Game of Thrones spent eight seasons making us guess who might rule Westeros, and now we finally have an answer (or possibly two answers, depending on how you look at the outcome of the series). But what truly defines a great leader?
Now that the final episode of the series has aired (note: major spoilers ahead), it appears that if the gods did flip a coin when Daenerys Targaryen was born, as Lord Varys suggested, she had far more in common with her Mad King father than she would like to admit. Either way, we’re disappointedly certain now that Dany shouldn’t have been queen after all. So who should have been seated on the Iron Throne in the end? And who could have made a fantastic king or queen had they been given the opportunity? Here are our top picks.
Some might say he would have been too soft. But seeing Ned behead a man of the Night’s Watch who was telling (what were believed to be) tall tales, ensuring that his sons saw the act and learned an important lesson (“the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”) showed bravery and an ability to make difficult decisions when necessary. Well-respected by everyone in the North and hand-picked by King Robert Baratheon to not only serve as his Hand, but later as his Protector of the Realm before he died, Ned was probably the best choice for king. And with Lady Catelyn Stark as queen by his side? That’s a monarchy whose reign would have gone down in history as one of the greatest.
Having learned everything from his father, Robb was a fierce fighter and a tough soul. So it’s no surprise that this bannermen proclaimed him King in the North in a heartbeat. Yet like his father, he also had a huge heart and cared about honoring people, not just fighting wars. Never having lost a battle — he was only taken down after being blindsided in the cruelest, most unexpected way by people he thought he could trust — love was Robb’s primary weakness. Beyond choosing love over obligation, Robb would have made a fine king who would have inspired and led the people with grace, fully earning the title and all the responsibilities that come with it.
At one point, he was the likeliest candidate to actually take the Iron Throne (though there really wasn’t much of a throne left to take), and Jon has proven time and time again that where he goes, people follow. He inspires, takes chances, and has a knack for gaining support from even the unlikeliest of allies (hello, Wildlings!) Even if he questions himself sometimes, he always follows his gut, no matter how much trouble it might cause. Tremendously brave, Jon fights on the front lines with his men. Like Ned, the fact that he doesn’t want the throne suggests that he would be the perfect person for it. Jon didn’t want to be Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch either, nor King in the North. But both of those titles were bestowed upon him because his people had so much confidence in his ability to lead, always operating from a place of honor.
This one might be tough to even consider, but keep in mind that, while Mance was the leader of the Free Folk who resided beyond the Wall, he was a great one, and his people followed him loyally. Once a ranger of the Night’s Watch, and far more integral to the plot in the books, Mance was dubbed King Beyond the Wall. Despite the Wildlings dislike of rules or being told what to do, the Free Folk showed great respect for him. He demonstrated his ability to operate with a level head when he made peace with Jon and let him head back home alive. Even when Mance was taken prisoner by the Night’s Watch, he refused to betray his beliefs and bend the knee to Stannis. And he gave up his life for that, the mark of a true king.
As one of the most transformed characters on the series, Sansa went from being a timid, doe-eyed young girl with visions of being a princess clouding her eyes (and judgment) to a fierce leader with incredible insight and intuition. She knew to call upon Lord Petyr Baelish to help during the battle against the Boltons and went ahead with the plan despite Jon’s objections (saving his butt in the process). When Baelish tried to cunningly manipulate her by attempting to turn her against her sister Arya, she proved she was not a naïve little girl anymore and had him executed (by Arya, no less). She was arguably the only person who saw right through Daenerys from the start and was willing to challenge the aspirational queen. That kind of astuteness and ability to earn the respect of her people are exactly what make Sansa a great queen — and it’s satisfying to see she’ll have the opportunity to do so in the North.
Sure, she might have secretly been out for her own interests most of the time, focused more on the title of queen than the true responsibilities that would come with it (beyond the Westeros version of photo ops, that is), but Margaery’s short time as queen-to-be proved that she would have been a queen of the people. She cared about the common folk or at least made it seem like she did, which is more than can be said for any other recent king or queen. Her intentions might have been selfish, perhaps even egotistical. Nonetheless, she would have been respected and loved by all. Even before she was queen, she had people chanting her name and applauding her efforts. A humanitarian queen is the best way to describe what Margaery could have been.
Lady Olenna Tyrell
Not exactly in the prime of her life, the Lady of House Tyrell was likely not interested in taking on such immense responsibility. But it wouldn’t have been a huge stretch to have seen her sit on the Iron Throne. She’s politically savvy, held great influence, wealth, and power both in her own house and beyond, and had a sharp wit and sarcastic tone that suggested she wouldn’t take crap from anyone. Nicknamed Queen of Thorns, referencing her prickly attitude and the Tyrell sigil of a rose, her true power and cunning nature were revealed when we discovered that she poisoned Joffrey so her granddaughter could marry the better Lannister (er, “Baratheon”). Her approaches might not have always been above board, and she would surely have ruffled some feathers, but Lady Olenna would have made a fine queen.
Updated on May 20, 2019: This article has been updated after the conclusion of the series.
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