May 25 2011 6:01pm

The Wild Cards in A Song of Ice and Fire

No, not those Wild Cards! Instead, we thought it might be interesting look at some of the “wild cards” in the series—characters or groups that may well play a major role in the series. In a series with hundreds of characters (more than a thousand named characters, in fact, though many don’t actually have any lines), there’s bound to be some who are more important than others, who have a more significant role to play... but just what that role is is a mystery. Truth be told, even as we started kicking around names, we realized that at this stage the field is wide open... but here’s a few of our favorite wild cards. Note that there are spoilers below for all four published novels to date, as we discuss where we last saw the characters and speculate as to where they may be going. Also, note, this is in no particular order!

Note that there are spoilers below for all four published novels to date, as we discuss where we last saw the characters and speculate as to where they may be going. Also, note, this is in no particular order!

Lady Stoneheart: What a wicked author GRRM is, to do something like that to such a beautifully realized, realistically-flawed character. Death was not kind to Catelyn Stark, and suffering the destruction of her beloved family was simply too much for her mind. She was resurrected by Beric Dondarrion after she had been dead an entire day and then her corpse spent even more time in the river before Nymeria (yes, Arya’s direwolf) dragged it to shore. The strange magic that breathed fiery life into Beric (and slowly stripped away his memories and humanity) passed from him, giving him the final death he had begun to crave, and gave it to Catelyn. Made horrific by the ordeal, and apparently still mad, her rage knows no bound—she wants vengeance for what happened to her and hers, at any cost. Freys start dropping like flies... and then she gets her hands on Brienne. Lets just say that regardless of how Brienne’s cliffhanger goes, Lady Stoneheart isn’t done. How many more Freys will she bring down before the end? The family may be large, but by ones and twos its dwindling. Even in A Feast for Crows, she takes her toll, with her supporters being behind the death of Ser Ryman Frey, Lord Walder’s heir. More than that, though, what’s her place in the larger story? Let me put forward a very out-there theory: just as Beric was able to pass the fire of life to her, I believe her ultimate role (besides being a spirit of vengeance) is to finally give up her second life to resurrect someone else. Someone who we hope won’t actually become mad from the process. I hope that if that comes to pass, it’ll be one of her children—Sansa, say—because above all things else, she was a mother.

Arya Stark: Can’t leave out everyone’s favorite young sociopath. Having left the Hound to die, she’s now in Braavos, serving the Many-Faced God... and waking up blind one morning, unable to see. Now, if you paid attention to her chapters, it should be clear that this is part of her indoctrination or training into the Faceless Men, to sharpen her senses. But it does rather imply that she’s on that path. She’s very young, of course, so whether she’ll get the whole benefit of their training is enough. But just some of it could go a long way... or could very well be disastrous. Just enough to make her dangerous, too little to make her trustworthy, would be very, very bad for some. She’s a character that’s really quite loved by fans (even her cold-blooded killings are treated rather lightly), but it’s possible she grows up to be a nastier piece of work than Sandor Clegane. Our guess? She’ll make her way back across the Narrow Sea to Westeros, start whittling down that list of hers... and then she may well point her ire the wrong way, because ultimately, vengeance can get you only so far.

Jorah Mormont: The sullen, tough northern knight and exile is a difficult character to love or even admire. Besotted with and driven into penury and dishonor by one wife, he then becomes besotted with a budding young queen, and becomes increasingly jealous and possessive of her (never mind he’s about 30 years older than she is). Jorah’s actually one of Linda’s least favorite characters (right up there with the Hound and, yes, Tyrion), but I think his role in the story required that kind of roughness (as an aside, Iain Glenn as Ser Jorah presents an absolutely different personality, even as he has many of the same lines and background points!) He ultimately loses his queen, too, as Daenerys learns of his earlier spying on her, and recognizes that he tried to drive anyone else away who might displace him as her chief supporter, advisor, and protector. Where next? I’ve long speculated that he’ll take advantage of the chaos in Westeros to finally begin his return home. He could go to Oldtown, for example—a place that definitely needs every sword it can get, thanks to the Iron Islanders—and ask for asylum and help from his in-laws. If that were to pan out, I won’t be surprised if he’s one of the ones who manages to survive the series... and perhaps, after meeting another in-law (by the name of Samwell Tarly—his mother being Lynesse Hightower’s aunt), he’ll have learned that the Old Bear’s last wish was that he took the black.

Edric Storm: The last we saw of Robert’s bastard son, he was being sent to safety by Davos Seaworth and his compatriots, who were saving him from Melisandre’s machinations that would have made him a sacrifice to her dreams of awakening dragons from stone. Where’d he end up? It seems pretty safe to say that Salladhor Saan’s ship carried him off to the Free Cities, perhaps Lys, the pirate’s city of origin. Maybe he’s out of the story for good... or maybe he’ll end up in Daenerys Targaryen’s retinue when she finally makes her way west. Having one of Robert’s acknowledged sons at her side might help win a few stormlords, who may be feeling the combined sting of Stannis’s abandonment and the Lannister boot on their throat. Whether Edric would agree to any of this is a question, but may be moot: he is, after all, just a boy. We foresee Illyrio Mopatis getting a hold of him for Daenerys to make use of to further her own goals.

Alayne: Best known as Sansa... well, we’ve already speculated where her story might be going a bit. The last we saw of her, she was disguised as Littlefinger’s bastard daughter (despite the fact that Littlefinger seems to have a hard time keeping his hands off of her) and he was intending to marry her off to the present heir to the Vale, rather obviously known as Harry the Heir. Littlefinger even reveals the plan, that after the wedding’s done, she’ll be revealed as Sansa Stark so that the knights of the Value might be caught up in amazement and offer them their swords to help her win back her ancestral seat. An amazing plan... but there’s a wrinkle in it, and that’s Alayne. Littlefinger is clearly educating her in how to read political situations, in how to manipulate people, but how long before she fully recognizes how deeply involved he was in her family’s own downfall? The Ghost of High Heart dreamed of Sansa killing a savage giant in a castle of snow... and a prosaic answer is given to that in A Storm of Swords: she tears apart Robert Arryn’s giant doll as he smashed up her snow-castle recreation of Winterfell, leading to Lysa’s assault and ultimate death. But what if that’s not actually it? What if... it’s Littlefinger? Remember, his grandfather’s original arms was the stony head of the Titan of Braavos, as frightening a giant as you’ll ever see. One way or the other, she’ll probably spell the end for Petyr Baelish.

The Faith: Last, but not least, A Feast for Crows introduces us to a revitalized Faith, led by a zealous High Septon who restores the orders of the Faith Militant and feels justified, and able, to seize not just one but two queens to charge them with sundry crimes. After centuries of being little more than puppets to the Targaryens, suddenly the Faith is a major force. Are they going to be the final arbiters of who controls the Iron Throne? We suspect not... but they’re likely going to support someone against Daenerys, with her foreign army that worships a bevy of foreng gods (but not the Seven). It seems unlikely that this High Septon will accept Daenerys with open arms, as his predecessor 300 years ago did with Aegon the Conqueror. How will that end? In blood, we expect.

There’s certainly many and more we can look at. We haven’t even wondered about “Pate" in Oldtown, or Samwell right next to him, or the Greyjoys Asha and Victarion, or....

Have a favorite “wild card” and an interesting speculation about their ultimate role? Share them in comments!

Having met on a game (yes, on the internet), Elio crossed an ocean to join Linda in her native Sweden. Establishing their “A Song of Ice and Fire” fan page, Westeros, in 1998, they now host the largest fan forum and oversee sub-sites covering all facets of George R.R. Martin’s works, including a wiki. can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, where they provide official syndication of George R.R. Martin’s blog updates. They are co-authors, with Martin, of the in-progress The World of Ice and Fire, an official guide to the setting.

David B
1. David B
Saying Arya and Sansa are going to be major characters in the plot is like saying, well, "Winter is Coming".

Martin has said we'll have a new viewpoint character, and I seem to recall (but can't find where) that it's going to be everyone's favorite former White Cloak, Ser Barristan Selmy.

I also think Sam is going to be throwing a proverbial spanner in *someone's* works pretty soon now, although I'm not exactly sure how.
David B
2. JeffR23
I've been of the belief since the end of Storm that good old Lord Walter Frey would find himself without a single surviving heir before he dies. It's exactly the sort of pride-laid-low natural justice that a violation of hospitality would seem to require, in a world where forms of magical thought like natural justice are on the comeback. I'm sure Stoneheart will be responsible for more than a few more, that the struggle for the increasingly unsure succession will do for even more, and that accidents and incidents will take care of the rest...
David B
3. cheem
I think Sandor Clegane could yet be a major player, what with Lady Stoneheart's followers robbing and pillaging in his name. A changed Sandor Clegane would have some interesting interactions with a newly returned Arya or a wiser Sansa.

Also, I thought Melisandre was getting a POV in the new book. I could be mistaken, though.
David B
4. Hammerlock
Wild cards...hmm...

Hard to really qualify whats a "wild card" without touching on the major storylines.
Gendry could play a role, since Brienne connected the dots about his parentage. Brienne herself could be a real fly in the ointment by incapacitating Jaime at an inopportune time; I doubt she'd be able to kill him in any capability--skill or will to do so.

Clearly, the Faith militarizing again will be nothing but Bad News for anyone. Another very real shifter would be the Lord of Light followers vs the Faith Militant--while the Sept has ingrained itself deeply in the south and somewhat to the north, the firey faith has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity due to Stannis' followers and Beric's Brotherhood adopting it--a lot of heavily armed folk. This will complicate the Iron Throne politics.

The Dorne revelation at the end of Feast will stand everything on its head when fully realized.

Nymeria (the direwolf) and her pack is building in relevance. In the span of two books she's gone from some fanciful rumor to a feared scourge of the countryside. And she's not even human!

Coldhands. This is an ominous, Very Old Magic feel to it that can't end well for the status quo.

And of course, the ultimate wild card: Winter and its resource-sapping weather.
David B
5. abeyer42
When we first met many these characters, it seemed their destiny was influenced by the fantasy archetypes they resembled. For instance, Robb as the young lord who surpasses the work of even his great father, or Jaime as the big bad's right hand with lethal kill skilz. Now, our principal cast has been either killed, or gone through such unexpected character development that nearly all are 'wild cards'. Daenerys is about the only character I can think of whose destiny is likely not a wild card: she's the prince(ss) robbed of her inheritance who returns in the kingdom's hour of need. But even the main cast like Bran, Jon, Cersei...who knows what's next for them.

The wild card I'm most curious about is Varys. He and Littlefinger are the shrewd playing-the-game-six-moves-ahead-of-you kind of characters. We know Littlefinger's game...but Varys? Is he a secret Targaryen loyalist? Is he hiding Tyrek Lannister? Is he even still in King's Landing? What's his long game about?
Fake Name
6. ThePendragon
You know, I hadn't thought of the possibility of Catelyn just being kind of a torchbearer, to pass her ressurection juice on when some key character needed a continue. I like the idea. That said, I hope to god it's not Sansa. I want herd dead, and when she dies, I want her to stay that way.
Claire de Trafford
7. Booksnhorses
Perhaps she'll pass it to Jon, redeeming herself and saving the day.
David B
8. AO
Rickon. He's got to have *some* reason for being in this story, right?
David B
9. tayyab
well my favourite wild card......... hmmmmm.......hmmmmm....... think tink think.
actually th story is such an open field that all the wild cards may become main character by the end. but i do like the theory of lady stoneheart resurrecting some one of her cildren. the question which waxes me more is who is gonna be real hero with a happy ending at the end of its series. or even if no happy ending( to much to ask from GRRM) who is gonna rule seven kingdoms once this winter has come and gone. from all the main characters wo could have been heroes
jon ................taken the black
rob / ned ........dead
bran ...............cripple + warg
arya.................blind and her character becoming queen will be too much of faux pax even for martin
sansa...............hmmmm may be but again if any stark deserves it less its her young to rule
lannisters..........cant see them surviving pass the removal from throne
martells / highgardens.............not main enough characters (remember its a song of ice and fire)
well this shows it must be some wildcard who ave o come up in the end and save the day.......or atleast rule seven kingdoms
David B
10. Caladan Brood
If a fan of the TV series accidentally comes to read this article, well..I can imagine their surprise upon reading, in the second paragraph, that Catelyn is dead and her family destroyed. As to Brienne's cliffhanger, who will care? The Winds of Winter won't be out for another three-six years and by then we've all forgotten her plight. Oh why didn't they resurrect Tywin Lannister instead. Zombie-Tywin would be awesome.

The article could use a spellcheck or two, by the way. And though it gives me cold shivers down the spine, I'll use the words 'Wild Cards' to propose a few other important Wild Cards (aargh!), though I agree Ser Jorah Mormont - great character btw - will most likely be one.

BRONN, now a lord or whatever in a small fief outside King's Landing is clearly there for some future event. His story isn't over yet.

DORAN MARTELL, his last line of dialogue in 'A Feast for Crows' basically sets him up as a .. wild card (brr).

THE GRAVEDIGGER on that crappy little island in the river. You know what I mean.

WILLAS TYRELL. Nuff said. Cripples and all that.

Elio García
11. Egarcia
Littlefinger and Varys are the subject of a future essay, promise!

Yeah, Rickon... When Chris at suggested the "wild cards" topic to us, he put forward Rickon, and he certainly picked a great example of a wild card. So good, we genuinely have no idea where he's going based on the first four books! So what follows is completely speculative, because really, he could be anywhere.

So, for the sake of completeness...

Rickon: The littlest Stark, he's sort of been shortchanged on the show so-far -- glimpsed laughing once, mentioned once. He's more present in the novels, not much so, but some. We haven't even learned his wolf's name is the awesome Shaggydog! With all that's happened to the Starks, he's grown wilder by the day. But, still, he's a little boy, all of four years old. A little boy with a temper and a mean direwolf, but still...

The last we saw of him, he was heading with Osha to parts unknown. Where could he go? My guess ties into the fate of another character, Ser Davos Seaworth. We're told in the fourth novel that he's been killed by Lord Manderly, but I don't believe it. I think Lord Manderly's a Stark loyalist, that that was just a ruse to lull the Lannisters, and somewhere in the bowels of the Wolf's Den (an ancient fortress-turned-prison) Davos will be introduced to Rickon and his direwolf.

Rickon's too young to matter, personally, but as a figurehead -- the only (uncontestedly) legitimate male Stark anywhere in the vicinity -- he could be used to rally the North behind whoever has him at their side.
Rob Munnelly
12. RobMRobM
I nominate the Blackfish. He's on the prowl in the Riverlands - will he end up with his sister? A freelance Frey/Lannister killer? Will he hook up with his former compatriots heading up North to the Wall and become a thorn in Jon's side?
Rob Munnelly
13. RobMRobM
One other nomination: Howland Reed. What role will he play in the battle for the north and when will he disclose what he knows about Jon's parentage.
Brian Vrolyk
14. vyskol
Wow. A great topic that really serves to underscore the point that I really need to reread the series before July.
Marcus W
15. toryx
I'll have to second those who can't really see Sansa or Arya as wild cards. I've always viewed both of their storylines to be pretty well defined and even though there are twists, none of them are outlandishly so. Technically, Arya's entirely storyline has been predicated by her decision to drive off Nymeria.

Tyrion is the biggest wild card in my mind. His road thus far has been leading into darker and darker paths and who knows where he'll end up? I've seen some suggestions that he'll join Daenerys, and perhaps he will, but to what end? I doubt even he knows what he wants at this point.

Varys has never been a wild card. I'm frankly astonished that there's any doubt about his intentions. He's always been exactly what he's said he is: Dedicated to preserving the realm. He'll do whatever he deems is necessary to do that and if that means embracing Dany on her return, then so be it. I'm hoping he finds out about the true menace in the north and maybe he'll be the one who leads Dany to recognizing that.
David B
16. mountain
What about the Thing That Was the Mountain Who Rides? (Not putting forward any theory, but Martin has clearly set up Cersei's little experiment to gum up somebody's works...)
Tricia Irish
17. Tektonica
And then there are the Wildings/Mance Rayder/Others/White Walkers....what part are THEY going to play?
Elio García
18. Egarcia
For me, a wild card is just someone I have no real idea of where they can go -- their options seem wide open!

Mountain @16,

Good point. You know, Cersei is in a bind at the end of AFfC, for a moment thinking that UnGregor (as we tend to call him on the board) could save her... but then realizing that with seven Kingsguard in place, she's not safe at all.

But. We have Ser Loras Tyrell critically wounded (yeah, yeah, quiet down, you Grand Tyrell Conspiracy fans!) and then there's the fact that Ser Arys Oakheart lost his head in Dorne. What will arrive first: news of Loras kicking the bucket, or Ser Arys having accidentally brutally cut his head off while combing his hair? If it arrives while the situation is still up in the air, concievably there'd be a spot free for UnGregor...

But who in the world would put Qyburn's Monster in such a spot? Cersei doesn't exactly have the levers of power in her hands anymore, and the small council (such as it is) has turned against her.

Down the road, I think UnGregor is going to meet Sandor "The Hound is Dead" Clegane, and meet his (its?) end that way. But maybe that's too obvious, too neat and tidy and cliché. But one can dream...

Tektonica @17,

I think the Wall's going to come tumbling down. That's what I think. And then there'll be nothing between the Others and their ice zombie minions and the humans. It will somehow have to end up as "us vs. them". I can't imagine only one part of the Seven Kingdoms being strong enough to deal with on its own.
David B
19. mountain
Very thought-provoking, Egarcia @18! My fan-fic dream is would be a Hound-Mountain rematch with the Hound in control of the physical or metaphorical brazier, but you're right, it's a big cliché--though clichés work for a reason--and as you point out (regarding Arya), revenge will only take you so far. Maybe Sandor has had a spiritual awakening to take him beyond revenge? I do have a soft spot for the Hound, I admit. More plausibly, I think he could be a fly in Littlefinger's ointment, if he gets wind of Sansa's location. He's got a thing for the little bird, right?

But there's a larger question about all these undead, thought-to-be-dead, and not-dead-yet characters. I have a fear of this series turning into a full-blown zombie story. Nothing against zombies, some of my best friends are etc., but I hope Martin continues to transcend the genre.
Rob Munnelly
20. RobMRobM
Toryx - I know exactly what Tyrion is going to do. Let's see - someone who has run to Essos, has a serious hate of the current rulers of Westeros and would love to see them toppled, has a longstanding fascination with dragons, has expertise is designing of unusual saddles, is the right size/weight for riding on undersized flying animals....and, on the flip side, a Queen with three dragons needing riders and only herself as an identified candidate to date.
Nancy Lebovitz
21. NancyLebovitz
Pure wishful thinking on my part, but I wonder what Sansa would do if she acquired some clues about the social structure she's been living in. I like to think she'd become a Wicked Queen, but Cersei seems to have taken that slot.
Rob Munnelly
22. RobMRobM
@21 - If I were a betting man, I'd say that Sansa's is going to be happily married to Tyrion in truth at the end of the books. He has a great heart, he's going to be a hero and Sansa always wanted to marry one - and my hope is she's going to be mature enough by then to look past his superficial apparances, appropriately concluding her character arc.

Kat Blom
23. pro_star
RobM2: well, that would be nice, but I still think that would be a HUGE jump for a character like Sansa.
Nancy Lebovitz
24. NancyLebovitz
Ending up with Tyrion could be good for Sansa, but there may not be much in it for him except for her looks and status. I get the impression her intelligence is low average, while he's brilliant.

Admittedly, it could work out like that, especially if she acquires competence at intrigue-- if she doesn't get an understanding of the people around her, she's potentially deadly by accident.

Tyrion and Brienne is a more interesting pairing. He used to be one of the most benevolant people in the series, and I hope he can get that back. She's a hero, and Tyrion might need the physical back-up.

I realize it's normal to use beauty as a prize in stories, but ASoIaF is a place where the pretty people tend to be trouble.
Rob Munnelly
25. RobMRobM
I see Sansa as being smart but with blinders on because of her naivete. (Arya said Sansa was good in everything re being a lady except math, as I recall.) With blinders off, she has the potential to be really something. And I like the idea of their ridiculous marriage actually working out in the end - almost poetic.

Nancy Lebovitz
26. NancyLebovitz
Alternate happy ending for Sansa: The current batch of nobility is mostly crap, and they're killing each other off at a pretty good rate.

Westeros isn't necessarily going to start on democracy, even at the Magna Carta level (though that wouldn't be a bad idea), but I think the coming winter is going to lead to a new batch of noble houses at a minimum.

I could see Sansa (having acquired good sense) marrying one of the better nouveau nobles-- someone who hasn't yet appeared or is a minor character.
Rob Munnelly
27. RobMRobM
@26 - Edric Dayne? Nephew of Ned's original lady love. There's some potential poetry there too. (I'm a romantic, I confess.)
David B
28. fuddy
Jaqen H'ghar, a very intriguing character
David B
29. mountain
The last two books read to me like Brienne and Jaime are being set up as a couple. I believe Sansa will come into her own, but how? Not through a "true knight," surely. And surely not the way Littlefinger imagines (or to his benefit...). Re: Sansa and Tyrion, they're probably going to have to deal with the fact of their marriage at some point, but I don't see her ever getting over his Lannister-ness, which is a much greater deformation from her perspective than his dwarfism.
Joe Vondracek
30. joev
Bran seems like a major wild card to me. He has some powers, the extent of which hasn't really been discovered. The Reeds are taking him north, beyond the Wall, so that he can... what? Learn how to use his powers? Overcome his crippled legs? And then what? Technically, based on the laws of Westeros, Bran is Robb's heir and is thus Lord Stark of Winterfell. This would have to have major significance at some point in the story down the line, perhaps in dealing with House Bolton's betrayal.

As to Arya being a murderous sociopath: has she killed anyone other than to protect herself or others? As written, she does have some kind of conscience, so I'm not understanding the OP's attitude towards her. I foresee her returning to Westeros and hooking up with Gendry as they have an obvious attraction towards one another.
Katie McNeal
31. Katiya
Is it pretty well understood, then, that the Hound isn't dead? I don't follow this fandom really closely, and I admit that I had trouble accepting that he would go off-screen like that, plus have a non-critical character deliver the's a major red flag to any fantasy fan. But GRRM is notorious for things like that, right?
David B
32. DarrenJL
Rickon. Rickon is becoming my favourite character in the series, largely due to the tv show. He's just a baby right now, but he's a wild one. And he will be coming into his own strength in the winter.
David B
33. Mouette
@31. I don't know if we've had any official confirmation of whether the Hound is dead or alive, but it's as you said - there are red flags. Similar to the red flags surrounding Davos' death - it feels wrong for characters like Davos and the Hound to be killed off-screen. Martin doesn't shy from killing characters or letting us think people are dead, but when he actually kills someone, it seems to me like he lets us see it from *someone*'s perspective, at least.

We didn't find out about the Red Wedding from Littlefinger and Varys discussing it, we found out about it because we were right there in Cat's head while she was getting her throat slit. It would have been incredibly hard to swallow, getting that sort of character death second hand.

Plus, I'm a huge Sansa/Hound fan, so personally I just have my fingers crossed that he's still alive XD
Stuart Hobbs
34. rocketshobbs
@30 Joev: I like the idea of Arya and Gendry, it seems like a foil to the original pairing of Sansa and Joffrey... which always brings up the point of Sansa thinking she was marrying a Baratheon King but would have (and did) married a Lannister.
David B
35. aworekfas
"...we were right there in Cat's head while she was getting her throat slit. It would have been incredibly hard to swallow..."

Indeed. It is always difficult to swallow after getting one's throat slit.

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