We Game of Thrones fans have lots of time for thumb twiddling between books. Combine that with thousands of pages filled with a plot denser than Ned Stark (“Oh, I think I’ll just go tell Cersei I know her big secret! Surely that won’t end poorly!”), and you get an abundance of oft-times extremely intricate fan theories. Some of them are pretty likely. Others… not so much. Here’s your guide to 11 of them, from the big dogs (R+L=J) to some of the smaller, delightful ones (Frey pies). I make no claims to this guide being comprehensive—I didn’t even get into how a certain character is totally still alive (spoilers, probably). If I left out your favorite, feel free to leave it in the comments.
Spoilers for all published books in A Song of Ice and Fire.
This is one of those “Yeah, it’s basically canon” ones. The most famous of all Game of Thrones fan theories, R+L=J posits that Jon Snow is not the child of Ned Stark, but of Ned’s sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen, meaning Jon would be Daenerys’ nephew and the first (possible) secret Targaryen to show up on this list.
There’s actually a startling level of evidence in support of this theory. One: We know Lyanna made Ned promise her something before she died. We’re meant to assume it was to take her body to Winterfell, but that’s never explicitly stated. And for the amount of time Ned spends dwelling on it, that would be a pretty innocuous promise. Ned promising to raise Jon and protect him from King Robert Baratheon’s anti-Targaryen rampage is much more weighty. The only Stark children who don’t look like Catelyn are Jon and Arya… who, we’re told, looks like Lyanna. Ned doesn’t seem to hate Rhaegar, which is weird if Rhaegar raped his sister. At one point Ned’s ruminating over about King Robert’s bastards, which you do, and from there he starts thinking about his (presumed) bastard Jon, which you do… and then his train of thought takes him to Lyanna and Rhaegar for some reason. Bzuh? And, most telling: In her vision at the House of the Undying Daenerys sees a blue winter rose growing out of a chink in a wall of ice. The blue winter rose is clearly established elsewhere in the series as a symbol for Lyanna, specifically for her death. And who’s set up shop at a Wall of ice…?
We know—or, at least, we think we know—that there are going to be three Targaryens kicking butt and taking names on Daenerys’ dragons by the end of the series. The only even slightly compelling reason, for me, that Jon would not be one of those Targaryens is that it’s just too obvious at this point that he would be. But if Daenerys is one of the Targaryens, and Jon is the second, who’s the third…?
Tyrion Lannister Is a Secret Targaryen
This theory posits that Tyrion is the son of King Aerys (Daenerys’ father), who raped Tywin’s wife Joanna. There’s not a heck of a lot of evidence for it—we know Joanna spent some time at King’s Landing. We know Aerys *cough* liked her. We know he’s the sort of guy who would not hesitate to rape someone, even the wife of one of his allies. We know Tyrion has one purple eye and blonde hair so light it’s almost white, purple eyes and white hair being Targaryen coloring. And we know Tywin hates Tyrion, which could be because Tyrion’s not his son… or it could be because Tywin’s just a jerk like that. I could be wrong, but to me this theory reads solely as wishful thinking. Who wouldn’t want to see Tyrion Lannister on the back of a dragon raining hellfire down on those who wronged him? But it probably won’t happen.
…and Screw It, So Is Meera Reed
You get a secret Targaryen backstory! And you get a secret Targaryen backstory! Everyone gets a secret Targaryen backstory! This theory has Meera Reed as the Leia to Jon Snow’s Luke—the twin sister he was separated from at birth. She and Jon are the same age, and they look (vaguely) alike. Meera’s temperament is similar to what we know of Lyanna—free-spirited and not averse to doling out butt-whuppings. Greywater Watch, the seat of House Reed, would be the perfect place to hide a secret Targaryen, because it’s pretty much impenetrable. And the mysterious Howland Reed, as Ned Stark’s closest friend and ally, would be just the person he would give the second child to. The people who buy this theory are drawn in less by the sort of evidence that R+L=J has (it’s just not here in this case) and more by the neat—and certainly unexpected—way in which it gives us the third head of the Targaryen dragon.
Speaking of the Reeds—Howland Reed is the High Sparrow
One of the major sea changes in A Dance With Dragons is that religion starts messing stuff up in a big way for our King’s Landing characters. At the fore is the High Septon, aka the High Sparrow, who swoops out of nowhere as the leader of a new religious movement, becomes basically the Pope of Westeros, and tricks Cersei into letting him have his own private army. He’s incredibly significant, but we know next to nothing about him. The yin to that yang is Howland Reed, father to Jojen and Meera, one of Ned Stark’s closest allies, one of the few characters in a position to know whether R+L=J is true or not, and… completely absent from the story so far.
The physical description of the High Sparrow is similar to how people from Reed’s neck of the woods are described. The Sparrow has no lost love for Cersei and a soft spot for Ned Stark. And there are hints that Martin’s setting up a Revenge of the North plotline. Arya’s learning the ways of murder in Braavos. Wyman Manderly’s on the verge of bringing Rickon back. Sansa’s getting closer and closer to coming into her own politically. All this as the Lannisters lose their grip on power. A reveal that Ned Stark’s best friend has essentially infiltrated King’s Landing under the guise of religion would be fitting and so, so sweet.
Jojen Is Paste
Proponents of this well-known (mainly due to its weirdness) fan theory believe that the youngest Reed sibling was killed by the Children of the Forest in A Dance with Dragons and his blood put in the paste that was fed to Bran to help him fully realize his magical powers. The only real evidence here is is that the paste looks like blood, which is circumstantial at best. But when you consider that the entire point of Jojen’s character has been to help Bran realize his gifts, him (probably unwillingly) sacrificing his life for that purpose makes a certain amount of narrative sense. And Jojen, who knows the time and manner of his death, is seen getting more and more depressed in the days leading up to when he would have been butchered so his friend could drink his blood. Wouldn’t that get you down? And it’s not as if sacrifice and blood magic are unheard of in Westeros—look at Melisandre’s obsession with king’s blood. Also far from uncommon: Cannibalism. Speaking of…
In the same way that book Olenna Tyrell uses the fact that she looks like a senile old lady to lull her enemies into a false sense of security, Lord Wyman Manderly uses the fact that the Lannisters and their allies basically think he’s a walking fat joke to do the same. Who would ever suspect Lord Wyman of conspiring against the King? He can’t even ride a horse!
A Dance with Dragons readers know he’s been planning the Great Northern Comeback ever since his son was killed at the Red Wedding. But there’s a smaller, more delicious bit of insurrection he’s rumored to have participated in, namely killing three Freys and having them baked into pies for Ramsay Snow’s wedding. It’s not a sure thing, but in my mind it’s pretty close: The Freys are missing, presumed dead. After the Red Wedding, Lord Wyman has a major hate-on for their entire family, and tricking Walder Frey into a spot of familial cannibalism at a wedding would certainly be poetic justice. A drunk Lord Wyman (or drunk-acting–he plays up the “drunken fool” type as well as the “funny fat guy”) personally cut portions of three pies for Lords Walder and Roose. And, most damning, he told the DJ to play a song about a cook who killed a prince and baked him in a pie for the King to eat. Wyman, you sick, brilliant genius.
Rickon’s Being Raised on the Island of Cannibals and Unicorns
Like R+L=J, this is pretty much canon at this point. The last we saw of the youngest Stark, Rickon, he was being taken by the Wildling Osha to live in, ideally, a place where no one would ever look for him… like, say, the island of Skagos, which has been conspicuously mentioned several times as the place no one ever wants to go because it’s scary as hell. How scary? Inhabited by cannibals scary. Also unicorns—though those unicorns are actually only one-horned goats, and you’ll never know how sad I was when I figured that one out. If Rickon’s currently chilling in Cannibalism Central, Davos’ reaction to learning where he has to go to rescue him—”…Mommy?”—makes a lot of sense. And it would be delicious if Rickon, the Stark child already blessed with anger issues, is being raised by a Wildling in Westeros’ roughest neighborhood. When he gets older he is going to rain fire and pain down upon everyone.
Aegon/Young Griff Is a Big Dumb Faker
Finally, a theory about someone who’s assumed to be a Targaryen but isn’t! The world of A Song of Ice and Fire was shaken up big time in A Dance with Dragons by the arrival onto the scene of one Young Griff, real name Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and potential heir to the Iron Throne.
Or is he? We’re told that Varys did a baby switcheroo and smuggled Aegon out of the city so he could be groomed for the throne in safety, leaving another baby—dubbed the “pisswater prince”—to have his head dashed open by Gregor Clegane instead. But that plan only works if the pisswater prince’s corpse was destroyed to the point of unrecognizability, and Varys had no way of knowing that would happen. So either Varys crossed his fingers and hoped that Gregor’s anger issues would come through for him, or Aegon really did die, and Varys jumped into action, found a baby who looked like he could be a Targaryen, and settled in for the long con. The latter is much more in-character.
In support of this theory is that the witch Quaithe tells Daenerys to beware “the mummer’s dragon,” possibly meaning a fake Targaryen or one controlled by a mummer… which Varys used to be. Either way, a fake Aegon fits the bill. One far-fetched theory says that Varys is a woman and Young Griff is her son, but it’s far more likely that Varys’ goal is not family ambition but having someone on the Iron Throne who’s not a raging psychopath, even if he has to fudge the claim to the throne. It’s worth noting that if Aegon is fake, it’s entirely possible, even probable, that both he and his own personal Yoda Jon Connington (Rhaegar’s BFF) don’t even realize it.
Sansa’s Going to Kill Littlefinger
…and it’s going to be amazing.The Ghost of High Heart told a prophecy of “a maid at a feast, with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.” That first part is a pretty clear reference to Sansa Stark at the Purple Wedding, where the murder weapon was a purple gem in her hairnet. So what’s up with “slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow?” Sansa tears apart one of Robert Arryn’s dolls in A Feast for Crows… but why would there be a prophecy about a doll? Most readers cry red herring and say the “giant” is either the FrankenKnight Qyburn made from Gregor Clegane’s body or Littlefinger, who currently has his controlling claws sunk deep in the eldest Stark daughter. How is Littlefinger a “savage giant”? His sigil’s a mockingbird, but it used to be a titan. AKA a giant. AKA Sansa Stark is going to kill the bejesus out of Littlefinger, possibly indirectly via the political tactics he taught her. If this theory is wrong, I will break things.
This popular fan theory is all about the war that shuffled the Targaryen family off the mortal coil and ushered in the rein of King Robert Baratheon. How it goes in the series is that everyone rebelled because King Aerys was a psychotic assh*le whom everyone hated. Southron Ambitions doesn’t deny the psychotic assh*le part, but it does posit that the Stark, Tully, Arryn, Baratheon, and Lannister families had long been actively conspiring to overthrow the King using political means, possibly with the assistance of Rhaegar Targaryen, who may have been planning to force his father to resign once the other major houses banded together and publicly stated that they wanted him gone.
The main evidence in support of this is that the named families were intermarrying their children and sending off kids to be raised by each other left and right. It’s accepted as completely normal by the characters in the series… but when you take a step back, it’s actually pretty uncommon for Lords and Ladies in A Song of Ice and Fire to marry outside their houses. It could be something Martin cooked up for narrative convenience… or maybe the Lords of Westeros were strengthening an alliance they planned to use to get Rhaegar on the throne as peacefully as possible. But it’s a moot point, because after Aegon killed Ned Stark’s father and brother and Rhaegar abducted (or “abducted”) Lyanna Stark, it all went to hell anyway.
Who the Heck is Azor Ahai?
Josh put it best when he described Azor Ahai as Game of Thrones’ “Dayman, fighter of the Nightman.” He’s a mythical dude who’s going to be reborn and beat the heck out of some ice zombies, blah de blah blah. But who is he reborn as? Melisandre thinks it’s Stannis, which has eau de red herring all over it. The common alternate contenders are Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, both of whom the narrative places directly counter to the “Ice” part of “Ice and Fire.” Daenerys is the Mother of Dragons, and Jon is the one who actually has to deal with the White Walkers at the Wall. Others think it’s Victarion Greyjoy, since he recently converted to the religion of R’hllor and previously killed his wife, which is a very Azor Ahai thing to do.
But I submit to you another alternative. In A Dance With Dragons Melisandre sees a vision of “snow” as Azar Ahai. Obviously Jon Snow, right? But what if the reason Melisandre’s not convinced is that Azor Ahai is a Snow… but Ramsay Snow. Stay with me. A Dance with Dragons turned Ramsay from “oh, that sadistic weirdo who’s part of Theon’s story” to a major player in his own right. He’s living in Winterfell. He’s one of the primary antagonists for Stannis, Jon, and Mance Rayder. Why the elevated importance if he’s just going to get killed? And having Azor Ahai, the “hero” who’s supposed to save everyone, be the very unheroic Ramsay Snow is exactly the sort of thing that would happen in A Song of Ice and Fire, where behaving like a traditional fantasy hero tends to get one killed (see: Ned, Robb Stark, Oberyn Martell). Daenerys and Jon are still alive and kicking, so maybe good will prevail and Ramsay is just a skeezy little jerk and nothing more. Dany and Jon are certainly the more obvious choices to be Azor Ahai. But when does George RR Martin like being obvious?