Say what you like about Game of Thrones fans, they’re nothing if not inventive.
Book readers have a long tradition of coming up with conspiracy theories about George RR Martin’s characters, with the combination of a massively detailed fantasy world and large waits between releases coming together in the crucible of the internet to create a perfect storm of clever, creative and often bizarre ideas about hidden meanings and future events.
And now that the show has become the TV behemoth that it is, a new generation of fans find themselves looking for a way to fill those dull doldrums between series, too. Enter, the wonderful world of Thrones fan theories.
Some are common knowledge at this point, some are less high profile but still well founded and logical, and some are downright ridiculous, yet no less entertaining for it. Here’s what we think are the cream of the fan theory crop.
Brace yourselves, things are about to get very spoiler-y and probably quite complicated…
Jon Snow is alive (and about to undergo a game-changing transformation)
Our first theory is one of the most well known following the events of the season five finale. I’ll try to keep this brief, since every man and his direwolf has already explained why Jon is probably going to be resurrected in some fashion, but there is a more in-depth article here, for those who are interested.
‘Jon is alive’ is less one specific theory, and more a collection of different possibilities that include Red Priestess Melisandre calling on the Lord of Light to resurrect Jon (as we’ve seen her counterpart Thoros of Myr do with Brotherhood Without Banners leader Beric Dandorrian), Jon also inheriting Bran’s warging abilities and entering the body of direwolf Ghost (whose name is the last word he utters in the books), Jon having a Dany-style rebirth at his cremation (part of the far larger and more complicated ‘Jon is a Targaryen’ school of thought, in which the Lord Commander is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen rather than Ned Stark and an unnamed woman), and Jon becoming a White Walker.
Verdict: These are all fairly plausible outcomes, even if they don’t sound it, and there will be widespread disappointment if none of them come true. The hang-up is that a lot of important people have confirmed that Jon is dead for good, but could it all be smoke and mirrors employed in an effort to preserve the surprise? Yes, it could.
Sandor Clegane is alive (and will face off with his reanimated brother)
This is one of the more popular theories online, and another one that has been pretty extensively covered. It suggests that The Hound didn’t die when Arya left him bloody and broken after Brienne kicked him off a cliff, and is now a peaceable gravedigger. There is a little more evidence for this in the books, as Brienne actually comes across a huge, hooded man with injuries that correspond to the Hound’s digging graves for a monastery, but in terms of the show, the fact that we never actually see Clegane die onscreen alone might be enough to suggest that he’s still alive.
However, director Alex Graves says the scene is absolutely not intended to be ambiguous. “The Hound, as I told the story … he’s gone,” Graves told Entertainment Weekly. “How is he going to survive that? The real point of it was that [Arya] walks away, it wasn’t that it’s left open ended.”
But if that’s true, what’s he doing hanging out at the hotel where the current are staying to film season six, eh? Just saying hi to his former colleagues? I think not.
The reason we really want this one to be true is because it means another theory, known as ‘Cleganebowl’, could also come to pass. This suggests that the gravedigger Hound will return to take on his abusive brother Gregor ‘The Mountain’ (or ‘Ser Robert Strong’ as he’s known now) in a spectacular showdown to end all spectacular showdowns. In case you’d somehow forgotten, The Mountain is the man who crushed Prince Oberyn’s head like a melon and now seems to have been turned into some kind of giant zombie by Cersei’s right-hand man Qyburn. The Gravedigger vs the Zombie? Sound like a WWE match we have to see!
Verdict: When you have two of the best warriors in the land, who also happen to be brothers who hate each other, it seems like far too good an opportunity not to have a final reckoning between them. A lot of people think this might happen at Cersei’s trial, with her champion being Gregor the FrankenKnight, and the Faith being represented by Sandor.
Syrio Forel is alive (and I’m starting to notice a pattern here)
It seems that Game of Thrones fans don’t deal well with death, as quite a large proportion of their theories concern their favourite characters coming back from it.
Another of these theories is that the charming and cool Syrio Forel, Arya’s sword fighting tutor in season one, never actually died. When we last saw him, he was facing up to a cadre of fully armed members of the King’s Guard, with nothing but a wooden sword to defend himself. Things looked dire for Arya’s ‘dance teacher’, but we never saw the outcome of that fight, and Syrio was (is?) the First Sword of Braavos. Could it be feasible that he overcame the odds and escaped King’s Landing?
An extension of this theory even says that Syrio was one of the Faceless Men who Arya has been hanging out with in recent episodes, or even Jaqen H’ghar himself, although the only real basis for this seems to be that both have trained the young Stark and both are Braavosi men. Oh, and because it would be really cool…
Verdict: There are a LOT of ‘X isn’t dead’ theories in the Game of Thrones fandom, and Syrio has been off our screens for a long time now, so as great as it would be to see his return, it doesn’t look too likely. We can but hope.
Tyrion is a Targaryen
Jon isn’t the only popular character that fans think might be of Targaryen descent. Everyone’s favourite alcoholic dwarf is a serious candidate for one of the three prophesied ‘heads of the dragon’ – a prominent feature of the books.
The theory goes that the Mad King Aerys Targaryen had relations with Tywin Lannister’s wife, Joanna, mother of Tyrion (which would explain Tywin’s hatred of his ‘son’ Tyrion).
‘The dragon has three heads’ prophecy is one of the more important in the books, and when the series began Dany, Viserys, and Aemon could’ve fulfilled it. But with two of the three ‘out’ Targaryens now dead, two more dragons are needed. This is where the ‘Jon is a Targaryen’ idea comes from, and the third ‘head’ is widely believed to be Tyrion, due to his questionable parentage and prominence in the show.
Verdict: It seems Tywin’s final words – “you’re no son of mine” – may have been more literal than they first seemed. This may be wishful thinking, but the prophecy being fulfilled by the series’ most popular and longstanding characters does seem a pretty perfect way to round off the saga.
Jaime will kill Cersei
Less fun than immortal Lords and battling brothers, but one of the most dramatic theories around, this draws on Cersei’s season five flashback, in which she visits an old witch-y sort of woman, and enquires about her future.
The key part of the reply she gets is “…when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you”. Valonqar is the High Valyrian term for ‘little brother’. Cersei, of course, assumed that this meant Tyrion, which goes some way to explaining her hatred and suspicion of the dwarf.
But her littlest brother is now in a far away land, and Cersei has completely overlooked the other candidate, Jaime. Though they are twins, Jaime was born second and is thus a younger brother to Cersei, making him technically a valonqar. Could the souring in relations between the two perhaps be a precursor to something more extreme?
Verdict: This is a fairly prevalent fan theory that’s been around since the prophecy turned up in the books, and the poetry of golden-handed Jaime strangling his former lover seems pretty Game-of-Thrones-ian to me.
Lord Bolton is a skin-stealing White Walker
So you have your prophecy-fulfillers, and your ‘X isn’t dead’s’, but every now and again you come across a fan theory that really makes you do a double take.
Yes, there is a relatively widely held belief that the Warden of the North and head of House Bolton is, in fact, an immortal monster that steals people’s skins.
The flayed man sigil of House Bolton is one of the more gruesome banners in Westeros, but it may represent more than just a morbid family tradition. There are those who think the cold and unfeeling Roose Bolton flays his heirs and takes their place, thereby remaining Lord of the Dreadfort for an unlimited number of years. This is why he legitimized his sadistic bastard son, Ramsey – so he could take his skin and continue his reign.
Bolton’s coldness and pale blue eyes might suggest that he has something to do with the White Walkers, who are, as far as we know, immortal (except when it comes to Valyrian steel and dragonglass), and his nickname ‘The Leech Lord’ would also hint at his parasitic nature.
Verdict: The evidence is more compelling in the books, but that doesn’t discount the possibility that the theory might come to pass in the show too. So, somewhat ridiculous though it may sound, it could turn out that Lord Bolton really is a skin stealing, immortal, parasitic, White Walker…
Benjen Stark is alive (and has been right under our noses)
Right, enough of all that non-resurrection rubbish, its time for some more ‘someone isn’t dead’!
Benjen Stark was only briefly in the show, played by Joseph Mawle, before disappearing North of the Wall and (supposedly) dying off screen. But some say that he recently made a return, as none other than Daario Naharis, Daenerys’ bodyguard and lover.
This is a pretty tenuous one, but Dany and her crew wouldn’t have known Benjen before he disappeared, and he is likely aware of the dangers lurking beyond the Wall (being First Ranger of the Night’s Watch and all…). So it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Daario and Benjen are the same person (played, of course, by two different actors), and the latter became the former with the aim of enlisting the help of Dany and her dragons to fight the White Walkers.
Verdict: This one is often dismissed as a ‘tinfoil hat’ theory, and it seems a little bit far-fetched. But, it answers a lot of questions regarding Benjen’s whereabouts and Daario’s intentions, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first GoT character to be recast…
Meera Reed is Jon’s twin sister
Another facet of the ‘Jon is a Targaryen’ theory, is that Meera Reed (remember her, sister of Jojen – the kid from Love Actually?) is his twin.
The suggestion is that Lyanna Stark (sister of Ned) gave birth to not one, but two, secret babies and that these babies were promptly given to Ned and his good friend, Howland Reed. The two were named Jon and Meera and raised separately, with no knowledge of their Stark or Targaryen heritage.
Jojen and his supposed sister certainly don’t look anything alike but Jon and Meera? Just look at those curly locks. And everyone loves a good ‘twin’s reunited’ story, so could they be estranged siblings?
Verdict: Other than ‘they look similar’ and ‘Ned and Howland were mates’, this one doesn’t have a massive amount of evidence behind it. That said, it’s a feasible plot twist, and would certainly give some much-needed fleshing out to the generally overlooked Meera…
Varys is a merman (seriously)
And finally, the crackpot theory to end all crackpot theories; Varys ‘the Spider’ is in fact, a merman plotting the aquatic invasion of the above-sea-level world.
Remember Illyrio, the one played by Roger Allam (of Endeavour and The Thick Of It) who set up Dany’s wedding to Khal Drogo? Well, he’s in on it too.
The logic seems to be that these two men, due to their large size, must be hiding something underneath their robes, and that thing must be a fish’s tail. The discord that the pair plot to sow is apparently the preamble to the merling (the Westerosi term for mermaid/man) invasion of Westeros and Essos, and Varys supposedly being a eunuch is actually an excuse to keep his bottom half concealed at all times.
There is also a suggestion that Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish is in on the plan, although this hinges almost entirely on the fact that his boat is called ‘The Merling King’…
Verdict: When it starts sounding plausible that one of the longest running characters in the show has been secretly a fish man all along, it’s time we got a new season!