HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ returns Sunday; who will take the Iron Throne?

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Game of Thrones' Season 7 (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — The calendar may read July, but winter is officially here.

The hit HBO series “Game of Thrones” returns Sunday night with its long-awaited seventh season. Only 13 episodes remain, leaving all of our favorite characters on a fiery collision course.

Who will win the proverbial game and conclude the series on the Iron Throne? Click through the gallery to see the best case for each of the leading candidates.

WARNING: This gallery contains spoilers, which we need to discuss to argue each character’s case.

Cersei Lannister   It only makes sense to begin with the woman who seized control of the Iron Throne at the end of season six. Of course, that’s only because her last remaining child, King Tommen, jumped to his death after witnessing Cersei blow up the Sept of Baelor, while his wife, Queen Margaery, and hundreds of other innocent civilians were inside. House Lannister has few remaining allies, but Cersei still controls the kingsguard, the zombified “Mountain” (Gregor Clegane) and any remaining caches of wildfire. Removing her from power isn’t going to be easy.
Jon Snow Book readers know that “A Game of Thrones” is the title of the first novel and that the collective written series is called “A Song of Fire and Ice.” The epic sixth season finale confirmed a long-held theory, when we learned that Jon Snow is not Ed Stark’s bastard son, as previously believed, but rather the son of Rhaegar Targaryen (fire) and Lyanna Stark (ice). See where I’m going with this? Jon literally cheated death at the end of season five, is the only major player who has traveled north of the wall and battled White Walkers, is the closest thing this show has to a hero, and is clearly the foundation of the entire story. He has never stated a desire to rule the Seven Kingdoms, but he didn’t set out to be declared King in the North either.
Daenerys Targaryen The Mother of Dragons is sailing across the Narrow Sea with thousands of Unsullied and Dothraki soldiers, two of the most powerful houses in the realm (the Martells of Dorne and the Tyrells of Highgarden), and three dragons that have grown to approximately the size of 747s. Back in season one, she declared her intent to take back her father’s throne and, so far, anyone who got in her way has met a grisly end. Season seven is set to open with her long-awaited return to Westeros. Will it end with her sitting on the throne?
Tyrion Lannister Tyrion isn’t an obvious choice — like Cersei, Jon or Daenerys — but he has a couple things going for him. There is perhaps no one better suited for the political side of the game of thrones than Tyrion. He is eloquent and persuasive, and has a way of getting people to do what he wants. But above all else, Tyrion is a survivor. He’s been taken prisoner, survived trial by combat, took a sword to the face at the Battle of Blackwater, and was smuggled across the Narrow Sea in a box after murdering his father and becoming the most wanted man in King’s Landing. As the saying goes, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” Somehow Tyrion is still alive, so he shouldn’t be discounted.
Sansa Stark She began season one a young girl with dreams of being a princess, but Sansa enters season seven hardened by a series of torturous ordeals. Northern houses may have declared Jon Snow the King in the North after season six’s Battle of the Bastards, but were it not for Sansa’s covert agreement with Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale, Jon and his army would have been slaughtered. As Littlefinger put it after the battle, “Who should the North rally behind? A true-born daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark … or a motherless bastard born in the South?” Will Sansa take those words to heart?
Bran Stark Bran may be wheelchair-bound, but he’s arguably as powerful as anyone in the realm. He has both the ability to warg (take over the mind and body of humans and animals) and is a greenseer, which allows him to see and understand important past and future Westerosi events. That distinguishes Bran from all the other warriors or house leaders on this list and gives him the ability to influence the events to come in ways no one else can.
Littlefinger Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish began the series a brothel owner and master of coin for King Robert Baratheon, and now wields the full power of the Vale. By now, he is inextricably linked with Sansa, openly professing his desire to occupy the Iron Throne with her at his side. Littlefinger has quietly sown chaos throughout the series and is responsible for the deaths of Ned Stark, King Joffrey and Jon and Lysa Arryn. As he said to Lord Varys back in season three, “Chaos is a ladder … The climb is all there is.”
Night’s King There aren’t many happy endings on “Game of Thrones,” so why should the conclusion be any different? We caught our first glimpse of what the Night’s King can do at the conclusion of the epic battle of Hardhome, when, with a simple raise of his hands, he turned dead wildlings into undead soldiers for his army. Winter is no longer coming — it’s here. And it might just bring the complete destruction of the Seven Kingdoms.
Euron Greyjoy We’re getting into the extreme long shots now, but “Game of Thrones” is rarely predictable. Euron popped up at the beginning of last season when he murdered his brother and succeeded him as ruler of the Iron Islands. His plan to join forces with Daenerys was scuttled by his niece and nephew, Yara and Theon, but the season seven trailer shows an impressive fleet of Greyjoy ships making their way, presumably, toward King’s Landing. Might Cersei have an unexpected ally?
Arya Stark Like Sansa, Arya has had a tough road since witnessing her father’s execution way back in season one. But she, too, has matured into a true power player. We last saw her crossing another name off her list when she avenged the Red Wedding and killed the traitorous Walder Frey. Nobody of any consequence in Westeros even knows she’s alive, which could work to her advantage. At the very least, we may get a full Stark family reunion in season seven.
Lady Olenna Tyrell At this point, Lady Olenna is more concerned with avenging the deaths of her grandchildren, Margaery and Loras, than taking control of the Seven Kingdoms. She has joined forces with Daenerys and has Cersei squarely in her sights. Don’t discount the fact that wars are expensive, and House Tyrell is one of the wealthiest in the land.
Samwell Tarly The black sheep of House Tarly is set to play a central role in the conclusion of “Game of Thrones.” Season six saw his arrival at the Citadel, where he will presumably begin pouring over ancient tomes in hopes of finding answers to critical questions (i.e. how to kill White Walkers). If he unlocks the secrets that save the realm, could that be enough to land him on the Iron Throne?

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