Many have played the Game of Thrones, and most of them have lost. Robb Stark, Stannis Baratheon, Olenna Tyrell, and countless others have seemed on the verge of getting what they most wanted before meeting violent, often ignominious ends; simply surviving this long counts as a massive victory unto itself. Relatively few characters have, of course, and even fewer stand a chance of making it through the show’s last six episodes — let alone ending up in any position of power.
Here are the 10 who do, and how they might go about doing so.
10) Euron Greyjoy
The long-absent Greyjoy emerged as one of the show’s most feared (and hilariously scummy) villains this year, killing two of the Sand Snakes with their own weapons and capturing his niece Yara in an attempt to woo Cersei. Now that his Queen has entrusted him with sailing to Essos and returning with the 20,000-strong Golden Company, Euron is the establishment’s key to victory.
How he can win: Hope that wights never learn how to swim.
9) Sansa Stark
A slow learner, perhaps, but the Lady of Winterfell just did something no one has done before: beat Littlefinger at his own game. That she did so shortly after enlisting his help to defeat the Boltons and siccing Ramsay’s own hounds on him makes her status as one of Westeros’ cleverest rulers impossible to deny, as does the total loyalty she enjoys from everyone in Winterfell. She may be forced to take a step back now that Jon’s imminent return means she’s no longer tasked with holding down the fort, but if he’s wise he’ll keep turning to her as perhaps his most trusted adviser.
How she can win: Never forget what she learned from Lord Baelish.
8) Jaime Lannister
Speaking of slow learners, the Kingslayer just did something everyone else has done already: realize that Cersei isn’t worth his time or energy. Jaime’s loyalty to his sister has been wavering all season long, and now that she’s declared him the stupidest Lannister (they’re a pretty brainy family, to be fair) and secretly schemed with Euron, he’s finally decided to peace out. Whether that will include a warning to his brother, Jon, and Daenerys that Cersei doesn’t intend to honor her pledge remains to be seen, but the man who at first seemed the show’s most vile and untrustworthy character may be the good guys’ only chance at learning the truth.
How he can win: Convince Bronn to join him, align himself with Jon/Dany, and — most importantly — avoid the Mountain.
7) Arya Stark
A girl has quite the winning streak. After singlehandedly taking out the entire Frey family in vengeance for the Red Wedding, Arya executed Littlefinger with her newly acquired Valyrian Steel knife. Whether she intends to remain in Winterfell or instead head south to finally confront Cersei, one could easily make a case for her being the most dangerous person in Westeros right now.
How she can win: Brienne had it right — it isn’t Arya who needs protecting, but whoever gets in her way.
6) Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion’s track record as Hand to the Queen was…not great this season, but he still has the Mother of Dragons’ ear and was able to broker a truce with his impetuous sister in “The Dragon and the Wolf.” Whether he knows she’s playing him — or, perhaps even worse, whether he may have promised Cersei something offscreen before she agreed to his terms — is anyone’s guess at this point, but let’s never forget what Tyrion does best: drink and know things.
How he can win: Keep Daenerys happy and hope their plans come to fruition.
5) Bran Stark
It doesn’t matter that Jon Snow is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne if no one knows it, just like it wouldn’t have mattered that Littlefinger was conspiring against the Starks if Bran’s visions weren’t admissible in a court of Winterfell law. He’s the key to getting people to take the long view of things and quit getting distracted by their minor squabbles. The only problem: His abilities have made him such a weirdo that he may have trouble convincing anybody besides Samwell Tarly.
How he can win: Famous last words, to be sure, but Bran is so far removed from the main action of the show at this point that he’s probably safe as long as he remains holed up in Winterfell — at least until the Night King, with whom he has some sort of connection, arrives there. (Alternatively, he can keep telling people they looked beautiful on the worst night of their lives.)
4) The Night King
He may be a man of few words, but the Night King has loomed large on “Game of Thrones” for some time. Now that he has an undead dragon, he’s finally breached the Wall with an army that continues to grow at an exponential rate and is ready to march on a group of people who are still shortsightedly warring among themselves. The White Walkers killing every last person in Westeros seems too bleak an ending even for this show, but it isn’t looking good for the land of the living right now. If he commanded more screentime or ever spoke, he’d probably be #1.
How he can win: He has a dragon that breathes blue fire and an army of at least 100,000 soldiers. At this point, how can he lose?
3) Daenerys Targareyn
She may have lost Viserion (goodnight, sweet prince), but Dany still has two dragons, the Dothraki, the Unsullied, and a newly forged alliance with the King in the North. That she’s admired if not loved by all of these people puts her in a stronger position than her main adversary, who rules via fear alone; though it took her a long time to amass such a following and finally sail to Westeros, watching her journey has been among the most satisfying aspects of “Game of Thrones.” Her enemies aren’t to be underestimated, but neither is she.
How she can win: To quote the Queen of Thorns, “be a dragon.”
2) Cersei Lannister
Cersei, for all her evil, has two undeniable virtues: her love for her children and her extreme intelligence. Her strategic position looked utterly dire at the beginning of this season, yet here she is — the reigning Queen has tricked (however temporarily) Jon and Daenerys into thinking they’ve formed an alliance and sent Euron to ferry the imposing Golden Company from Essos to Westeros with the gold she acquired in the sack of Highgarden. There’s a reason she’s made it this far, and it isn’t just her malice.
How she can win: Cersei always has something up her sleeve. Who are we to tell her what to do? It’s not like she’d listen.
1) Jon Snow
You don’t bring a character back from the dead and end two consecutive seasons with massive reveals about his true identity if he isn’t the most important character on the show. Jon Snow — or should we say Aegon Targaryen — has risen from bastard to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch to King in the North over these last seven seasons, a gradual ascent that ranks among the show’s finest, most meaningful character arcs. If “Game of Thrones” doesn’t end with him taking his rightful place on the Iron Throne, it’ll end with him giving his own life so that someone else (likely Daenerys) he deems more worthy can.
How he can win: Learn who he truly is and claim his birthright.