eye-catching than a Westerosi version of The Magnificent Seven (Suicide Squad for the youths), much less the tragedy of seeing sweet Viserion falling into an icy grave. The anguish of that sight—as well as the chilling cliffhanger of seeing Daenerys Targaryen’s neglected third child break bad as a wight—is enough to obscure everything else that went down in that overstuffed hour.
But if you listened carefully and squinted at the right moments, “Beyond the Wall” definitely started heavily foreshadowing the endgame for Game of Thrones. One in which the line of succession and a life past this current generation will be taken into profound account. And at the heart of it, as with most things in Westeros these days, is the Mother of Dragons and her scaly children who, in theory, are going to allow her to keep the peace.
Tyrion Lannister is the one that first explicitly broaches a concept that has been teased all season long: what comes after we supposedly defeat the unbeatable Army of the Dead? In the case of Daenerys Targaryen and her troubled Hand, this problem is doubly pronounced since by her own admission (or assumption), Dany will have no more children beyond the three dragons she hatched via blood magic.
“Aegon broke the wheel,” Tyrion prefaces to Daenerys in an amusingly doomed attempt to placate her temper with flattery. “You once told me you’d break the wheel.” He goes on to gently suggest that the world Dany wants to create doesn’t get completed in a single lifetime. “How do we ensure your vision endures? After you break the wheel, how do we make sure it stays broken?”
In so many words, who replaces you when you’re gone? It’s a question that I think is more important when considering the end of Game of Thrones than wondering who might end up in a relationship with who, even though that is crucial to this very plot point. Season 7 went a long way to showcase a romance that was anything but chilly between Jon Snow, the King in the North, and Daenerys Targaryen. The season ends with him all but bending the knee before his queen and then entering her bed one late night aboard a ship headed due North. But if she can’t have children, what kind of future can Jon and Dany build that outlasts them?
Keep in mind that Robert Baratheon had no legitimate children, and for that reason the realm descended into immediate chaos after his death with five factions putting crowns on their heads. It is an issue that Jon Snow is also on some level aware of as “Beyond the Wall” likewise featured Jorah Mormont relinquishing claim again on his family’s ancestral Valyrian blade, Longclaw. In no version of this story will Jorah ever take a wife—nor could I imagine Daenerys allowing it even if he wanted to—nor will he have heirs. He suggests that the sword is now meant simply for Jon “and your children after you.”
In theory, if Jon and Daenerys wed, which looks fairly certain the moment, their intended Pax Westeros may not survive longer than their lifespans. But that is assuming of course that Daenerys cannot have children again. In general, she probably cannot. She certainly tested that belief about her fertility with Daario Naharis. So it is safe to assume she is not whistling “The Dornishman’s Wife” in regards to Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion being her only kids. She addresses this with Jon Snow as well when she finally allows herself to mourn with at least one other soul the death of a child.
This sequence could be simply to underline how severe the loss of Viserion is for the Mother of Dragons, but it also feels like a heaviluy foreshadowed setup of surprise for two monarchs who would soon consummate their alliance with more than a firm handshake. Like Daenerys, Jon Snow is now touched (or cursed?) by blood magic. Melisandre used some of the dark arts to bring him back to life, and if we believe George R.R. Martin’s public ruminations on the nature of Beric Dondarrion being a “fire wight,” in the same way that the reanimated corpses Beyond the Wall are ice wights, that means Jon Snow is not entirely alive and definitely not natural. It’s worth also noting that after her conversation with Jon Snow about not having children, she notices the scar of the blade that pierced his heart and finally understands it is more than Northern flights of fancy about the wounds he’s endured.
Suppose that Jon Snow, now being a product of fire and blood magic, has even more in common with Daenerys than simple genetics, and is thus able to conceive a child with her? It is a theory that has grown in popularity over the last year, as it allows for Jon and Daenerys to have a happily ever after.
…. But I’m less than convinced that this is the actual endgame. At least not with them ruling on high in King’s Landing like Aragorn and Arwen at the end of Return of the King. While a child of Stark and Targaryen, ice and fire, might be in the cards (much like Jon Snow himself), I don’t see this as a happily ever after. Also worth noting is that Beric Dondarrion mused to Jon in season 7 that their unnatural resurrections mean they’re unlikely to ever find “much joy” in this second life. They’re here to serve the Lord of Light, or at the very least serve as a shield against the Army of the Dead and darkness.
Once the Night King and his army is defeated, it is very conceivable that Jon Snow’s role in this passion play could be finished. He showed severe reluctance upon learning Melisandre has quickened him back to life in a world of death and suffering, and he might be ready to greet the Many-Faced God of Death for a second time as a friend once this is all over. Jon never knew his biological father, and it could have a certain melancholic completeness if his own child who could be raised as a proper Targaryen (and hopefully not be as poor of a ruler as, ahem, Jon) also did not know dear old dad.
And again, even the idea of magical conception might be a bit too biblical for George R.R. Martin and company. Maybe Jon lives or dies, but passes Longclaw onto his heirs, who aren’t his children but rather his sisters? It should also be considered that after Jorah Mormont told Jon Snow to think of his children, it cuts to Winterfell and squabbling siblings. Assuming they don’t kill each other, Jon could pass Longclaw onto Arya just as he had Needle. And since the ancient Stark Valyrian blade, Ice, was cruelly destroyed by the Lannisters, it could in theory be replaced by Longclaw as the family sword if Jon lives on as King in the North, as opposed to King of the Seven Kingdoms.
There is also the matter reconfirmed in the season 7 finale, which said out loud for the first time that Jon Snow is the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Under his birth name of Aegon Targaryen, Jon would then even have a greater claim on the throne than Daenerys, as he is the first heir to Rhaegar, who was heir to his and Daenerys’ father, Mad King Aerys II. Some fans think this means Jon could take the throne from Dany, but that seems as likely as cherry blossoms in winter. Jon may not have the name of the man who raised him, but he is still truly Ned Stark’s son. Aye, his place is in the North, and if this claim figures at all into season 8, it will probably be in what drives Daenerys away from Jon under suspicion.
This is all to say that whether Jon and Daenerys have a child or not, I suspect it is not as important to the endgame as what else Tyrion suggested to his queen in their fateful chitchat. If Daenerys wants to “break the wheel,” she might want to consider the future of succession beyond hereditary lines… particularly if she is still childless and Jon Snow does not survive season 8 while she does.
Jon or no Jon, child or no child, I personally foresee Daenerys ending up in King’s Landing but using her remaining dragons to melt the Iron Throne. Aegon built the wheel and this new world; she is here to tear that down and build a better one. This is where Tyrion’s other suggestions become paramount.
“You say you can’t have children, but there are other ways to choose a successor,” Tyrion pleadingly intones. “The Night’s Watch has one method, the Iron Islands for all their faults have another.”
What Tyrion is referring to is a rudimentary form of democracy. If you forgot, the Night’s Watch votes for Lord Commander by way of direct democracy where all the brothers in black gather in their hall and listen to stump speeches before picking their leader. The Iron Islands meanwhile use a Kingsmoot in which usually Greyjoy heirs give their two farthings about why they should lead these idiotic people into their next defeat.
My personal prediction of the endgame is that Tyrion and Varys will persuade Daenerys at her darkest moment (perhaps after losing her fiancé due to political machinations or death?) that she needs to form a system of governance that gives the people she purports to love a chance at vague representation. This is not to say that I believe the Westeros equivalent of the American Revolution is imminent. However, given Martin and the series’ penchant from drawing from history, particularly English history, something akin to the magna carta might be in order. In that historical context, King John of England was forced by his lords to essentially relinquish some power and create the basis for Parliament. It still favored lords and noble houses, but it was the first step in a long journey toward true representative government.
Varys is a representative of the people already, so it is easy to imagine him liking this concept. Plus, Daenerys has always had a small air of Elizabeth I about her, the Tudor queen who ushered in “the Golden Age” and cemented Britain’s role as an empire. She also was the granddaughter of Henry VII, whom we have long considered a historical influence on the Targaryen queen. Elizabeth I likewise ruled without a husband, although she was not without her paramours and Daarios’ over the years.
Given Westeros has spent thousands of years in a feudal system, they’re long overdue to have their own renaissance (which the series has already flirted with conflicts from, such as the Sparrows), and Daenerys plus a new age with a Parliament led by the likes of Tyrion and/or Varys may very well be the real heir to the Breaker of Chains and Wheels’ reign.