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Games of Thrones series finale death watch: why Daenerys has to die

Daenerys’s story has become a tragedy. Dying while on the Iron Throne fulfills that.

Daenerys Targaryen and her army.
HBO/Helen Sloan

It’s finally here: We’ve reached the end of Game of Thrones.

And after Daenerys Targaryen’s fiery siege on King’s Landing in “The Bells,” not much is left standing. Dany obliterated the Iron Fleet and the Golden Company. Euron Greyjoy was killed. Cersei and Jaime Lannister were squashed like panini beneath the rubble of the Red Keep (presumably, Ellaria Sand — who was being held captive in the dungeon bowels when we last saw her — is dead too). The Hound and the Mountain are goners. So is Varys, the Master of Whispers, torched by Drogon after he betrayed his queen.

Thus, Game of Thrones’ series finale will inevitably focus on the ashy aftermath of Daenerys’s terror. She finally has the Iron Throne, in theory. But she still has to deal with the unresolved matter of another Targaryen with a rightful claim to the throne, a treasonous adviser in her midst, and likely at least one assassination attempt coming her way.

By Sunday night, we’ll know how this story ends, So here’s our best guess on which Game of Thrones characters are safe and which ones should be careful as the show wraps things up for good.

Safe: anyone in the North

Brienne, Sansa Stark, Tormund, and Ghost dodged a stream of dragon fire. They were not part of Daenerys’s siege on King’s Landing. While Dany turned thousands of innocent people into barbecue, those four were probably sipping mulled cider in front of a roaring fire at Winterfell. Maybe a dirty joke or two was uttered. At this point in the game, if one wants to survive, the best strategy is to stay as far away as possible from Daenerys. And that’s why Brienne, Sansa, Tormund, Ghost, and anyone else in the North are pretty safe right now, and likely to survive through the end of the show.

In Trouble: Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Arya Stark

Daenerys going mad and torching King’s Landing has made her Game of Thrones’ final villain. Considering that just a couple of episodes ago, the Night King was the Big Bad of the moment, and then right after that, Cersei resumed the title, that’s quite a feat for a six-episode season to pull off. Now the primary question becomes: Who will take down the dragon queen?

Or perhaps it should be: Will anyone be able to take down the dragon queen? And if so, who will live to tell the story?

Tyrion Lannister: Tyrion is as good as dead. It’s only a matter of time before Daenerys finds out that he let his brother Jaime escape the Unsullied, and had Jaime and Cersei not been squished by rocks, they might have gotten away. And once Daenerys learns of what happened, she won’t have any mercy for Tyrion. Not only has she long suspected that he favors his family over his queen, but she explicitly warned him in “The Bells” that the next time he failed her would be his last.

Daenerys Targaryen: I’m just speculating, of course, but I think Daenerys taking out Tyrion will really alert others that she needs to be stopped. Tyrion’s death could motivate Jon Snow or perhaps Arya Stark — the two characters who had the “we must stop Daenerys” epiphany while witnessing her carnage in “The Bells” — to kill her.

With that said, I could also envision Dany making a big public show of Jon’s obedience by ensuring that everyone knows he’s the rightful Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne and that he’s relinquished it.

But even if that happens, dying after she’s finally become the queen of the ashes would be a fitting chapter for Daenerys in the tragic story that Game of Thrones seems intent on telling.

Jon Snow: It sure feels like the show has set the table for Jon to kill his girlfriend/aunt/queen. In “The Bells,” Jon’s scenes were largely focused on reluctantly fighting, or staring up into the sky with horror as Daenerys launched her assault on King’s Landing. I’m guessing he’ll take it upon himself to take her out — which means he could lose his life in the process.

Arya Stark: During the Night King’s assault on Winterfell, Melisandre reminded Arya of her prophecy that Arya would kill someone with green eyes (in addition to, presumably, the blue-eyed Night King and the brown-eyed Walder Frey). Daenerys might have greenish eyes, which would put Arya in position to pull off one final kill, perhaps the biggest kill of the finale.

But if she does go after Daenerys, how might Arya get close enough to take her down, given that Daenerys seems to have isolated herself from everyone except her soldiers? There’s certainly a risk that she’ll die trying, whether or not she tries to steal someone’s face along the way.

Alternatively, will Arya take the Hound’s words of wisdom and abandon revenge and violence? Her survival in “The Bells” was nothing short of miraculous — she was nearly trampled by fleeing civilians, incinerated by dragon fire, and crushed by falling rubble multiple times before a white horse seemed to appear out of nowhere, allowing her to ride to safety. That might indicate that she’s destined for something more than dying in the series finale, perhaps a new start and a new shot at life for an ex-assassin.

Learn more about Game of Thrones’ lasting impact, on the May 17 episode of Today, Explained.