This article contains extensive spoilers for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire.
With five seasons of the show and five books under our belts, we’ve had plenty of time to speculate about all the unanswered questions. Some theories, such as R+L=J or that Jon Snow doesn’t die (or stay dead) at the end of A Dance With Dragons, have so much evidence on their side it probably wouldn’t narratively make sense to fans for it to happen any other way. Diving further into who might ultimately take the throne requires more research (and guessing).
It’s once people have exhausted most of the major theories that things get interesting. Fans get restless; we’ve all been there. That’s where the tinfoil comes in.
As far as Game of Thrones is concerned, tinfoil is the kind of conspiracy theory that can ignore canon and pretty much everything else we know about the series. It’s complex, highly unlikely, sometimes crazy, and in places like Reddit, can be referenced as inside joke. If you thought the speculation over Kit Harington’s hair or the lack of Jon Snow merchandise in the HBO Store’s “In Memoriam Collection” is any indication of how out there the fandom can get, just wait until you have to wait four years (and counting) for a new book.
While the show is on hiatus and we’re waiting for who knows how long for an update on The Winds of Winter, why not put on the tinfoil hat and go for a spin? We’ve gathered some of the wildest, far-reaching theories out there all in one place, each one more wild than the next. They might seem too good to be true right now, but when it comes to George R.R. Martin and ASOIAF, you never know.
We know very little about the High Sparrow, who became the High Septon this past season (a decision Cersei Lannister probably regrets), but his identity could be a lot more complicated than his assumed origin as a lowly religious man who rose to power as a true septon of the people.
One theory suggests that the High Sparrow is actually Howland Reed, Meera and Jojen’s father and the leader of the crannogmen, in disguise. Deeply loyal to Ned Stark, Howland fought with him during Robert’s Rebellion and even sent his children to help Bran in his journey to meet the Three-Eyed Raven (Three-Eyed Crow in the books). Fans feel he’s important because, as the only person alive to have survived the battle at the Tower of Joy, he could potentially confirm Jon Snow’s mother if R+L=J is true.
But what if we already met Howland?
The description of the High Septon is similar to what we’ve been told about the crannogmen. He refuses to anoint King Tommen Baratheon (a tradition of the Faith for hundreds of years and a sign of legitimization) and condemns the act of Ned’s execution. As a Stark ally (or even a man of some power who likely would’ve received a letter from Stannis), Howland would know that Tommen was a bastard—and his refusal to bless him would be more than just a gesture.
Ultimately, the plan would be a vast and calculated pull for Howland, a man whose reputation states that he and his men would rather hide instead of fight, to gain an army even bigger than the Lannisters’ to exact revenge on the family that killed Ned Stark.
CLEGANEBOWL (Get Hype)
The White Walkers (called the Others in the books) might be the biggest threat to Westeros, but the nail-biting fight at “Hardhome” is nowhere near the most-hyped battle involving the reanimated dead. An upcoming battle is so big in Game of Thrones fandom that it has its own meme and a subreddit. But first we must introduce the competitors.
In one corner, you have Ser Gregor Clegane, aka the Mountain. He’s a monster: he rapes and kills for sport, he will slaughter his horse if it doesn’t help him win a tournament, and he pushed his brother Sandor’s face into fire when they were children. As you probably recall, the Mountain met his end by Oberyn Martell’s poisoned spear—manticore venom laced with sorcery in order to draw out the death and make it even more painful. Nearing death, he was handed over to Cersei’s ethically questionable ally Qyburn to be experimented on; his skull is later given to the Martells as proof of his death.
In the other corner, you have Sandor Clegane, AKA the Hound. Disfigured by the Mountain, he was loyal to the Lannisters and served in the Kingsguard, but loathed the hypocrisy associated with knighthood. Arya left him to die after he sustained injuries during a fight (at an inn in the books, against Brienne of Tarth in the show). The Elder Brother on the Quiet Isle told Brienne and Podrick that the Hound was dead in A Feast for Crows.
But do we take these confirmations of death at face value? Of course not!
The Mountain makes his return in the form of Ser Robert Strong, the newest member of the Kingsguard. We met him, although not by name, at the end of Cersei’s walk of atonement in “Mother’s Mercy.” His skin is discolored, he’s silent—supposedly having sworn an oath of silence until Cersei is proven innocence and all of her enemies are dead. He also doesn’t eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom, and downright creeps out the other members of the Kingsguard. His identity has yet to be confirmed, but fans quickly determined he was the Mountain—and actor/bodybuilder Hafthor Bjornsson’s presence underneath that suit in the show (as well as the credits) seemed to confirm it.
Meanwhile, a novice gravedigger on the Quiet Isle seems to match the description of the Hound, even down to the wound he received during his last fight; his face, a giant giveaway, is covered by a scarf. Paired off with the Elder Brother’s vagueness when describing the Hound’s death, it gives fans more reason to believe he’s still alive, and recent casting leaks support the belief that we might see this play out next season.
Cleganebowl itself, given that the Mountain and the Hound are both alive in the forms of Ser Robert Strong and the Gravedigger, is the trial by combat for the ages that will ultimately determine Cersei’s fate. Her champion is obvious—Ser Robert Strong. The Faith will need a champion, and people believe they will choose the Gravedigger—who’s currently employed under a member of the Faith.
The implications could not be clearer: If the Mountain wins, Cersei is innocent while the Hound—long a fan favorite in part due to Rory McCann’s portrayal—dies. If the Hound wins, he gets revenge on the Mountain and Cersei is toast. One part of the theory even ties Maggy the Frog’s prophecy in that Cersei will die at the hands of the valonqar, or the little brother, with the Hound’s victory.
As far as we know so far, there aren’t immortal creatures in Westeros. But there may have been one under our nose all this time.
Roose Bolton is, to put it lightly, creepy—and for a House that wears enemies’ skins for cloaks, that’s saying something. He’s pale, he freaks out Ned, he has a face described as “a pale grey mask, with two chips of dirty ice where his eyes should be,” and he shows no signs of aging; we don’t even know Roose’s age. According to one theory, that’s because Roose has been wearing other people’s faces and has been the immortal patriarch of the Bolton family this entire time.
We know it’s possible to wear a dead person’s face courtesy of the Faceless Men: they wear faces—which are magically fused on with their own blood—in the line of their work for the Many-Faced God. It also explains why Roose has kept his son Ramsay, who’s a sadistic menace, alive all this time: sometime soon he’ll need a new face to wear, and both Roose and Ramsay have the same eyes. The ruse will be almost effortless. It’s also believed that a man’s blood will thicken and congeal after he dies, which could explain Roose’s affinity for using leeches—the secret to a long life.
But how has Roose stayed alive all this time? For that, we turn to one of Nan’s old stories for a possible answer, which could also explain the whole face-stealing thing: He’s either the Night’s King or the product of the Night’s King consummation with a woman whose description matches that of a White Walker “with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars.”
D+D=T, or the world’s most insane time travel theory
I could break this down in small parts, but it just might be even more mind-blowing to start with the TL;DR version: Mirri Maz Duur sent Rhaego, the stillborn child of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo, to the past with Drogo’s soul. He’s then born as Tyrion Lannister through his mother Joanna while the original fetus is sent in the future to Daenerys’s womb.
This theory basically pins Tyrion as Oedipus, disregarded and hated, a man who kills his father. And instead of Joanna, who dies in childbirth, it’s Daenerys who is the unknowing mother who will eventually encounter him.
When Daenerys asked Mirri to heal Drogo, Mirri put him in a vegetative state and caused Rhaego to die. But really, she switched Rhaego with baby Tyrion through blood magic, sacrificing Drogo in the process; it’s something she hints at in her cryptic messages to Daenerys. Daenerys later delivers what she believes is Rhaego, she encounters something that had been dead for years and is described as being deformed—similarly to how Tyrion is described.
This would make Tyrion the Stallion who Mounts the World—and could even set him up for a true Oedipus Rex situation in which he marries his mother.
The many faces of Benjen Stark, Daario Naharis, and Euron Greyjoy
Not everyone is who they seem. That much is true of most characters you’ll encounter in a TV show, but in Game of Thrones and ASOIAF there’s always the potential of secret identities to worry about—especially when you have a collective of trained assassins who can change faces at will.
Casual Game of Thrones fans may have first been exposed to some of them after a fan discovered Martin nixed the theory that Benjen Stark, Ned’s brother who’s been missing since the first season, is actually Coldhands. That debunk led to even more secret identity theories out there getting the spotlight.
Let’s start off with Benjen, the first person we meet as part of this giant ruse. He disappeared during a ranging mission beyond the Wall, and while his horse returns he does not. There’s actually a good reason for that: He’s actually the Tyroshi sellsword Daario Naharis in disguise.
Although there may only be a handful of people in Essos who could ever identify Benjen by sight, it explains why Daario dyes his hair blue and wears bright colors—to blend in and distract. He gets on Daenerys Targaryen’s good side because he’s actually there on behalf of the Night’s Watch to learn more about dragons and eventually recruit Daenerys to aid them in the war against the White Walkers.
But wait! What if Daario is actually Euron Greyjoy? The timing, from the looks of the theory concerning the second eldest Greyjoy brother, is rather convenient. Daario helped Daenerys conquer Meereen, but then goes off to make alliances. He’s not in Meereen with Daenerys during the Greyjoy Kingsmoot, and Euron turns up with treasures, something Daario gained during the battle. Euron is confident that he’ll win over Daenerys and get her dragons—which might make more sense if he already knew her as Daario.
If both of these theories pan out to be true, could we say that Benjen, Daario, and Euron are all one person? How he’s able to keep it all straight is anyone’s guess.
Euron is also holding several Qartheen warlocks hostage, which could make travel between Meereen and the Iron Island even faster. One of those warlocks might also be the Dusky Woman in disguise—a silent woman missing her tongue who’s currently keeping Victarion’s bed warm and has turned into his confidant. Euron gave her to Victarion as a gift, but she could be passing everything along to Euron—or even trying to kill Euron. Euron actually being the Dusky Woman? A bit of a stretch even for tinfoil’s sake, but you never know with this series.
Just who is Coldhands, anyway?
In a narrative full of mysterious characters and creatures, Coldhands is at a whole other level. We don’t know exactly what he is—although he looks like a wight. His hands are cold and black (hence the name), he smells like dead meat, and he cannot pass through the Wall’s gates because of its magic, nor can he enter the cave Bran enters at the Weirwood tree. The clues of his identity are few: He’s a brother of the Night’s Watch, addressing Samwell Tarly as “brother,” and Leaf, a child of the forest, told Bran in A Dance With Dragons that Coldhands was “killed long ago.”
We already know that Coldhands is not Benjen, so who else could he be?
The Night’s King fits Leaf’s bill of Coldhands being really old; he lived and died during the Age of Heroes, which occurred thousands of years before ASOIAF takes place. We know little about the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch or his reign of terror, especially since any record of him was destroyed by the Night’s Watch. But in Old Nan’s tales never mentioned how he died, only that he fell from power after turning his back on his brothers.
Now, the Three-Eyed Raven (who many believe is a powerful skinchanger named Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers) is powerful in his own right, and may have commanded Coldhands to do his bidding to pay for his crimes now that the White Walkers have returned; part of that entails getting certain people like Samwell and Bran to their proper destinations. Although we’ve seen the Night’s King in the show, the books are a very different story.
Or could it have been someone far more important to Westeros’s history? Bran the Builder is said to have built the Wall after the Long Night during the Age of Heroes—possibly with help from giants, the First Men, children of the forest, and magic. He also built Winterfell and founded House Stark, and he might have also had something to do with the creation of Storm’s End and the Hightower at Oldtown. What if building the Wall took so much out of him that he was tied to it in a way?
Have we been watching and reading a fantasy version of Star Wars this entire time?
It sort of is, if you take the word of actor Alfie Allen, who plays Theon on the show. He revealed that he asked Martin who Jon’s parents were in a 2012 interview with Vulture, and Martin told him. Allen didn’t reveal the response but rather teased that it “involves a bit of a Luke Skywalker situation” and “it will all come to fruition eventually.”
While opening a potential can of worms for even more Jon Snow theories, it suggests the possibility of the most Star Wars-esque one of all: Jon has a secret twin sister—and it’s someone we’ve met before.
Meera Reed, who’s currently far north in a Weirwood tree with Bran, could fit that bill. She’s the same age as both Jon and Robb, she has a similar build to Arya and Lyanna (who are noted as looking very similar), and Howland claiming Meera as his own (with, presumably, support from his wife Jyana) could be payment for Lyanna saving him at the Tourney at Harrenhal when they were teenagers—assuming that Lyanna is the Knight of the Laughing Tree.
Assuming that R+L=J is true, Ned and Howland would’ve wanted to protect Meera as well as Jon upon finding Lyanna at the Tower of Joy, particularly from Robert Baratheon. And if Jon really is dead, the dragon will still have three heads.
There’s already so many secret identity theories that fans wouldn’t let one involving a character whose death had plenty of witnesses get in the way of it.
Mance Rayder has been glamoured before to look like the Lord of Bones in the books while the latter died in his place. Who’s to say that the same couldn’t have happened with someone else when Rhaegar Targaryen died at the Trident?
Mance and Rhaegar wear the same colors, red and black, and rubies are emphasized with Rhaegar, which are linked with glamour spells. Mance constantly plays “The Dornishman’s Wife,” but when in disguise as Abel during the rescue attempt of “Arya Stark” (AKA Jeyne Poole), he changes the lyrics to “stealing the Northman’s daughter.”
If we once again take Allen’s “Luke Skywalker” comments into consideration and assume R+L=J, Jon’s meetings with Mance—that is to say, Rhaegar—have even more meaning than ever before.
Everyone’s a secret Targaryen—including the Lannister twins
Aerys II Targaryen, Daenerys’s father, was known to have a crush on Joanna Lannister over the years. It was rumored that the two slept together during his father Jaehaerys II Targaryen’s coronation. She eventually married her cousin Tywin, where he joked and complained at their wedding how terrible it was that the old custom of the first night (where a lord or king can sleep with a man’s wife on their wedding night) had been banned.
Although Aerys slept around, his wife and sister Rhaella mostly tolerated it—except when it involved one of her ladies-in-waiting; it’s suspected that Joanna was dismissed as one of Rhaella’s ladies-in-waiting for this reason.
The evidence to support this is minimal at best—Joanna didn’t return to King’s Landing until Jaime and Cersei were older—but the theory still persists.
The Faceless Men are behind Hardhome and the Doom of Valyria
At face value, these two cities don’t really have anything in common. One was a small village—only one of a few of its kind—occupied by the wildlings, who normally don’t settle down in one place for too long. The other was the centerpiece of ancient civilization in Essos, home to the biggest marvels, spells, and trade secrets, nearly indestructible steel, and dragons.
Hardhome was engulfed in flames one night around 600 years before the beginning of ASOIAF, burning so high and bright that the Night’s Watch could see them from hundreds of miles away before ashes rained down on it for six months. Although people could hear echoed screams from nearby caves, nobody was left in town by the time a search party arrived; only burned bodies and corpses floating around the water.
Whereas Valyria, after flourishing for nearly 5,000 years, was hit with an unspecified cataclysm that caused massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, followed by a century of blood approximately 200 years later. Luckily for Daenerys, her ancestors foresaw the Doom in a prophetic dream and moved their entire family to Westeros.
For the link we look to the Faceless Men. They originated as slaves working the mines in Valyria before giving “the first gift,” death, to their masters. It’s possible that these former slaves would want revenge for the city and people who enslaved them, possibly with the aid of firewyrms that lived in Valyria’s mines. But first, they’d need to practice on a place where they could get away with it: Hardhome.
They could unleash the firewyrms on Hardhome and leave them there to die from the cold; the caves are a result of them burrowing to try to keep warm. And once the plan was proven to be a success, all the Faceless Men had to do was wait until it was the right time to strike Valyria.
Theon Greyjoy the kinslayer
Only a select few people know that Theon Greyjoy, who proclaimed that he killed Bran and Rickon Stark during A Clash of Kings, actually killed a miller’s two sons. It’s pretty much haunted him ever since, intertwined with the waking nightmare of life with Ramsay Bolton.
Theon is called a turncloak and a kinslayer by a man wearing a cloak in A Dance With Dragons, and while he doesn’t deny the turncloak claim, he does the latter. After all, he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon, and even if he did, they weren’t his real family. But what if he did?
Theon had a history of sleeping around even before the start of A Game of Thrones. He doesn’t really care about the consequences of it, shown after nonchalantly informing a girl he bedded on the ship to Pyke that she was probably pregnant after their short affair. One of the women he’s bedded could be the miller’s wife.
The boys, whom Theon guesses are around Bran and Rickon’s ages (8 and 4 respectively), and their deaths bother him. If that’s the case, that would put Theon at age 12 for the first boy’s birth and 16 for the other. While it’s highly unlikely he fathered the eldest child—although becoming a parent at that age isn’t completely unheard of in Westeros—the idea becomes a lot more plausible with the younger boy’s age.
And if he fathered at least one of those boys, then everything that happened to him afterwards might’ve had something to do with the curse of being a kinslayer.
King Tommen loves his cats—and they will be the end of him
Young Rhaenys Targaryen might’ve skin changed into her cat Balerion before she died, preserving her mind and being able to invoke nearly two decades of feline vengeance on Tywin Lannister and others in King’s Landing, but that’s not the craziest cat theory in Game of Thrones fandom.
At the end of A Dance With Dragons Doran Martell sends Tyene Sand, one of Oberyn’s bastard daughters, to King’s Landing disguised as a septa in order to befriend the High Septon (AKA the High Sparrow). It should also be noted that in the books her weapon of choice is poison and she’s as knowledgeable on the subject as Oberyn was; she’s the one who poisoned Bronn in the show.
She’ll feed Basilisk venom to King Tommen’s cats—Ser Pounce, Boots, and Lady—which a now-dead (in the books) Grand Maester Pycelle conveniently has in his chambers, some time after she arrives in King’s Landing. The venom is more of a paste than a liquid poison, and if when applied to meat it’ll make it smell better. However, after it’s consumed it’ll drive anything with warm blood into violent madness.
It should be noted that Tommen sleeps in his bed chamber alone with only his cats beside him. And when his cats go mad, there won’t be anyone in the room to stop them until after it’s too late.
Tywin Lannister was already on his deathbed when Tyrion shot him with a crossbow
Oberyn Martell is one calculating son of a bitch.
He may have appeared to be confident right up until the Mountain smashed his head on the ground, but he always had a backup plan. He planned to kill the Mountain in a trial by combat, but all he had to do was merely cut him before Plan B kicked in: his spear was covered in manticore venom mixed with magic, guaranteeing a slow and painful death.
And if Oberyn couldn’t get to Tywin Lannister himself for ordering the Mountain to murder his sister Elia and her two children, well, he could’ve planned his revenge ahead of time too.
He has the motives. He could have the means, courtesy of a poison stolen from Grand Maester Pycelle’s cabinets called Widow’s blood. After administered, it will shut down the bladder and bowels until the victim dies from the body’s own poisons.
Tywin has eaten with Oberyn before, giving him the opportunity. Oberyn expressed a desire to kill Tywin, and when Tyrion escaped from his cell, he knew exactly where to find Tywin: on the toilet. And once he died, Tywin’s body stunk no matter what anyone tried doing to it while it was on display.
Varys is a woman
Varys, spymaster to four different kings in Westeros, has disguised himself as a woman before, but he could very well be a woman pretending to be a man this entire time. The eunuch story could be a coverup. And not just any woman: Serra, Illyrio Mopatis’s second wife, who’s dead as far as we know.
The Blackfyre theory states that Aegon VI Targaryen, who’s being raised by Rhaegar’s old friend Jon Connington, is not actually Rhaegar’s son but instead the child of Illyrio and Serra, who’s actually descended from a long line of rebellious Targaryen bastards who everyone thought died out. If Varys is Serra, she could’ve faked Serra’s death to travel to Westeros to do the necessary legwork to eventually get Daenerys or Aegon on the throne.
But why the disguise? Women are hardly ever taken seriously in this world, so that along with a reputation as a thief and master whisperer was a way for Varys to get shit done.
In other instances, some people believe that Varys and Serra are siblings, which explains both why the two friends are so close and why Varys shaves his head—to disguise the Targaryen/Blackfyre hair that would surely give him away.
Planetos is round
The fact that Martin’s version of Earth (sometimes commonly referred to as Planetos by the fandom) is round isn’t itself a huge shocker; it’s long been widely accepted by the maesters but has never been proven since nobody has ever circumnavigated the globe. Some believe Euron may have already done it.
In A Clash of Kings, Daenerys encounters Quaithe, a shadowbinder from Asshai, who tells her that in order to go north she must go south, and to go west she must go east. What if instead of heading toward the eastern coast of Westeros to Dragonstone like her ancestors she went east and landed in Lannisport or Oldtown? She’d surprise her enemies while definitively proving the world is round.
Then again, stranger things have happened in this world.
Photo via Game of Thrones/HBO | Remix by Jason Reed