Game of Thrones fans have spent eight long years (more, if they’re book readers) speculating, tinfoil hat–ing, prophecy dissecting, and theorizing till we’re as blue in the face as dead King Joffrey: How, in the seven hells, will this story end? And what, if any, wild theories have yet to be revealed as real? Well-attuned obsessives have been feeling fairly smug following last season’s most-hyped reveal in Westerosi history: R+L=J, otherwise known as the fact that Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen, the non-bastard child of Lyanna Stark and her love, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. But with a series with as many unforeseen twists and turns as this one heading into its endgame, it’s safe to say that won’t be the last huge reveal.
There are plenty of clues to be gleaned from watching the series, reading the books, and falling down many A Song of Ice and Fire rabbit hole online about where this story is headed — the TV story, anyhow. We use that caveat because, let’s be real: Given George R.R. Martin’s propensity for petty spitefulness (he mentioned in an interview back in 2016 that he was adding a rumored twist to the much-delayed The Winds of Winter explicitly because “the show can’t do this stuff”), it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the books wrap up in a different fashion, even if it is from his road map that GOT showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will find their story’s end.
So as the final season prepares to mount the world, let’s dive deep into some other long-standing fan conspiracies to gauge the probability they will unfold on the show like R+L=J did. From the maesterfully plotted to the more wildling out there, here are some of the best theories from the last few years of meticulously obsessing over the Seven Kingdoms.
Everything is Bran’s fault
When it comes to bombastic Thrones theories, Bran is at the forefront of most of them. Some think he’s the Night King, thanks to his abilities to warg. Others surmise he’s just really bad at traveling as the newly appointed space-time-manipulating-and-seeing Three-Eyed Raven. There’s one theory that the voices the Mad King hears are actually Bran, and the Targaryen king was merely responding to something he was saying when he kept repeating “Burn them all.”
And then there is the Bran-is-all-Brans theory — perhaps the most complicated of the lot. Isaac Hempstead-Wright has previously described the creators’ inspiration for Bran last season as “Doctor Manhattan from the Watchmen comic,” the immortal, omnikinetic superhero (turned pawn for the U.S. government) from the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel, which is itself set to be an HBO series. And thanks to Old Nan, that description garners even more ominous stock.
The Stark children’s cranky storytelling nanny tells a lot of stories that appear to actually be real: fairy tales and children’s fables that initially seemed like silly nonsense have slowly revealed themselves to be anything but, because the black magic and dragons and giants of yore clearly exist. So what does that mean for the things that Old Nan says? Well, in the books, Nan often confuses now-Bran with all the other Brandons of House Stark — and there were many, including the oft-mentioned Bran the Builder, infamous architect of the wall. The Starks are of old Westerosi blood — and blood is very important to the series, as you and Melisandre’s smoke baby know — and magical in their own right (hello, dire wolf warging!).
Bran Stark is clearly destined to play a very big part in the climax of the story, making one of these theories feel especially on the mark. We’re talking to you, Bran-is-all-Brans theory: The interconnectedness of the Stark name and blood cannot be understated, and his warging abilities are truly unparalleled in the universe. Plus, he probably got up to a heck of a lot that we didn’t see onscreen while he was absent from season five.
Bran could be implicated or involved in good and bad things alike when it comes to whatever ends up being the real story — and isn’t that the most Thronesian sort of ending? But if you think it’s as simple as Bran being the Night King, rest assured that it’s probably not.
Tyrion is also a secret Targaryen
The Targaryen sigil is a dragon with three heads. In the books, Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying features Prince Rhaegar saying to her, “The dragon has three heads,” a sentiment echoed in prophetic fashion throughout all of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire work. Daenerys has three dragons, and — according Westerosi history — the first Aegon Targaryen took Westeros alongside two other Targaryens, all three on dragons. So, if history were to repeat itself, who are the three heads?
For a long time, book readers have surmised it to be Dany, Jon Snow, and Tyrion Lannister, another potentially secret Targaryen. And the show certainly hasn’t shied away from baiting this particular theory, from his father Tywin Lannister’s declarations that he is “no son of mine” and “ill-made,” to the now-iconic moment where Tyrion met Dany’s dragons in season six and no one died, similar to what happened with ol’ confirmed-secret-Targaryen Jon Snow.
In the books, there are whiffs of rumors that Joanna Lannister, Tyrion’s mother, was being bedded by someone other than her first-cousin husband, Tywin. In A Dance With Dragons, Ser Barristan Selmy tells Daenerys that the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, had the hots for Joanna for a long time. And if you dig into the supplemental material in The World of Ice and Fire, it is said that the Mad King sexually attacked Joanna on her and Tywin’s wedding night. Such a fact colors in what may have continued to happen in 267 AC, when Tywin’s father, Lord Tytos Lannister, died, resulting in his son, Aerys, Prince Rhaegar, and half the court heading to Casterly Rock for much of the next year.
Now, logistically speaking, Tyrion wasn’t born until 273 AC (Jaime and Cersei were born in 266 AC), but putting all those details in there sure seems to give this theory a bit more credence, as does the quote from A Storm of Swords where Tywin tells Tyrion, “Men’s laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colors, since I cannot prove that you are not mine. To teach my humility, the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about wearing that proud lion that was my father’s sigil and his father’s before him.”
Still, another secret Targaryen being revealed in the 11th hour, with far less speculation than the OG secret Targ had, feels hardly earned. Actor Peter Dinklage himself refuted it. Besides, we saw in earlier seasons that non-Targaryens (like Dany’s handmaids) could easily interact with the dragon-babes and come out unharmed. It’s also important to note, as it’s been repeated multiple times on the series: Aegon Targaryen’s other dragon riders were his sisters. Which — in conjunction with that final-season teaser of Sansa, Arya, and Jon in the Winterfell crypts — feels like a casual way of setting up that trio for Westerosi domination instead. So while many out there are hoping for a Tyrion the Secret Targaryenaissance, the likelihood of this one happening in the TV series is pretty low.
Jaime will kill Cersei
Remember Maggy the Frog? The witch who told a wee baby Cersei back at the beginning of season five that all her kids were going to die? Well, in the books, her prophecy goes a little bit deeper, and it’s why fans believe Jaime Lannister is destined to kill his sister-lover.
And there are plenty of details to support it. Besides the obvious turn between the two over the past two seasons, the biggest piece of evidence rests in the prophecies of Maggy the Frog: “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” “Valonqar” is the High Valyrian word for “little brother.” Guess who came out of the womb second in the world’s most twincestual relationship? That’s right, Jaime.
Of course, there are solid arguments against this case as well: Tyrion is also technically Cersei’s little brother, and if, say, everyone’s favorite murder person, Arya Stark, were to finish off her list wearing a dead Jaime Lannister’s face, or not, “valonqar” could still technically count: Many words in High Valyrian are genderless, as the series (via Missandei) ever-so-politely pointed out when discussing the Prince That Was Promised prophecy.
So what’s the probability of it actually happening? As high as Drogon can fly, as far as we’re concerned. Because really, wouldn’t this one just be so good? Besides, Ed Sheeran didn’t make that cameo singing about a hand of gold for no reason, right? Jaime Lannister’s going to use that thing! Savagely! And we’re all going to cheer while we watch.
Varys is a merman
This one? Well, this one’s downright loony, but we love it all the same: that Varys is actually a secret merman, hell-bent on the battle of ice and fire (because ice + fire = water) taking place to flood the world so that he and his fellow merpeople — who are real! — may thrive. It’s delightfully bonkers, especially when tied up with the particularly aqueous terms used to describe the Master of Whispers. Sadly, though, actor Conleth Hill put it to me plainly several years ago: Varys is not a merman. But really, isn’t that just what a scheming merperson would say?
We are absolutely not getting a happy ending
This one feels so obvious, do we even have to say it? In the words of Ramsay Bolton: “If you think this story has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
Read Vulture’s guide to every Game of Thrones season, recapped and explained.