If there's two things fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series can agree on, it's that 1) author George R.R. Martin is weaving an incredibly dense tale where far more happens (and has happened) than what's just on the page, and 2) that no character is safe from GRRM's murderous pen.
In regards to the former, fans have spent the last 17 years since A Game of Thrones was first published reading between the lines, trying to figure out the series' many, many mysteries. One astute fan by the name of Full-Faced Braavosi took the time to compile all the theories, both likely and insane, over at the mega-fansite Westeros.org; we thought we'd take the chance to make sure all you ASoIaF readers are caught up on every fan theory you absolutely need to know.
Warning: Spoilers for all five books ahead! And click the links at the end of each section for more details and discussion over at Westeros.org.
It's the question all A Song of Ice and Fire readers ask themselves in book one, and never stop asking. The most prevalent theory is that Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, who abducted Eddard's sister Lyanna and the love of Robert Baratheon's life and inadvertently started the rebellion that deposed the Targaryens, had sex with Lyanna – maybe consensually, maybe not – and Lyanna died giving birth to Jon. Knowing that Jon would be in considerable danger if his half-Targaryen blood were revealed (remember, Robert was determined to kill every last Targaryen on the planet), he pretended the boy was his own bastard, and took him to Winterfell, telling nobody the truth. Although Ned is incredibly secretive regarding Jon's parentage, he does remember making Lyanna a promise on her death bed, which was likely to keep Jon secret and safe.
This parentage seems likely to most readers – so likely, in fact, that some people believe it's too obvious to be true. Other fans have theorized that Jon is genuinely Ned's child, possibly with some random woman, or possibly with Ashara Dayne, whom Ned was rumored to once love. The question is whether Ned's honor is great enough to have precluded him from fathering a bastard — certainly Catelyn and Ned's friends were shocked at the idea Ned had cheated – and as shown in GoT, Ned is honorable to a fault. So although it seems unlikely, if he did lapse, his shame might be the reason he's so quiet about Jon's parentage. But if his mother is Ashara Dayne or some random wench, that doesn't really explain why he wouldn't at least tell Jon.
Certainly, George R.R. Martin loves his head games, but the idea that Rhaegar and Lyanna are Jon's true parents makes the most narrative sense. And it seems unlikely that Martin would be hinting at the mystery so much only to reveal Jon is just Ned's regular ol' bastard. (For more details and theories continue reading here.)
Azor Ahai (also commonly called the Prince That Was Promised) is the legendary hero who defeated the Others long, long ago, and is said to come again to fight the Others again when they return, with his sword Lightbringer by his side. The red priestess Melisandre clearly believes Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai, and wants everyone to know it. However, Melisandre's visions of Azor Ahai don't seem to be nearly as Stannis-oriented as she seems to think, and most readers think if one character fits the bill, it will be Jon Snow, despite – or perhaps because of – his current, uh, situation, which would make being "reborn" rather… uniquely appropriate.
But it might not just be one character. In The House of the Undying, Daenerys sees a prophecy/vision of Rhaegar naming his son Aegon, claiming he will be the Prince That Was Promised – but then he also says "The Dragon shall have three heads." Could that means Azor Ahai is not one person, but three? That would hint that Daenerys and Jon Snow are two of the Dragon's heads, but then who would be the third? There are two possible answers below. (For more, continue reading here.)
We all know "dragons" equal "Targaryens" in A Song of Ice and Fire. Daenerys is already a Targaryen, and as per above, most people think Jon is, too. So what about the third most important character in the series, Tyrion? Some readers believe that the Mad King Aerys is Tyrion's real father, having forced himself on Tywin's wife Joanna, with Tywin never knowing, or possibly even being a willing pimp. GRRM mentions at one point that Aerys definitely found Joanna attractive. Jon describes Tyrion as having hair so blonde as to be white, which sounds a lot more like Targaryen's hair color than the Lannister blond; plus, Tyrion has one green eye (very Lannister) and one black eye… while Daenerys' eye color is described as to be so purple it's practically black. Last but not least, Tywin himself tells Tyrion he's "no son of mine," although admittedly, that's immediately after Tyrion shoots him with a crossbow, so perhaps he was just being shitty.
The biggest reason for this theory seems to be Tyrion's prominence in the story, which equals Jon Snow and Daenerys, making them the three primary protagonists. Tyrion being a secret Targaryen would easily explain why GRRM has followed his story so closely, even when he flees King's Landing at the end of A Storm of Swords, and essentially leaves the "Game" for quite some time. Besides, the next most obvious Targaryen candidate is Aegon (more on him below), who only showed up in the most recent book, and has had no point-of-view chapters.
On the other hand, someone claiming Aerys found Joanna hot is hardly proof he took her for her own. And Tyrion being a Targaryen would negate all the wonderful issues he's had with his father and Lannister siblings, and that would be an enormous waste. (For more, continue reading here.)
We all know what Littlefinger wants – power. But what about the eunuch Varys? He does at least as much political maneuvering as Littlefinger, but his intentions are not nearly so clear. He tells the imprisoned Ned that he's trying to help the people of Westeros, which is a situation he definitely didn't need to lie in. But if he's telling the truth, how does he plan to help the people?
Arya hears him plotting with Illyrio Mopatis in GoT, planning for the Targaryen-led Khals to attack while Westeros is already at war, and the possibility of needing to kill Ned. Illyrio is the one who wed Daenerys with Khal Drogo, theoretically giving Viserys a cavalry of barbarians (we all know how that worked out, but still). He also helped warn Daenerys that Robert had sent assassins after her. More importantly, Varys is reportedly the person who apparently spirited Prince Rhaegar's infant son Aegon VI out of Westeros to be raised by Illyrio. It seems quite obvious that Varys is a Targaryen supporter, albeit one that realized King Aerys was too mad to rule. The real question is whether Varys truly puts the smallfolk ahead of the Targaryens – and if it comes down to Aegon or Daenerys, who would he pick? (For more, continue reading here.)
The biggest gamechanger in A Dance with Dragons was the supposed arrival of Aegon, Prince Rhaegar's lost son, who was reportedly killed as a baby by The Mountain (along with all the other Targaryens they could get their hands on) at the end of Robert's Rebellion. It's not at all impossible to believe that someone switched infants before the Mountain's rampage, and spirited Aegon away. Supposedly Illyrio has spent time and money raising Aegon in secret, educating him to be the best king possible, having him work with the people and experience life as a commoner so he'll be sympathetic to the plight of the smallfolk. If Varys' (and Illyrio's) real goal is to help the people, building a king from the ground up is a pretty smart move.
Certainly, Aegon believes himself to be legitimate. Many ASoIaF fans don't, mostly because 1) they don't believe that GRRM would bring in another Targaryen this late in the game, and 2) they really want Tyrion to be that third head of the dragon. And in Daenerys' prophetic dream about Rhaegar saying the dragon has three heads, he names his infant Aegon, specifically stating the child is one of the heads. It would be an odd thing for a prophetic dream to get wrong. And last but certainly not least. Varys tells the dying Kevan Lannister that Aegon VI is real, and he'd have absolutely no reason to lie to a man seconds from death.
There's a more elaborate theory here, about Aegon – and possibly Varys –-being a Blackfyre, a part of the Targaryen family that split off over 100 years ago, tried to take over the throne, and was outlawed and (supposedly) destroyed. GRRM has been discussing the Blackfyre rebellion in his "Dunk and Egg" short stories, but whether that means the Blackfyre line will play a part in the ASoIaF books remains to be seen. (For more about Aegon's authenticity, read here, and for more about his potential Blackfyre connection, read here).
The king of the Iron Islands is currently Euron Greyjoy, one of the biggest assholes in the entire series (and that's saying something). He gained the throne when King Balon was walking along one of the high bridges that connected the islands rocky spires, and he fell off to his death. Shortly afterwards, his brother Euron coincidentally arrives even though Balon had exiled him and there's no way he should have been able to know about Balon's death. The leading theory is that Euron, who had been sailing and pirating in the East, hired a Faceless Man to assassinate his brother, making it look like an accident (their specialty). He had the means, the motive and the opportunity. Plus, the old prophet woman known as the Ghost of High Heart says, "I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung. On his shoulder perched a drowned crow with seaweed hanging from his wings." So most fans believe it's pretty much a lock. (For more, continue reading here.)
Everyone wants Syrio Forel, Arya's awesome "dancing instructor" from A Game of Thrones, to be alive. That's how awesome he is. In truth, he doesn't die "on page," so to speak — he sends Arya away, and takes on the armed Lannister guards sent to capture Arya with a wooden training sword. It's dire, but Syrio is the First Sword of Braavos, so it's not completely unreasonable to imagine he still beat the guards, and then went on his merry way. But given that Syrio is Braavosi, and Arya's next adult friend is the Braavosi assassin Jaqen H'ghar, who takes an odd interest in Arya and who can also magically change his face, a lot of people think Jaqen might have been Syrio, still watching over his charge. This would indicate a very early interest in Arya by the Faceless Men, the highly skilled league of assassins that Arya has ended up with, but for no known reason. Still, such is the awesomeness of Syrio. (For more, continue reading here.)
When Jaqen leaves Arya (with the Braavosi coin and the phrase "valar morghulis," which eventually brings her to Braavos and the Faceless Men), that's not the last we see of him. It is undoubtedly Jaqen in the prologue to A Feast for Crows, who – in the guise of the Alchemist, the face Arya saw him change into right before he left her – murders the novice Pate at the Citadel… the same Citadel where Sam Tarly has gone to become a Maester and research the Others… and who meets the same Pate, alive and well. So Jaqen is definitely at the Citadel, disguised as this Pate. Seeing as the Citadel is the most learned place in the world, it seem Jaqen is trying to learn something… or to prevent someone else from learning something. The real question is if he's working for someone specific, or on behalf of all the Faceless Men? (For more, continue reading here.)
There's no real easy way to summarize the amazing fan theory usually referred to as "Southron Ambitions," but the simplest version is that there was a lot more going on in Westeros before Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna Stark and kickstarted Robert's Rebellion. In fact, Rickard Stark, Ned's father, may have had a grand plan to unite the kingdoms against the Targaryen rule on his own, creating relationships with Houses Tully, Baratheon, Arryn, and even House Lannister in preparation for this war. It all went to hell when Rhaegar stole Lyanna and Aerys burned Rickard and Ned's brother Brandon alive, but seriously, read this admittedly lengthy theory here, and prepare to have your mind blown.
Remember, there are many many more theories – none quite as major as these, and not all of them completely sane – over at Westeros.org.
This post was originally published on January 25th, 2013.