The only thing fans love more than a good mystery is a clever solution they came up with all on their own.
From secret parents and secret powers, to hidden messages and meanings, to the big twist, fans speculate about what will happen next in their favorite shows and franchises in the form of fan theories. No stone is left unturned between TV seasons and movies, to the point where it’s plausible that someone in some corner of the internet has it all figured out.
In many cases, not only do theories persist, they’re proven to be eerily accurate. Fan theories (and the people who make them) even started to face backlash as some theorized that theories themselves were starting to ruin and “spoil” television.
Are theories reaching their peak? It’s too early to say, but at the end of the day, as some of the bigger theories over the past year have shown, they’re incredibly fun even if some of them turn out incredibly wrong.
1) Jon Snow lives (for real this time!)
Game of Thrones is still a ratings powerhouse—and also a critical darling, having won two straight Emmys for Best Drama—but after six seasons the end is in sight. The showrunners have said they only have 13 episodes left to make (after season 6 ended) until the end of the series, and the seventh season will only be seven episodes (instead of the usual 10). With a limited amount of time left, Game of Thrones tackled some of the show’s biggest questions and theories head-on in an action-packed season, albeit one with a few dark spots.
After spending 10 months telling the world that Jon Snow was actually dead (and totally not about to be resurrected by Melisandre), Game of Thrones finally revealed the twist many fans already guessed. Though anticlimactic, Jon’s resurrection was still satisfying for fans who’ve been waiting for confirmation since the last book ended up a cliffhanger five years ago.
Jon Snow’s fate aside, Game of Thrones wasted no time resolving other fan theories throughout the season. Melisandre? She’s a lot older than you think. Will the North remember? Not as early as we thought. Uncle Benjen returned—but he’s changed quite a bit since the last time we saw him. Bastard Bowl was as epic as we imagined, while Cersei Lannister finally got her revenge with Chekhov’s wildfire. And Hodor? We’re still not over it.
But two popular theories will ultimately stand out in a season of answers: The one we finally got right, and the one that blew up in our faces.
In one corner, we have Cleganebowl. Definitely more tinfoil in nature, the theory surmised that we would see the fight of a lifetime—a trial by combat between the brothers Clegane, Ser Gregor (the Mountain) and Sandor (the Hound) to determine Cersei’s fate. Considering both characters were widely believed to be dead—the Mountain was stabbed with a poisoned spear by Oberyn Martell while an injured Hound was left for dead by Arya Stark—their return seemed unlikely. But the show proved otherwise, bringing the Mountain back as a reanimated corpse via Qyburn’s twisted work and the Hound with some old-fashioned healing by a brother of the Faith. With the feeblest of connections on the Hound’s side, fans thought that he’d somehow be roped into fighting on behalf of the Faith to take on Cersei’s champion.
However, King Tommen Baratheon threw a giant wrench in that plan and banned trial by combat, ensuring that Cersei couldn’t use one of the kingdom’s strongest men to win the battle. She ended up having a better card up her sleeve anyway.
R+L=J, on the other hand, had a lot more evidence on its side. The central mystery of Game of Thrones, the identity of Jon Snow’s mother, has been bugging fans for nearly 20 years if you include the book fans who first theorized it. While Ned has always claimed Jon as his own, fans know that’s not really the case: Jon’s the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, Ned’s younger sister and Daenerys’ oldest brother respectively. As simple math states it, R+L=J.
Game of Thrones planted its fair share of evidence over the years—although nowhere near as much as the books—but it finally confirmed the theory in the season 6 finale, “The Winds of Winter.” Bran Stark, in the midst of having a vision, follows a younger Ned into the Tower of Joy where Lyanna’s being held. She has an infant in her arms and urges Ned to promise to her keep the baby safe and hide him from Robert Baratheon, who will kill him the moment he learns of the child’s true parentage. The show doesn’t explicitly state it, but the cutaway from the baby to Jon works just as well.
Where to from here? We’ve got two more seasons, and fandom will surely devise even more answers to the show’s lingering questions.
2) New Harry Potter canon provides a wealth of mystery
This may have been the biggest year in Harry Potter fandom since 2007: We got two brand new stories to enrich and expand Harry’s world. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, while not written by J.K. Rowling, brought the now middle-aged trio and their kids to the stage while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them debuted on screens around the world.
Although Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child weren’t as universally well-received as the series that preceded them, plenty of fans latched onto the new characters and those we got to know better, the twists and turns, and the bigger picture.
Cursed Child revealed what happened to the characters we grew up with 19 years later, something fans had envisioned for years. The play’s big twist (which we won’t spoil here) shocked fans to their core, but some guessed the mystery months before the play debuted—and even had a theory about how it could fit into Harry Potter canon.
Fantastic Beasts opened up an entirely new wizarding community in America. The movie about beasts ended up being just as much about a dark wizard poised to inspire plenty of fan theories. It even provided a possible window into Ariana Dumbledore’s magical outbursts, although we’re not buying the theory that Creedence Barebone is secretly Voldemort’s father.
And of course, fans are still digging around in older canon, such as one fan’s theory suggesting that Harry had accidentally made his own Horcrux years before he discovered what they were.
3) Two films in the Star Wars universe bookended 2016
The Force Awakens debuted in December 2015 and rebooted Star Wars fandom with viewers of all ages. A new movie meant new details to mine for longtime fans, while more casual viewers found a new love awakening in them as many joined the Star Wars fandom for the first time. Fans started early with predictions and guesses about what happens next, especially with the mysterious and Force-sensitive Rey, but the theories couldn’t be contained to just one year.
Fans crafted headcanon for the stormtrooper “TR-8R,” who was later revealed to be a former member of Finn’s squad, as well as Jessika Pava, the Wedge Antilles of the new trilogy. Some thought that perhaps Rey wasn’t the only Force-sensitive member of the new trilogy’s trio. They even had a totally nefarious explanation for why BB-8’s thumbs up wasn’t actually a thumbs up.
And once hype for The Force Awakens died down, fans turned their attention to Rogue One. The film, which takes place shortly before A New Hope, is about the group of Rebels led by Jyn Erso who steal the plans for the Death Star. Given the events of A New Hope, we know they succeeded. But the bigger question is in the how—as well as how as how these characters connect to the rest of the Star Wars universe.
Fans had plenty of theories up their sleeves. A lot of people thought that Jyn is actually Rey’s mother, which Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones both denied. Other characters from Rogue One like Galen Erso, Jyn, and the Rebel Alliance crew were secretly other characters from The Force Awakens. We even made a deadpool about the odds of these new characters making it until the end. Turns out most of the theories didn’t pan out, but that won’t stop fans from speculating about Episode VIII next year.
4) The designed mysteries of Westworld
Aside from Game of Thrones, no piece of media has inspired as many twists, turns, and mysteries itching to be solved as Westworld. While the show started out portraying a theme park full of android “hosts” that wealthy clients can talk to, interact with, and even kill without major consequences, it expanded into a much different and more intriguing show. Often compared to Lost, the show sets up some supreme of rabbit holes that it encouraged viewers to dive into.
In the first episode we’re introduced to the concept that androids don’t only exist in Westworld with Teddy, who’s seen arriving to town on a train. We initially think he’s our entryway into the theme park, but instead we learn that he’s incapable of hurting humans as much as the hosts within Westworld. From the start, fans started to suspect there were other hosts hidden among us, most notably in Westworld programmer Bernard (who might be a clone of another character). The intricate storytelling brought the idea of multiple timelines—a story simultaneously being told in present-day and 30 years prior—as well as the mystery of the Man in Black. Some fans believe there’s more than one world like Westworld, while others think the show takes place on another planet. And more than anything else, it sparked a lot of backlash to the very idea of theorizing and trying to “solve” a TV show while the show itself caters to communities that thrive on this.
The first season having just concluded, it’ll be a very long wait until season 2 in 2018.
5) The Walking Dead leans on a cliffhanger and leaves everyone out to dry
After a fake out last year, The Walking Dead tested fans’s patience in 2016 on multiple fronts as it tried to capture the kind of media attention that Game of Thrones thrived off of during its hiatus. And it got plenty of media coverage and theory speculation—but probably not the kind it wanted.
Despite Negan being the best part of a sluggish season 6 finale, his debut fell short of the mark for one big reason: The Walking Dead didn’t show which person he killed at the end of the episode. Producers promised the scene would pay off in season 7, but it left fans to the drawing board for the summer. Some fans jumped down the rabbit hole, but others didn’t appreciate being manipulated into trying to answer a question that could’ve been easily shown in the season finale instead.
6) How Rick and Morty get Rick off prison planet
The irreverent and incredibly funny animated series from Dan Harmon (Community) and Justin Roiland (Fish Hooks) has developed a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase since it debuted in 2013. So it’s no surprise that when the second season ended on a cliffhanger, fans got to work trying to figure out how the geriatric, space-traveling grandpa Rick would get out of a life sentence on prison planet.
One of the most interesting theories comes from redditor Dillionmcrich, who bases his argument on the infinite multiverse that’s often a plot point in the show. Rick and Morty sometimes interact with various alternate universes and the duplicate versions of themselves that exist in them. You can imagine the shenanigans.
Dillionmcrich suggests that in the episode “Mortynight Run,” the show actually pulls a switcheroo on us. At the end of the episode, the lobby of the Jerryboree is packed with Ricks and Mortys picking up their respective Jerrys, but we know our Rick and Morty have ticket number 5126 from when they dropped Jerry off. We see a Rick and Morty walk up with ticket 5126, asking to swap Jerrys. Theoretically, the Rick and Morty with the ticket are the original Rick and Morty, but the camera pans away from them, following a different Rick and Morty not only out of the Jerryboree, but into the next episodes. Dillionmcrich suggests the existence of Mr. PoopyButthole—a character in the next episode everyone on the show seems to know even though he’s completely new to the audience—confirms we’re not in our normal universe of C-137. If true, it creates lots of possibilities for how the show could get Rick out of a seemingly impossible situation when it returns.
While many of the most popular fan theories are predictably attached to the year’s top movies or television, the occasional very bizarre fan theory pops up that captures our collective attention. This year, that fan theory was the Sandlerverse.
L.A.-based comedian Shawn Kohne posted a nine-minute video to YouTube in which he manically attempts to connect Adam Sandler’s entire filmography. The video has all the hallmarks of a madman attempting to crack a conspiracy theory: disheveled appearance, pictures taped to a wall connected with string, and, most importantly, lots of shouting. This connected universe theory is pretty wide ranging, so instead of attempting to explain it here we just suggest you watch the video.