A Song Of Ice And Fire: exploring the fan theories
We cast our eye over some of the theories surrounding the George R.R. Martin books being adapted for HBO’s Game Of Thrones. Spoilers…
Warning: contains many, many A Song Of Ice And Fire spoilers all the way up to A Dance With Dragons.
A Song Of Ice And Fire readers are a curious people. Wise to the ways of our master, George R.R. Martin, we've grown suspicious over the years. In a saga where the same character can go by a dozen names, where identities are confused, hidden, and disguised, and where the dead can - quite literally - walk, we've learned not to take anything on trust. A character gets an axe to the head? They'll turn up a chapter later. A prophecy foretells certain doom? It's all in the interpretation. A young lad is called bastard and denied Lordly rights? He's probably the heir to the Seven Kingdoms.
We've gathered some of the juiciest fan theories from A Song Of Ice And Fire to chew over below. It's by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers the major bases. A sister piece, in which we tackle the big questions of the series including: who is Azor Ahai? Who are the three heads of the dragon? And who will ultimately win the Iron Throne? will follow...
What's the theory? R+L=J
(For the uninitiated, this stands for Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon, i.e. Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s illegitimate son at all, but the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.)
Prove it! We know that Rhaegar absconded with Lyanna (willingly or otherwise) and they were together for some months before Rhaegar’s death at the Trident. We know that Lyanna was sent to the Tower of Joy with half the Kingsguard protecting/guarding her. If she was taken unwillingly they might have been keeping her there, but if she went willingly, that doesn’t really make sense – the Kingsguard should be with either the King or the Crown Prince, not a woman who was active and not afraid to fight herself – unless she was heavily pregnant with the Crown Prince’s son. It’s possible that Rhaegar raped Lyanna as Robert believed, but the theory makes even more sense if we assume she willingly ran off with him, since everyone but Robert, including Ned, thinks of Rhaegar as a noble, generally good Crown Prince.
Ned Stark remembers finding Lyanna in ‘a bed of blood’, a description used elsewhere in the series to refer to childbirth. Ned made a promise to her on her deathbed that has cost him a lot of sleep over the years. Considering Robert’s satisfaction with the murder of Rhaegar’s children by Elia and the danger posed by any Targaryen heir (illegitimate children can be legitimised, like Ramsey Bolton, and there is some speculation that Rhaegar and Lyanna might have got married, since several earlier Targaryens had multiple wives), it would make sense if Ned’s promise were to protect Lyanna’s son. He did so by claiming the baby as his own son instead, something which cost him a lot because it hurt his new wife Catelyn and compromised his reputation for unimpeachable honour.
Jon is definitely a Stark – genetics is much simpler in Westeros than in reality and he looks far too much like a Stark not to be related to them. However, he looks like Arya, who in turn looks like Lyanna, so while he is ‘of Ned’s blood’, he isn’t necessarily his son. It’s also worth noting that in episode two of the TV series, Ned tells Jon that next time he sees him, they’ll talk about his mother. Ned expects that when they see each other again, Jon will be a sworn member of the Night’s Watch, meaning that, like Maester Aemon, he can never claim any birthright or inheritance from whoever his biological parents might be. It’s possible that Ned intended to tell him the truth once he had removed himself more firmly from any claim to the throne.
Finally, in the House of the Undying, Daenerys sees a blue rose growing out of a wall of ice. The wall of ice seems pretty easy to place as The Wall, as Lyanna Stark was fond of blue roses – so the implication is that Dany is seeing a vision relating to her biological nephew, Jon.
The only living person who knows Jon’s true parentage is Howland Reed, who followed Ned into the Tower of Joy. Howland Reed is a great old friend of the Starks who has yet to appear, though he sent his children to help Bran. He is also one of three characters Martin has stated can never be Point Of View characters because they know too much (the other two are Littlefinger and Varys). Presumably either Reed will eventually turn up and tell someone the truth, or it will turn out that Rhaegar and Lyanna got married in front of a weirwood tree while she was pregnant and Bran will see it in a vision and put two and two together.
Do we believe it? Yes. This is so strongly and so widely believed many fans take it almost as established fact. It may be that we’re all completely wrong and Martin will pull the rug out from under us at the last minute, but too much makes perfect sense if this theory is correct.
What’s the theory? Sandor Clegane (aka The Hound) is alive and living on the Quiet Isle
Prove it! The last time we saw The Hound, he was dying from infected wounds under a tree in the Trident in A Storm Of Swords after Arya refused him the mercy of a quick death. His infamous helm having been stolen by Rorge and worn during his plunder of Saltpans, many assumed The Hound was still alive and committing atrocities until Brienne uncovered the truth.
It’s not until Brienne, Pod, Ser Hyle Hunt and Septon Meribald visit the Quiet Isle that we’re given an account of Sandor Clegane’s last days. The Elder Brother on the Isle tells Brienne that he came upon Sandor in the Trident and “The Hound died there, in [his] arms” and is now “at rest”. There’s plenty, however, to suggest that the Elder Brother is only speaking figuratively, that ‘The Hound’ may well have died under that tree, but Sandor Clegane survived and now lives as a novice with the Brothers.
The particular attention Martin gives to a grave-digging “Brother bigger than Brienne” that the group pass by on their way to the Elder Brother has been interpreted by many as the first clue that the novice is in fact, Clegane. The grave-digger’s face, like that of the other Brothers, is obscured by a cowl and woollen strands, leaving only an eye visible. He walks “with the awkward gait of one half-crippled”, which could be the result of The Hound’s injuries, and he shows an affinity with another Hound - Dog, Septon Meribald’s pet - who lets him scratch his ear. More evidence arrives when Stranger, Clegane’s unruly black stallion, is discovered in the Brothers’ stables. It is widely known that Stranger – now renamed Driftwood – won’t let anybody but his master lead him, as the Brothers with the broken shin bone and missing ear found out to their cost.
More evidence still lies in the reactions of the Brothers when Brienne announces her intention as “hunting for the Hound”. Brother Narbert is “taken aback”, while the Elder Brother’s “smile flickered and faded when he learned the reason for their visit”. “The man you hunt is dead”, he told Brienne, which looks likely to have been a half-truth…
Do we believe it? Too right we do. There are too many nods here for it not to be true. The popularly held belief is that Sandor Clegane will return to fight his reanimated brother and Cersei’s supernatural champion, Ser Robert Strong (or FrankenGregor, if you prefer) so it has a narrative purpose too. It also explains the TV series encounter between Brienne and Sandor in the season four finale, we'd venture. Had she not fought him in that episode, how would she recognise him when season five comes to the Quiet Isle?
What's the theory? Tyrion is not a Lannister after all, but a Targaryen
This idea springs from two basic questions. Why did Tywin Lannister hate Tyrion so much, and who will be the three heads of the dragon? One possible answer is that Tyrion is not Tywin’s son at all, but the son of Joanna Lannister and the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen.
Prove it! In A Dance With Dragons, Barristan Selmy remembers that Aerys was attracted to Joanna Lannister and openly wished he could rape her on her and Tywin’s wedding night, and this was one of the things that eventually turned Tywin against him. Tyrion has slightly lighter blond hair than the other Lannisters, meaning it could be Targaryen colouring rather than Lannister, and his eyes are two different colours, one of which is nearly purple – Targaryens have violet eyes, and an historical Targaryen illegitimate child had mis-matched eyes. It also helps to explain the extent of Tywin’s hatred for Tyrion, particularly his carefully phrased statement, “I cannot prove you are not mine” and his refusal to pass Casterly Rock to Tyrion even though Tyrion is clearly his heir by Westerosi law.
Do we believe it? We’re not convinced by this one. For one thing, it’s unnecessary to the story. Tywin loved his wife deeply and needs no reason to hate Tyrion beyond resenting him for the death of his mother and general prejudice against him for his dwarfism. Telling Tyrion “You are no son of mine” as he dies by Tyrion’s hand is an emotional statement that actually loses its impact if it becomes a statement of fact. It’s also not necessary for Tyrion to be a Targaryen to be a head of the dragon, and we’re not sure Tyrion is destined to be one of the heads of the dragon anyway, since Daenerys has been warned against him – and warned about him as the ‘lion’. Tyrion also takes after Tywin more than his siblings in terms of personality, as Genna tells Jaime in A Feast For Crows, though that could be explained by Tywin’s having raised him. We have to admit that Tyrion’s eye colour and some of the precise wording given to Tywin suggest this is a possibility, but we think it’s a remote one.
What’s the theory? Young Griff is a fake
Prove it! Just to get everyone up to speed, Young Griff is believed by many – including himself – to be the real Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell who was thought to have been murdered by The Mountain during Robert’s Rebellion (remember, “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.”). The boy is the right age, and has the distinctive Targaryen colouring of silver hair and violet eyes - the former of which he dyes dark blue whilst in disguise as Young Griff.
As the story goes, Varys and Illyrio Mopatis colluded to swap baby Aegon for the boy The Mountain killed, smuggling away the real Aegon and giving him to former Hand of the King Jon Connington to raise, train, educate and keep safe until such time as he could return to the Iron Throne.
The question is, is Young Griff really Aegon, or just a Blackfyre lad with passable enough colouring to be taken for a Targaryen whom Varys and Illyrio have lied to everyone, including Griff himself, about? Is he a true heir to the Iron Throne, or simply a pretender? (If you squint, it’s sort of the Princes in the Tower bit of the Wars of the Roses that George R.R. Martin has plundered so effectively for this series.)
Some readers have interpreted the Quaithe’s prophecy to Daenerys about being beware of “the Mummer’s Dragon” to indicate that Griff is a fake. If Griff is “the Mummer’s Dragon”, it could either reference his being a fake, thus ‘acting’ Targaryen, or that he is simply a Dragon who belongs to Varys, who began life as part of a Mummers’ troupe…
Do we believe it? This one could go either way. Some have pointed out weaknesses in Varys’ baby-swapping story (how did he know The Mountain wouldn’t say, cut wee Aegon’s throat instead of making him unidentifiable by crushing his skull?), but for our money, it’s entirely possible that Varys – the ultimate pragmatist – might invent a fake Targaryen heir from a Blackfyre boy to stash away and use as a pawn in his long game. Whether Young Griff will survive long enough to play his part is another matter...
What’s the theory: Samwell Tarly has the horn of winter (no sniggering at the back, please)
According to Old Nan, who told its tale to the Stark children as a bedtime story, the Horn of Winter is a legendary instrument with the magical ability to awaken sleeping giants and bring down the Wall. In Northern legend, it was used by Joramun, a Wildling king beyond-the-Wall, to bring down the corrupt Night’s King, a lapsed Crow who fell in love with an Other woman and made sacrifices to her people.
Prove it! There are various magical items and weapons described in ASoIaF, not least of which is Azor Ahai's Lightbringer, of which more later. Mance Rayder’s horn (which he told Jon Snow as the real deal before Tormund Giantsbane shed doubt on its authenticity), was burnt by Melisandre in the flames that consumed Rattleshirt. Euron Greyjoy gave his brother Victarion a Valyrian instrument named Dragonbinder, an enormous horn that kills any mortal man who blows it, but which can reputedly be used to control dragons. Finally, Jon Snow discovered a war horn alongside the dragonglass buried at the First of the First Men and later gave it to Samwell Tarly who carried it to Oldtown. There’s some speculation that though small, Sam’s war horn is in fact, the real Horn of Winter.
Do we believe it: Why not? If the Horn of Winter exists, Sam the Slayer is its most likely owner in our estimation. How he’ll use it though, and what its exact powers are, remain to be seen…
What's the theory? Jon Snow is not dead, or will not stay dead
Things looked pretty bad for A Song Of Ice And Fire’s most traditional fantasy hero at the end of A Dance With Dragons, as he - like Jeor Mormont before him - was stabbed in the back by his own men. Granted, it wasn’t specified that he actually died, only that he lost consciousness, but it didn’t sound like an attack anyone was likely to come back from. However, many fans are confident that we haven’t seen the last of Jon Snow, however grim things may seem.
Prove it! Well, first off, we haven’t seen the body. Jon lost consciousness, just like Theon, Arya and Davos Seaworth before him. None of those were really dead, just injured. Even if the nasty-sounding stab wounds have killed him, that didn’t stop Catelyn from coming back, or Beric Dondarrion before her (Dondarrion with rather more of his personality intact than Catelyn, who notably ceased to be a viewpoint character when she died). If nothing else, Jon will rise as a Wight if not burned. In A Song Of Ice And Fire, no one is dead until their head has been removed from their body (in FrankenGregor’s case, not even then), or their whole body has been burned.
Then there are the external reasons for keeping Jon Snow alive, the laws of narrative and story-telling that suggest ‘anyone can die’ is never entirely true, at least not until the end of the series. Jon Snow is the classic fantasy hero of A Song Of Ice And Fire, the possibly-royal illegitimate son (see above) who works his way up from a lowly position (steward for Jeor Mormont) and displays natural leadership abilities, all building up to a grand finale in which presumably he takes the throne, or rides a dragon, or something equally spectacular, and he may or may not be Azor Ahai reborn. Jon hasn’t got that far yet. He’s also the only viewpoint character currently at the Wall apart from Melisandre, and it does not seem likely that Martin will leave us with only Melisandre, a mysterious and rather unlikeable character who has only had one viewpoint chapter so far, as our eyes and ears in such an important location. The possibilities open to wargs have also been clearly established so he will almost certainly continue in some form.
As for how Jon will survive, there are various possibilities. At one point in A Dance With Dragons, Melisandre looks into her fire and sees Jon’s face as a man, then he becomes a wolf, then a man again, so one of the most popular suggestions is that Jon will first warg into Ghost (the last thing he thinks about), then Melisandre will revive his body and put him back into it, making him more himself than Beric Dondarrion and certainly more recognisably the character we know than Lady Stoneheart. Another possibility is that his body will come back as a wight, but like Coldhands he may have more of a sense of himself than other wights, possibly due to warging into Ghost at the moment of death (this would fit with a dream of Bran’s in which he sees Jon’s flesh going pale). Were he able to get his hands on Dragonbinder, this new, improved, non-living Jon Snow, would be able to blow the sorcerer’s horn and control a dragon, too…
Do we believe it? Yes. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are the actual protagonists of A Song Of Ice And Fire (with Bran as their sidekick). Everyone else is filler (even Tyrion, who is highly popular and beloved filler). If either Jon or Dany die at all – which seems unlikely – they’ll do so right at the end of the story.
What’s the theory? Septa Lemore is Ashara Dayne
Ashara Dayne, the beautiful noblewoman rumoured by some in ASoIaF to be the mother of Ned Stark’s bastard son, was said to have jumped to her death from a cliff-top tower following the death of her brother. (Ashara’s story is arguably the subject of the song sung by Dareon the Black Singer about, in Arya’s words “some stupid lady throwing herself off some stupid tower”, in Braavosi brothel, The Happy Port.)
Dayne’s body was never discovered, which has led some readers to go looking for her amongst the series’ more mysterious women. One possible option appears in A Dance With Dragons in the character of Septa Lemore, the woman charged with educating Young Griff in the ways of the Seven. Tyrion observes on the Shy Maid that the so-called Septa, a beautiful woman in her forties given to swimming naked in the waters of the Rhoyne, sports stretch-marks that could only have been caused by childbirth, thus is not quite what she seems...
Prove it! We really can't. There's nothing substantial in the text to back up the theory.
Do we believe it? It’s possible we suppose, but quite a leap to go from ‘she’s not a real Septa’ to ‘she’s Ashara Dayne who gave birth, faked her death and travelled from Dorne to Essos in disguise’. There are problems with the theory, not limited to the fact that Jon Connington would likely recognise the real Ashara Dayne (though with so many disguised identities on board the Shy Maid, he may be in on the deception we suppose). There are also arguments to be heard that Lemore is the mother of Tyene Sand, opening up a whole other kettle of Dornish fish. The true identity of Septa Lemore is a mystery we want to solve, but we’re going to need a smidge more evidence to swallow this one.
What's the theory? Weirwood paste is people! Specifically, Jojen Reed
In A Dance With Dragons, Bran is fed something called ‘weirwood paste’ by the Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Crow. He’s told it’s made from weirdwood seeds and will help him to become a better greenseer. Some believe that Jojen Reed was sacrificed and his blood was used as an ingredient in the paste.
Prove it! Jojen appears to know and accept when he will die, and becomes increasingly ill throughout A Dance With Dragons. Neither he nor Meera are seen after Bran has eaten the paste – it’s possible that Meera was sacrificed as well, but since Jojen was a greenseer, it would make sense that his blood was needed to enhance Bran’s abilities in that area. The weirwood paste itself makes Bran feel sick at first and has red veins running through it that might be weirwood sap but look like blood. After he’s eaten it, he can taste blood in his mouth.
Jojen’s death in the season four finale of the TV show, while he’s still alive in the books, would seem to confirm that, as he’s been saying for a while, he’s not long for this world. The manner of his death would also seem to fit thematically while being different in terms of specifics – TV Jojen sacrificed himself to get Bran to the Three-Eyed Crow, while Book Jojen may have been sacrificed – willingly or otherwise – to help Bran to become a better greenseer (and possibly discover some of Westeros’ long-buried secrets in the process, thanks to some of the inhabitants’ convenient habit of doing important things like getting married in front of weirwood trees).
One problem with TV Jojen’s death in terms of this theory is that TV Jojen’s body was exploded by a Child of the Forest to stop him from becoming a White Walker, and is therefore unavailable for sandwich-paste preparation purposes. It’s possible that on the TV show Meera will be sacrificed instead, if she has no more important role in the story, or that this aspect of Bran’s story will be adapted out. Or that the whole theory is wrong in the first place and Jojen is just slowly dying of whatever it is he’s actually dying of and will finally succumb in the next book.
Do we believe it? It certainly sounds like someone’s blood was in that paste, though of course a person can be bled without being killed. It’s possible that Bran will discover Jojen and Meera, alive but trapped and being drained for their blood and nearly dead. Or it’s possible that we’ve just watched too many vampire shows. Whatever has happened or will happen to Jojen, it’s pretty clear from the TV show that he’s marked for death, and soon.
What’s the theory? Syrio Forel is still alive and wearing someone else’s face
So popular was Arya Stark’s water dancing teacher, Syrio Forel, that many refuse to believe he died in A Game Of Thrones. His Braavosi background and a single line from Arya has suggested to some that Forel is a Nameless Man who somehow escaped Ser Meryn Trant and the Kingsguard only to change his face.
Prove it! Nobody can. Not really. All we know is that Forel was last seen fighting Ser Meryn Trant and the Kingsguard to allow Arya to escape the castle, and that there’s no confirmation of his death in the books. Despite being a skilled fighter, Forel was armed only with a wooden sword when Trant and co. came to collect their Stark prize, so chances of his prospering against several armed attackers are slim.
That, however, hasn’t stopped readers speculating. Some suggest that Forel disarmed one of his opponents and escaped (and that Ser Trant neglected to mention this fact to Queen Cersei for fear of her displeasure) and changed his face. One popular bet for whose phiz Forel took is that of a certain Jaqen H’ghar, the criminal from the Red Keep’s black cells whom Arya helped to escape the night Yoren’s Night Watch party was attacked. The chief fuel for this particular fire is a line from early in A Clash Of Kings that “the way [Jaquen] talked reminded [Arya] of Syrio; it was the same, yet different too”.
Do we believe it? No. It’s hardly watertight as cases go. There are better arguments for Jaquen H’ghar being A Feast For Crows’ Alchemist and latterly, Pate of Oldtown, and Syrio Forel having simply died saving Arya’s life.
What’s the theory? Tysha is the Sailor’s Wife
The fate of poor Tysha, the young girl who secretly fell in love with and wedded a thirteen year old Tyrion Lannister, then was gang-raped by his father’s guards and her husband when Tywin discovered the marriage, is one of A Song Of Ice And Fire’s mysteries. “Where do whores go?” is a question preoccupying Tyrion throughout A Dance With Dragons, his father having told him his first wife Tysha went “wherever whores go” after her awful ordeal. To brothels is one answer.
Prove it! In A Feast For Crows, we hear tell of a prostitute known as the Sailor’s Wife who works in the Happy Port brothel in Braavos who only sleeps with men who marry her. She has a blonde fourteen year old daughter named Lanna who also works at Merry’s brothel, known to be the same age as her mother when she had her. The ages work out, and “Lanna” seems to be a tell that a Lannister was the child’s father (though if she did turn out to be Tysha, which Lannister - guard or husband - would horribly, be unknown).
Do we believe it? It’s a stretch. Especially as the Sailor’s Wife’s first husband is said to have been lost at sea, and Yna, the fortune-telling prostitute in Merry’s brothel, has sworn that he is dead, “I could taste that in her blood. If he should ever come back to her, it will be a corpse”.
What's the theory? Tyrion is going to hurt or work against Daenerys in some way
You’d think that Tyrion might want to help Daenerys. He’s either very angry with or outright hates all surviving members of his family except Tommen and Myrcella and he’s already killed his own father so his loyalty to the Lannisters would seem to be somewhat in doubt. He’s travelled across Essos looking for Daenerys, thanks to apparent Targaryen loyalist Varys, and she has inadvertently saved him from death in the fighting pit. And yet, one of the many prophecies directed at Dany across the series seems to imply that she is in some kind of danger from Tyrion.
Prove it! In A Dance With Dragons, the Quaithe warns Dany, “Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them... Beware the perfumed seneschal.” The ‘sun’s son’ is Quentyn Martell, the ‘kraken and dark flame’ Victarion Greyjoy and Moqorro, and the lion must surely be Tyrion Lannister. The ‘perfumed seneschal’ could refer to Varys, but could also refer to the ship Tyrion and Jorah Mormont arrived on, the Selaesori Qhoran, a name Tyrion translates as Stinky Steward. The reference to the griffin is an odd one because it seems to refer to Jon Connington, who is no longer on his way to Daenerys, but overall the message seems to be that Tyrion, along with the others, poses some kind of threat to Daenerys, whether deliberately or inadvertently.
Do we believe it? Prophecies in works of fiction have an almost 100% accuracy rate. To be fair, some prophecies in A Song Of Ice And Fire appear to have been thwarted, but we’re willing to bet they’ll come true in the end, one way or another. So we’re expecting Tyrion to damage Daenerys in some way, deliberately or not.
What’s the theory? Benjen Stark is Coldhands
After his introduction in A Game Of Thrones, Benjen Stark set out a-ranging from the Wall one day and never returned. His absence has bred all kinds of speculation about Ned Stark’s brother’s fate, chief of which is that he is the mysterious Coldhands, who looks like a Wight but has black eyes and rides a live elk, as opposed to the reanimated dead mounts chosen by the Others.
Coldhands arrived to save Sam and Gilly in A Storm Of Swords and lead Bran and co. to the three-eyed raven in A Dance With Dragons.
Prove it! Despite this theory being so widespread it’s now considered old hat amongst many ASoIaF readers, there isn’t really much proof for it. Coldhands wears a scarf to obscure his face, and rags that were once the black of the Night’s Watch, which is pretty much it. Like the Syrio Forel and Ashara Dayne theories, this one seems to have come about simply because we haven’t been told explicitly what happened to Benjen.
Do we believe it? We don’t. Coldhands “died long ago” according to Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest and Benjen’s only been missing for three or so years, which would be a blink of an eye to a being like Leaf. A more tantalising suggestion is that Coldhands is the original Night's King, the ancient commander of the Night's Watch destroyed by the King In The North and the King Beyond-The-Wall.
Come back to read "A Song Of Ice And Fire: answering the big questions" on Monday, when we’ll throw our tuppence in to the following debates:
- Who is Azor Ahai?
- Who is the Valonquar?
- Who are the heads of the dragon?
- Will the Seven Kingdoms be united at the end of the series?
- Who will win the game of thrones?
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