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Theories are the new spoilers: How guesswork ruins every ‘Game of Thrones’ plot twist

Kit Harrington as Jon Snow on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” (HBO)

This post contains spoilers from “Game of Thrones” season six and speculation about upcoming episodes.

Aside from “Lost,” has any television show inspired as many theories as “Game of Thrones”? You’ve probably heard the one about Jon Snow’s real parents — even casual enthusiasts know that R+L=J. But how about the speculation that Bran caused the Mad King’s insanity? And the one about Meera and Jon being twins? Or how Tyrion might really be a Targeryen? At least his new name will have a nice, alliterative ring.

Sometimes the theories pan out. By the time Jon Snow returned from the dead, no one was surprised. Droves of people had already built careful arguments for exactly how the revival would unfold and why it had to. So when the Red Woman managed to bring back the Lord Commander, the scene was a little ho-hum, frankly. Nothing to see here — just a little resurrection. Speculation spoiled the spoiler.

Warning: Major spoiler ahead. "Game of Thrones" fans had some intense reactions to the second episode in season six. Check out their self-recorded states of shock. (Video: Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

The same thing happened with Hodor’s origin story. Some guessed that the character’s brain damage came from warging into a horse that was killed. Wrong! Cue the buzzer sound. But at least one person deciphered that Wylis’s acquired name came from “hold the door.”

Now that we know the truth about Hodor, we’re more confused than ever

Fans of the show have been granted clairvoyance thanks to a hive mind that specializes in conspiracies. And that’s tricky. Theories seem so harmless because who’s to say what will or won’t happen? The guessing game is a fun sport, with the winner — or at least their Reddit handle — getting Internet glory.

Yet theories can also drain the excitement out of big plot developments. Viewers share some blame when it comes to standard spoilers; if they aren’t watching “Game of Thrones” at 9 p.m. Sunday, who knows what they’ll see on Twitter? But what about the theories that appear not just on fan forums and Reddit threads but on news sites? (Er, like this one.)

Then consider that the R+L=J video debuted on YouTube in July of 2014, which was in turn years after that theory first emerged. That’s why people felt so impatient for the truth to be revealed. Earlier this season, when Bran flashed back to the Tower of Joy — where Ned supposedly promised a dying Lyanna that he would raise her son (and maybe her daughter, too) — people were furious that the scene stopped short of revealing the siblings’ final reunion.

People don’t seem to think they’re giving anything away by discussing theories, even when they’re practically proven outcomes.

Everyone claims they hate spoilers. Jon Snow proves that they don’t.

“Game of Thrones” isn’t the only series that brings out the soothsayers. Remember that wacky theory about “Mad Men” and the Manson family? Or the one about Don Draper being mysterious hijacker D.B. Cooper? Showrunner Matthew Weiner tried to quash both stories, but some people refused to listen. Then again, there were also fans who predicted the ending, right down to the Coke ad.

And then there’s “Lost,” which still has fans theorizing. Like viewers of that show, “Game of Thrones” watchers are especially prone to conjecture, and there’s no sign that the theorizing is slowing down. In fact, each new episode of GoT seems to spawn a handful of new ideas. Arya will survive getting stabbed, because she’s teamed up with the stage actress she saved, who supplied her pig’s blood as a decoy. No wait! Arya will survive the Waif’s attack, because in reality she is the Waif. Better yet, Arya didn’t really get stabbed after all! That was actually Jaqen H’ghar posing as her. Obviously.

The theories can’t all be winners. The one about Roose Bolton being immortal was laid to rest after Ramsay killed him. (Although, this being “Game of Thrones,” you can never be too sure.) That one seemed pretty far-fetched anyway. Then again, it’s hardly the only outlandish proposal. And maybe that’s the problem. At this point, so many fan theories are pinballing around the Internet, that every possible outcome for the show has already been parsed.

George R.R. Martin even admitted that readers have predicted the ending. But maybe showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss can still pitch the audience some curveballs. The writers are privy to the theories, just like the rest of us, so why not subvert expectations? When we finally get to the Tower of Joy, the “bed of blood” doesn’t have to be the place where Lyanna birthed a baby or two.

Can you even imagine the Twitter uproar?

But at least people would be surprised, which is more than we can say for Jon Snow’s great gasp back to life.


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