Whither Westeros? Two Librarians Speculate Wildly on the Future of Game of Thrones

By Meredith Mann, Specialist II
May 4, 2016
Spuyten Duyvil Library

This post was co-written by librarians Josh Soule, Spuyten Duyvil Library, and Meredith Mann, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire has existed in book form for twenty years and in television form for five. We're now at the exciting moment where the TV narrative has begun outpacing the books, so that means it's the perfect time to debate the events about to unfold. To that purpose, Josh Soule and I embarked on a freewheeling conversation on the future of the Seven Kingdoms and its surrounds. We cover book and TV series plot points throughout, so proceed with caution if you're wary of spoilers. And if you want to catch up with either medium, the Library has you covered!

Book Series:
TV Series:
A Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones Season One
A Clash of Kings
Game of Thrones Season Two
A Storm of Swords
Game of Thrones Season ThreeGame of Thrones Season Four
A Feast for CrowsA Dance with Dragons
Game of Thrones Season Five

Note: Each season is paired with its corresponding book, though the TV show tends to blend books as it progresses.

Jon Snow, from the Game of Thrones television series

A photo from Jon Snow's upcoming Tiger Beat feature

Meredith: Let's just jump straight into the thick of it. George R.R. Martin has flirted pretty heavily with predestination over the course of the series. There are prophetic figures like Azor Ahai; there are prophecies told to major characters, like Cersei's encounter with the witch. And that's not even getting into the fact that Martin was inspired by England's War of the Roses, so there are all sorts of potential parallels with various Edwards and Henrys. But the one most on my mind is in A Clash of Kings, when Dany visits the House of the Undying. In the book version, she walks through a maze of prophetic visions, eventually encountering a man and woman, presumably her elder brother Rhaegar and his wife Elia, holding their newborn child Aegon. Rhaegar says, "[Aegon] is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire," and then to Dany, "There must be one more...The dragon has three heads."

So, what do you think? Is the-dragon-has-three-heads going to be end-game significant? Who do you think the three heads of the dragon will be? Or is there a different prophecy that you're more excited about?

Josh: Of course the three-headed dragon will be significant. You have Ice and you have Fire, but the phrase is "a song of ice and fire," so who's doing the singing? That will be the third head. I know the popular fan theories about who Ice and Fire are but who will tell (sing) their story? This is all about bringing them all together. People have a funny habit of assuming prophecy applies to them. How do we know Dany is truly the fire part of the equation? Do the dragon heads even need to be people? The prophecy could refer to extraordinary beings and powers coming forth that were previously dormant or unknown. R'hllor is Fire, the White Walkers are Ice. What do you think?

Man Fighting A Three-Headed Dragon

The dragon has four heads...no wait, three. Three heads. Image ID: 807711

I know Jon is supposedly the Ice to Dany's fire according to fan theories but some developments in the last book and on the show lead me to believe that Jon is not the missing child of Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark. Do you think he is or do you have an alternate theory of your own?

Meredith: Interesting point about the singing — if we're looking for storytellers, Tyrion and Sam Tarly spring to mind as the most bookish of the characters, but I see them less in the "leading the charge" camp than the "holding down the fort and making life actually function" one. To really stand a chance against the White Walkers, the other side is going to have to do some major coalition-building, so that's why I'm going Dany-Jon-Bran for the three heads. Among them, you have Westeros and two of its major houses well-covered, plus added alliances with Essos (Dany), the wildlings (Jon), and the Children of the Forest (Bran). And since Bran is a proven warg-er and Jon an assumed one, you have a pretty solid means of controlling two dragons. Jon is so self-serious that I have a hard time picturing him doing something so fun as actually riding a dragon.

I'm curious to hear what makes you skeptical, but to me Jon being Rhaegar and Lyanna's child seems so telegraphed that I find it hard to imagine it's a fake-out — though we know Martin likes to toy with his readers' expectations. It explains the "Promise me, Ned" scenes, it fits with Ned Stark's morality and sense of duty, and it sets up a potential brother-sister ruling alliance that those Targaryens are so fond of. And if it's in true Targaryen fashion, maybe there's a romance down the road for Jon and Dany. What do you think — is there room for a loving relationship in ASOIAF that doesn't end in murder and misery?

Josh: Ah but Tyrion did lead a charge, literally, in Clash, at the Battle of the Blackwater. He may not relish it but the Imp can bring to fight to anyone he needs. Samwell does not lack for courage either although you are right. He's not the up-and-at-them type. Besides, he's off to become a maester and that precludes any major fighting on his part. How do you see Bran as the third, singing, part of the three heads? Bran can warg but how would that work with such willful, cantankerous beasts like dragons? Wolves at least have a sense of being part of a pack, and Hodor is too simple-minded to resist Bran's warging. Dragons seem to respond only to a mother's touch from Dany or brute willpower like that of the Targaryen kings.

I also don't see any major coalition building going on. If nothing else, these kings and lords have proven incapable of working together any longer than it takes to make a sandwich. Daenerys has been abominable at creating a coalition. Usually the first step in alliance-building is not to slaughter only some of the ruling malcontents, thereby creating the Sons of the Harpy. Jon can't even get his own Night Watch brothers to work with the Wildlings without getting shanked for his efforts. It is going to take brute conquest to unite Westeros against the White Walkers.

Robert Baratheon and Rhaegar Targaryen at the Trident

Robert Baratheon and Rhaegar Targaryen at the Trident. Not pictured: coalition building.

It's why I'm now a little skeptical about Ice and Fire referring to Jon and Dany, and also why I'm skeptical about Jon's origins. It's too easily telegraphed, like you said and nothing is simple in Martin's world. Jon also doesn't seem to exhibit any Targaryen traits: no drive to rule, no affinity for flame, etc. Is there a romance in the future? Maybe. But it's not going to end well. None of them have. Catelyn's blind love and loyalty to Ned sparked the war. Dany's still, in my opinion, pining for her lost Khal and found a weak substitute in Daario. Jon and Ygritte ended in tragedy. Also, wasn't all that brother/sister inbreeding among Targaryens what got everyone in this mess?

Besides, I like the idea of the the White Walkers being the Ice part of the three-headed metaphor because nothing is colder than their dead hearts. Besides, we have received hints throughout the books and solid evidence in the show that there is intelligence and malignant will driving them.

But let's go on another path. We know the Great Masters are the likely source of money and men for the Sons of the Harpy, but for them to succeed as they have would require someone in Dany's camp. Who do you think it would be? My money's on Daario. Who else knows her movements and habits like our mercenary friend?

Meredith: Oh, I'm not doubting the Imp! I probably should have phrased that better. It's not that Tyrion would be ineffectual in a battle, but rather that he's needed more in the boardroom. Tyrion's one of few characters (and fewer still surviving characters) who can conceptualize the big picture and the long game. Dany and Jon have the charisma and the morality (maybe too much of the latter, in this universe), but Tyrion has the knowledge and the realpolitik. As for Bran, he may not have had the psychic oomph when last we saw him, but I think there are going to be some Rocky-training-montage interactions between him and the three-eyed raven that will increase his warging abilities. And after all, he has been promised that he'll one day fly — why not in the body of Viserion?

Oh, Daario. I'll confess that I'm finding the whole Meereen storyline not terribly compelling, so perhaps my annoyance at Daario is making me hope for his exposure as a traitor. His loyalty is certainly suspect, since he betrayed (some of) his fellow mercenaries to join up with Dany in the first place. And he's also in a position to influence her decision making with both sweet nothings and well-placed lies. Maybe another prophecy comes into play here? The House of the Undying also told Dany she would be betrayed once for blood, once for gold, and once for love. If Mirri Maz Duur was "blood" back in Game, and Jorah Mormont was "gold" in Storm, are we up to the third and final betrayal?

Speaking of Dany's crew, book fans were pretty crushed when Strong Belwas was excised from the TV series. Showrunners Benioff and Weiss are clearly doing some condensing of characters and storylines necessary for telling this saga in eight or so seasons. Part of this means removing characters that ultimately do not play a major role in the larger plot — what we might call the Quentyn Martell Phenomenon. Have any of these decisions surprised you? Is there anyone who's been killed off or not included in the show that you think has a bigger part to play in the books?

Josh: Hmm ... you have a point there. Bran could very well increase his powers but I really, really hope there isn't a montage. Those are so overdone and would be jarring in this grimdark fantasy. If Bran is the third head though, wouldn't he just as easily fit into the Ice, Fire or Song part of the prophecy? Controlling a dragon would be fire, being from the North would be ice, and being the chronicler of events would be the song. So many ways this could go, really.

Tyrion, Tyrion, Tyrion. I love the dude but that's exactly the point at which Martin will have him knifed in the dark somewhere. I hope he makes it but I'm not holding my breath. He does play an incredible long game as he's managed to survive this long in a world that's harsh to disabled people.

I think Daario will be the one who betrays Dany for gold. He IS a mercenary and the Masters have gobs of the stuff to spare. Jorah entered Dany's service for Varys' gold but he stopped reporting to the Spider a while back. However, Varys is oddly loyal to the Targaryens which means having Jorah keep tabs on Dany was never a betrayal. No, I think it's more likely Jorah will betray her by doing something utterly boneheaded because he's blinded by his love.

Betrayal seems to be the theme of this session and I'd say the fans are feeling betrayed a bit by some of the production decisions. As a Belwas fan myself, I understand why he was excised. He did not really add anything to the narrative and when you're in a time crunch, he would be dead weight. I am surprised by Barristan's demise, though. He was popular with fans but it seems like they're going to push Grey Worm in his place which really makes no sense. Grey Worm is not that significant in the novels, whereas Barristan has viewpoint chapters. What also surprised me was Stannis. I was rooting for him and even thinking he'd be a good candidate for the Fire part of things if he got more of a push but then that horrible moment ... Oh man, Stannis, how COULD you?

With him out of the picture though, Melisandre has to find a new champion. Will it be Jon Snow in one of those unholy resurrections of hers? And what about Davos? He's fundamentally decent and has managed to survive the whole crisis. The Onion Knight has a huge role to play; I can feel it in my bones. I think I need to watch the new season now and devil take the spoilers.

Map of Westeros and Essos

Where are her dragons?

Meredith: I was pretty surprised when Jeyne Westerling made no appearance in the TV adaptation — doubly so when her doppelganger was another casualty of the Red Wedding. In book world, Jeyne is still kicking around, a captive of the Lannisters, and potentially carrying The King in the North, Jr. So is her omission from Game of Thrones a spoiler that this plotline will amount to naught? There's a similar concern for the lack of Young Griff/Aegon-in-hiding. Are they waiting to introduce him further down the road, like the relocated Kingsmoot plotline? Is he an imposter? Or does he just have bad news in his immediate future?

I am going to miss Stannis. He was kind of the Liz Lemon of Westeros — you've gotta obey the rules, whether it's rightful succession or standing in line for hot dogs — and I'll miss his stubborn, lawful neutral take on things. You seem skeptical of prophecies, so maybe you will scoff at me, but I'm pretty sure that Jon Snow is going to be the real-deal Azor Ahai here. That'll give Melisandre a clear ally going forward.

As for Ser Davos, I agree he is going to be crucial. In Dance, he was doing some recon with House Manderly, and is now well-positioned to bring Rickon Stark back into the narrative. Winds will definitely contain a Davos-led trip to Skagos to find the youngest Stark and his wildling companion Osha. What will this mean? Rickon's pretty undeveloped, given that he was so young when he was an active character, so he's a huge wildcard for me. One of my favorite fan theories was the (nonserious) suggestion that this entire story is one elaborate joke by Martin. Everyone will scheme and plot and wipe each other out, then Rickon will stroll onto the last page of A Dream of Spring, Fortinbras-style, and declare, "I have won the game of thrones!" The name for a long-winded joke with a cheap punchline? A shaggy dog story. The name of Rickon's direwolf? Shaggydog. Coincidence? (Yes.)

Any off-the-wall theories that you've particularly enjoyed?

Josh: I kind of hope the Shaggydog thing is not a coincidence if only so we don't have to get yet another character to keep track of. I also think Griff is an impostor. If there were another legitimate Targaryen alive Varys would know. Nothing gets past that spider's web. I also think the Jeyne storyline is done and so are the Lannisters as a power. Anyone with a brain in that family is either dead or exiled. However, keep in mind the producers have free reign now. Martin has given them his outline for the plot but Benioff and Weiss are not obligated to follow it faithfully. We could be looking at pretty radical departures since the show might be more concerned with fan service while Martin is focused on the integrity of the saga as a whole.

Scoff? Who me? Nah. I just think fans and characters read too much into them or overthink them to the point where even Martin is saying, "Nope." However it does look more and more like Jon will be Azor Ahai but then that means he could fill either the ice or fire part of the prophecy too. See what I mean about overthinking?

Stannis Baratheon and Ser Davos Seaworth

Stannis the Mannis, noted grammar enthusiast

Stannis the Mannis, oh how you've fallen. I admired the cranky king until that last episode in season 5. Ugh. I think part of it was because the man took being king more seriously than the politicking to become king. He was rightful king so it was his job to safeguard the realm. I think he forgot that, in the end, the realm includes the smallest and most vulnerable of your family and he wandered into territory I despise: the religious fanatic blinded to everything good about being human.

I digress. My favorite fan theory, which has been shot down if spoilery pics on the Internet are any indication, was Jon Snow being resurrected as a White Walker. How's THAT for being the Ice part of a Song of Ice and Fire?

Meredith: Your point re: potential deviations between books and show is an excellent one. It might not even be purposeful, depending on the detail of the outline they have, as well as Martin's right to change his mind as he writes. I'm thinking that definitively stating who/what is ice vs. fire is potentially not even that useful for the story as a whole. As you noted, it could be a person, a group, an abstract concept like Winter and Summer — or it could stand in for multiple, parallel themes.

I almost forgot my other noted divergence of the show — Mance Rayder! Former Night's Watch member, leader of the wildlings, no longer of this world show-wise, but a prisoner of the Boltons at Winterfell books-wise, with a son in the care of Gilly and Sam Tarly. Will he act as a lure, bringing Jon to Winterfell? Could he or his son be a potential alliance-marriage? And he is one of the universe's few musicians, if you're looking for singers of the song of ice and fire.

As someone who's up-to-date on show episodes, I won't spoil your enjoyment of the start of season six, but I will say that they succeeded in drawing out the "suspense" of the fate of Jon Snow as much as they reasonably could, and now we can just get on with things, already.

I'll wrap up our conversation, fittingly I think, on how the series itself will wrap up. Alliances will be made, alliances will be broken, lands will be conquered, favorite characters will be ruthlessly killed, Arya will come back from Braavos, Dorne will get it together. Do you think this is all going to end on a hopeful note? When I scheme about the future of the series, I'm still picturing the good guys winning, despite all evidence to the contrary in the preceding books. Am I just totally naïve? Are we going to close out the pages with Petyr Baelish gloating over a pile of ashes? Or will it be the start of a new world, a new season, full of promise, yet with the seeds of an underlying conflict that could get everyone back where they started once the horrors of ASOIAF fade in everyone's memory? I can't imagine Martin giving us a conclusion that isn't ambiguous. Seasons are cyclical after all — winter will always come. What are your final thoughts, Josh?

Josh: Exactly my thinking on the ice/fire/song business. And yes, Mance is one of the few singers in the Westerosi milieu. I don't think he's actually the Boltons' prisoner. All we have is a letter from Ramsay claiming he has Mance; not exactly a reliable source. His son, I don't think, is long for the world. He was cooped up on a ship with Aemon who died of illness and disease is ever rampant in medieval settings.

No matter what, it's not going to end well for anyone. If there is one lesson Martin has taught us, it is that no one is safe; not the saints and not the sinners and not the ones in between. Ned's fate should have taught us that and just being the good guy will not get anyone the win. To quote Dark Helmet from Spaceballs, "... evil will always triumph because good is dumb." Stupid Ned ...

Illustration of Sansa Stark in a weirwood forest

Don't worry, Sansa. Josh has a good feeling about you.

Here's my wish list for the series' ending:

  1. Arya comes back and slays everyone involved in destroying her family. (Everyone left, that is.)
  2. Dany finally throws her hands up and sets the dragons loose on Meereen before flying back to Westeros to conquer the Seven Kingdoms and failing miserably.
  3. Tyrion finds a nice little house close to a favorite tavern, with a lifetime supply of beer and all the ladies of ill repute he wants.
  4. Sansa flays the flayers.
  5. Jon Snow gets ticked off, kills the Night's King, seizes control of the White Walkers and sweeps down south of the Wall, proceeding to crown Sansa as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.

I will be catching up on season six shortly and looking forward to my wish list getting destroyed.

Meredith: I don't think I can improve upon Queen Sansa and Jon Snow, Lord of the Ice Zombies, so with that, we're out! Thanks for reading along, everyone. If we didn't get to your favorite theories, or if we got everything wrong, join the discussion in the comments!

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