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The most important question after the latest GoT episode

Contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5 "The Bells"

The fifth episode of Game of Thrones' eighth and final season was a lot of things. Tense and cinematic? For sure. Thick with shots that looked straight out of an action movie or fantasy-themed fighting game? Absolutely. Featuring narrative twists and – spoiler alert — several deaths that left fans with their jaws dropped? You know it. The penultimate installment of the entire series ran the gamut of emotions, but left viewers with just one question: Who will take the Iron Throne now?

It's the most important takeaway from the episode and a question impossible to answer without spilling serious spoilers for Game of Thrones. Those who aren't caught up on the series, look away now. Those who are, join us as we explore the possible responses to that massive inquiry. 

There's no nice way to describe what happened on the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, so we'll say it simply: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) attacked King's Landing, setting the city ablaze and refusing to back down even after the citizens had surrendered to her. Thousands of people were burnt to a crisp by Drogon's fire, were melted down by the Wildfire that ignited across King's Landing, and were slaughtered by Daenerys' Unsullied soldiers and Dothraki riders. The biggest death to result from Dany's sudden snap into the Mad Queen was that of reigning Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who died in the arms of her brother-lover Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) within the dungeons of the Red Keep as the structure collapsed in on itself. The moment Cersei perished, the Iron Throne became free for the taking — without Cersei's Hand Qyburn (Anton Lesser) or her glorified bodyguard the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) there to protect it from perceived usurpers, as both men died while Dany and her forces sacked King's Landing. 

The Iron Throne may be open, but the path to it is anything but clear, especially for Daenerys herself. Up until she stormed King's Landing, Dany was a frontrunner to become the new ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. She's the daughter of Aerys "The Mad King" Targaryen, who ruled Westeros before Jaime Lannister killed him during Robert's Rebellion that resulting in Robert Baratheon taking the Throne, so she has always had a claim to queenship. Daenerys has proven throughout the years that she has what it takes to rule: strength, compassion where it counts, and bias for bloodshed when its necessary. She's freed slaves, protected women from sexual violence, liberated cities, and reformed societies. But she has also killed without mercy, hasn't always come up with the best conflict strategies without guidance from her counsel, and even declared she would take what was hers with fire and blood. Still, Daenerys has long seemed fit for the Throne — and it could be argued that any of her more unsavory decisions aren't nearly as bad as some decisions out-and-out villains have made before. 

However, her behaviors on the latest Game of Thrones episode threaten to entirely undo her past successes and highlight the brutality of her previous actions. Many are convinced that Dany took a free-fall when she destroyed King's Landing, and that there's no way that she'll ever be able to redeem herself. Unless she can pull off a miracle on the series finale and persuade the rest of Westeros to bend the knee and recognize her as Queen, there's a chance Daenerys won't fulfill her deepest desire to sit on the Iron Throne her father once did. Sad as it may be to some, this outcome tracks with author George R.R. Martin's past comments about the series having a "bittersweet" ending

Assuming that Dany is out of the running, another major contender for the Iron Throne who actually has a greater claim to it than the newly crowed Mad Queen is Jon Snow (Kit Harington). The child of King Aerys' son Rhaegar Targaryen, Daenerys' brother, and Lyanna Stark, Jon is the legitimate heir — but that doesn't mean he'll make a jump for kingship. He bent the knee to Daenerys before either of them discovered his true parentage, and has remained loyal even after learning who he really is. 

There could be something more at play here, though, particularly because Jon had his brother-cousin Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) inform his sister-cousins Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) of his heritage. Sansa then told Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who told Daenerys' Master of Whisperers Varys (Conleth Hill), who was subsequently executed for his betrayal. It's unlikely that Jon knew that divulging the truth would spark this series of events, but other people might not see it that way and may resist the idea of him taking the Throne. If he could go against his Queen's wishes by telling the Starks of his parentage, who's to say he would uphold all of his promises as King? 

And speaking of true parentage, would Westeros really want another Targaryen ruling? The country already witnessed what King Aerys did and just saw Daenerys devolve into another mad Targaryen, so there's a strong chance that people wouldn't like the thought of a dude named Aegon Targaryen taking the Throne, no matter how kind, compassionate, and loyal he has been in the past. 

On the other hand, perhaps Jon will be forced to kill Daenerys, thus ending her reign of terror, and take the Iron Throne against his true desires but for the greater good of his people. This would not only fall in line with who Jon as a character, but may also fulfill the vision Daenerys had back on season 2 of Game of Thrones. During the 10th episode of that season, Dany envisioned herself walking through the throne room, looking up to see the ceiling torn apart, then approaching an Iron Throne that was covered in snow. Some fans believe, after watching this recent episode, that the snow is actually ash — but what if it was exactly as it originally seemed and her vision represented a literal Snow, Jon Snow, taking the Throne? It's worth considering. 

If Jon ultimately rejects his identity as Aegon Targaryen and doesn't seize the Iron Throne, another force from the North could: Sansa. She has demonstrated keen skills in political strategy, orchestrating that in-the-nick-of-time arrival of the Knights of the Vale to ensure Jon and his allies won the Battle of the Bastards against Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), and has had no trouble delivering justice when it's required, like when she cleverly had Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) executed for a number of crimes. Her childhood spent in King's Landing under the watchful eyes of Cersei Lannister, the cruelty of her son Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), and the viciousness of the royals' advisers forced Sansa to grow up quickly and fostered in her a deep ambition to be one of the smartest and most compassionate people in a room. In a way, Sansa has adopted the best attributes Cersei held while becoming everything Cersei couldn't be: Sansa is every bit as clever and determined as Cersei was, but she has remained level-headed and kind through it all. Contrasting to both Cersei and Daenerys, Sansa has looked at the endgame, what happens after the wars are won. She understands life doesn't stop moving when an enemy is defeated, and that millions of other people need protection and care, not just those who are loyal to a ruler. 

Then again, though, perhaps Sansa won't want the Iron Throne. Her heart has remained with Winterfell and the North, and she could very well not be interested in becoming Queen at all. Should this end up happening, it would be an interesting conclusion to Sansa's character arc, as she began Game of Thrones wanting more than anything to serve as Queen alongside King Joffrey. Allowing Sansa the opportunity to rule and having her turn it down would be, in some ways, disappointing since she is a solid pick for Queen, but would be quite powerful on a more intimate character level. 

Of course, there's another Stark girl who might end up sitting on the Iron Throne, and that's Arya. Viewers last saw Arya riding on the back of a pale horse, badly wounded and escaping the rubble of King's Landing. She could be on her way to kill Daenerys as punishment for she did to the people in the capital, including the mother and daughter Arya tried to save but couldn't, or she might be making her way back to Winterfell to warn everyone there that Dany has lost her marbles. Considering she didn't get to kill Cersei on episode 5 as she intended, with the Hound (Rory McCann) warning that she would lose her life if she didn't escape King's Landing, Arya could very well intend to murder a different lady in command — the Mad Queen Daenerys. 

Some fans, like The Hollywood Reporter's Dan Fienberg, speculate that perhaps Arya will kill Dany and then put her training at the House of Black and White to good use to rule Westeros using someone else's face. This would, to some degree, contradict Arya's previous statement to Gendry (Joe Dempsie) that she isn't about that Lord-and-Lady, overseeing a group of people life. But if Arya was wearing a different face, she wouldn't really be herself — it wouldn't be Arya in her truest form up there on the Iron Throne. Like her sister, Arya has exhibited many characteristics of a strong leader: determination, cunning, immense skill in battle, loyalty to her family, compassion for others, a healthy dose of skepticism. But, like her brother-cousin Jon, Arya may not want to rule — with her face or anyone's. 

One more member of one of Westeros' last Great Houses is Bran Stark, who could, as wild as it sounds, genuinely take the Iron Throne during the series' finale. He isn't technically Bran Stark any longer, as he loves to make everyone aware, but is the Three-Eyed Raven, who uses his gifts in Green Sight and warging to keep those around him well-informed of the happenings in the Realm and well-prepared for attacks. Tyrion Lannister previously told Bran that he would make an excellent leader; Bran then confirmed that he has no desire for the Throne and shared that he doesn't "really want anymore." Several fans have pieced these comments together with a remark Varys made about who should oversee Westeros, theorizing that Bran could be the man for the job: "Have you considered the best ruler might be someone who doesn't want to rule?" 

Though this may seem like a wild card pick, purported leaks for the series' finale have pinned Bran as rising to become the ruler of Westeros after Jon makes an incredibly difficult decision. And now that Daenerys has decimated King's Landing, Westeros will soon enter a period of reconstruction. The people will need someone new and unlike any other ruler to guide them into a brighter future. Who better to teach the current generation and the ones to come about the history of man than the entity who has more access to information than anyone else in the world?

The final major contender for the Iron Throne is none other than Tyrion Lannister himself. Judging only by blood, Tyrion could stake his claim on kingship on the basis that he is the last living Lannister who shared direct blood with Cersei, who was the last person to assume the Throne. Cersei didn't exactly get to the Throne by lawful means, and it's doubtful that Tyrion would use his family name as a reason why he should rule Westeros, but the option for him to do so is there. 

Beyond and more importantly than that are Tyrion's ties to other characters and his own personal capabilities in politics. He remains the Hand of the Queen to Daenerys, but now realizes that she's in no position to rule — and certainly not after what went down in King's Landing. If Dany dies during episode 6, which is looking more and more likely, and if Jon and the Starks decline to take the Iron Throne, Tyrion is the most politically savvy character left. He's fought in battles, masterminded war strategies, advised a few kings and queens about the best course of actions, and knows that ruling isn't about extremes. Plus, Tyrion has saved King's Landing once before (in the Battle of the Blackwater), so there's a chance he could prevent further damage from being done if he takes the Throne. Many Thrones enthusiasts — including author Stephen King — are staunch proponents of the "Tyrion for King of Westeros" campaign. 

It wouldn't be too disappointing if Tyrion didn't end up ruling, though, as it's difficult to imagine him not being involved in the royal counsel in some way. Maybe after he turns his back on Dany or following her possible death, Tyrion he could side with Jon, Sansa, Arya, or Bran and serve them. 

But when it all comes down to it, maybe no one will sit on the Iron Throne. Perhaps the sacred seat corrupts anyone who takes it, and the song of ice and fire was meant to end with a hollow note and an empty chair.