All it takes is some head-scratching to create something magical.
Fans have been dissecting and analyzing movies, TV shows, and novels since long before the Internet, but the World Wide Web has only made the whole process more accessible and expandable. Forums and websites are devoted to deep-diving into the things we loved, so more people are discovering old theories—and coming up with their own. And in 2015, that fervor exploded onto to the mainstream.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe continued to link more than a dozen blockbusters and TV shows together with each new adaptation. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones dominated the TV conversation (the latter having seen huge critical success with its historic 12 Emmy wins this year). A little indie film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens invaded every aspect of our lives before making more than $1 billion in just 12 days. But this year, more than ever, the corners of the Internet spinning fan theories are making their way outward as more people openly speculate about what comes next.
After all, when President Obama is just as anxious to find out what happened to a certain Game of Thrones fan favorite as everyone else, you know it’s huge.
We’ve gathered some of our favorite fan theories that have appeared (or made a resurgence) over the past year, and with more releases and new seasons next year, the wave of theories will only get even bigger. Grab your tinfoil thinking caps for this one.
1) Game of Thrones and its boy wonder
Ask any Game of Thrones fan their favorite character, and you might hear a dozen different answers, but ask them what they’re most anxious to find out next season, and you’ll hear the same refrain: whether Jon Snow is dead—or dead for good.
First revealed on the final pages of A Dance With Dragons in 2011, Jon’s fate has been up in the air—and kept secret by tightlipped book fans—ever since. Theories about how he survived the mutiny, what he has in store, whether he’s a long-prophesied Prince That Was Promised, and, of course, the nearly 20-year-old mystery of Jon’s parents were passed among fans online. George R.R. Martin left it open-ended, so fans went wild as they awaited (and continue to await) the release of The Winds of Winter.
But then on June 14, the show finally caught up with Jon’s story in the season 5 finale, “Mother’s Mercy.” The nature of the mutiny played out a little differently, but the end result was the same: Jon ended up with multiple stab wounds. For the Watch, indeed.
So what was likely meant to be a giant twist turned out to be the worst-kept secret in the Seven Kingdoms as various set sightings and meticulous observations of Kit Harington’s hair ruined that potential surprise.
With the “if” answered, fans got busy theorizing about the “how”: They thought that he would be resurrected by Melisandre, who’s conveniently now at Castle Black; they wondered if Jon, who has some of the same abilities as his half-brother Bran, could’ve warged into his direwolf Ghost. They looked into the possibility that his eyes changed colors as he lay bleeding on the snow. Old interviews suddenly became relevant again, the HBO Store was scrutinized for not including Jon among its In Memoriam section, and at one point, a years-old theory speculating that Meera Reed was Jon’s secret twin sister resurfaced online.
Simply put, killing Jon might be the bolder choice, but keeping him alive has proven much more fascinating for fans—and, potentially, the rest of the series.
2) The Walking Dead pulls one over on us—but nobody bites
Death is such a normal part of The Walking Dead that its aftershow, The Talking Dead, has a weekly In Memoriam segment. Death comes for them all—even the fan favorites—whether by Walker, human, illness, or natural causes.
Except in the case of Glenn Rhee. While out on a mission to help stop thousands of Walkers from heading to the group’s settlement in Alexandria, Glenn, Michonne, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha have to navigate their way out of an abandoned town. Multiple Alexandrians are bitten and killed, but it’s not until the final moments of “Thank You” that fans are led to believe that Glenn’s a goner. He’s on the ground, surrounded by Walkers, and he’s screaming as they rip flesh from his chest.
Or were they? Almost as soon as the episode ended, fans called bullshit, watching and rewatching the final minutes for clues—and boy did they find some. Fans came up with some ideas that explained his escape route, along with some strong arguments for him to die the same way as his comic counterpart.
It wasn’t until nearly a month later that fans finally got their answers—and some vindication. Glenn was alive, and he managed to miraculously escape the way they called it. But with Negan’s presence already looming, how uneasy will they get once the show returns in February?
3) The surprising identity of Max in Mad Max: Fury Road
Mel Gibson played the titular Max in the first three Mad Max movies, but when Tom Hardy was cast to portray him in Fury Road, most of us probably thought it was just a regular case of recasting the lead after breathing new life into a franchise. But once fans actually saw Fury Road, some of them started to think that we may have seen Hardy’s Max before.
Some fans believe that Hardy’s Max isn’t the same person as Gibson’s, but rather someone who perhaps inherited the name from him. The prime candidate for this new Max is a young boy he met in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior: a boomerang enthusiast we know only as “The Feral Kid.”
One of their more memorable scenes together involves Max giving the Feral Kid a small music box; he’s delighted by it, then growls and runs off. One of Immortan Joe’s wives eventually finds a music box in Max’s car. Could the film’s flashbacks, storytelling choices, and the amount of grunting and groaning adult Max still does be callbacks to the noises he made as a kid? Of course, the Max Hardy plays doesn’t use a boomerang, but it’s always possible he outgrew that as he got older and learned how to shoot a gun.
Director George Miller is hesitant to say exactly when Fury Road takes place in the timeline of the franchise. He preferred to call it a “revisit,” describing the movies as “standalones exploring the whole world,” but he eventually told Fandango “If you put a gun to my head, I’d say after Thunderdome, but it’s very loose.”
4) Did we see Chris Pratt’s character in Jurassic World much earlier than we thought?
In the beginning of Jurassic Park, Dr. Alan Grant is teaching the volunteers at a dig site about velociraptors when one kid, who’s referred to as Volunteer Kid (Whit Hertford), scoffs at the idea of the “six-foot turkey.” Grant then schools him in just how wrong he is—and how easily he could be killed by one.
According to the theory, that kid eventually became Owen Grady. Owen (Chris Pratt) is an expert in animal behavior, which includes becoming the alpha member of a group of velociraptors, describing it as a “relationship based on respect.” About 20 years earlier, Volunteer Kid was asked to “show a bit of respect” by Grant.
Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow plays coy, preferring to let the fans theorize.
“I’m not sure I want to answer because the speculation is so much fun,” he told Slashfilm. “Let’s not kill the fun.”
Hertford, on the other hand, has a very different take on it.
5) Guardians of the Galaxy’s daddy issues
We want to know everything about the characters, but we’re almost as invested in their parents. That’s never been more true than with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which doesn’t even come out until May 2017.
The end of the first film revealed that Peter Quill’s father wasn’t the one he knew on Earth—and he wasn’t even human. Director James Gunn only offered one hint—it wasn’t his father from the Marvel comics—but otherwise anything was game.
Gunn shot them both down because he didn’t want fans to travel down the wrong rabbit hole, but he’s staying silent on any subsequent reports.
But whoever he is, it looks as if Kurt Russell might end up playing him; the actor confirmed that he’s in talks but would need to read the script and watch the first movie before coming to a decision.
6) Star Wars: The Theories Awaken
Star Wars fans had more than a decade without a new film to ponder their favorite galaxy far, far away, and the amount of secrecy from director J.J. Abrams, the cast, and everyone at Lucasfilm and Disney made theorizing about Episode VII even easier: Because we knew so little, pretty much anything was possible.
We linked Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren to pretty much everyone from the original trilogy. We tried to figure out the endgame of Kylo, the Knights of Ren, and the First Order. And then there was Darth Jar Jar, which was a gift of endless joy and had Abrams and Andy Serkis among its supporters.
But then we all saw The Force Awakens and realized most of them were unaddressed, right by a technicality, or completely off-base.
The great news is that we have even more stuff to dig into until Episode VIII comes out in 2017. The biggest question on our minds: Just who is Rey, the new hero at the heart of the new Star Wars trilogy? Between the still-mysterious identity of her parents and the nature of her powers, there’s plenty to speculate about for the next year and a half.
7) Harry Potter fans are still hard at work
Between the upcoming Fantastic Beasts film and The Cursed Child play, 2016 will be a great year for Harry Potter fans, but for those who still wish to figure out every part of that world, there are still plenty of mysteries to unfold in the original canon.
We’re still debating just how good the “good guys” are in the series, dreaming what James Potter’s first day at Hogwarts would be like, and wondering how a TV show based on other time periods in Wizarding History would go. With J.K. Rowling only a tweet away and Pottermore as a database of new information and backstories, it’s easier than ever for theories to be confirmed, endorsed, or debunked.
Eight years after the publication of Deathly Hallows, Rowling has finally revealed that the fan theory painting Dumbledore as Death in “The Tale of the Three Brothers” is her favorite. It’s not a confirmation, but it adds another parallel to the Wizarding children’s fairy tale that already pairs Voldemort, Snape, and Harry with the Deathly Hallow that most aligns with them.
But after all this time, it’s the Pottermore overhaul that reignited the debate on a character’s fate. Few people are mourning the loss of potion making or having to click around a screen constantly to find trivial items, but when it casually listed Lavender Brown’s presumed death—and changed it without an update or correction just hours later—fans definitely took notice.
8) The alternate reality of The Hunger Games
The dystopian Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins foretells a grim reality that’s both nearly unrecognizable and eerily like our own. We know it takes place in the future, but we know very little about history before Panem came together and just how the Capitol rose to power.
One fan theory, which works better as a metaphorical interpretation than a literal one, imagines an alternate reality in which Great Britain won the Revolutionary War. According to Reddit user TheMartianManhunter, after claiming victory over the American rebels, Britain would do what it takes to instill fear into the colonists so that they wouldn’t try to claim their independence again. That would include killing all of the Founding Fathers, and even potentially wiping Georgia, the least successful colony at the time, off the map. Just like the Capitol claimed to have done with District 13.
The official Panem map rules out the direct application of the theory—District 12 is located in a region that was called Appalachia and the Capitol is in the Rocky Mountains—but the concept was fascinating enough to get approval from members of the cast.
Josh Hutcherson called it “a cool idea” while Natalie Dormer, who stars in a fantasy TV show heavily influenced by history, noted the similarities between history and fiction and how it’s probably not coincidental.
“Every great writer draws on history for inspiration,” she told the Huffington Post. “George R.R. Martin is very informed about Rome and medieval Britain, and that obviously formed his writing of Game of Thrones. I believe Collins’ father was a historical lecturer to do with war. So she’s aware of these references.”
9) Just how dark and twisted can a sitcom like Friends get?
All 11 seasons of Friends finally arrived on Netflix this year, so that gave fans the chance to binge through the series in a way that syndicated reruns never allowed. And given the time, they started to notice things they never saw the first time around.
Some fans did the math, but others started to look at the characters and their motivations. Along with realizing that Ross was a terrible person, they started to map out a reality where the entire show was just Phoebe Buffay’s meth-fueled fantasy and potentially got to the bottom of why Ross’s son stopped showing up after the eighth season.
And that’s only the beginning of the deep dive.
Illustration by J. Longo