The eighth and final season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones arrives on April 14, and with it the end of one of the most epic contests the world has ever seen: the race to see who can concoct the most outlandish theory for what will happen on Game Of Thrones. Ever since the show lapped George R.R. Martin’s novels, it’s been open season for wild conjecture, and these impending final six episodes have only stoked the anticipation to see some of them, any of them actually pan out. Here are 15 of the most popular theories—rife with speculation and potential spoilers, obviously—ranked from most plausible to least.
Cleganebowl is on
Fans have spent years clamoring for “Cleganebowl,” the climactic showdown between beyond-estranged brothers Sandor “The Hound” (Rory McCann) and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Hafthór Björnsson). It seems pretty likely the final season will make good on this, unless the creators would rather be pestered about it for the rest of their public lives. There have been other hints, beginning with The Hound telling his undead brother in the season seven finale, “You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” And in addition to that classic bit of pre-fight trash talk, Björnsson was asked in an Instagram Q&A about his favorite scene in the show, and replied, “It happens in season 8… so I can’t speak about it.” Granted, that’s pretty vague (maybe Björnsson just really loved seeing Jon and Arya reunited), but it certainly suggests the big payoff is coming. What’s more, Björnsson followed up with a photo of himself in his Mountain makeup, looking even more bruised than usual.
The whole show will be revealed as Samwell Tarly’s story
Sensitive and sensible, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) probably should have been gutted ages ago. Yet he’s become one of Game Of Thrones’ unlikeliest—and most unkillable—heroes. As Bradley himself has said, “If he’s still around at this stage, you do suspect that there is gonna be a point to keeping him around.” And while the series definitely needs someone to pore over musty tomes and “well, actually…” Jon, many believe Sam has a much grander purpose: writing the story of Game Of Thrones.
The show’s been hinting in that direction since last season, when Sam tells one of the maesters of the Citadel that his in-progress history book, A Chronicle of the Wars Following the Death of King Robert I, could use a “more poetic” title. There’s also the fact that the Citadel sports a gyroscope very similar to the one seen in Game of Thrones’ opening credits, suggesting it’s the origin of the show we’ve been watching. And finally, Martin himself has said that, of all his characters, Sam is the one closest to himself. All of this definitely points to the show ending with Sam finally sitting down to put all this to paper—perhaps while a hundred nerds gather around him, clamoring that he hurry up.
Jaime will kill Cersei
For decades now, A Song Of Ice And Fire readers have been predicting that Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) will be driven to add “Queenslayer” to his résumé and kill Cersei (Lena Headey). It’s to the point where some now regard it as “too obvious,” there’s no denying that anyone besides Jaime killing his sister-lover would never be as narratively satisfying. Last season’s finale saw Jaime refusing to have any part of Cersei’s latest treachery and riding off, presumably toward Winterfell.
Since then, some sharp fans have noticed that, in the recent round of production photos, Jaime appears to have traded his gilded Lannister armor for more rough-and-tumble Northern Army wear, suggesting season eight will definitely see him joining Jon and Daenerys’ forces. With his allegiances shifted, it seems likely that Jaime will fulfill the dark prophecy that Cersei will be killed by her “valonqar” (High Valyrian for “little brother”), as well as the inevitably tragic arc of the show’s most messed-up love story.
Tyrion will betray Daenerys
On the subject of prophecies, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has long been living under the threat of three betrayals: one for blood, one for gold, and another for love. It’s widely believed she’s already seen the first two—a healer killed her unborn child for revenge; Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) spied on her for gold—so there’s just one more to go.
Many believe it will be Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), whose relationship with Daenerys was complicated even before he watched her having sex with her nephew, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). There have been a few, mostly inferred hints that Tyrion is in love—or at least, lust—with Daenerys, prompting him to act out of jealousy. Though it’s also possible he’ll be moved by love for his family: In his tense reunion with Cersei last season, Tyrion’s mood seemed to shift the second he learned she was pregnant, and their off-screen deal sparked speculation that they’d struck some sort of secret détente. Plus, Tyrion definitely didn’t seem to enjoy watching Jaime and the Lannister army getting roasted by Dany’s dragons. Some kind of rift is coming.
Daenerys is pregnant with Jon’s baby
Surprise pregnancies are a staple of final TV seasons, and there’s been a lot of mounting foreshadowing suggesting that Daenerys will have one after rocking the boat with Jon, despite long believing she’s barren. Jorah’s insistence that Jon keep his sword, Tyrion and Daenerys’ oddly specific discussion about securing an heir, Daenerys taking pains to tell Jon that her dragons are “the only children I will ever have”—they’ve definitely laid it on a little thick in setting up the shocking reveal that she was wrong. Ditto the potentially heartbreaking ramifications that pregnancy could have. (More on that later.)
Cersei is pregnant with Euron Greyjoy’s baby
Speaking of incest (with Game Of Thrones, when are we not?), we learned last season that Cersei is pregnant again. She let Jaime believe he’s the father, but there’s a growing suspicion, first proposed by PopSugar, that this was just a ruse, and that Cersei actually laid with Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek)—either out of strategic alliance, or because she could no longer resist his sweaty come-ons.
The father of Cersei’s baby would seem to be a relatively unimportant detail, except for the fact that sleeping with Euron as a power move might signify Cersei’s final break with whatever’s left of her humanity. And as we’ve seen on countless Maury episodes, it would definitely piss off Jaime—maybe even enough to drive him to murder. Let’s call this one mostly plausible.
Tyrion will be revealed as yet another Targaryen
Another longstanding theory says that Tyrion is actually the son of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, whom the whole court knew had the hots for his mother, Joanna. It’s already been established that Tyrion’s late father, Tywin (Charles Dance), suspected that Tyrion wasn’t really his son. Tyrion’s mother also died in childbirth, which seems to be standard exit procedure for Targaryen babies. Meanwhile, fans have also seized on the fact that dragons seem awfully comfortable around Tyrion.
They’ve even (maybe, sort of) joked that his bloodline was all but confirmed in a Doritos commercial. If Tyrion doesn’t end up being the one to betray Daenerys, him suddenly having a whole new family to care about would one way to clear up these muddy allegiances—even if it means cluttering the final season with two “secret Targaryen” reveals, not to mention complicating it with yet more incestuous longing.
Jon Snow is Azor Ahai
Back to prophecies: We’ve spent seven seasons now hearing advance buzz for “The Prince That Was Promised” from Melisandre (Carice Van Houten). This savior would, presumably, be the reincarnation of the equally oft-mentioned Azor Ahai, who once saved humanity from the Others and was predicted would one day return to do it all over again. At first, the ancient sorceress was pretty sure this was Stannis Baratheon, but more recently her attention has shifted to other candidates—beginning with Jon Snow. The show’s definitely been hinting that this is Jon’s destiny by confirming his princely, Targaryen lineage and giving him his own supernatural resurrection. In fact, if he’s not Azor Ahai, it’s probably because…
Daenerys is Azor Ahai
The late Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) once said as much to Sam upon the news of Daenerys’ fiery rebirth as the Mother of Dragons, lamenting that translations in those ever-iffy ancient scrolls had led to everyone mistakenly expecting a man. Daenerys’ claim to the prophecy is as strong as Jon’s, so they’re pretty much equal frontrunners for the big reveal of who will wield the magical sword, Lightbringer, against the forces of darkness. Of course, no matter who gets the call, it’s bound to complicate their relationship. Especially if the next theory pans out.
Jon will have to kill Daenerys to save the world
Lightbringer was no ordinary sword. In the books, it’s said that Azor Ahai forged it by plunging it into the heart of the woman he loved, so that “her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel.” Many fans believe that Jon will be forced to make a similar sacrifice—whether it’s killing Daenerys to make his own Lightbringer, or offering up their unborn child to the Night King, or according to this well-hashed-out theory, even turning her into a White Walker. As the theory goes, they would then achieve peace between the living and dead and go on to rule together—a king descended from fire, his icy corpse of a queen, and all the sitcom hijnks that implies—to give this story the “bittersweet ending” that George R.R. Martin said we should expect.
Bran is the Night King
Ever since we witnessed Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) journey into the past to completely ruin Hodor’s life, a popular theory has taken hold that Bran has been wreaking similar havoc throughout the past. Maybe he is, in fact, every Brandon Stark in those tales Old Nan used to tell him—including Bran The Builder, who created Winterfell and The Wall. As with Hodor, some believe he may have even accidentally driven Aerys Targaryen crazy with his whispered warnings about the White Walkers.
But all of those theories pale next to the persistent speculation that Bran is actually the Night King, having at some point traveled back in time, merged with the man who became the first White Walker, then became trapped. It’s all a bit heady, involving things like “consistent causal loops,” and it’s been backed up by shakier things like their similar gait and fashion sense. That early season eight teaser—where the Stark siblings, sans Bran, gather in the family crypt while a wintry fog rolls in—has only reignited the theory. (For his part, Wright has called the whole thing “a little far-fetched.”)
Littlefinger faked his death
The death last season of Aiden Gillan’s Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, was one of the more surprising in the show’s history—not least because the master manipulator was usually several moves ahead of everything. So it’s no surprise many fans believe Littlefinger even outfoxed his own death. This video lays out the theory, based largely around a mysterious scene where Littlefinger is seen talking to an unknown young woman, who appears to whisper, “Your time’s up” before he hands her a coin.
This was one of the iron coins of Braavos, the video speculates, the same that Arya was given by the faceless assassin Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). The theory concludes that Baelish (whose great-grandfather was from Braavos, after all) must have paid that young woman to take on his face. His every appearance thereafter—including when Arya (Maisie Williams) slit his throat—was actually her in disguise.
This is somewhat backed up by an interview Gillen gave to the L.A. Times, where he explained that he never saw Littlefinger as someone who shows vulnerability, which would seem to contradict the way Littlefinger was last seen crying and begging for his life. (In that same interview, Gillen even drops the line, “Your time is up.”) You can certainly see the appeal of this one, even if it would mean undoing a powerful moment—and a rare win for the Starks. And even if it doesn’t pan out this way, chances are we haven’t seen the last of Littlefinger in some form. You think Arya will let such a valuable face go to waste?
Ned Stark will return
The death of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) has hung over the entire show, so it’s no surprise there’s a theory that it will attempt to come full circle by bringing Ned back—be it as a White Walker, resurrected by the Night King to face off against his children, or even by revealing he never really died in the first place. Again, this theory all relies on the fact that there’s a bunch of guys who can wear other people’s faces hanging around, with fans concocting some especially elaborate wishful thinking about Ned meeting J’aqen in the Red Keep, who helped him switch faces so that Ned could escape.
Supposedly, Ned has spent the past few years in hiding, waiting until he could make the most dramatic of returns. As with a lot of these theories, the how is a little more thought out than the why—although this one does hold up better than the one where Ned magically escaped execution by suddenly warging his spirit into a passing flock of birds.
Just about everybody who died will return
As long as we’re bringing corpses back for curtain calls, why not really go for it? Based on little more than a general belief that it would be cool, there have been a few theories floated that just about everyone who’s ever died on the show could return for the final battle. Again, maybe they’ll be reborn as White Walkers (which seems cruel, even for this show). But some believe that they could be brought back by R’hllor, the Lord of Light, at the behest of Melisandre and whatever true believers she’s probably bringing back from Volantis.
R’hllor can supposedly resurrect anyone who died in flames (or had their bodies cremated), meaning the door’s open for everyone from Khal Drogo to Margaery Tyrell to Shireen to come shambling over the horizon. Still, Jason Momoa doesn’t see Khal Drogo returning, at least. “He’s not coming back,” he said last December. “Nine years now, let him go.” Probably good advice for everyone.
Varys will be revealed as a merman
One of the most venerable fringe theories around Game Of Thrones is that Varys, that oily eunuch spy, is so slippery because he’s literally a fish—or technically “merling,” “squisher,” or “Deep One,” as the books call them. These sea creatures exist mostly around the margins, mentioned only in passing in Martin’s novels and, as yet, never discussed on the show. Still, some fans have suggested Varys might actually be one, thanks largely to an exchange he had with Tyrion back in season two: When Tyrion threatens to throw him into the sea, Varys huffs, “You might be disappointed in the results. The storms come and go, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.” Sure, maybe he’s just employing a vivid metaphor there. But implausible as it is, it’s certainly a lot more fun to believe that season eight will see Varys at last casting off those suspiciously long robes and swimming off into the sunset.
Jon and Cersei will get married
Bored with theorizing over how Jon and Daenerys’ romance will play out, some have moved on to speculating that Jon will sidestep that whole messy, incestuous business and wed Cersei Lannister. Most of this theory seems to rest on the idea that both characters would find the alliance advantageous, combining their forces in order to bring peace to Westeros—Jon gaining a much larger army to take on the Others, and Cersei gaining the appearance of stability and maybe even some goodwill from a people who have grown to fear and despise her. Pairing them off would definitely be a calm, diplomatic solution to the problem, and you know how much Game Of Thrones loves those!
And the Iron Throne goes to… Gendry
As long as we’re talking anticlimaxes, the fact that the show has kept the bastard son of Robert Baratheon hanging around this long suggests it still has a larger fate in mind. Joe Dempsie, the actor who plays Gendry, has implied as much, hinting to Digital Spy that Gendry will play a substantial role in the climax. But what, exactly?
Some have seized on Martin’s recently published Fire & Blood, which relates the legend of Hugh Hammer, a blacksmith’s son with a porn star’s name whose tale could maybe, potentially point toward Gendry being the one to bring down the Night King by wielding his own giant warhammer. Gendry might also be the one who forges the dragonglass weapons to fight the White Walkers. Or he could just end up marrying Arya. But there’s also a popular theory that says his claim to the Baratheon monarchy will be legitimized, and the show will then end with Gendry ruling the Seven Kingdoms. After so many years of debate over which major character will ultimately “win” the Game Of Thrones, it would certainly be a surprise to see it go to some guy who spent four seasons missing, presumed rowing. Not a good surprise, mind you.
Actually, Arya will take the Iron Throne
This one involves taking more leaps than most, but after Maisie Williams posted a goodbye photo of her bloody sneakers on Instagram with the hashtag “#lastwomanstanding,” some began wondering whether this was a hint that Arya Stark will inherit whatever’s left of Westeros. (Adding fuel to the fire, Lena Headey then commented, “YAAAAAS QUEEN.”)
There’s also the fact that Williams told The Guardian that, in her final scene, she’s alone—“Arya’s always bloody alone”—suggesting that maybe the entire series could wrap with a shot of her sitting on the Iron Throne, game over. For what it’s worth, Vegas bookies tracking the odds currently place Arya at ninth-most-likely, lagging well behind Bran, Jon, Daenerys, Jon and Daenerys’ as-yet-unconfirmed child, Sansa, Tyrion, and Gendry. We literally wouldn’t bet on it.
Or wait, The Night King will take the Iron Throne
Arya’s chances are even worse than The Night King’s, although some cynics still believe he could render eight seasons of twists and machinations completely moot by just killing everyone, plunging the Seven Kingdoms into a new age of permanent, nigh-Midwestern wintry darkness. True, ending Game Of Thrones with one last, surprise death of a beloved character—all of them!—would be a thematically appropriate way for the show to go out. We’ll give you that. But as tempting as it might be, our own ancient prophecy foretells that this would seriously damage its rewatch value.
Everything will end happily ever after
Of course, if Game Of Thrones really wanted to surprise us, it could just end with everyone setting aside their ancient grudges, handily defeating the White Walkers together, pairing off into romances uncomplicated by incest, then dedicating themselves to developing a new, functioning system of government that’s based in cooperation and mutual respect. But then, that’s not why we watch this show, is it?