On the Lingering Mysteries and Cliffhangers of A Song of Ice and Fire


Those of you who have been following along over the past month or so know that I’ve just finished reading George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I did this partly to immunize myself against spoilers for the show, but also because well, they’re really damn good books.

Now that I’ve reached the end, I wanted to take a look back and discuss with you readers some of the lingering questions  that accompany finishing the books, and boy, are there plenty to choose from. Below you’ll find a mix of mysteries and cliffhangers that I found whirling around my head as the books ended. I think I’ve got a handle on a few of them, but I’d love to hear your own thoughts below.

Do I really have to say “spoilers ahead”? Alright, SPOILERS AHEAD!

Is Jon Snow Dead?

jon snow

No. Hell no.

Well, that was easy.

But seriously, I know that we saw Jon Snow go down in a hail of knives at the end of A Dance with Dragons, and I know that George RR Martin is known for killing major, beloved characters, but there’s simply no way. Jon Snow is FAR too important to the story to be killed off, and Martin is ALSO known for acting like he’s killing characters, when really they survive (looking at you, Stoneheart).

The way I see it, there are three options here. One, Snow is injured, but saved as his Wilding friends rush to his aide and kill all his traitorous brothers. He spends at least half of the next book recovering.

Two, Snow dies but manages to warg himself into Ghost for a while until someone figures out a way to get his body back.

Three, Melisandre uses her magical Lord of Light powers to resurrect Snow the way Thoros did for Beric Donadarrion and Catelyn. This seems like the most likely option to me, given that it would make the most sense and probably be the easiest to write.

Or you know, he could be dead. And that would suck.

Who is Jon Snow’s Mother?

One of the major reasons I’m convinced that Snow isn’t dead is because we haven’t yet solved the mystery of who his mother is. You can’t kill him before answering that! And what would the point be of solving it after he’s dead when he is no longer relevant to the plot?

I’ve read that when showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss met with George RR Martin, in order to seal the deal with HBO, they had to answer the question of who Jon Snow’s mother was. The idea was that a true fan paying close enough attention would figure it out. And I believe I’ve passed his test as well.

It was “Promise me, Ned” that did it for me, all the way back in book one? Ned Stark has too much honor to ever father a bastard, so whose child is Jon Snow? That would be his sister, Lyanna. It perfectly explains the Stark resemblance the book goes on about at great length, but then who was the father?

I thought that Snow might be another one of Robert’s bastards, giving him some vague claim to the throne, but now I’m all but convinced that he’s actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen back when he took Lyanna from Robert, forcing him to fight to try and get her back. That means that he’s got some of the dragon in him, and does indeed tie him to the throne, as theoretically he should have a better claim than Dany or Aegon, though I’m not sure how it works with bastards. And also that leads to…

Who is Azor Ahai Reborn?


If the above theory is true, it stands to reason that Jon Snow could actually be Azor Ahai reborn, instead of Stannis. Melisandre sees Snow in her visions, he dreams of fighting with a red sword, and he has the blood of the dragon which might help as well.

Other contenders include Stannis, though he’s always been presented as a not quite right version of Azor Ahai with his sword that doesn’t emit heat. Dany is also in the running as she meets many of the same criteria. Even Victarion Greyjoy has the smoking hand wound that fulfills some of the prophecies. But I think it has to be Jon. What that means for the great story, I’m not sure.

Who is Ser Robert Strong?

This one seems a bit easy. I’m not exactly sure what Qyburn was doing in the black cells all that time, but the mute giant who just joined the Kingsguard HAS to be the resurrected corpse of the Mountain.

What I don’t know is if he still has his head attached, or what Qyburn was doing with all the others that were sent down to him. What sort of magic is he using to bring the Mountain back to life? Somehow I don’t think he serves the Lord of Light. This feels like something…else.

Is The Hound Really Dead?

the hound

I feel compelled to mention The Hound here, as it never really sat right with me the way he simply died of his wounds offscreen after being such a major player previously.  No, I’m not confused about the raider who was going around wearing his helmet for a while. I’m just wondering if the actual Hound is really dead. I have no evidence to say otherwise, but this was just weirdly handled to me. I’m also wondering how Berric Dondarrion finally died.

What Was the Complete Story Behind Joffrey’s Death?

Perhaps this was already explained fully, but let me just put forward where I stand in terms of how I understand this. Joffrey’s death was cooked up by the Tyrells and Petyr Baelish. Littlefinger gave Sansa the Tyrell’s poisoned hairnet which either Olenna or Maergary herself used to poison Joffrey.

What I don’t understand was why the Tyrells would risk killing the king when Maergary had just become queen. From what I understand, they maybe wanted to kill Joffrey because they knew he would treat Maergary like shit, and figured she could marry Tommen who is much easier to control? Still, seems like a pretty big risk for a family that would have had a lot of power anyway.

Is this the full answer to what happened, or is there more to uncover? And when will anyone else figure out this is what happened? I thought Cersei suspected, but did she ever truly know? I suppose she’s had other things to worry about lately.

What Really Happened to Loras at Dragonstone?


I still don’t know if this is actually a mystery, or if I simply misread some passages in the book. The story is that Loras got grievously wounded trying to take Dragonstone, and is currently dying from his wounds somewhere far away. But in one passage, it’s said that Dragonstone was NOT taken, and later, at the end of Dragons, Loras is mentioned (“But her brother…”) but it’s quickly hushed up.

Is it just me, or is something fishy going on here? Or is he really injured and dying and I’m just being paranoid because this series is laden with so many other mysteries?

Did Ramsay Bolton Really Smash Stannis’ Army?

Right before Jon Snow is knifed, he gets a letter from Ramsay Bolton saying that he’s broken Stannis’ siege of Winterfell, and the king’s men’s’ heads now adorn the wall. Snow is about to hunt him down when he’s betrayed.

But is this true? It was weird reading that major of a development in a letter considering we spent SO much time both inside and outside Winterfell, yet we seemed to have left right as the actual battle took place. If this is true, how did Theon and fake Asha get away? And is Stannis dead? Unless I’m mistaken, the letter didn’t actually say he was killed. If he was, that would be yet another major offscreen death that wouldn’t sit well with me. But I’m guessing he’s alive, for now. With Ramsay there’s no telling how many body parts he has, though.

Who Has Infiltrated the Citadel and Why?

This was the mystery at the end of A Feast for Crows. A man kills a maester (junior maester?) at the Citadel using a Faceless Men poison coin. It’s been remarked that the way he’s described actually mimics Jaquen H’gar. If it is him, he’s now assumed the man’s identity.

I have a hunch the reason for this infiltration has to do with the item mentioned buried in the Citadel that reportedly is the thing that killed the dragons. Was it a book? Was that made clear? I’m not sure, and this is still pretty murky.

What Do You Make of This Coming Clash of Gods?

white walkers

It’s taken a while for me to finally understand the giant overarching plot of ALL these books. The title, A Song of Ice and Fire, should indicate it, but perhaps I’m just dumb. What we apparently see here is a pending clash between R’hallor, the Lord of Light and his foe, an unnamed god of darkness and cold and death. I believe it’s who the Faceless Men serve, and perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t someone mention that that the seven were all different facets of one singular god? Could it be this one?

I’m not quite sure who the “good guy” is here between these two. We’ve seen some truly messed up stuff done in the name of the Lord of Light, but then again if the god of cold is responsible for shadowy assassins and White Walkers, he’s not exactly sounding like a hero either.

This will be the ultimate showdown in the end. Light vs. Dark, Life vs. Death, Fire vs. Ice. I hope that means some dragons will be barbequing White Walkers.

Any other mysteries I’ve missed?

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  1. There is no way Jon Snow is dead he is just to important of a character. In the letter Ramsay sends he says he wants his bride and Reek back but you see them reach stannis’ army the only truth to his letter was the part about Mance Rayder.

  2. Thoros didn’t actually bring back Caitlyn. Beric Dondarrion sacrificed the lives that Thoros had been giving him to bring her back after he found her on the river banks near the twins. Dondarrion is now permanently dead with Lady Stoneheart replacing him.

  3. Stannis will most likely not have been beaten in battle. He really has two aces up his sleeve. First, with the arrival of Theon and Bravosi banker, he will ultimately learn of the Karstark treachery. Secondly, Bolton also sent out both the Freys and Manderly’s after Stannis. While Stannis does not yet know of Manderly’s would-be alliance, odds are he will find out. This leaves the Frey forces caught in the middle. Theon may as of yet know how to smuggle Stannis into Winterfell as well.

  4. There is a theory out there that Sandor Clegane was the gravedigger on the quiet isle that Brienne saw, and the the elder brother was referring to an aspect of his personality that had died when he says “The Hound”. The thought being that without the drive to kill his brother, he is at peace. When he learns of this “Robert Strong” maybe he will return?

  5. “The idea was that a true fan paying close enough attention would figure it out.”

    I’m assuming, then, they meant paying attention to the SHOW.

    If this is the case, they’ve BARELY mentioned Rhaegar at all, which leads me to believe he is Robert’s (Jon has some pretty BLACK hair). Having read the books, it makes more sense that the child is Rhaegar’s, but the show is making me think differently. Also, they’ve made little to no mention of the Reeds’ father, so I’m wondering how it all is going to come about.

    In regards to Loras, it’s been a while since I read, but I thought it was laid out pretty clearly that he got burned by oil being dumped on his head. I aways felt that he was actually dead, hence all the secrecy.

  6. About Jon being dead, I agree. I didn’t even think him dead for a second when I finished reading that chapter. It was quite different with the Red Wedding chapter back in book 3 where as I reached the last few lines of the chapter, I was like ‘Wow, I actually think she just died.’

    As far as The Hound being dead or not, I’m pretty sure he’s at that compound of monks that Brienne wandered through. There is mention in that chapter of a particular brother with a severe limp which would correlate to the Hound’s injury. The head brother kept saying that the Hound was dead, which may be true from his perspective in that the old life of the Hound was dead and buried and that he had begun a new life with the monks.

    Regarding the Clash of Gods, one of the things I wrestled with in the books was whether Thoros and Melisandre served the same god. Even though they claimed to in name, their actual actions and manifestations of powers seemed so different. Everything Melisandre has done has been associated with death, shadow assassins, deaths of kings, burning people in fire. Everything Thoros has done has been associated with Life and Healing, even if that healing leaves the benefactor more empty than before. But the TV show clearly established that they are serving the same power and I doubt the series would differ on such a major point from the books, so I guess they are serving the same power for sure.

    Another mystery is just what IS Varys after? He said Kevan had to die for being too effective at stabilizing things at the end of Book 5, but a lot of other times Varys has talked about trying to protect the kingdom. I’m not sure what his game is now. I’ve always suspected since I first started watching the series (I watched seasons 1 and 2 before reading the books) that Peter and Varys are masterminds behind a lot of the story, but what their ultimate goal is remains unclear to me.

  7. 1. Can’t be dead. Besides all the reasons you listed Martin has said previously he isn’t adding new POV characters…so who would be the POV character at Castle Black?

    2. You nailed it

    3. Call me crazy but can’t Azai reborn be a combination of two people? I think Jon Snow and Dany are Azai combined. Based on what we know about Dany’s birth and what we are speculating about Jon’s birth (Ned found Lyanna at the tower and she was bloody…indication of birth…Dany was born on Dragonstone as the war was ending…the same time Ned went south to rescue Lyanna) they could have been born at the same time, from the same father.

    4. Mountain…has to be headless since the skull was sent to Dorne and from everything we know about the world of Game of Thrones the Mountain was a unique individual and you couldn’t recreate a skull that size….at least not without access to Hodor.

    5. He is dead. And I really don’t think he is a big character in the books…his role in the series is far more than what I got from the books.

    6. By the time Joffrey was assassinated the Tyrell’s had strongly cemented their position in Kings Landing. Remember that the only way the people of Kings Landing are able to eat is because of the food convoys coming from the Reach. Their military power is also still very strong, relatively undamaged by the war, while the Lannister military power has been hurt by loss after loss to Robb. Just because Robb is gone doesn’t mean the Lannisters don’t need a strong military to support their claim to the throne…Stannis is still on the loose.

    7. I can’t really get a read on the Loras/Dragonstone event. Going to leave that one for Martin to explain more on.

    8. Nope. Ramsay is just messing with Jon. A hunch nothing to back it up.

    9. Same as 7. No where near enough info to even speculate.

    10. Jon/Dany will most likely represent the Light/Fire (a lot of people try and attribute Jon to the Dark/Ice but that doesn’t sync with my Azai theory that I am quite fond of) and something else, something we haven’t been introduced to yet will be the Dark/Ice….it could be Bran but my own thought is he’s more of a third party to everything, representing the earth.

    Additional mystery that I want to know more about: Just what is going on with the Manderly’s and Rickon…what is Rickon doing on…crap can’t think of it now and I’m not going to look it up…Skaagos?….the cannibal island with unicorns….anyway what is the deal with him?

  8. ****spoiler*****

    GRRM already posted a sample chapter, Stannis did not fight Ramsay. Ramsay made the whole thing up. Stannis is curently holding Asha and Theon, but, he plans to attack Ramsay.

    I wish I could care more about Jon, but, he doesn’t is just so bland I can’t get interested in who is mother is or what he’s doing.

  9. DocDoom, I think Martin quizzed Benioff and Weiss before he agreed to let them do the show, by asking who Jon Snow’s parents were. This was apparently a test to see if they really were true fans and read the books closely.

    The show was not made yet. Martin was saying to the would be showrunners “you better know the material well enough to have figured out who Jon Snow’s parents are, or else no show for you”

  10. I think it’s pretty obvious that Sir Robert Strong is the headless body Gregor Clegane. But what I’m really hoping is that Qyburn attached Joffrey’s head to it.

  11. The Hound is most likely not dead. Re-read the Brienne chapter where she visits the Quiet Isle Monastery for all your clues (there are a ton).

  12. Postal, thanks for that link on Littlefinger. He became my favorite character when he smuggled Sansa out and his plans started to come into focus, but damn; reading that whole recap on his machinations just solidified my “admiration.”
    His portrayal on the show is a little disappointing because they’re really making him evil right out of the gate, as opposed to more cunning and subtle as in the books (until he pushes that bitch out the hole at least!).

  13. I am reading the series as well, and despite the initial excitement I felt, I have grown tired by the third book. First of all, it is repetitive, and the intricate plots and cliffhangers are just marketing ploys. The reader is forced to buy a [insert number here] of books in order to find answers to questions that have been raised in the first couple of books in the final ones…

    I enjoy the story, but literary speaking, it has no value whatsoever. The language is tired, stale… I understand that the writer is trying to convey a medieval/old fashioned air to his writing, but if I read one more time “it was all that s/he could do to”, I think I will just scream! Though I cannot deny the fact that I really do want to read on, despite disliking almost everything about the books…

    So far, I only care about the Hound, he’s my favorite character, and in my opinion, the most genuine “person”. I really don’t want him to be dead…

  14. Tower of the hand is another site with excellent essays and theories to devour. I don’t think the cliff hangers and such ate marketing, the story is supposed to be a series. Receiving fast answers kind of defeats the purpose of an overarching story arc.

  15. About Jon’s parentage I think it was mentioned somewhere, or I may have read it somewhere else, that the Targaryen practiced bigamy so if Lyanna and Rhaegar are his parents it is possible that they were married and that he could have a true claim to the throne, although he would come after Aegon as I believe he is older.

    With Dundarrion when they found Cat’s dead body he asked Thoros to give her the fire kiss of life, he said no she’s been dead to long. So Dundarrion did it his life fire passed to her reviving her and he died.

  16. My theory about Jon.
    He is the child of Lyanna and Rhaegar. He is the dragon at the Wall.
    I also think he is Azor Ahai reborn because he is the Song of Ice (Lyanna) and Fire (Rhaegar). He can’t be dead. If anything, he’ll warg into Ghost.

    I wonder how Bran will play into all of this.

  17. I’m going to throw this out here:

    Jon Snow won’t die, but will rise as a wight in the same manner as Coldhands.

    I have become more and more convinced that Coldhands is actually Benjen Stark and noone who knew him has seen him yet for him to be recognised in the book. He’s obviously a wight but isn’t evil like the majority of them which suggests that it’s possible to be raised as a wight but not be a mindless killer.

    This indicates that the white walkers could be motivated by something and are killing of their own will or for a reason.

    Also, I am unsure about all of these theories about Jon Snow somehow being a secret Targaryen, knowing Martin’s style he was likely just a bastard of Ned Stark’s. I don’t know how a Targaryen child could be born without some indication of his heritage in his blood. Also he’s a warg like all the other Starks which also suggests he’s of Stark blood.

  18. @RBourn

    It’s not likely to be Benjen, as things seem to indicate coldhands has been that way for far longer than Benjen has been missing.

  19. Forgot to toss in, I’m of the same line of thinking when it comes to Jon, I don’t think he is dead, and I would definitely say Him or Dany is “Azhor Ahai”

  20. Here’s a collection of fan theories, some being more credible than others.

    One off-the-wall theory I read recently is that Ser Robert Strong’s helmeted head could contain Robb Stark’s. I’m skeptical of it, but it’s unknown what happened to Robb’s head after it was replaced with Grey Wind’s.

    I agree with the theory that Coldhands is or is a descendant of the Night’s King. I doubt he’s Benjen, as Coldhands is said to have been killed long ago.

    IngridToday, the sample chapter of TWOW takes place before the end of ADWD.

  21. They did explain what happened to Beric. When the Brotherhood found Catelyn’s body, Beric told Thoros to revive her. Thoros told him that he couldnt keep both of them alive, and Beric tells him to do it. Beric gave his life so Stoneheart could live.

  22. Coldhands = Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers.

    I think a lot people suggest Benjen Stark, because it is often claimed in forums. But if u read blog entries by people who run this sites and who gave really thought to there theories and explain them well by book passages,
    you will be convinced that it is not Benjen Stark.

  23. Here is one you missed. Who is leading The Others? Tying it back to Ice vs Fire. In ADWD, chapter 31 When gazing into the fires, Melisandre sees a wooden face, corpse white, a thousand red eyes, and a boy with a wolf’s head beside him. She believes these to be the Great Other’s champions.

    Could it that the Last Greenseer is actually commanding The Others ASWELL as the children of the forest? He could be tricking Bran and using the COTF without them realizing it. Theories exist that the Children of the forest and The Others were cousins in a greater Race long ago before the first men came to westeros.

    Tie it back to the above post about Coldhands being the Night’s King http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Night%27s_King So could Bloodraven be Coldhands or could he be the current Last Greenseer and are they actually the ones leaders of the Ice????

    Boy it could be one major mind F*ck for the last 2 books. Which i have no clue how Martin can wrap up everything and answer the majority of our questions regardless if these books are both north of 1,000 pages.


    I agree that I think Jon Snow may be Azor Ahai reborn, or the promised prince (if they are 2 different people). I think it’s extremely obvious he is Rhaegar’s legitimate son from Lyanna Stark, and therefore is the ‘song of ice (Lyanna) and fire (Rhaegar)’ that is talked of in the prophecy.

    Because of this, I do think Jon died at the end of the 5th book in order for him to be ‘reborn’ to fufill the Azor Ahai prophecy. His body will have to be resurrected somehow.

    I think he will warg into Ghost, and his body will somehow be restored either by Melisandre (which would be rather predictable and boring if you ask me), or by Bran through a blood sacrifice to the Old Gods.

    It’s mentioned in the book a few times about blood sacrifice to the Old Gods through the trees, as we see when Bran ‘tastes the blood’ of a sacrifice he sees in the past when he wargs into the weirwood. One theory is that he will use the power from Theon’s blood sacrifice (see sample chapter from The Winds of Winter) to restore Jon back to his own body. Throughout Dance of Dragons and the sample chapter from Winds of Winter, Bran is ‘talking’ to Theon through the trees and ravens, so I think Bran is going to be involved somehow by warging into the weirwood tree that Stannis promises to behead him in front of, and using the power of Theon’s blood. I think that would be sort of poetic given all the things Theon has done to the Starks-his blood for the life of a Stark son.

  25. George has stated outright that we’ll never see the Gods and that he will never confirm which Westerosi/Essosi religion has it right, nullifying your final point. And while I won’t go so far as to dismiss the theory out of hand, I’d say that after five books of morally grey, ambiguous conflict, I doubt the series will end with a final showdown between “Light vs Dark.”

    Also, the Faceless Men don’t serve the Great Other (the name given to R’hllor’s counterpoint, not a reference to the leader of the Others–you’d be surprised how many people let this simple distinction fly over their head and assume a god is leading the Others, ie. in the name, “the Great Other,” the other part is not in reference to the White Walkers, but means literally “The Great Opposite, or the Great “person or thing that is different from the person or thing already known about,” the person or thing already known about being R’hllor), they “serve” the collective pantheon of every god, as the Kindly Man explained to Arya in AFFC.

    Oh, and the “shadowy assassins” you mentioned are the work of R’hllor, not the Great Other, as Melisandre, a priestess of the Red God is the only character we’ve met capable of summoning them (although perhaps the gods of their world are merely a primitive explanation for an unexplainable force, in their case: magic, and Melisandre merely credits her god).

    Lastly, your explanation of Joffrey’s death is bang-on. The Tyrells, knowing how Joffrey would treat Margaery and how difficult he would be to control, jumped at the first opportunity to get rid of him. I don’t see how this needs any additional explanation in the books. If Joffrey hadn’t died, Margaery would be Queen and yes, the Tyrells would have power, but they wouldn’t be able to influence his decisions (look what happened when his family advised him to pardon Ned Stark) as easily as they can Tommen’s (who is essentially a puppet for the various powerful people in King’s Landing). The only thing that really needs explanation is Littlefinger’s exact motivations (as I suspect he might have had more in mind than just sowing chaos), although his reasoning might never be explained.

    Otherwise, great article.

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