The Wildest 'Game of Thrones' Fan Theories Still in Play
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Note: spoilers for the Game of Thrones books and TV adaptation to follow. Proceed with caution.
While enduring George R.R. Martin's agonizingly slow writing pace, obsessive fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series have scoured the books' extensive mythology for clues on how the saga might play out. The problem: many of the storylines on Game of Thrones, the wildly popular TV adaptation, have moved past where they stood at the end of 2011's A Dance With Dragons, the most recently published novel in Martin's best-selling series. The show has further complicated speculation efforts by altering important plot points and introducing entirely new ones into the mix, as well.
HBO waits for no man, and the sixth-season premiere, the follow-up episode and episode three made it clear that Game of Thrones has no patience for Martin's dilly-dallying. In a single hour in the premiere, two fan theories that still haven't been definitively answered in the books got sorted out on the show: 1. Did Jon Snow "warg" into his direwolf after getting stabbed? (Nope.) 2. Is Melisandre a very, very old woman working some powerful mojo to keep herself looking spry? (Yep!)
While either or both of those theories may still be in play in the books themselves, we won't know for sure until Martin releases The Winds of Winter (date still improbably TBD). But what about the countless other theories whipped up by book fans over the years that could still possibly get worked into the show? As we prepare for episode two, let's run through the most intriguing fan theories -- batshit crazy though some of them may be -- that could conceivably still happen on Game of Thrones.
Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, aka R + L = J
Many hints have been given in the books and in various HBO episodes that Jon Snow is not, in fact, Ned Stark's bastard son. This well-known theory posits that the seemingly slain Lord Commander of the Night's Watch is the offspring of Ned's dead sister Lyanna and her dead paramour (and possible secret husband) Prince Rhaegar, who was the heir to the Iron Thrones and also a much-older brother of Daenerys.
Plausibility: Almost certain. Among hardcore Martin fans (Martinheads?), R + L = J is essentially assumed to be true, and this looks like the season we'll find out one way or another; thanks to set-watchers and casting-call listings that would seem to confirm that elements of this theory will finally be tackled, possibly via flashback as soon as episode three. If true, this would mean that Jon Snow is the half-nephew of Khaleesi. A spinoff theory, A + L = J, points to a more sinister lineage: that Lyanna was raped by Rhaegar's deranged father, King Aerys II Targaryen -- an unpleasant possibility that would make Jon Snow the half-brother of Daenerys.
Tyrion is a secret Targaryen, aka A + J = T
R + L = J opened the floodgates for potential secret Targaryens hidden across the Game of Thrones universe. In Tyrion's case, the theory goes that Mad King Aerys either had an affair with or raped Tywin Lannister's wife, Joanna, during Tywin's tenure in King's Landing as the Hand of the King. This prompted Tywin to break with the king and return to Casterly Rock, where Joanna subsequently perished during childbirth as Tyrion entered the world.
Plausibility: Very possible. The Tyrion-as-bastard theory would go far to explain why Tywin had no love for Tyrion -- and add more impact to Tywin's dying words: "You're no son of mine." The theory also lends more depth to Tyrion's meet-up with Daenerys last season, since, like Jon-Daenerys under A + L = J, it would make them half-siblings.
The Hound is still alive and he's digging graves on the Quiet Isle
Did Sandor Clegane die after his battle with Brienne at the end of Season 4? While his surrogate daughter with behavioral issues Arya Stark left him behind to rot, we never saw him expire. In the books, the questing Brienne (who doesn't confront the Hound in Martin's version...) sees a gravedigger while making a pit stop at the religious enclave on Quiet Isle -- a huge, hooded man who'd recently taken shelter there in search of a simpler life. The Hound's ornery horse, Stranger, is also seen in the stables. But Brienne doesn't put two and two together.
Plausibility: Possible! Rory McCann was spotted staying at a hotel near the Belfast set back in August, and Ian McShane will appear in an upcoming episode as a character who matches the general description of another Quiet Isle resident. If true, strap in -- it just might be Cleganebowl time (see below)!
The Hound and the Mountain will fight to the death, aka Cleganebowl
If Cleganebowl supporters get their way, the two nefarious Clegane brothers will square off in a deathmatch, allowing the Hound to seek retribution from his sadistic sibling for the childhood face-burning that scarred him. The most thought-out version predicts that Cersei, put on trial by the High Sparrow, will choose trial by combat and name Ser Robert Strong as her champion, which will prompt the High Sparrow to summon a certain towering gravedigger from the Quiet Isle (see the theory above).
Plausibility: Unlikely. Given that the Hound hasn't been re-introduced yet and the first season-six trailer made it seem like Cersei won't be going on trial (Cersei: "I choose violence"), it's hard to imagine the Cleganebowl hype materializing this season, despite the Rory McCann sighting. But maybe it's being teed up for next year? Regardless, don't let any of this stop you from watching this amazing fan-created Cleganebowl video. Get hype.
Benjen Stark has turned into a mysterious character named Coldhands
Remember Benjen Stark? Of course you do. Benjen, Ned Stark's younger brother, was a man of the Night's Watch who mysteriously disappeared early on in the first season, never to be seen again. Fans have long since believed him to be every single mysterious figure seen north of the Wall (and, nonsensically, some way out in Essos), chief among them Coldhands.
Plausibility: Maybe! The show has thus far avoided adapting the most mysterious book character of them all, but there is still plenty of time to craft a shocking return for good ol' Benjen. Considering that Benjen's name was teased to get Jon Snow to come out of his room in the season-five finale by the stabby mutineers who ended the Lord Commander's watch, we know that the showrunners are acutely aware of Benjen fever. Could he be that cloaked figure swinging a morning star in the woods in the season-six trailer?
The dragon has three heads, aka there will be three dragon-riding Targaryens
Fantasy fans love symmetry. The House Targaryen sigil consists of a dragon with three heads and "the three heads of the dragons" is also one of the clunky metaphors that pops up throughout the book series. In the season-two sequence at the House of the Undying, the Mother of Dragons is informed that she'll have to share her children eventually. If her chosen steed is Drogon, who will ride his fire-breathing siblings, Rhaegal and Viserion? It stands to reason that they'll have Targaryen blood, right?
Plausibility: It could happen. In scenes for this week's episode and in the season-six trailer, Tyrion is shown attempting to visit the two dragons locked up in the catacombs of Meereen. Could he be one of the three riders, per A + J = T (see above)? We've already told you about R + L = J -- is Jon Snow the third rider? The wildcard in this theory is Bran. He isn't a Targaryen, but he does possess the ability to "warg" into other sentient beings, as he's done with his direwolf and Hodor. And quoth the Three-Eyed Raven to Bran, back in season four: "You'll never walk again, but you will fly." By "warging" into a bad-ass dragon maybe?
Dragon eggs are stowed under Winterfell
An odd bit of real-estate trivia we learned from the books: despite its location, the ancient Stark stronghold of Winterfell is kept warm by water from hot springs piped through its walls. It's mentioned a lot, but the source of that heat is up for debate. Some northern legends speak of a cluster of dragon eggs laid by a former Targaryen queen's dragon years ago.
Plausibility: Probably not. In A Clash of Kings, Bran glimpses through his Direwolf Summer a "winged snake whose roar was a river of flames" across the Winterfell skies, meaning that dragons have definitely been in that part of the world before. If there is a war of dragons and zombies coming, having a hidden dragon closer to the Wall would certainly come in handy. But the amount of explanation this would require to seem like a legit plot point makes this theory hard to buy into from a show perspective.
Bran eats a paste made out of Jojen's remains
Jojen Reed! In the books, Jojen survived to reach the Three-Eyed Raven alongside Bran, only to mysteriously disappear once they get inside. And then Bran is given a "bloody-tasting" potion meant to activate his latent seeing abilities. Was the key ingredient… Jojen? There's plenty to imply that Jojen knew he'd be heading the way of Soylent Green once they reached their destination, and was willing to be Miracle-Whipped in order for Bran to accomplish his destiny.
Plausibility: Slim chance. Bran Stark's hippie-ish friend was a hackey-sack away from a drum circle before his untimely death at the hand of a walking skeleton back in season four. The young seer was the one to convince Bran to head north of the Wall and seek the Three-Eyed Raven... only to perish right outside of their destination. Womp womp. Jojen was also scorched by a Child of the Forest so as to prevent him from turning into a wight, so there's no Jojen left for the Jojen paste.
Meera Reed and Jon Snow are twins
Or, R + L + Star Wars = J + M. In this theory, Lyanna Stark did not give birth to one child but two -- a boy and a girl. The boy was entrusted to Ned Stark; the girl was passed on to Howland Reed, Ned's best friend. Yep, Jojen's spear-wielding sister -- primarily known in the show for having above-average rabbit-skinning skills -- is yet another secret Targaryen!
Plausibilty: Low. For one thing, it's beyond cliché, post-Star Wars. Meera, who is slated to appear this season, has simply been too minor of a character for this theory to have much value on the show. Of all the minor characters in Westeros, pointing to Meera is about as interesting as pointing to Unsullied Soldier No. 4812 and making him Daenerys's little brother. But her resemblance to Jon Snow makes it impossible to dismiss entirely.
The Maesters are conspiring against everyone
According to a one we meet in the books, maesters have worked for centuries to stamp out all the world's magic, killed off the dragons and exiled Aemon Targaryen to the Wall. Though most are unseen, the maesters have members in every great household of Westeros. While all eyes are on the Red Priests and the Faceless Men, this wide-spanning Westerosi organization operates right under everyone's noses -- yet their real agenda thus far remains unknown.
Plausibility: Too complicated. Perhaps you noticed that the Season 6 premiere went out of its way to establish maesters in all the main locations? There was a new one serving the Boltons in Winterfell, as well as another one in Dorne. This theory might explain Pycelle's eagerness to have Daenerys assassinated back in season one, and we like the idea of an organization dedicated to science and rationality as a counterpoint to the Red Priests. Plus, their as-yet-unseen stronghold, the Citadel, is home to all the books in the world -- and may reveal how deeply this conspiracy goes once it graces our screens. Still, it would all feel like tacked-on intrigue.
The Boltons are vampires
While the show has done a decent job of adapting the Boltons' creepiness for the screen, it omits Roose's creepiest fetish: leeches. Forget the skinning; this mofo spends most of his downtime in the books covered in leeches, as a way of extracting the bad humors from his body. It's his No. 1 spa treatment. This obsession with renewal and bloodletting has brought many fans to extreme conclusions about Roose's vampiric nature.
Plausibility: Not likely. Considering that Martin addresses ghosts, zombies, and even werewolves (via warging), it's not exactly a stretch to think that Westeros might have an analogue to vampires. One theory posits that Roose is immortal and practices a modified version of the Faceless Men's face-peeling by skinning younger men alive, wearing their skin, and keeping the whole thing fresh by bloodletting regularly. After Melisandre's big reveal in the season-six premiere, we know that age is nothing but a number, if you know how to cheat it.
Game of Thrones goes full-on Sweeney Todd
This is hands down our favorite theory, and with Walder Frey set to return at yet another portentous banquet (according to one of the season-six trailers) our hearts are filled with hope. In A Dance With Dragons, we meet Wyman Manderly, a bon vivant northern lord who is passing himself off as being loyal to the Lannisters but is secretly livid about the betrayal of the Starks at the Red Wedding. Later on, three Frey men whom Wyman had been hosting before Ramsay's wedding go missing. And then Lord Manderly serves three giant meat pies at the nuptials, to the strains of a song named "The Rat Cook." But what is in those pies?
Plausibility: Probably not. "The North Remembers" is not just a teaser tagline run amok, it's a call to politically minded cannibalism. Unfortunately, the show has (yet) to introduce us to Wyman Manderly, and Ramsay has already been married off. But with so many Freys running around and the writers reassigning story lines, we'd be truly bummed not to see a handful of them baked into somebody's pigeon pie.
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Ben Philippe is a Thrillist Entertainment contributor. His theory is that Grey Worm was somehow never fully Unsullied and is now pretending because Missandei is being way too thirsty. Find him on Twitter @GoHomeBen.