Few shows in TV history reach the soaring highs of Game of Thrones, a cultural phenomenon that feels like it might be the last of its kind — a serialized drama that qualifies as “event television” on a weekly basis. For millions of people across the country, the show’s coveted timeslot — Sunday, 9 p.m. Eastern — is the Game of Thrones hour, at least for two more seasons. It drives conversations about the most minute details, things as simple as production stills and episode descriptions. Droves of fans watched a block of ice literally melt on Facebook Live just to find out when the latest season would premiere. That same rabid fanbase also spends a staggering amount of time online theorizing and speculating about what will happen on the show. It’s a level of engagement that no other show on the air right now can match.
Part of the reason Thrones sleuthing is so popular is because the source material is so rich. Disciples have been obsessing over the fictitious Westeros for two decades now, since George R.R. Martin published the first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series in 1996. But the TV adaptation has entered unfamiliar territory: In seasons five and six, the show’s narrative proceeded past where the books left off, which means the final two seasons of Thrones are totally open-ended. No one knows exactly where we’re headed.
Because obsessing over Thrones has become its own kind of sport, we’re going to be following the most compelling and promising theories all season long. We won’t be bothering with the more absurd ones. (We highly doubt that Varys is secretly a merman, but we’d love to be surprised!) We’re only concerned with plausible options that the series has perhaps alluded to and could play out in some way or another over the course of season seven.
So these are the eight Game of Thrones theories we’re most excited about as we enter the penultimate season, which kicks off Sunday. (Spoilers abound for previous seasons, obviously.)
1. Jaime will kill Cersei
The rundown: After the explosive climax to season six that saw several major characters killed by wildfire, Cersei Lannister sits on the Iron Throne. It’s a frightening prospect for most of Westeros, and even her twin brother and former lover, Jaime Lannister, looks pretty distraught when he returns to King’s Landing to find the Sept of Baelor turned to rubble and his beloved sister in command.
Now, Jaime murdering the love of his life may sound like an unbelievable plot twist, but you have to consider the witch’s prophecy from Cersei’s childhood, which we saw onscreen at the beginning of season five. The witch told Cersei that her three children would die — a prediction that finally came to pass after Tommen’s suicide in the season six finale — but the Song of Ice and Fire books contain another part of the prophecy that the series didn’t show: “The valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you,” the witch says in a flashback in A Feast for Crows.
In High Valyrian, “valonqar” means “little brother,” and based on how Cersei treats Tyrion throughout the show, you’d suspect she’s always been afraid that he may eventually be responsible for her death. While there are other reasons Cersei’s had a contentious relationship with Tyrion, living with the notion that he may someday strangle her is probably a significant one.
But when Cersei and Jaime were born, Jaime was the latter sibling to leave the womb, which means he’s technically her “little brother.” And if there’s one thing Martin has reveled in throughout the series, it’s cruel, twisted irony. Jaime is demonized as the “Kingslayer” for killing the “Mad King,” Aerys Targaryen, yet his actions arguably saved the Seven Kingdoms. With Cersei’s terrifying reign about to start, he may have to become the reluctant hero once more — and kill his own lover to protect the realm.
Why it matters: Jaime’s had one of the most complex character arcs on Thrones. This is a guy who, when we meet him in the series’ first episode, is snide and arrogant toward the Starks and even throws little Bran Stark out of a tower window because the kid caught him and his sister having sex.
But he’s become a complicated hero figure since. He lost his right hand trying to protect Brienne of Tarth from being raped; his biological daughter, Myrcella, died in his arms. Cersei, meanwhile, has been reprehensible throughout, but it’s still hard to imagine Game of Thrones without her smirking, scheming and fiendishly sipping on red wine. Jaime killing Cersei for a greater good would be a tragic but fitting end for one of Game of Thrones’ foundational relationships.
2. The White Walkers are going to destroy the Wall
The rundown: Bran Stark is probably still harboring some guilt over Hodor’s death and the fact that he was responsible for his loyal subject’s frayed mental state. But Bran could do even more damage if he crosses the Wall and returns to Castle Rock, which, conveniently, is exactly where he’s heading at the end of season six.
Turns out Bran could end up being responsible for the White Walkers eventually reaching Westeros. In the same episode in which Hodor dies, Bran is touched by the Night King — the presumed leader of the White Walkers — during a vision. The encounter leaves a mark on his arm that the Three-Eyed Raven explains would allow the White Walkers to negate the vaguely defined magic guarding his cave. (They did get into the cave, and that’s how Hodor came to meet his tragic end.)
If Bran crosses the Wall, the mark could, in theory, perhaps strip the Wall of its similarly vague magical powers that keep the White Walkers at bay. And again, what is it Bran’s doing at the end of season six? Planning to cross the Wall. The White Walkers may simply be able to pass through the Wall, but Game of Thrones is not really a subtle show, so it’s not hard to imagine the Wall and Castle Black getting very literally destroyed.
Why it matters: The White Walkers could wipe out humanity — they’ve been the looming threat to Westeros since the start of the show. (The very first scene of Thrones features some White Walkers killing a member of the Night’s Watch.) But it wouldn’t make much narrative sense if the White Walkers, who are currently unable to cross the Wall because of its vague magical barrier, remained north of it through the entire series. If they want to take over the realm, they’ve got to go south, and Bran may inadvertently lead them there.
3. Is Tyrion Lannister a secret Targaryen?
The rundown: Most of the evidence for this theory is laid out in the books. Very simply, Tyrion could be a Targaryen — and, technically, Daenerys Targaryen’s half-brother (and Jon Snow’s cousin, too). The “Mad King,” Dany’s dad, was fixated on Joanna Lannister, Tyrion’s mother. There have been obscure hints in the books that the Mad King may have acted on his lustful ambitions — though, like most of Thrones’ biggest mysteries, none of it comes close to qualifying as definitive proof.
However, if this turns out to be true, it would further complicate Tyrion’s feelings toward his late father. (Their dynamic was already plenty messed-up: Remember that Tyrion kills his dad with a crossbow while the old man’s sitting on the toilet.) It’d also add an extra shade of sadness to their relationship if Tywin knew all along that Tyrion might not actually be his biological son. The elder Lannister made his reasons for treating Tyrion with such contempt well known — namely, he blamed Tyrion for Joanna dying during his birth — but there’d be an extra sting in realizing that, all along, Tyrion’s father actually resented him because he was a reminder of Joanna’s relationship with the Mad King.
Perhaps the best onscreen evidence to support this theory comes in season six, when Tyrion is able to free Dany’s chained-down dragons, Rhaegal and Viserion, in Meereen. Surprisingly, Tyrion earns the dragons’ trust as easily as someone of Targaryen lineage — meaning he isn’t immediately burned to a crisp — and tells them that he used to dream of dragons constantly in his childhood. That connection to dragons would make a lot of sense if he ended up being a secret Targaryen.
Why it matters: It’s heavily implied, and even has Martin’s vague blessing, that there will be three dragon riders in Game of Thrones — one for each of Dany’s dragons — since Dany’s Targaryen ancestors used to ride them into battle. (It would also look dope.) Dany is the presumed candidate for one dragon, and many believe Jon Snow will be the second, since it’s all but confirmed that he’s half-Stark, half-Targaryen himself.
The third? There’s no other onscreen characters with Targaryen blood, unless we consider the evidence for Tyrion.
4. Who is Azor Ahai?
The rundown: If we’re to believe the red priestess Melisandre, someone on Game of Thrones has to be the reincarnation of Azor Ahai, a legendary warrior who brought down the White Walkers thousands of years ago. Originally, Melisandre presumed Stannis Baratheon to be Azor Ahai reborn — that is, before he got himself killed following a battle with Ramsay Bolton in season five.
When it comes to sussing out who’s the revived Azor Ahai, there are a few candidates. The most popular are Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, who both share similarities to some of the circumstances of Azor Ahai’s return, including reincarnation. “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone,” Melisandre tells Jon in A Dance With Dragons. Jon is literally revived in season six, hence the speculation, but you can also point to Dany’s symbolic rebirth when she emerged from Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre in season one. Also, there’s her obvious connection to dragons.
Less likely — but still plausible — options for Azor Ahai include Beric Dondarrion (did you see his flaming sword in the trailer for season seven? Azor Ahai’s legendary sword is called Lightbringer!); Jaime Lannister (Lightbringer was supposedly formed when Azor Ahai killed the love of his life; would there be a parallel if Jaime killed Cersei, per the previous theory?); and Ser Davos (surviving the Battle of Blackwater would count as his own form of rebirth, among other things).
Why it matters: Whoever Azor Ahai ends up being, that person would ostensibly save the entire realm from the White Walkers. So, yeah — pretty big deal.
The rundown: The Clegane brothers, commonly referred to as the Hound and the Mountain, are towering men who would probably be good at basketball if Westeros had an NBA equivalent. But in terms of serving the larger Thrones story, they’ve been catalysts for some of the show’s most memorable showdowns: The Mountain wins season four’s trial by combat against Oberyn Martell in brutal fashion, an outcome that sentenced Tyrion to death (a rap Tyrion beat by killing his father during his escape from King’s Landing). The Hound, meanwhile, slices through Stannis Baratheon’s bannermen at the Battle of the Blackwater and later serves as a twisted mentor of sorts for budding serial killer Arya Stark.
But more important for the purposes of this particular theory: The Clegane brothers hate one another. (The Mountain is the reason the Hound has a disfigured face — when they were boys, a squabble over a toy took a nasty turn.)
Enter “Cleganebowl.” This popular theory is pretty simple: The brothers will fight each other, presumably to the death. Cleganebowl gained some stream in the sixth season when the Hound, who was presumed dead after Arya Stark leaves him severely wounded in season four, reemerges doing grunt work for a friendly holy man played by Ian McShane. In retrospect, it’s a bit of a stretch, but fans stoked the fire for Cleganebowl because McShane’s character shares the same faith as the High Sparrow, who many predicted would have to settle his violent power struggle against Cersei with a trial by combat.
The assumption was that Cersei’s champion would be the Mountain, and the High Sparrow’s would be the Hound. It didn’t come to pass. (Oh, well — Cersei blowing up the Sept of Baelor with wildfire was a more impressive power play anyway.) Still, with both brothers roaming Westeros in season seven, a fan can dream.
Why it matters: Cleganebowl’s not important per se, but it would make for some incredibly entertaining fan service. Two of Westeros’ most fearsome combatants — two brothers, one of whom is basically a gigantic zombie at this point — fighting to the bitter end? Yes, please.
6. Will Arya reunite with Nymeria?
The rundown: There’s some symbolic importance to the direwolves on Game of Thrones, as the animal that represents the sigil of House Stark. But sadly, Thrones hasn’t been kind to the Starks — or their direwolves. (RIP Lady, Summer, Shaggydog and Grey Wind.) Only Ghost, Jon’s wolf, remains — that is, unless you consider Nymeria, whom Arya sent off into the wild back in season one to save her from being killed for biting prince Joffrey.
With Arya back in Westeros crossing names off her kill list, is there a chance she could reunite with her direwolf? It’s strongly hinted at in the books that a pack of wolves roaming the North, occasionally attacking enemies of the Starks, might be led by Nymeria. Fewer hints have been provided onscreen, but a recent Time feature on season seven noted the presence of multiple wolves on set. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have hinted that many reunions will take place in season seven. Nymeria and Arya’s reunion certainly seems possible.
Why it matters: Like Cleganebowl, this wouldn’t be especially important to the overall arc of the show right now, but it would be a heartwarming reunion several seasons in the making. Who among us doesn’t love the direwolves?
7. Can Lady Stoneheart still make an appearance?
The rundown: For Thrones fans who are unfamiliar with the books, this is going to sound quite absurd: At the end of book three, it’s revealed that Catelyn Stark has been brought back from the dead. She’s severely mangled after the Red Wedding and, since her throat was cut, she cannot speak. But she’s terrifying as all hell and exacts revenge against the houses responsible for her murder and her family’s massacre with help from the Brotherhood Without Banners.
But Lady Stoneheart, as she’s unsubtly referred to in the books, has yet to appear on the small-screen, despite some suggestive clues that she might be out somewhere in the realm. And the reemergence of the Brotherhood Without Banners’ seemingly immortal leader, Beric Dondarrion — who, in the books, sacrifices his life to resurrect Catelyn — definitely quells any hope that she’ll turn up. (Also, not for nothing, Benioff and Weiss said they wouldn’t want to bring the actress who played Catelyn, Michelle Fairley, back for a wordless role akin to that of a Walking Dead zombie.)
However, it’s possible that Stoneheart’s bloody crusade could instead be carried out by her daughter, Arya Stark. They have pretty similar goals: to kill the people responsible for their family’s suffering. Arya’s still working on her own kill list, so what’s a few more names for her to cross off? The show has tweaked storylines in the past to fit its plotting; Arya taking on some of Stoneheart’s subplot isn’t out of the question.
Why it matters: Lady Stoneheart has been near the top of book readers’ wishlist for this show ever since the Red Wedding. Granted, she serves a purpose in the books that’s no longer necessary for the show, as her revival lays the groundwork for Jon Snow’s own resurrection (though yes, he still hasn’t been revived in the books because Martin is taking forever to publish The Winds of Winter). Stoneheart’s appearance, even through the guise of Arya, would serve the more basic purpose of seeing the Stark family exact their revenge. But even that would be immensely satisfying for Stark fans, like myself.
8. Is this all really just about Varys vs. Littlefinger?
The rundown: Other writers have suggested that the entirety of Game of Thrones is essentially a shadow war between Littlefinger and Varys, and while there are myriad storylines seemingly out of their control, they’ve played a major part in some of the most significant ones.
Perhaps the least talked-about big moment on Thrones is when we learn that Littlefinger convinced Lysa Arryn to poison her husband, Jon Arryn, the former Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon. That one action starts the initial Stark-Lannister conflict that sends Ned Stark to King’s Landing in season one and sets the entire series’ plot into motion. Varys, meanwhile, has ostensibly orchestrated Daenerys’ ascension from the onset with the help of Illyrio Mopatis and his “little birds.”
But what are their endgames? Is Varys really doing everything for “the good of the realm?” Can Littlefinger continue to climb the metaphorical ladder of chaos? It’s hard to tell, even six seasons in, but both characters are circling two of Westeros’ most important players: Jon Snow (Littlefinger) and Dany (Varys).
Why it matters: Considering how entrenched both characters are in two of the show’s biggest storylines, keeping an eye on their political machinations is pretty important in the penultimate season. Littlefinger’s influence on Sansa could strain her relationship with Jon, who was recently proclaimed King in the North and took all the glory despite the fact that Sansa saved his life in the “Battle of the Bastards,” by bringing Littlefinger’s army from the Vale. What’s Littlefinger’s ultimate purpose in playing Jon and Sansa against each other? Unclear, but the man does love chaos.
And even though Varys has only just met Daenerys (which is crazy to think about), if her march through Westeros is successful and she sits on the Iron Throne, few people would have a closer proximity to power than Westeros’ former Master of Whisperers.
Yes, the impending White Walker threat is the existential threat to the realm — something Varys and Littlefinger have both ostensibly ignored as they’ve schemed and plotted their way through Westeros. But if and when the White Walkers are defeated, would the Seven Kingdoms be in good hands if either of them is near the Iron Throne?
As Cersei once so eloquently said to Littlefinger: “Power is power.”
We also would love to hear your theories! If you have any Game of Thrones theories you’d like to submit (so long as they’re not about Varys secretly being a merman), shoot us a message at email@example.com.
The seventh season of Game of Thrones premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO.
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