When it comes to guiding a nation to greatness, it is difficult to find a ruler with the perfect mix of ability, experience and popularity. The nation of Westeros, where Game of Thrones takes place, is in particular need of decisive leadership as climate change descends upon the lands, taxes rise to exorbitant proportions and the seventh season of the popular TV series descends upon pop culture.
If the ruling position were put to a vote, 26% of Americans familiar with the show would elect the bastard son of the brother of the king, Jon Snow, to rule the kingdom. It’s a role he would likely assume with some reluctance. But the bastard’s aunt, the “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys Targaryen, comes in second place with 24% of the vote. She openly desires the throne. Third place, with 14% of the vote, goes to the seemingly permanent Hand of the King, Tyrion Lannister. The fourth runner-up, with 8% of the vote, is another uninterested-in-ruling contender Sansa Stark, who is the fed-up daughter of the beheaded Warden of the North and sister of the murdered King of the North.
What’s most interesting about this election survey is how the ranking played out among gender lines, says GoT expert Carolyne Larrington, who in 2015 published the companion book Winter is Coming: The Medieval Word of Game of Thrones. Some 28% of women prefer Targaryen compared to 21% of men. And, Snow garnered 29% of the male vote while only 23% of women voted for him.
“It looks as though people think the man should take precedence over the woman,” says Larrington, who is a professor of Medieval European Literature at the University of Oxford, in England. “It’s a kind of gender stereotyping. Jon Snow is, I’m afraid, a bastard unless you prove that Lyanna (Stark) and Rhaegar (Targaryen) got married. So I don’t think Jon Snow’s case is that great in terms of the legal perspective even if medieval societies would prefer a king over a queen any day. Nonetheless, legitimacy is more important than gender here.”
Larrington also points out that Dany has been fighting for the throne since she was removed from Westeros.
“Daenerys is putting in a lot of work for the Iron Throne,” says Larrington. “And I kind of think she might deserve it.”
But fan theory runs deep in that perhaps Tyrion “the Imp” Lannister might be a secret son of the mad king, which if true, would make him a brother to Dany. He took 14% of the vote and, after all, his purported father, Tywin Lannister, repeatedly denied Tyrion’s lineage by saying: “You are not my son.”
Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin has not given away any secrets of the future HBO episodes or novel plot lines. However, he has made it clear that happy little endings are not his modus operandi. Perhaps, as Martin notes below and has been proven by the first season of the cable series, the real winner of the “election” could be someone who won’t make it to the end of the series.
“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones,” Martin once told a science fiction and fantasy blogger. “Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results… but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”
The remainder of those under consideration for the Iron Throne aren’t necessarily those who fight a good fight. Euron Greyjoy was voted for by 1% of respondents. Meanwhile, voters also said that both Jaime and Cersei Lannister might have a (limited) shot at the seat with the boy-twin taking 6% and his lover/girl twin taking even less of the vote.
Jaime Lannister seems to have done an ethical 180 since throwing a young boy out a tower window in season one. And as for his sister-lover, Cersei?
“She has her own following and she does have the advantage of being the current occupier,” says Larrington, who discusses at length the “moral right” any particular candidate has for any monarchy’s top seat. “There are quite a few people, including a graduate student of mine, who (believe) she’s done the work to get there and she should enjoy her time on the thrown. There isn’t actually a vacancy at the moment, so someone has got to dislodge her.”