What makes a good ruler? The question has haunted Game of Thrones for years, and with just one episode left, it seems the writers are determined to reach an answer. Or, as Niccolò Machiavelli phrases the problem, Game of Thrones wants to know whether it’s better for a ruler to “be loved more than feared, or feared more than loved?”

Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones in general, but especially season 8, episode 5, “The Bells.”

The two sides here are easy to see — Game of Thrones hasn’t been subtle in arranging the chessboard for the final conflict. On the one hand, there’s Jon Snow, who we’ve been told time and again is beloved by the people who serve him, even though he’s basically never made a smart decision. And on the other, there’s Daenerys Targaryen, who has been told for years that she is the rightful heir, and has fought and conquered her way to where she is now.

In retrospect, the conflict between rulership types has been set up since the beginning, but it was particularly highlighted during Jon and Daenerys’ first meeting back in season 7, episode 3.


Image: HBO

Compare their introductions: Daenerys is introduced as “Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Rightful Heir to the Iron Throne, rightful Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, The Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains.” It’s a litany of titles and achievements that emphasizes her right to rule: her lineage, her conquests, her armies, and her dragons. All these things give her power, and the implication is that power makes her a good queen.

Davos Seaworth, never much of a hype man, introduces Jon Snow with the far more lackluster title “King in the North.” Davos does elaborate: Jon earned his title by “making allies of wildings and Northmen… All those hard sons of bitches choose him as their leader because they believed in him.” He emphasizes that Jon has fought for his people, risked his life for his people, even died for them.

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