Spoiler warning: This article contains extensive spoilers from the A Song of Ice and Fire book series and the Game of Thrones TV show.
It’s easy for readers of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy epic series A Song of Ice and Fire to laugh at those watching the award-winning HBO TV adaptation Game of Thrones. After all, those sweet summer children have no idea what is yet to come: Oberyn and the Mountain getting surprisingly close, the rise of the indomitable Ser Pounce, Sansa’s new friends in high places, the truth about Tywin...
Good night, sweet prince. Image via Reddit / Imgur
But really, book readers are little better. There’s still no release date in site for the sixth volume, The Winds of Winter (TWoW), three years after the release of A Dance with Dragons (ADwD)—and book seven, A Dream of Spring (ADoS), remains just that: a distant dream. The ultimate fate of the assorted bastards, freaks and psychopaths of Westoros remains a mystery to us all.
But that hasn’t stopped the fandom from guessing. A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) is incredibly densely plotted, with subterfuge, counter-conspiracy, calamity and outright war blending together to produce a perfect storm in which no-one is safe and no outcome is certain. Left without new material for years at a time, dedicated fans have spun together extraordinarily elaborate theories as to what’s going down, who’s going down, where it’s going down, and why.
Some are distinctly more plausible than others.
Lets start, as we did in A Game of Thrones (AGoT), with the Starks. It was all going so well for them, wasn't it? Sure, Ned got his head cut off, but Robb was harrying the Lannisters like a pro, the boys were tucked up safe in Winterfell, and it looked like the whole family would be reunited by autumn.
But then Winterfell burnt down, Sansa was forced to marry Tyrion, and the King in the North got slaughtered at the Red Wedding, along with just about every over notable Northman. GRRM, as fans refer to author George R. R. Martin, has made it clear that this is not a story of good and evil, in which the “good guys” eventually prevail—but nonetheless, there’s a sense among fans that the Starks will once more get their time in the sun.
Sansa’s had a particularly rough deal, and it’s likely about to get rougher: Elio Garcia, who runs fansite westoros.org, has read portions of TWoW—including a Sansa chapter “that is sure to be controversial.” Fans speculate this means someone will finally “do the deed” with the eldest Stark still living.
Theories as to her ultimate fate suggest her betrothed Harry the Heir is a misonomer, and she will ultimately be married off to Aegon Targaryen (who might not be dead after all) for strategic reasons, or even Jon Snow. There’s also the idea that Sansa will finally stop playing the victim—by killing Littlefinger.
Presumed dead by the rest of the world, we left young Bran at the end of ADwD with the mythical Children of the Forest, training to be a greenseer. There’s still mysteries surrounding the events of Robert’s Rebellion, and with his new ability to look through time Bran may well play a part in any coming exposition.
GRRM has previously told us that in TWoW we will see further into the Land of Always Winter than ever before. Now this could mean that despite the assassination attempt Jon Snow is a-okay (more on this later) and will go back beyond the Wall, but there's also plenty for him to take care of further south, not least the question of his parentage. Many believe it more likely that Bran will make the journey himself, by warging into (telepathically controlling) Hodor. What he’ll find—Benjen Stark? The Great Other?—remains a mystery.
Ned Stark’s brother is a firm fan favorite. Despite there being no sign of him since his disappearance beyond the Wall in AGoT, some remain convinced that he will return to play a key role in the books to come. Using some impressive knowledge of Westorosi geography, Redditor InflatableNipples argues that he likely made his way to Skagos, from where he will alternately protect his nephew Rickon or return to Castle Black to raise hell following the potentially fatal attack on his other nephew, Jon Snow.
Others argue that as Ned’s brother, he knows the truth about Jon Snow’s parentage—and will be the one to tell him. Alternately, we’ll never see or hear from him again. The hero’s search for a missing mentor/family member is a classic literary trope, and it would be a very GRRM-esque subversion of this to just not resolve Benjen’s plotline, never revealing whether he was murdered by the Others, or succumbed to the cold, or eaten by a bear.
Or maybe he’s Daario Naharis in disguise. The idea that he’s masquerading as a prestigious sellsword in Meereen has become a meme in subreddit r/asoiaf, frequently suggested semi-satirically and is a prime example of what the community calls “tinfoil”—wildly outrageous theories, that still have at least a modicum of textual grounding.
Where next for the Lannister queen? Her father, Tywin, and uncle Kevan are both dead, and Cersei is humiliated by the Faith and awaiting her trial by combat. If Maggy the Frog’s prophecy is accurate, then this is a foregone conclusion—her champion Ser Robert Strong must triumph, so she can later be killed by her “little brother”.
Others dispute this interpretation, arguing that Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, is still alive (working as a gravedigger), and that he will be the champion of the Faith to fight against Ser Robert Strong, commonly believed to be a resurrected Gregor Clegane—the Hound’s bigger and badder older brother. The name for this much-hyped duel? Cleganebowl. By triumphing, the suddenly pious Hound would fulfil the prophecy, completing Cersei’s downfall by playing the role of “little brother” himself.
Cersei is convinced this “valonqar” will be Tyrion—hence her lifelong animosity towards him—but some speculate that Jaime will do the deed himself, completing his arc of repentance, and saving Kings Landing once again from an unhinged monarch.
And maybe she’s modeled on the evil queen from Snow White. Didn’t think of that one, did you?
Daenerys is likely to get to Westoros, eventually. In the meantime, there’s speculation she will raise Meereen to the ground with her dragons. She’s often speculatively paired with Jon Snow, reconciling the North with the rightful ruler of Westoros, and she might just be a prophesied hero—or killed to produce one.
An interesting find that (if not an inconsistency) suggests serious scheming is the house in Braavos with the red door and the lemon tree which she often nostalgically remembers. GRRM has told us repeatedly that trees do not grow in Braavos—but Dorne is famed for its lemons. If Dany was secretly raised there (without her knowledge), it adds a whole new level of mystery.
Many dispute that Aegon Targaryen, miraculously found alive after Varys switched him with another babe during the sack of King’s Landing in Robert’s Rebellion, is who he says he is. A prophecy Dany hears in the House of the Undying in Qarth talks of a “mummer’s dragon”—a mummer is an actor, and in this context implies playing a part, or deceit. If Aegon were a false pretender, then this would fulfil the prophecy perfectly. So who is he?
There’s evidence to suggest that he might be a Blackfyre—a cadet branch of House Targaryen, that rebelled several times before the events of the book, and was thought to be extinct. Or he could be nobody at all—a baby born at an opportune time, manipulated by Varys and Illyrio Mopatis for their own ends, ignorant even himself to the ignoble truth of his identity.
The more imaginative in the community believe in “Secret Targ” theories. It’s the idea that based on “liberties” King Aerys Targaryen supposedly took with Joanna Lannister during her marriage ceremony to Tywin, the subsequent children Jaime and Cersei—or perhaps Tyrion, or all of them—are in fact secret Targaryens.
However, it’s unlikely however that a man as renowned for paying his debts as Tywin Lannister would be on good enough terms with Aerys to serve as his Hand for years, if the King had raped and impregnated his bride on his wedding night.
The amount of theorizing that surrounds Jon Snow almost deserves a book of its own. For the alleged bastard of Ned Stark, everything is debatable, from his true parentage to his fulfilment of ancient prophecies—but we’ll deal with that shortly. First, there’s the issue of his parents.
Some theorize that the mother is Ashara Dayne, who loved either Ned or his brother, and who took her own life. Another potential candidate whom Ned mentions by name is Whylla, a wet nurse, and there’s also a fisherman’s daughter in the running. But by far the most common theory is R + L = J.
Rhaegar Targayen + Lyanna Stark = Jon Snow. Ned Stark is not Jon’s father, but rather took the child in after his mother—Lyanna, Ned’s sister—died in childbirth at the Tower of Joy, where Rhaegar absconded with her. The Targayens practiced polygamy, so if true, it may well mean that Jon Snow is actually Jon Targayen, and the true ruler of Westoros. Rhaegar’s famed harp may well be hidden in Winterfell’s crypts, which would prove conclusive evidence for this theory.
Pity Jon just got stabbed then, eh?
Of course, most assume he’s not actually dead, despite the events at the end of TWoW. Resurrection has been firmly established in the ASOIAF world, so the question now is: what form it will take? Some believe Melisandre will bring him back using the power of R’hllor, or perhaps Lady Stoneheart will ressurect him, redeeming herself after years of rejecting Jon. Others say he will become a sentient wight, like Coldhands.
Melisandre believes her prophesied savior to be Stannis, but others aren't so sure. It’s been mooted that Jon Snow’s “rebirth” (assuming he survives) will allow him to fit the bill perfectly. Others point the finger at Daenerys, or Victarion Greyjoy. Or the sociopathic Ramsay Snow because, well, why not?
The who? In a world populated by dragons, 8-foot knights with a penchant for rape and 100,000-strong armies, it's easy to forget about the diminutive and enigmatic House Reed. But it's likely that they play a central role in coming exposition: Howland Reed was one of the few to accompany Ned Stark to the Tower of Joy, and thus to know the truth about Lyanna's death. If R plus L does equal J, and in the absence of Benjen, then it might necessitate his reemergence to explain it—he's yet to make an appearance in the books.
Or so we think. Some theorise the new High Septon is in fact Howland Reed. His dirty appearance, small stature and bare feet are all in keeping with descriptions of Crannogmen (Reed's people), and he also seems to have a fondness for Ned. Leading the peasant army the Faith Militant, it would be a remarkable turn of fortune for the North, after their wholesale butchering by the Freys at the Red Wedding.
Two Reeds we have met are Jojen and Meera, Howland's offspring, as they accompany Bran on his journey beyond the Wall. Theories surround both of them. One theory that, while outlandish, has gained significant traction is “Jojen paste”—that Jojen, a greenseer himself, has been killed, made into a paste, and fed to Bran by the Children of the Forest to awaken his psychic abilities. If true, the implication is that the Children are not as friendly as they seem, and may not be working in Bran’s best interests.
If Aegon is indeed a pretender (and assuming R+L=J), and discounting any secret Targaryen status on the part of the Lannisters, then this leaves at least one space open in the prophecy that “the dragon has three heads”—commonly interpreted as three riders for Dany’s three dragons. Step forward, Meera Reed. It’s very farfetched, but given Howland accompanied Ned to the Tower of Joy, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Lyanna birthed not one child but twins. For safe-keeping, these were split—Jon to Ned, Meera to Howland. They’re the same age, after all.
...And the rest
Now, let’s run through a few more, ranging from the fairly predictable to the bizarre:
- It’s very strongly implied that Wyman Manderly secretly killed three Freys and baked them into enormous pies to serve to Freys and Boltons, in revenge for the Red Wedding.
- Jaqen H’ghar is probably masquerading as Pate at Oldtown. The Maesters have something the Faceless Men (or their clients) want, and he’s been tasked with getting it.
- The maesters are secretly working to rid the world of magic, and were responsible for dragons dying out last time around.
- Littlefinger is responsible for Ned Stark’s death. Sure, Joffrey gave the order, but was Petyr Baelish whispering in his ear? It plunged the realm into chaos, Littlefinger’s element, so it seems believable. It could also provide the motivation for Sansa to kill him if she ever found out.
- Oberyn Martell poisoned Tywin Lannister. Sure, his death was hastened by a crossbow bolt in the groin, but the stench of his corpse, Oberyn’s propensity for poison, and other textual clues suggest the Red Viper poisoned the Lannister patriarch before his own demise at the hands of the Mountain.
- Victarion Greyjoy will help bring Daenerys back to Westoros. The exiled Targaryen queen has been languishing in Essos for five books now, and if she intends to march overland all the way to the Narrow Sea, the going will be painfully slow. More likely once Meereen is wrapped up, she’ll hop on Victarion’s boats and set sail for her throne. Beyond this, the Iron Islanders are unlikely to pose a serious threat to the realm—unless they steal Dany’s dragons.
- A plague will hit Westoros. Jon Connington is secretly suffering from the deadly greyscale, it is revealed, and he’s heading straight for King’s Landing with an army. Aegon’s quest for the iron throne may be halted not by military defeat but by ravaging illness.
- Northern lords are involved in a “Grand Northern Conspiracy” to restore the only kings they recognize—the Starks. Roose Bolton is universally despised, and Stannis Baratheon is an outsider; if Robb Stark’s will legitimizing Jon Snow is found, then he could end up becoming lord of Winterfell and King in the North (assuming he survived the attack). Alternately, and as Bran’s not going anywhere fast, young Rickon could take the throne.
- “Southron ambitions”—Robert’s Rebellion wasn’t (just) a spontaneous response to Lyanna’s apparent abduction, but the product of a carefully-constructed conspiracy by Rickard Stark and Jon Arryn to overthrow or reform Targaryen rule.
- Balon Greyjoy was assassinated by a Faceless Man, probably at the behest of Euron Greyjoy. The dragon egg he “tossed overboard”? That was payment, and the Braavosi assassins are now trying to hatch a dragon of their own. This would explain why Jaqen is in the Citadel—he’s seeking books on dragonlore.
- The black cat prowling round the Red Keep is called Balerion, and formerly belonged to the murdered Princess Rhaenys Targaryen.
- Mance Rayder tried to kill Bran in AGoT. It’s commonly assumed—but never actually confirmed—that the Lannisters sent the assassin after Bran following his fall. It’s since been revealed that wildling king Mance snuck into the feast, so it’s possible he stole the knife used and hired the catspaw in order to sow discord in the Seven Kingdoms ahead of his planned invasion. If so, it certainly worked.
- King’s Landing will be destroyed by wildfire. GRRM has promised a “bittersweet” ending, and the destruction of the Iron Throne—along with the deaths of half a million people—would certainly fit the bill. Some say an increasingly mad Cersei will give the order.
- Varys is a woman. And not just any woman—Illyrio Mopatis’s wife. Why? So their son can sit on the Iron Throne. Who’s the son? Aegon Targaryen.
- Mance Rayder is Rhaegar Targaryen in disguise. Never mind the fact that thousands saw him die on the Trident—he somehow survived, snuck north, and built a wildling army.
- R+L=S. Samwell Tarly is a secret Targaryen. Yu-huh.
- Roose Bolton is an immortal vampire. Getting very “tinfoil-y” here, but the man rarely sleeps or eats, enjoys a leeching, seems unconcerned with succession and might just be raising his bastard Ramsay Snow so he can steal his face when the time is right to avoid raising suspicion over his longevity.
- ASOIAF is based on the Book of Revelations. Yeah. There’s actually some surprisingly accurate parallels, but we’ll let you make up your own mind on that one.
So what are we looking at overall? A magical, medieval clusterf**k, basically. Beloved characters will die wholesale, the realm will be wrecked by calamities, the iron throne probably won’t survive, and the Starks might just make it in the end.
And it’s going to be incredible.
Photo by Steven Guzzardi/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)