George R.R. Martin still has two books remaining in his seven-part A Song of Ice and Fire series — and considering how slow he's progressed through the final few books, we've still got a ways to go before lingering questions are definitively answered. In the meantime, fans of the books and the corresponding HBO series, Game of Thrones, have developed comprehensive theories for the story and its impressive cavalcade of characters.
While some have leaned toward the absurd, such as Varys being some kind of fish monster, there are several theories that hold some legitimacy about the world of Westeros. Among the bunch, though, here are six theories that hold the most promise.
(Editor's note: Spoilers ahead for both the book and TV series.)
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Jon Snow had a Targaryen parent. Perhaps the most prevalent Game of Thrones theory has to do with Jon Snow's parentage. The belief is that Jon Snow is not Ned Stark's bastard, which has been the truth spouted throughout the show and novels. Rather, the theory goes, he's still a Stark — but the son of Ned's sister, Lyanna Stark, and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.
Prior to the beginning of the series, Rhaegar either kidnapped or ran away with Lyanna, much to the dismay of Robert Baratheon, her to-be husband. This, in turn, started the rebellion that destroyed the Targaryen lineage. However, before Rhaegar was killed, it's suggested that he and Lyanna had sex — consensual or otherwise. Then, when Ned arrives at the Tower of Joy, he finds his sister in a "bed of blood" (which can be interpreted as a complication with childbirth) rather than being attacked.
Her final words before she dies are "promise me, Ned." It's not known what that promise is; it could, however, be a promise for Ned to raise Jon as his own son. This matters because Robert, in his rage over her death, nearly wipes out the Targeryen family entirely. Therefore, if Jon has Targaryen blood, he'd certainly be in danger. It's also emphasized throughout the books that Ned is an extremely honorable man — it's this honor that leads to his untimely death. An honorable man, fathering a bastard? It doesn't fit Ned, or the Starks, at all.
For a more comprehensive look at the theory, commonly known as "R+L=J," check out this explainer by YouTuber Alt Shift X below.
Jon Snow is also Azor Azai reborn. Jon's got more going for him than just his parentage, as he could very well be a resurrected warrior destined to destroy the impending White Walker siege. According to the books, Azor Azai — also known as the Prince That Was Promised — was a legendary warrior who defeated the White Walkers thousands of years ago.
The Red Priestess Melisandre believes this warrior of prophecy is Stannis Baratheon, though that would seem very unlikely since he presumably dies at the end of season five (he's still alive in the books, though). However, in the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, when Melisandre looks into the fire to ask for a vision of Azai, she says, "all I see is Snow." It's a small distinction, but the capitalization of Snow implies she isn't talking about the winter storm, but the Northern bastard instead.
Furthermore, Jon is stabbed to death by members of the Night's Watch at the end of season five, but Melisandre is at The Wall during this time. Jon could literally be "reborn" to fulfill the prophecy.
Tyrion Lannister is also a Targaryen. This one has less direct evidence to parse, but there are subtle hints that Tyrion could also be a secret Targaryen — and he probably has no idea. This stems from the "Mad King" Aery Targaryen's lustful ambition toward Tywin Lannister's wife, Joanna. Of course, this eventually bothers Tywin, but he and Joanna spend enough time at King's Landing with Aerys, and he could have forced himself on her.
He was also described as having hair so blonde it's almost white by Jon in the first book — the white being a trademark Targaryen feature.
Tywin's final words to Tyrion, before he kills him, are "you are no son of mine," both in book and series. Whether that's a literal truth — that Tywin's always known or simply a way to spite his son before he dies — is up in the air, though it's likely the latter.
The "Mad King's" conspiracy madness was actually legitimate. There are no doubts that the "Mad King" Aerys was, in fact, mad. His final words, according to Jaime Lannister, were "burn them all."
However, it's possible that Aerys' paranoia over an elaborate conspiracy theory to overthrow him had some legitimacy. The substantive theory, posted by Thrones superfan Stefan Sasse, has Ned's father, Rickard Stark, at the head of a conspiracy set to take away the Targaryen rule through marriages between houses to secure alliances. This included Houses Baratheon, Tully, Aryn and even Lannister.
"If we look into the relations of the great houses under normal circumstances, they rarely marry each other," Sasse wrote. "In fact, they normally marry with their own bannermen ... This is important, because the political influence and stability in their own domain is of paramount importance for all of the lords in a kingdom. Marrying others is only useful in two cases: if you want to seal a peace or if you want to seal an alliance. Otherwise, you don't do this, because gaining or retaining influence with your own vassals is more important."
By forming relationships with several houses, it's possible that Rickard was planning to overthrow the Targaryen rule, but that was then off the cards after Rickard and his son Brandon were burned alive by Aerys. The theory is quite lengthy — and it's a lot to cover — but has its hints of truth to it.
The leader of the White Walkers is an ancient Stark. The leader of the White Walkers was formally introduced on the show last season at the Battle of Hardhome, as his horde completely devastated the wildling village — and gives Jon Snow a proper 'come at me bro' pose by the end of it. While the series does not reveal his name, it's quite possible that he is the Night's King, an ancient Stark and former commander of the Night's Watch.
The Night's King was originally the the 13th commander of the Night's Watch, but fell in love with a woman (important: members of Night's Watch cannot marry) to a woman described with "skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars." Aside her, he sought to rule the North. Only through the combined efforts of the Night's Watch and the Starks was he stopped.
What's curious is that the Night King's history was wiped by Brandon Stark — Brandon the Breaker, specifically — and the theory suggests that this was done to protect the House name.
The real issue with this theory is that George R.R. Martin himself has said on his personal blog that it's unlikely that anybody could live that long, even in Westeros. "As for the Night's King ... in the books he is a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have," Martin wrote in response to a fan's question.
While many of these theories hold some merit now, it could soon change with the eventual release of The Winds of Winter, and season six of Thrones in April. In the meantime, though, they're a good way to hold impatient fans over, all the while exploring the ever-present intricacies of the world of Westeros.