HBO’s Game of Thrones

The Seven ASOIAF Theories Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

There are only two episodes left in Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and it’s a big deal. This was the first season that the showrunners went largely “beyond book” and the implications for book fans are mounting.

Most show-watchers know at least one book-reader that is constantly referencing character arcs (often of characters not even on the show) or sagely repeating a prophecy as if that piece of theory is the key to predicting what direction the show will go. We’re theory-hounds ourselves and if you aren’t (yet!) then settle in as we present to you the key Book Theories still relevant to the show!

As a reminder there are many that the show has rendered irrelevant. Clegane Bowl has seemingly been canceled. The identity of the Harpy doesn’t appear to matter. You will never convince us that Tyrion is a secret Targaryen*. The Bloodraven and Bran theories have been blown wide open and, sadly, we’re pretty sure Varys isn’t actually a mermaid.

So what theories are still in the game?  Check out our significant list of seven below, scored in Raven Eyes for likelihood. Spoilers everywhere. 


R+L=J or Who is Jon Snow’s Mother?


Theory Explained: One of the earliest mysteries of A Song of Ice and Fire is the identity of Jon Snow’s mother. There are many well-written and very detailed articles/essays about this theory and outlining all of the evidence would be its own article, so we are just going to cover some of the big points. To refresh your memory, Ned Stark returned from Robert’s Rebellion with a baby that he claimed as his own bastard. As far as it is presented in the books (and show), the only time he acknowledges the identity of the mother is when discussing the issue with Robert (and he does not even really confirm that Wylla is Jon’s mother; he may have been confirming the name of the servant Robert is referring to). He does not discuss the issue with anyone else, even threatening Cat when she tries to bring up the subject. But fans have pieced together the many clues and have deduced that Rhaegar Targaryen + Lyanna Stark = Jon Snow (or R+L=J for short). It is already stated in the books that Lyanna was held at the Tower of Joy in Dorne for the duration of the war, and Ned found her there after the sack of King’s Landing (in the show, we have already seen young Ned’s confrontation with the Kingsguard). Unfortunately, Lyanna died shortly after extracting a promise from Ned, a promise that haunts him for the rest of his life. There is enough evidence in the books to suggest that Lyanna died in childbirth, and fans assume that the promise is somehow related to protecting her newborn child (i.e., Jon). There’s also evidence to suggest that Lyanna was not raped by Rhaegar but went willingly (e.g., her comments about Robert and her betrothal, her reaction to Rhaegar playing his harp at the tourney at Harrenhal). And, of course, there is the blue rose imagery woven throughout Lyanna’s presence in the novels (e.g., the rose crown at Harrenhal, blue roses in Ned’s dream about Tower of Joy) and Dany’s vision of a blue rose growing out of a chink in a wall of ice, which many assume to be connected with Jon.  

Probability: 3 out of 3 Raven eyes for sure.

R+L=J is the the most accepted fan theory. It’s also important to remember that GRRM asked David Benioff and Dan Weiss to guess the identity of Jon Snow’s mother during his first business meeting with them, so GRRM expects that people paying attention to details can figure out the mystery. The clues are in the books, and the show has included some of these clues (e.g., referring to the tourney at Harrenhal). The inclusion of the Tower of Joy sequence in season 6 is further evidence the reveal is coming (maybe in the last episode of season 6?). Otherwise, why include the Tower of Joy at this point in the story if it doesn’t bear some impact?


The Dragon has three heads, and two of them may be Azor Ahai and The Prince That Was Promised


Theory Explained: Azor Ahai was a legendary hero, wielding a burning sword called Lightbringer, destined to fight against the darkness. It is strongly believed by various characters in the books that Azor Ahai will be reborn in this time, destined to fight against the darkness that the White Walkers will bring. Melisandre states, “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt” and that this “warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” The Prince That Was Promised prophecy reads much the same, also a prophesied savior and hero to deliver the world from darkness and a bleeding star is supposed to herald his coming. The main mention of the Prince is during the book version of Daenerys’ trippy journey through the House of the Undying when she sees a vision of Rhaegar, holding his son Aegon while saying, “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire”.

The other oft mentioned phrase that seems to tie into these two prophesied heroes is that “the dragon has three heads”, another piece of cryptic wisdom that vision-Rhaegar doles out to Daenerys. Many believe that Azor Ahai and The Prince That Was Promised are interchangeable, or that the prophecy could apply to multiple people and that in conjunction with the dragon has three heads, there probably are… wait for it…three people.

The question is who? Currently, the front runners amongst the A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones analysts seem to be Jon Snow and Daenerys. In A Dance with Dragons, Jon was killed under the bleeding star of the unfortunate bleeding Ser Patrek of King’s Mountain, the salt from his tears and the smoke from his steaming wounds being the salt and smoke of the prophecy. And, as we have seen in the show, Jon is reborn and Melisandre certainly seems to have switched allegiances in the show, admitting to Davos that she now believes that Jon is the Prince That Was Promised. In the books, she is getting there as well, having looked in the fires and seeing “only Snow”. Daenerys, on the other hand, was reborn in the fires of Drogo’s funeral pyre under the bleeding red comet in the sky. If these two fulfill two of the heads of the dragon, then the next question is, who is the third?

Those theories range from the plausible (Tyrion, Bran, etc.) to the absurd (Hot Pie, the Hound, basically any fan favorite). We think we may have to wait and see for those answers.

Probability: 3 out of 3 Raven Eyes

This prophecy is mentioned too many times throughout the books and in the show (remember that time that Renly called Stannis “a ham” when Melisandre spoke of him being born amidst salt and smoke?) to not come true in some fashion. With Jon being brought back to life this season (Thanks Mel! We don’t know if you’ll be responsible in the books as well, but still, much appreciated), it seems only a matter of time until he fulfills his destiny to save everyone against the White Walkers. He just has to survive the next episode…we hear there is some kind of battle. Daenerys, too, seems ready for the wars to come, already a dragon rider. In the books, it was Maester Aemon who believed that Dany was the Princess That Was Promised, as Valyrian nouns are gender neutral. Linguistics aside, if she of the many titles wants to take part, she better get on Drogon’s back and fly back to Westeros or she’ll miss the great battle she is supposed to help win.


Who is the Valonqar?


Theory Explained: Teenage Cersei visits Maggy the Frog to find out her future. Most of Maggy’s prophecies have already come to pass, (Tommen, you are definitely next, sorry/not sorry) but there is one that still hasn’t reared its ugly head.

Maggy tells Cersei, “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 high Valryian for little brother and Cersei’s immediate thought goes to Tyrion. Brother and sister have a highly volatile relationship. She has hated him from birth, blaming him for the death of her mother, Joanna. As the years pass, the rivalry between siblings becomes more dangerous and fuels Cersei’s fear that Tyrion is indeed the one. It doesn’t help that Tyrion is his usual spiteful, sarcastic self around her. One day that’s going to get you in trouble, Tyrion! Oh wait…

Probability: 3 out of 3 Raven Eyes.

What Cersei takes for granted is that Tyrion is not her only younger sibling. Although twins, Cersei was born first. Jaime and Cersei’s TV relationship is moving a bit slower than their book relationship. By A Feast for Crows Jaime comes to realize that Cersei has been using him and he’s had enough, and he rejects his sister in favor of personal development. There’s one last little scene from the books coming up for Jaime and Brienne shippers (it’s not what you think, Bronns of the world) and we really do hope we get to see it on the show.  

Could Jaime be the one to end Cersei’s life? Both Jaime and Cersei have had thoughts about their deaths and always imagine that they must be together in the end. In A Storm of Swords, Jaime thinks to himself, “We will die together as we were born together.” In A Dance With Dragons, Cersei tells her Uncle Kevan that “We came into this world together, Uncle. He would not go without me.” These are just two of many instances that the twins believe that they are destined to leave the earth as they came into it.


The Mad Queen Daenerys Targaryen 


Theory Explained: There is this belief that the Targaryen’s carry an insanity gene in their DNA (most likely due to all that inbreeding, if we’re being honest, or dragon blood).  In A Song of Ice and Fire, it is mentioned that in each Targaryen there is the potential for madness or greatness. Sometimes the madness does not manifest itself until something triggers it. For Daenery’s father, King Aerys II, it was being imprisoned following the Defiance of Duskendale. What exactly was/is/will be the trigger for Daenerys? Was it when she allowed for her brother to be burned to death via molten gold? One can even speculate that her life up until the events of the novels had led her to be paranoid of betrayal and/or any acts of defiance. We see in the novels that she has already started down a path to madness. For example, she has 163 slavers of Meereen crucified in retaliation for the killing of slaves, without differentiating between those slavers who committed the heinous crimes and those who had no involvement. This arbitrary justice can be viewed as her moving closer to embracing her mad side. Was it the fact that these people killed slaves that upset her so, or was it the act of defiance that caused her to react with this draconian form of punishment? The fact that she integrates former slavers into her government says a lot about her true motivations. She also has shown that she has no problem using torture on innocent people (like the wine seller’s daughters in A Dance with Dragons) as a means of gathering intelligence. This points to her being complacent with extreme acts of violence as a means of consolidating her power and as a preventative measure against any form of resistance. Characters from Mace Tyrell to Arianne Martell make comments in the series of Daenerys’ proclivity to this mad side of her personality, although we must acknowledge some bias. In her final A Dance with Dragons chapter the shadowbinder Quaithe says to Daenerys, “Remember who you are, Daenerys, … The dragons know. Do you?

Probability: 2 out of 3 Raven Eyes

While the methods of consolidating her power are cruel, she is not smiling and taking pleasure in these merciless acts of violence. She’s an evolving character with complicated motivations. However, her paranoia over being betrayed is something that makes us believe she has the potential to fully embrace that side of her personality. The fact that she acts so often on fiery impulses is something to ponder. While Daenerys seems to have good intentions as a conqueror, that doesn’t necessarily make her a good ruler. She is learning to rule but her ultimate destiny may not be a Queen of Peace. We don’t see much use for dragons as peacemakers.


The Grand Northern Conspiracy


Theory Explained:  This theory still has legs, though we don’t know for how much longer. Book fans latched onto this idea after A Dance With Dragons was published. By the end of ADWD several events have occurred in the North in which, despite House Stark’s scattered, houeseless, and powerless status, the major Houses of the North have all gone out of their way to pledge or demonstrate their continued allegiance to House Stark. Remember, at this point in the books, Robb is dead, Rickon, Bran, Arya and Sansa are all still missing. Jon is a member of the Night’s Watch (well, up until those last few pages). Stannis holds the Wall and the Boltons are Wardens of the North. And yet we’ve got little girls writing snarky letters, Lords baking vengeance pies and a general arrangement of the North in opposition to the Boltons. Many readers find this all suspect. Far too convenient for the story and, frankly, against GRRM’s style. Unless something else is going on.

So what’s the point? It all boils down to many of the Great Houses of the North being present during the time that Robb Stark declared his brother, Jon Snow, his legitimate heir should Robb die before issue. Not only does the North seek revenge against the Boltons and Freys, but they are carefully moving towards the idea that Robb Stark gave them a taste of: a true King in the North for a Northern Kingdom completely separate from the rest of Westeros. This kind of political power would be very appealing to the Northern Houses, whose culture and economy is far removed from that of the South. They’ve identified the guy with the greatest claim to that power and they are carefully setting the board to their advantage.

Yes, as so many theories in ASOIAF, this one ends with Jon Snow. In this case, as Lord of Winterfell and King of Winter.

Probability: 1 out of 3 Raven Eyes.

While the show hasn’t done much set up for The North Remembers (looking at you, Glovers. You are dead to us.) many show watchers believe that the mere idea of the fierce Northern Houses betraying their vows to House Stark is completely unbelievable. Particularly in the climate the show has presented, in which Sansa is alive and claiming her birthright, while Jon Snow is no longer a member of the Night’s Watch and seeking to support his sister’s claim. And the capture of Rickon and murder of Shaggydog? Could this be a bait and switch? Is there something else going on? The Umbers are a complicated house in the books so they could be playing off that idea for the show. Why does the show keep carefully mentioning the Manderlys even though we’ve never met them? Because Sansa is in the North, it is less likely that the Northern Houses would want Jon as King, but that’s not saying they aren’t open to a Queen. And we’re still holding out for an epic Manderly bake-off.


Disease is Coming for the Seven Kingdoms


Theory Explained: We’re not sure if this one counts as a theory anymore or just as inevitable, horrible, truth. Jon Connington, cut from the show but not our hearts, suffers from greyscale as he struggles to re-establish Targaryen rule in service of his long dead bestie, Rhaegar Targaryen. In the books he’s already wandering around Westeros touching EVERYTHING. Just everything. While the show has afflicted Jorah Mormont with the disease. As far as we know he’s still in Essos searching for the cure on his Queencrush’s orders. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be returning home to also TOUCH EVERYTHING.

This means that an outbreak of greyscale is inevitable for the people of Westeros. It’s a disease they don’t know much about. We don’t even know how Shireen lived through it (yes we do, it was Patchface. Patchfaaaace!) Such a disease will devastate a continent already in turmoil due to war. And just when Jon Snow will need as many bodies as he can get in his army against the Night’s King. Unless he figures out how to recruit Stone Men? Or maybe Jorah will? He’ll have to think up some way of fixing what he started. And they might be conveniently immune to dragon fire…

Probability: 2 out of 3 Raven Eyes.

Jon Connington is the saddest hopeless romantic in ASOIAF. Jorah fills that role for the show. They’ve both got greyscale and they are both touching EVERYTHING. It’s going to happen. What we don’t know is if anyone will bother to ask Patchface for the cure.


R’hllor VS The Great Other


Theory Explained: If you examine the books (or the show for that matter) thematically you can easily identify that the larger conflict in ASOIAF is that of Fire and Ice. George R.R. Martin has done an incredible amount of world building in his novels, filling the stories with harmonious and disparate cultures and religions. Every region seems to have their own religion, which makes sense. However, there’s one religion that doesn’t seem to have any borders—a religion that crosses cultures and holds sway in even the lands most entrenched in their own, native  religious practices. That religion is, of course, the worship of the Lord of Light. R’hllor. The Fire-based religion attracts the downtrodden and forgotten of the lands of Westeros and Essos, making it a religion of the common folk. Readers are exposed to the Faith of the Seven, The Old Gods, The Many-Faced God, and even the Drowned God as religions that primarily serve the needs and aspirations of the economically and politically elite. (Sidenote: This is one of the reasons The Crown vs the Faith is even interesting despite the Sparrows’ endless droning, since until now it has been inconceivable that the Faith would not assist the Crown in its goals.)

R’hllor is also one of the only religions in which there is repeated and tangible proof of “magic” by its priests and practitioners. Thoros of Myr and Melisandre of Asshai have both accomplished incredible feats, including resurrections, in the name of the Lord of Light. Other priests, like Moqorro, are performing magic healings and conjurings. That is not to say that R’hllor is not corrupt. Many of his priests and priestesses practice blood magic and ritual sacrifice that looks pretty darn evil.

Conversely we are also faced with Ice. The opposite of resurrection, the necromancy of the god the followers of R’hllor refer to as the Great Other.  Melisandre has seen visions in her fires that she believes represent the Great Other, that readers will recognize as Others. Wights. The Night’s King and his army of undead. As well as visions of Bran. Could this mean that the Old Gods, that the show has linked with the creation of The Others by the Children of the Forest, are the incarnation of Death to R’hllor’s Life? Or has the religion of the Children been integrated into the Ice Magic of the Great Other, influenced by death? It’s clear that the Wall is itself an enormous feat of magic, while the abilities of Bran and his siblings, linked to the Old Gods, are also concrete examples of magic.

Probability: 3 out of 3 Raven Eyes.

We know that this will all end in a great battle between the Light and the Darkness, Fire and Ice, Life and Death. But, we’re also familiar with ASOIAF and we know that nothing is simple and truth is always relative. If R’hllor and the Old Gods are the only religions that can claim “real” magic, it doesn’t mean one is evil and the other good. If we’ve learned anything from Arya’s time with the Many-Faced God it’s that we may be seeing two sides of the same very powerful coin.


*Tyrion as Secret Targaryen. Look, we get it. There’s suspicious circumstances involving the timing of his conception. That Tywin and Aerys had a falling out over SOMETHING. That Tyrion has really blonde hair and a fascination with dragons and the Dragon has Three Heads. We get it. We just happen to hate this theory. We think Tywin deserves Tyrion as his true heir and that not everyone is a secret Targ. And we wrote the article. We’re officially giving this one 0 out of 3 Raven Eyes. So there!

Hello, we are Fire and Lunch! Five years ago, a bunch of superfans came together to celebrate their favorite book series over food, and the rest is history. You can find our in-depth analysis (complete with POP-toy gifs) of Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, and other fantasy series on tumblr and twitter. If you’re into fast talking, intelligent discourse, and some pretty deep geek humor, check out our podcast, The Piecast.


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