Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by culture writer Kelsey McKinney and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for entries.
Kelsey McKinney: While I see what you're saying, Todd (especially given how this show likes to surprise viewers), I ultimately disagree.
From the very first episode of Game of Thrones, I was convinced Daenerys would eventually take the Iron Throne. Though early on we were supposed to believe her brother was its rightful heir, he was creepy and weak — obviously a pretender. He stood by while Daenerys married the terrifying Khal Drogo, and ate a raw heart.
And after his death, his sister only became more worthy. Daenerys became Khaleesi by fire. She walked into a funeral pyre and emerged the Mother of Dragons.
Daenerys's story throughout Game of Thrones' first few seasons was the plight of an unrecognized, underdog hero. She was given so many setbacks that she almost has to have massive payoff somewhere down the line. Her husband died. She lost her baby, and her people tried to desert her.
It's easy to have faith in Daenerys. She's been treated terribly for most of her life, and now that she's queen, her sole goal seems to be to provide justice, no matter the cost. Sometimes she fails to understand what her people want, but she's consistent in her aims. After five seasons, Daenerys is one of the few Game of Thrones characters who is not only still alive, but still pursuing her ultimate goal — to sit on the Iron Throne. That's why it's so easy to believe she will actually end up there. However, I also think that's why it's so easy to feel bored by her arc.
So far, season five has spent lots of time bringing side characters into the spotlight. This is particularly evident in the religious fanaticism you discussed, Todd. All of a sudden, almost every realm of the kingdom is filled with hard-liners, poised to spice up potentially boring plot lines. In King's Landing, the fanatics are the Sparrows and their leader, the High Sparrow. In Braavos, the fanatics are the faceless men Arya is now living with. In Meereen, where Daenerys is holding court, the fanatics are the Sons of the Harpy, who wear distinctive gold masks and killed one of her Unsullied.
I want to believe that George R. R. Martin and/or the series' showrunners have a few tricks up their sleeves to make me question my assumptions that the only two people who could ultimately rule Westeros are Daenerys and Jon Snow, but for now it seems like many of the show's new characters exist only to add complexity or difficulty to the plight of our already-established heroes. The show and books have so thoroughly worked their way through so many old characters that it's harder and harder to invent new stories for the ones still alive — hence the influx of new figures and movements.
Season five has tried to make some of Game of Thrones' less established characters more central to the story's plot. There's Daario (a.k.a. the guy Daenerys is sleeping with), and Cersei's nephew Lancel, and the High Sparrow. But none of them have enough heft to really hold viewers' attention.
All which is to say it's hard for me to believe anyone will be sitting on the Iron Throne in the end except Jon or Daenerys. The fact that they're still alive seems the best indicator of all.
Unless, of course, something happens with Arya.
Read the recap. Come back for more thoughts from Andrew on Sunday.