WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.
The underlying question driving the conflict and intrigue of Game of Thrones for its entire eight-season run was which character would ultimately win their bid for the Iron Throne and rule the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. In its finale, the acclaimed HBO fantasy drama at last provided the answer, after a few twists and turns, with a surprising new regent installed for a new age.
In the fiery aftermath of last week's "The Bells," Daenerys Targaryen proclaims herself the rightful queen to her assembled Dothraki horde and the Unsullied amid the ruins of King's Landing. After a heart-to-heart talk with Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow feigns to pledge loyalty only to kill Dany in front of the Iron Throne. The blood relatives and former lovers had seen their relationship steadily deteriorate over the course of the season, with Daenerys threatened by Jon's secret claim to the throne as the son of her older brother Rhaegar Targaryen. Faithful to the will of the people and distrustful of power, Jon's move was not entirely unexpected, although it dashed speculation that Arya Stark might have a hand in swiftly ending the Mad Queen's reign.
In its fury of watching Daenerys die, Drogon destroys the Iron Throne before flying away with her corpse, ending the symbol of absolute power in Westeros. However, it's not Jon who becomes king of the ashes; he's imprisoned by the Unsullied for his crime. Instead, at the urging of Tyrion Lannister, the lords and ladies of the great houses of Westeros select Bran Stark, or Bran the Broken, as king; he in turn chooses Tyrion as his Hand. With all of human history living within him as the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran's ascension to the throne is certainly an inspired choice, and one that many fans did not see coming.
Even with a Stark installed as Westeros' new rurler, Sansa's longstanding wish for North to become a sovereign kingdom is honored by her younger brother. Sansa and Arya had chafed under the assumption that the North would be forced to serve as vassals under Daenerys, especially once Jon pledged the kingdom's fealty without their consent. Now with Daenerys dead, Sansa and Arya's fears have been laid to rest. Sansa is crowned Queen in the North, while Jon is sent to the Night's Watch, never to marry or have children, as a concession to the Unsullied.
With Westeros now more a representative oligarchy than an absolute monarchy, and the North its own kingdom again, Bran and Sansa are the clear winners by the end of Game of Thrones. While many speculated going into the final season that Daenerys or Jon Snow would end on the Iron Throne, both assumptions proved false. In a way, George R.R. Martin's epic A Song of Fire and Ice was always about the nature of fantasy storytelling. And while many predicted a sad ending overall, the series ended on a bit of a hopeful note as its most voluminous storyteller and unlikely candidate for the throne came into power while Sansa not only retained her freedom but rose to a greater position of power herself. A new age has come to Westeros, with Bran Stark on the throne, and Sansa Stark as the Queen inthe North. And that's the happiest ending these characters will ever get.
Game of Thrones stars Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and Kit Harington as Jon Snow.