(We’ve got spoilers in here for “Game of Thrones” through season 8, episode 2)
We’re halfway through the final season of “Game of Thrones” now, and with the Night King and his army of the dead out of the way things are about to heat up majorly.
Right now it looks like the titular game of thrones is a two-person battle between Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). But this being “Game of Thrones,” you can expect more than a few big twists in the final three episodes, with really any of the major remaining players — Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) — to still have a shot at taking this thing. And we’d probably be remiss to not include wild cards like Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) as being possibilities. We really have no idea what’s going to happen from here.
In terms of characters who have a claim to the throne by birth, there’s really only two at this point with House Baratheon wiped from the world — Daenerys and Jon, who is the secret son of Rhaegar Targaryen. Not that it matters who has a “claim” beyond fueling arguments — this battle is really just about who can both take and hold the Iron Throne. But the fact that there are two Targaryens on the board right now changes the dynamics of the situation.
Season 6 threw a wrinkle into the game when it confirmed an old fan theory — the one that said that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is the secret offspring of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, rather than the bastard son of Ned Stark. And season 7 took this very interesting situation one step further when it revealed that Rhaegar had annulled his marriage to Elia Martell and actually married Lyanna, which would make Jon a trueborn Targaryen.
When Samwell Tarly discusses this development with Bran Stark in the season 7 finale, he makes a big declaration: Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne in the Targaryen line. And then, in the season 8 premiere, Sam finally tells Jon the truth about his origins, and goes in pretty hard on the idea that Jon, not Daenerys, should be going after the Iron Throne. Sure, Sam may be a bit biased in that moment because he was still shook by the news that Dany killed his dad and brother, but also, technically, he’s correct. Jon has a better claim to the throne.
If you’re not super up to date on the Targaryen family tree and Westerosi lines of succession, this whole discussion can be fairly confusing. Fortunately, it’s not actually all that complicated, so we can clear this whole thing up fairly quickly.
So back in the day when Robert Baratheon did his rebellion against the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, the technical reason why he ended up on the Iron Throne instead of someone else was because House Baratheon was an offshoot of House Targaryen — basically, Robert was like a Targaryen cousin. With all the actual Targaryens dead by the end of that war — or in exile, as was the case with Viserys and Daenerys, who were far too young to rule anyway — officially Robert actually was considered the heir.
It was a technicality of course, because the winning side could have put Tywin Lannister or Ned Stark or whoever else on the throne. But with Robert there was at least some kind of vague legitimacy according to the “rules.”
Daenerys’ claim to the throne, meanwhile, is based broadly on the idea that she is the last living Targaryen, period, with Viserys killed by Khal Drogo back in season 1. According to the “rules,” any actual Targaryen would take precedence over any Baratheon. And if there’s only one Targaryen, then that person takes precedence over everybody.
It’s a pretty clear-cut thing. Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King and was, for most of the show’s run, the only Targaryen that anyone knew of. So she was the official heir, and anyone else who sits on it is a usurper.
But Jon Snow, who is actually Aegon Targaryen, does have the best claim to the Iron Throne, according to the “rules.” His actual father, Rhaegar, was Daenerys’ older brother. So Jon is the grandson of the Mad King and in the direct line of succession — Rhaegar’s siblings are secondary to his children.
Jon would also get priority as the heir over Daenerys because, well, he’s a man and male heirs come before female heirs.
This does not, of course, mean that Jon will actually try to take the throne, because he’s not obligated to do that. He may want to keep his true heritage a secret so as not to complicate the apocalyptic situation everyone in Westeros is facing. He may make his heritage known and just opt out. These things happen, as we saw with Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch, who was at one point the Targaryen heir and took the black instead of becoming king.
And maybe Jon will just die, rendering the whole thing moot anyway.
It’s also important to note that it doesn’t really matter who has the best claim to the Iron Throne — Cersei has absolutely no actual claim by blood, and yet she’s the one who currently sits on it. What matters is who is able to take it. It’s hard to imagine Jon warring with Dany over it, so if they both make it to the end of “Game of Thrones” he’ll probably just let her have it. Or, since they seem headed toward marriage, they might be co-rulers, sharing power.
But with the final season of “Game of Thrones” almost certainly holding oodles of crazy plot twists that we can’t predict, this whole situation with Targaryen heirs may not even ever matter.