Do You Want To Be Surprised by Game of Thrones?
Welcome to Thrones week: a new piece every day, leading up to the premiere of the eighth and final season on April 14. Spoilers through the end of Season 7. You can see all Thrones coverage, including that from Season 7, here.
Despite all the variables in play, every outcome to Game of Thrones – probably including the one we'll see in six short weeks – has been theorized and published. Speculation has been a part of this franchise since A Dance of Dragons was released, its climactic final scene killing off beloved hero Jon Snow. And what makes the speculation so fun is that the series is crazy enough that the range of possibilities is quite wide. Even the trailers, which HBO goes to great lengths to ensure are spoiler-free – are subject to half-hour, frame-by-frame analyses for a speck of information from which a theory can be built. And there's good reason to take this groupthink seriously. Important plot points – like the revival of Jon Snow, the origin of Hodor's name, and R + L = J – were guessed correctly years before they were confirmed.
There are several very popular theories that you can manage to talk yourself into if you have read the books. But are these theories you're actually rooting for? Has Game of Thrones – a show which at one point was predicated on its shocking twists and turns – become a spectator sport where people will cheer the loudest for their theories to come true, either for the bragging rights of prescience or for the joy of seeing these beloved hypothetical moments actually play out on screen? Or would you rather that the showrunners somehow find a way to create a plot that is so incredibly unimaginable that it has not yet reached the mainstream? It's a dilemma that the showrunners surely faced when mapping out the season – would they continue loyally in the directions that George R. R. Martin set them on, or would they boldly venture into their comfortable arena of shock value television? Let's go through some of the most discussed theories and talk through whether it'd be worth seeing them somewhere in the final few hours of the series.
There's the 'is Tyrion a Targaryen' theory, which rests on the idea that the dragon has three heads (two of which are Jon and Dany) and the belief that the Mad King somehow slept with Joanna Lannister which led Tywin to try and resign as hand of the king. There has been some solid evidence of this in the show, mainly the overwhelming contempt with which Tywin treats Tyrion (repeatedly saying Tyrion is not his son), and Tyrion's natural ability to bond with dragons. But from a narrative point of view, it seems cheap to spend a whole season building up to the reveal of Jon's true parentage (and another entire season for the marriage annulment tidbit) and then suddenly reveal something just as important without giving it the proper buildup. Those kinds of things are only worth using sparingly – the last time they did it was way back in Season 1 for Gendry and the three Baratheon children, and Jon's parentage is presumably the crux of the entire series (ice *and* fire). There's also no real reason for Tyrion to be a Targaryen – sure it would be cool to see him ride a dragon, but given that Rhaegal is probably going to be Jon's vehicle, they're exactly one dragon short of making that possible.
There's the 'Cleganebowl' theory, one that has ascended into a running joke (that has even earned its own subreddit), which pits the two Clegane brothers (Sandor 'The Hound' and Gregor 'The Mountain') against each other in a duel to the death. The Mountain was resurrected by Qyburn after having been poisoned in his trial by combat against Oberyn Martell, and now exists as a zombie-like protector named Sir Robert Strong. The Hound was last seen travelling back north with Dany to face the Night King. This falls into the category of something-fans-really-want-to-see-happen, seeing as it doesn't have too much to draw on from either the books or the show, besides the fact that the two brothers have open contempt for one another. It would just be a cool fight. And while it's slightly less cool considering we don't really know how much of the original Mountain is there mentally, you could argue that there's very little difference based on how little the Mountain spoke overall even before he was zombie-fied. As far as one-on-one matches go, this would definitely be at the top of the wishlist, but there's no plausible scenario to facilitate such an encounter. It's not like the two of them would get any kind of alone time, especially in the biggest battle in the series' history.
There's the 'valonqar' theory that's actually a literal prophecy. In one of the few flashback scenes the show has done (the others being the extended Tower of Joy reveal, the creation of the Night King by the Children of the Forest, and the Hodor causality loop), a young Cersei visited a fortune teller named Maggy the Frog and asked several questions about the future. Every element of that prophecy (marrying the king instead of the prince, her husband having bastard children) has thus far come true, a fact that does not bode well for Cersei considering that the final bit was about her death. Maggy said that "the valonqar" – which translates to "the little brother" – will wrap his hands around her throat and choke the life from her. While Cersei fears this to be Tyrion (of course her little brother), most speculate that this alludes to Jaime, who is technically her little brother as he emerged from the womb shortly after she did. There have been numerous dissection of Maggy's exact words: from the plural use of 'hands' to imply that Jaime is disqualified (he has one prosthetic golden arm as it was cut off by the Brave Companions), to the use of the article 'the' instead of the pronoun 'your' to imply that it could literally be anyone who's a younger brother (which includes the possibility of Cersei dying during childbirth, as her unborn child would technically be a little brother). The death part ("choke the life from you") seems unquestionable, so we know Cersei will die, at the very least. Having Jaime kill his sister – an act that would probably have to be inspired by something on the scale of murdering Brienne – does bring about a beautiful narrative symmetry, the kind of payoff that we've waited years for. But it's strangely overt by the standards of Thrones. The prophecy scene was something they intentionally included (even making it the very first scene of Season 5), and having such an obvious outcome should give fans pause. Something like Arya using Jaime's face to kill Cersei would be more on-brand.
There's the 'Azor Ahai' theory, which is just painful enough to take seriously. Melisandre and all the other Red Priests believe that a hero named Azor Ahai, nicknamed 'the Prince who was promised', will be reborn and lead the forces of light to victory. Melisandre originally believed Stannis Baratheon to be Ahai, but was forced to put her money elsewhere after she made him burn his own daughter and left his army to get annihilated by the Boltons. She now believes that Jon Snow is Ahai, which is a bit of a problem for the show's marquee incest couple (a title that formerly belonged to Jaime and Cersei). In his original incarnation, Ahai had to kill his wife by stabbing her in the heart, which gave his sword superpowers or something. It doesn't seem like a very Jon thing to do, but if it comes down to the fate of the world, maybe he would do it. It seems like the only way that there can be any stakes left – any Dany-led army, especially if they survive the Night King, would easily be able to overwhelm whatever forces Cersei was able to muster. We saw how overpowering just one dragon was in the Loot Train Attack; two against a human army (of any size) would be just unfair. It's only possible if dragons aren't a factor, and the dragons (Drogon, at least) would probably be pretty pissed off if Jon killed his dear mother.
Getting even crazier, there's the 'Bran is the Night King' theory, and the 'Bran was the one who drove Aerys Targaryen mad' theory. In my opinion, the less Bran, the better. Maybe Jaime will finish the job this time.