Meanwhile, Daenerys. While Jon is speechifying, Dany—Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men; Protector of the Realm; Queen of Meereen; Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea; the Unburnt; the Breaker of Chains; the Mother of Dragons—is … watching him do it. The queen, rather than leading the grim ceremony, is simply another participant in it, listening to Jon’s speech, looking weary and sad and maybe just a little bit regretful that she had not, amid all the fighting, made some time to join Toastmasters.
It’s a remarkable shift. Game of Thrones, from the very beginning, has spun around the centrifugal idea that Dany, as queen/protector/khaleesi/breaker, is the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. She has been rightful according to the Westerosi notion of rightfulness, yes—she is the daughter of a ruler—but also according to the show’s conception of it: She is compassionate, the show has argued. She cares, deeply, about freedom. She has suffered, and conquered, and come out stronger for it on the other side. She still has learning to do, certainly, and flaws to overcome, definitely. But the show’s broad and twisting arc has implied that her mistakes have been, essentially, the means to an end: a wiser ruler. A broken wheel. A happy ending in a story that has so often declined to provide them. The show, over seven seasons, has been swathing its silver-haired heroine not only in drapey dresses and furry capes and sassy going-out tops, but also in an air of implied messianic liberation. The prince—or princess—that was promised.
But now: Twist! Jon is Aegon, and Aegon is a prince! Game of Thrones, particularly in its later seasons, has become almost comically reliant on the deus ex machina approach to storytelling: Time and again, its plot has been saved from itself by a well-timed tangle of convenience and magic. Now, as the show draws to a close, it seems to be applying that device to its founding political assumption. Maybe it’s been Jon. And maybe it should be Jon, finally. All the times the show questioned Daenerys’s capacities as a leader (the uprising in Meereen; her execution of Randyll and Dickon Tarly; her decision to fly Viserion into a skirmish with the Night King)? Those were not acknowledgments of the complications that will come when fragile humans are given immense power, the story is now suggesting; they were moments of foreshadow. Jon’s decency and charm, too, were heralds of what might come.
Game of Thrones’ eighth season airs into a fraught moment in America. The show might not have been intending, with its latest twist, to wade into the choppy waters of the electability debate, but here it is, nonetheless, navigating the currents. The show, now, is asking questions about what people finally want in their leaders—and how those desires might be constrained by tradition, and assumption, and failures of imagination. Jon may not be a particularly astute military leader. He may not be a terribly astute leader in general. He may be alive at the moment only because he has been saved from certain death multiple times, often by women. And he may have already bent the knee to Daenerys. Those are all things, the show is now suggesting, that will be weighed against another, perhaps overarching fact: He’s so charismatic! He’s so inspiring! He is precisely the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with! (Or at the very least, some Dornish wine!)