The episode of the hit HBO fantasy drama that aired last night (June 12) squashed a slew of popular theories, and some fans are not pleased. Several threads (with thousands of comments) on the show’s Reddit page reveal fans’ disappointment with the episode, and fans are also venting their angst in the comment sections of episode reviews and recaps, and across various social media outlets. The problem seems to be that certain story lines on the show are turning out to be simpler than fans’ complex theories.
Perhaps the reason that this season in particular has triggered so many fan theories is because the biggest one of them all—Jon Snow’s resurrection—turned out to be true. In a world where one theory is correct, all theories can be correct. (Though Snow’s death and re-birth wasn’t so much a theory as an inevitability that even HBO strongly hinted would happen.)
The problem with that kind of thinking, though, is that it ignores the basic tenets of storytelling that, for better or worse, the show has established for itself over the course of six seasons. The “Cleganebowl,” for instance, might have pleased fans foaming at the mouth for another epic duel, but it wouldn’t have made much sense at all for either character. Nate Jones explained this phenomenon for Vulture last week:
Cleganebowl is emblematic of one of my least-favorite aspects of modern fandom, fan theories that emphasize spectacle and surprise instead of character and theme. Game of Thrones fandom is particularly attracted to these, and many of them seem driven more by the culture of message-board one-upmanship than any actual analysis.
Game of Thrones is not unique in generating obsessive theorizing. Another HBO series, True Detective, created an environment that similarly encouraged use of tinfoil hats. Many fans were disappointed when its first season ended in a fairly straightforward way, rather than with the confirmation of any of a number of intricate, and often tortuous, online theories. The satirical news site the Onion summed up the letdown with one headline: ”True Detective Fan Develops Elaborate Theory He Will Be Let Down By Season Finale.”
An earlier operator of the crazy internet theory machine was ABC’s Lost, which ended in 2010. There were dozens of theories that at the time felt plausible but, in retrospect, were utterly ridiculous. No matter what writers came up with, they could not possibly live up to the collective imagination of the fan base. And the writers couldn’t win: When fans realized their hypotheses were incorrect, they held it against the show. And when fans correctly guessed plot twists, they’d accuse the show of being too predictable or paying too much attention to audience whims.
Lost and True Detective are extreme cases of fan theories spiraling out of control, but one can sense that Game of Thrones is headed in that direction now that its end is nigh (the show will likely wrap up after 13 more episodes spread out over two seasons). As the show inches closer to its conclusion, the theories are only going to get sillier.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Half the fun of following a show like Game of Thrones is all the discussion and theorizing and fandom that occurs after the episode, as evidenced by the rise of the recap show, as well as the endless internet recapping.
Theorizing is exciting, and it makes fans feel they’re part of the process. But the sooner they realize their theories will probably be wrong, the better. Then they can settle back into their role as viewers, and let the writers do their job.