The best ‘Game of Thrones’ theories

Study up for season 8 with the best 'Game of Thrones' theories

game of thrones season 8
Helen Sloan/HBO

Few shows generate the great volume of fan speculation that Game of Thrones does, and while the show is approaching its final stretch of episodes, there’s plenty of story left and many theories that could still prove true. One could fill a book with fan theories about this epic tale, but we’ve narrowed it down to five of the most popular Game of Thrones theories in existence.

Spoiler alert! If you’re not all caught up on the first seven seasons and the current books, read on at your own risk.

Cleganebowl: Back on schedule?

Game of thrones theories Cleganebowl

The Cleganebowl has been one of the more popular fan theories for years, and despite some false alarms, the true believers — such as those on the Cleganebowl subreddit — still maintain their long vigil. So what exactly is the Cleganebowl?

Cleganebowl is the long-awaited showdown between the Clegane brothers, Sandor (The Hound) and Gregor (The Mountain), who have had one of the most intense sibling rivalries in the Game of Thrones universe since they were children when the older Gregor shoved Sandor’s face into a pile of burning coals. Although the show introduces both characters as villains, Sandor’s character arc has been one of redemption, as the cynical warrior confronts his violent past and strives to save the future. Gregor, meanwhile, is one of the story’s biggest monsters, a giant, sadistic knight who commits atrocities on a daily basis.

Given their history and Sandor’s path from antagonist to antihero, fans have been expecting the two to fight to the death. For a long time, the expectation was that Cleganebowl would emerge from Cersei’s trial. Facing charges from the High Sparrow, Cersei would demand trial by combat, appointing the undead Gregor as her champion, while the newly devout Sandor would fight on behalf of the Faith. Cersei destroyed that theory when she simply blew up the Great Sept of Baelor with the High Sparrow and most of her other enemies inside. Meanwhile, Sandor rode north with the Brotherhood Without Banners to fight the White Walkers. The chances of Cleganebowl sank like a Dothraki on the high seas.

Like a Red Priestess, however, the season 7 finale resurrected the Cleganebowl theory. When Jon Snow, Daenerys, and their comrades met with Cersei and her forces to negotiate a temporary alliance against the White Walkers, Sandor takes a moment to threaten his zombie brother, saying “It’s not how it ends for you, brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.”

Jaime Lannister: Queenslayer?

Game of Thrones theories Jamie kills Cersei?

Those up on their Game of Thrones history know that, as a child, Cersei visited a witch named Maggy the Frog demanding her fortune. Maggy promises to answer three questions. She tells Cersei that she will not wed the prince but will wed the king, that the king will have 20 children and she will have three. These first two premonitions have come to pass. Cersei did not wed Prince Rhaegar as she anticipated, but King Robert instead. Robert had 20 children with other women, while Cersei had three with Jaime.

Maggy continues “Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,” she said. “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” By the end of season 6, all three of Cersei’s children are dead — hence the shrouds — and all that’s left to pass is for the “valonqar” to kill her. Valonqar is Valyrian for “little brother,” and Cersei assumes it refers to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who has reason to kill her after she tried to have him executed. But many believe Jaime, who is Cersei’s twin but was born second, will be the one to kill her. (Note that, while the valonqar is part of the original story, the TV series cuts away before Maggy’s mention of the valonqar, so it ultimately may not factor in.)

Although Jaime stood by Cersei through many misdeeds, he finally broke ranks with her at the end of season 7 after she revealed that she had no intention of sending her forces north to fight the White Walkers, preferring to sit back and watch her rivals kill each other. Jaime has already killed one monarch who posed a threat to the people — Mad King Aerys — landing him the nickname “Kingslayer.” It seems tragically poetic that he would feel morally compelled to bring an end to Cersei as well.

Bran and the Mad King

Game of Thrones theories Bran and Mad King Aerys

Bran’s training with the Three-Eyed Raven in season 6 left him with some nifty powers, one of which is the ability to project his consciousness back in time. Not only can he witness events from the past as they actually happened, but he can interact with people in the past. As he watches Ned approach the Tower of Joy, Ned turns around and looks in his direction, not seeing him but clearly sensing something. In a more shocking turn, Bran possessed a young Hodor, fraying his mind and creating a psychic link that allowed Meera’s command to “Hold the door” to reach him in the past — where we discover the meaning behind the name “Ho-dor.”

Bran’s time traveling opens a lot of possibilities for involvement in different scenes from Westerosi history, and given the damage he inflicted on Hodor’s mind, some have theorized that he also drove Mad King Aerys mad. Bran has already visited Aerys once, witnessing as he orders his men to “Burn them all!” The theory goes that Bran will try to convince Aerys to burn the White Walkers, but the king won’t understand the words he is hearing and will simply attempt to burn his subjects.

Jon Snow is Azor Ahai reborn?

Game of Thrones theories Jon is Azor Ahai?

What fantasy series would be complete without a prophesied hero rising up to halt the forces of darkness? Even Game of Thrones, which is known for subverting fantasy tropes, seems to be leaning into the “chosen one” archetype with The Prince That Was Promised. The followers of R’hllor, the Lord of Light, believe in a prophecy in which The Prince arises to stop the White Walkers. Melisandre (Carice van Houten) implies that The Prince will be the reincarnation of Azor Ahai, a legendary figure from the Age of Heroes, who used his magic sword Lightbringer to smite the White Walkers.

As the series builds to a seemingly inevitable clash between the living and the dead, fans expect this prophecy to come true in some way or another, and there are some popular choices about who might be The Prince That Was Promised. With his rare code of honor and consistent ability to escape death, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) seems the most obvious choice.

Melisandre seems to think Jon is Azor Ahai reborn, and there’s good evidence. In the novel A Dance with Dragons, she reflects on a vision from R’hllor: “I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R’hllor shows me only Snow.” Season 6 of GoT only fueled the fire, while confirming a longstanding theory that Jon is actually the son of Lyanna Stark.

Part of the prophecy states “There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world.” In the season 6 finale, The Winds of Winter, Bran revisits the scene of his father Ned, years earlier, “rescuing” Lyanna from the Tower of Joy. Ned finds her in bed, having given birth to a child. In a crucial bit of framing, Ned leaves the Sword Dawn, which is forged from a “fallen star,” at the foot of Lyanna’s bed, which is stained with blood. Many have taken this to fulfill the “when the stars bleed” portion of the prophecy.

Jon may be the obvious choice for the Prince Who Was Promised, but GoT is known for throwing curveballs, and there is another, intriguing school of thought that claims Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is the Prince. A blog called Game of Thrones & Norse Mythology suggests that Jaime is not only an analog for the Norse god Tyr, a warrior who similarly lost his hand, but also a candidate for the role of Azor Ahai. The writer suggests that the bleeding star refers to Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal). The Martell sigil features a red sun, and Oberyn dies in bloody fashion at the hands of Gregor Clegane. Oberyn’s defeat also condemns Tyrion to death — he had been fighting as Tyrion’s champion in a trial by combat — and Jaime chooses to help Tyrion escape, against the wishes of his father and sister. Jaime is reborn, in a sense. Again, most signs point to Jon as the Prince That Was Promised, but if you want a dark horse to bet on, Jaime’s your man.

Will Jon have to sacrifice Daenerys?

game of thrones theories got jon sacrifice daenerys

Heading into Game of Thrones’ final stretch, it makes sense to speculate about how the story will end. Given the show’s high body count, it wouldn’t be surprising if any number of major characters end up dead (or undead), and as George R. R. Martin himself has said, people ought to “expect something bittersweet in the end.” It’s unlikely that Jon, Daenerys, and the rest of the gang are going to march north, beat the White Walkers in glorious combat, and live out the rest of their days ruling Westeros and raising a happy family.

Although Jon and Daenerys, who both lost their first loves tragically, found their way to each other’s arms at the end of season 7, their relationship could be doomed? As previously mentioned, many believe that Jon will turn out to be the reincarnation of Azor Ahai, the legendary hero who vanquished the forces of darkness millennia ago. Azor Ahai didn’t beat the legions of the dead through sheer pluck and luck, however — he had to pay a terrible price.

As Salladhor Saan explained to Davos in A Clash of Kings (the third novel in the series), Azor Ahai struggled to forge a truly heroic blade. On his third attempt to create a magical sword, “as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart … her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.”

Fans of the franchise have speculated that Jon will have to perform a similar sacrifice to defeat the White Walkers, and given that he and Daenerys are now lovers, might she be his Nissa Nissa? It bears remembering that Azor Ahai, if he existed, lived thousands of years before Game of Thrones begins, and the facts of his story may have morphed into tall tales over that span of time. His story could just as easily be a parable meant to illustrate the necessity of sacrifice, rather than actual instructions on how to make a magic sword. Besides, it would be odd for the story to take one of the main protagonists and, in the end, reduce her to a sacrificial lamb. Still, it’s hard to imagine the heroes saving the world without losing anything in the process.

Is Bran the Night King?

game of thrones theories bran is night king

Alright, this theory is a bit more tenuous, but it’s popular enough to warrant discussing. The theory that the Night King is actually Bran is largely a product of the show, where we’ve seen Bran’s powers to a greater extent. In addition to the fact that he can “warg,” transferring his consciousness to other bodies, Bran also has “greensight,” through which he has prophetic dreams about the future and the past and, after training with the Three-eyed Raven, can project his consciousness back in time to witness past events in full.

Given that Bran can actually interact with the past (as mentioned above), some viewers suggest it is possible that he will travel back to the moment where the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers and end up jumping into the body of the man they turned into the Night King, thus getting trapped as the Night King himself. This actually ties nicely into the theory that Jon is Azor Ahai reborn; if Jon has to slay his own brother to stop the White Walkers, that would certainly be a heroic sacrifice on par with Azor Ahai’s.

The Bran-Night King conspiracy relies on a lot of circumstantial evidence and imagery. One particularly juicy scene is the one in which Bran, using greensight, sees the army of the dead and the Night King not only looks directly at Bran, but also reaches out and touches him. This could simply indicate that the Night King also has greensight, or a similar ability to interact with people on a spiritual plane, but for Bran truthers, it indicates that they have a deeper connection.

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