Whether you're an HBO fan freaking out over the season seven finale of Game of Thrones, or a die-hard book fan waiting listlessly for The Winds of Winter, there's one burning question on everyone's mind: how the hell is this whole mess going to end? A Song of Ice and Fire is so vast, so complex and dark, that it's hard to imagine all those lose ends being tied up in a satisfying conclusion. But that hasn't stopped fans from speculating, so here are the top theories about the end of A Song of Ice and Fire (and spoiler alert: it's not going to be pretty).
George R.R. Martin is staying tight-lipped about the actual plot points of his grand finale, but he has promised that "the overall flavor is going to be as much bittersweet as it is happy.” Given the rest of the books, that's not a huge surprise, George. But "bittersweet" for Martin could mean "our heroes wins the day and yet are plagued with post-traumatic stress," a la the end of The Lord of the Rings. Or it could mean "the ice zombies win the day, because the universe is chaos and there's no defeating death."
We still have two hefty volumes left in A Song of Ice and Fire, so who knows where we'll be by the end of book seven. But for now, here are some pretty solid guesses:
1. Jon and Dany fall in love...and destroy each other
If you can get past the fact that she's almost certainly his aunt, Jon and Dany seem like a natural match. She's fire, he's ice (but with enough Targaryen in him to cozy up to her dragons). Both are central protagonists. Both are likely candidates for Azor Ahai, or the Prince(ss) Who Was Promised, who is supposed to swoop in and save humanity from the Others. But in the Azor Ahai legend, he can only do this after sacrificing his beloved wife, Nissa Nissa. If Jon and Dany do end up in a steamy fire-meets-ice love affair, it's very possible that one will have to kill the other, or in some way betray the other, in order to win the day. And I'm not saying that Jon's definitely going to be the betrayer... but Dany does have a couple more betrayals to look forward to, according to all those zonked out warlocks in Qarth.
2. The dragons vs zombies battle is going to happen...but it won’t be the end
GRRM loves to subvert the tropes of high fantasy. A final battle between good and evil, fire and ice, zombies and dragons, with the good guys coming out on top—it just seems a little too easy. It's likely that we'll get some kind of showdown between Dany's dragons and the army of the dead, but one of the major themes of ASOIAF is the effect that these fantasy wars have on real people. Martin has stated that he's heavily influenced by the end of The Lord of the Rings, which doesn't actually end with destroying the ring, but with the hobbits fighting to take back the shire: a much smaller battle with higher personal stakes for our heroes. It's likely that ASOIAF will have a similar ending: a big, dramatic battle for the dawn... and then a whole slew of smaller battles as each character strives to return to a normal, post-trauma life.
3. Jon becomes the new Night’s King
This is a little confusing for fans of the show, because in the HBO version the "Night King" is the head honcho of the White Walkers. In the books, however, the "Night's King" is a mythical figure, a Stark lord who married a White Walker maiden and bridged the gap between humans and others hundreds of years ago. One theory suggests that Jon will sacrifice himself or even switch sides to the Others in order to bring peace to the land, possibly bringing down the Wall in the process, and becoming a new Night's King. We haven't seen any cute lady Others in the book or the show yet, but for Jon's sake let's all keep an eye out.
4. Jaime will save everyone
I mean... probably not? But maybe? The Lannisters are some of the most complicated and morally grey characters in the book, with Jaime squarely between his goodhearted brother, Tyrion, and his hateful sister/girlfriend, Cersei. This theory has a surprising amount of evidence for Jaime as the Azor Ahai figure who will save the realm from darkness. The Valyrian words for "Lord of Light" and "Golden Hand" are suspiciously close, and it already seems likely that Jaime will end up killing his beloved Cersei, much like Azor Ahai killed his wife (her own prophecy says that she'll be killed by her "little" brother, and Jaime is technically a few minutes younger).
5. The White Walkers aren’t really evil
Sure, they kill people and spread destruction across the land, but... so do Dany's dragons. And most of the human characters, too. One theory is that the Others might have built the wall to keep humans out, and not visa versa, and that they're just trying to protect their territory from the growing threat of "fire" magic. They're still not all that nice, but since Martin has gone on record saying that he's not that interested in good vs. evil narratives, I think it's a good bet that humanity ends up making some kind of peace with the Others, or that the Others and dragons end up being equally destructive.
6. The White Walkers are evil, and they win
Alternatively, maybe the White Walkers are super evil and they just win? And everyone dies and it's winter forever, the end? That would definitely "subvert" the usual fantasy tropes. Plus, one of GRRM's main influences was the Robert Frost poem Fire and Ice, which ends with the imagery of the world being destroyed by ice.
7. Bran will save us (or kill us) all with time travel
This theory might seem a bit out there, but we have already seen Bran mess with time on the TV show (RIP, Hodor). In the books, baby Bran is still figuring out his magical tree powers, and so far he's mostly just looked at the past without changing anything major. But if Bran does end up taking over the position of Scary Psychic Tree, maybe it'll be up to him to save the day, lose the day, or at least plant some kind of clues in the past to help his buddies out in protecting the Seven Kingdoms. One especially spooky theory suggests that our Bran is every Bran Stark through his time travel powers (or, at least, he's the heroic Brandon the Builder, and he must go back and build the wall to save the future).
8. The Faceless Men are the true villains/heroes
The Faceless Men are up to something. One dude is just hanging out at the Citadel with Sam, presumably to find out some kind of Citadel secret. A lot of fans also seem to like the idea that Arya must assassinate Jon to truly become a Faceless Man (what is wrong with you people?!). What's for certain is that the Faceless Men serve the God of Death, or the Great Other... the natural opponent to the Lord of Light. Will they end up teaming up with the White Walkers? Stealing a dragon? Taking down the Wall? The "how" is unclear, but if this is a battle between life and death, the Faceless Men are definitely siding with death. After all, as their saying goes, all men must die.
9. Dany wins the throne...and goes full mad queen
Maybe Dany does save the day with her dragons. Maybe fire defeats ice, and Dany takes her father's Iron Throne with Tyrion and possibly even Jon by her side. And maybe, just maybe, she's not that great of a queen. So far, Dany's proven herself to be caring and fierce, but not stellar at the day-to-day ruling stuff (remember that time when she destroyed the global economy and caused widespread famine and plague?). She's a Targaryen to her core, and Tyrion or Jon might end up having to off her in the end, even after the Others are no longer a threat. Or Dany will start a new Targaryen dynasty, and instead of "breaking the wheel," she'll just start the cycle of violence anew.
10. The seasons are returned to normal, but at a heavy price
By far the most tantalizing hint we've gotten about the end of the series is that GRRM is going to reveal why the seasons are so weird. (We're going to hold you to that, George.) It seems like the opposing forces of fire and ice, winter and summer, dragons and White Walkers, Valyria and whatever the hell is all the way up north, are all interconnected. Rather than one defeating the other, perhaps we'll see balance restored to the world, and a return of seasons to the ordinary, four-a-year cycle. Is Jon the one to sacrifice himself and restore balance, coming from the bloodlines of fire and ice? Is this all one big misdirect, and it turns out that Westeros is Earth several thousand years in the future when climate change has permanently ruined the cycle of the seasons? Probably not, but we're just going to have to wait and find out.