As we head into the penultimate episode of this season of Game of Thrones, fan theories are kicking into overdrive—which means those watching HBO's show are catching a glimpse of the intense, weird fan theories that George R.R. Martin's readers have been arguing about since 1996.
Let me be clear: I love fan theories. Especially when they come to GoT, they can be genuinely bizarre ("Varys might just be using a vivid metaphor, or he may be hinting at his true, sea-dwelling nature," reads a rundown of the "Varys is a merman" theory), worrisomely well-researched (like the fine work of Reddit user "The_Others_Take_Ya," who argues that dragonglass is dragon poop and that Westeros and Essos are linked by a secret network of firewyrm tunnels), and... I don't know, however you'd describe the debate surrounding the question, "Is Roose Bolton a vampire?"
They can also be right: It now seems all but certain that those who caught onto R+L=J so many years ago were onto something.
THAT SAID: A fan theory about Tyrion has been making the rounds the past few weeks, and it's so goddamn dumb that it's making me TREMBLE WITH RAGE. Spoilers to follow.
The theory goes like this: Tyrion Lannister is not, in fact, a Lannister—rather, he's a Targaryen. Unknown even to himself, Tyrion is the offspring not of Joanna and Tywin Lannister, but of Joanna Lannister and Aerys Targaryen.
The implications of this are huge (almost as huge as Varys being a secret merman): If Tyrion is a Targaryen, and Jon Snow is also a Targaryen (R+L=J), then, along with Daenerys, the three could be the "three heads of the dragon." Which'd mean at some point before this is all over, we'll see Dany, Jon, and Tyrion soaring above Westeros, each on their own dragon, laying waste to everything beneath them, probably high-fiving.
I get why this theory is appealing: Everybody loves Tyrion, and it'd be neat to see him riding a dragon! But even considering all the (circumstantial) evidence that supports this theory, and also considering how muddy GoT theories are now that fans can find "proof" in both Martin's books and the HBO show, this particular theory has to be wrong for a whole other reason:
It's terrible storytelling, and it undermines much of what makes Game of Thrones great.
I've come to terms with the fact that my own dumb hopes about GoT will likely be proven wrong:
From the second I read of Ned Stark's execution, I've been convinced this whole story will end unhappily, with its only worthy characters dead or in ruin, with the cruel machinery of dynastic rule once again grinding individuals to dust. Based, at least, on the direction the show's headed, that's looking... unlikely.
And once Jon became Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, I'd hoped we'd have a fantasy saga in which an actually regular character made a difference in their world, moving past all those tiresome fantasies that never shut up about prophecy. I held out hope that R+L=J wasn't true for a long time—who wants Jon to be a Targaryen when his character is 10 times more interesting as a bastard who's made his own way in the world?
And, even though it contradicts my "this is all going to end in horrible ruin and lonely death" theory (which, fun fact, doubles as my day-to-day motto), I hoped that, if GoT was going to have a happy ending, maybe it'd at least be brought about by Westeros' long-suffering citizens overthrowing centuries of dynastic rule—ending the Lannisters, ending the Targaryens (again), ending the Starks, and bringing about an end to the vicious state of monarchy and servitude. But given how the show keeps treating the supremely entitled Dany as some kind of hero conqueror, this is also... not likely.
There's a theme to those hopes, and it's that, unlike many high-fantasy authors, Martin seems as interested and invested in the downtrodden—the poor, the orphans, the bastards—as he is in the one-percenter despots who bicker and whine over who has the bigger castle. Jon was more interesting when we thought he was Ned's bastard, Dany was more interesting before she got the power she craved, and Tyrion remains interesting because, unlike his sister and his brother, he's turned his back on a life of privilege and entitlement. Tyrion made a number of choices to set himself apart: To never hide how smart he was. To marry Tysha. To love Shae. To murder his own father, bringing chaos to his family (and, indeed, to a continent). To hold tight to his love for Jaime even as he works to undermine Cersei.
To be fair, Tyrion was always a black sheep, both in King's Landing and amongst his own family. But what makes him so likeable and admirable (even in the books, when he's a hideous, malformed creep, not dreamboat Peter Dinklage) is that in a world built on established systems of birthright and violence, he found other ways to change his life and the course of the world. He is, in other words, a self-made man—one who could have hidden at Casterly Rock for the entirety of this story, but who instead became one of the story's most interesting characters.
That says something—not only about fantasy, which is often obsessed with the boring tropes of prophecy and the usually-pretty-racist idea of bloodlines and birthright, but also about why Game of Thrones resonates as strongly as it does. Sure, Tyrion reminds us. The world is run by powerful, greedy monsters. But that doesn't mean the rest of us are utterly powerless.
There's any number of lines from the books, or scenes from the show, that nerds more dedicated than me can dig up to "prove" Tyrion is a Targaryen. (And it would be super-cool to see him on a dragon.) But as he is, Tyrion stands for something better, both for those in Westeros and those of us on boring-ass Earth. Making him one more entitled Targaryen, empowered by birthright and blood rather than brains and passion, undermines all that.
Sure, the Tyrion Targaryen theory might be true. But—just like I hoped with Jon—I hope like hell it's not.