We'll be talking up-to-date SPOILERS for both the books and the show.

1. No one knows what really killed all of Daenerys' ancestors


As far as Targaryens go, Daenerys is pretty much all we have left. Many fans hold that royal blood also flows through the veins of Jon Snow royal lineage (and depending on who you ask, Tyrion as well), but Dany is the last confirmed member of the bloodline. After 300 years of ruling Westeros, the Targaryen family was all but wiped out by Robert's Rebellion and its aftermath -- and in Viserys' case, a short coronation with a very hot crown. 

But it wasn't always that way. See, the Targaryens were once just a very small part of a large empire called Valyria. You might remember it from an episode in season five of the TV show, when the buddy comic duo that was Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister floated through the smoky ruins on their way to see Khaleesi. 

stone men

In a fantasy universe as old and storied as this one, there are bound to be plenty of mysterious ruins. Hell, some parts of the world beyond Westeros would probably give Skyrim a run for its money in the "abandoned dungeons" department. But these towering remains once belonged to a great civilization that perished under mysterious circumstances. This cataclysmic event has come to be known as The Doom of Valyria. Though the exact cause of the Doom is uncertain, pretty much everyone agrees that it was an earth-shattering catastrophe the likes the world had never seen. As described in The World of Ice and Fire:

(...) every hill for five hundred miles split asunder to fill the air with ash and smoke and fire so hot and hungry that even the dragons in the sky were engulfed and consumed. Great rents opened in the earth, swallowing palaces, temples and entire towns. Lakes boiled or turned into acid, mountains burst, fiery fountains spewed molten rock a thousand feet into the air, and red clouds rained down dragongalss and the black blood of demons.

That last part with the demon blood rain miiight be an embellishment, but we have to remember that the information we have comes in the form of what's basically a legend. It's not exactly proven that say, an obsidian hailstorm pulverized the landscape, but the fact that something incredibly drastic happened is undeniable. Tyrion notes in A Clash of Kings: "I believe there were once dragons. I've seen their skulls, after all." Similarly, we've seen the bones of Old Valyria, and they're telling us a story in a language we can't understand. 

Though it might be easy to say what destroyed Valyria was just a series of really, really big volcanic eruptions, it seems unlikely that we're looking at something so simple as a supercharged Pompeii situation. To understand what we're really dealing with here, we should go back and revisit Valyria as it was before. Back when it looked like this:

ted nasmith
via Ted Nasmith

Around the time that Westeros had just finished dealing with the White Walkers and their horrifying ice spiders, Valyria was just getting on its feet. A comfortable distance from the tyrannical slavery empire that was Old Ghis, the Valyrians built themselves up in large part thanks to more than a dozen active volcanos that dotted the land. These massive mountains became known as the Fourteen Flames, and they were continually exploited for the wealth of precious metals dwelling inside them. 

Oh yeah, and also Valyrians got themselves some dragons. That's pretty important. 

Wielding that kind of immense power, Valyria struck down Old Ghis without breaking a sweat, and went to build a Rome-like empire for themselves. To be clear, this wasn't exactly a utopia for all involved. Everyone conquered by these silver-haired supermodels had to ditch their old language in favor of High Valyrian. The empire also made liberal use of slaves, who were forced to mine the rich ores of the Fourteen Flames in what you might call a "lifetime appointment." It should be no surprise that these kinds of conditions inspired many of the slaves to escape to form the city of Braavos; same with the Andals, who made a pilgrimage to Westeros to escape religious persecution. 

Life kind of sucked for everyone else, but if you were a Valryian, you were probably pretty satisfied about how things were going. The one exception to this rule was Aenar Targaryen. Upon hearing of a dark prophecy that came to his daughter in a dream, Aenar took his family and everything he owned and booked it to a little hideaway off the coast of Westeros. You know it as Dragonstone. 

via Philip Straub

It would be hundreds of years before Stannis Baratheon would take command of the island and all the grammar within. For now, the Targaryens had escaped what they believed to be certain death. And then... nothing happened. For over a decade, the family stewed on that rock, probably wondering what the hell they were doing there. And then, as the prophecy foretold, came the Doom. 

It's tough to overstate just how complete and total the destruction of Valyria was. Almost all of the dragonlords were killed in the event itself, and the remaining few were done away with by enemies shortly thereafter. The only people left in the entire world that had access to (and domain over) dragons were the Targaryens, on their own little island of Dragonstone. As for Valyria itself... it's shattered beyond recognition, a piece of the world permanently broken. You can even spot its dessicated corpse on the world map, Southeast of Westeros..

via Jonathan Roberts
via Jonathan Roberts

So what caused the Doom? While we may never get a clear answer, there are several theories floating around. The simplest explanation is that it was just a giant natural disaster, a mega-volcanic eruption a la Mt. Vesuvius. Some suggest that Valyria may have inadvertantly been at fault, that their unrepentant mining of the Fourteen Flames made the land less stable. Barring nature and/or hubris, there are others who might have wiped out the Valyrians on purpose.

In A Feast for Crows, Arya has a pretty interesting chat with a certain No One about the history of the Faceless Men:

"Revolts were common in the mines, but few accomplished much. The dragonlords of the old Freehold were strong in sorcery, and lesser men defied them at their peril. The first Faceless Man was one who did." "Who was he?" Arya blurted, before she stopped to think. "No one," he answered.


That very night he chose the most wretched of the slaves, the one who had prayed most earnestly for release, and freed him from his bondage. The first gift had been given." Arya drew back from him. "He killed the slave?" That did not sound right. "He should have killed the masters!" "He would bring the gift to them as well... but that is a tale for another day, one best shared with no one."

As it turns out, the dark assassins known as the Faceless Men were born with a grudge against Valyrians -- they started in the mines of the Fourteen Flames. Sure, they eventually settled in Braavos to worship the Many-Faced God, but mass enslavement/murder isn't the thing you can forget by unfriending someone on Facebook. Keeping that in mind, it would make a lot of sense if the Faceless Men were behind the Doom. They wouldn't even have to whip up an earth-shattering spell -- something like well-coordinated acts of sabotage would be more their speed. Attacking key Valyrian scientists and lords might have been enough to disrupt the empire long enough for them to destroy themselves. 

That said, it's still impossible to know what actually went down and if anyone was involved beyond a huge wall of hot lava. Knowing George R.R. Martin, maybe some maester started to write a book about it and never finished it. 

2. The secret dragon eggs hiding under Winterfell


For most, the biggest mystery surrounding the Starks has long been spoiled; though not outright confirmed in the books or show as of this writing, "R+L = J" is less of a theory and more of a law of the land. Sort of like how kids who played Oddjob in Goldeneye were more likely to grow up to be sociopaths -- there's no scientific evidence, but everyone accepts it as fact. Much murkier, however, is the existence of dragon eggs beneath Winterfell. It sounds like a tinfoil hat conspiracy worthy of Captain Reynolds Wrap himself, but there's too much smoke to ignore this fire.

The whole thing hinges around a dragon named Vermax, who did indeed visit Winterfell about 170 years before Bran was pushed from that window. Vermax's rider Jacaerys Valeryon made the trip to hash out an alliance with the Starks and some of the other Northmen, and it was during the treating that Vermax supposedly found a nice place to pop out one or more eggs

Now, this all comes from the mouth of Mushroom, a dwarven court jester who worked for the Targaryens for many years. After his long service, Mushroom published a tell-all that included a lot of wild stories that have largely been dismissed as fabricated lunacy by the maesters of Westeros. But we as readers have been taught by George R.R. Martin to never underestimate someone because of their stature. 

So where are these dragon eggs supposed to be, anyway? Well, if Mushroom is right, they're in the crypts of Winterfell. 

crypts of winterfell

In-universe historians speculate that Winterfell was founded where it was because of the local hot springs. That seems likely, since a steady supply of warm water is a pretty nice perk in a world where even sorcerers haven't been able to figure out indoor plumbing. The crypts of the city are right up against these hot springs, which makes it the most probable place a cold-hating dragon would pop a squat and pinch off a few eggs. 

But maesters are quick to dismiss this scenario altogether. Not only are they skeptical of anything a jester says, but there's also a the sticky matter of biology. Again from the World of Ice and Fire:

We can dismiss Mushroom's claim in his Testimony that the dragon Vermax left a clutch of eggs somewhere in the depths of Winterfell's crypts, where the waters of the hot springs run close to the walls, while his rider treated with Cregan Stark at the start of the Dance of Dragons. As Archmaester Gyldayn notes in his fragmentary history, there is no record that Vermax ever laid a single egg, suggesting the dragon was male.

Well, that would kinda put the kibosh on the whole thing, wouldn't it? It's not as though dragon DNA was spliced with tree frogs and life uh, found a way to make them switch sexes. Except that's actually pretty close to the truth! In A Dance With Dragons, one of the last things Maester Aemon says to Sam concerns this very topic. 

"What fools we were, who thought ourselves so wise! The error crept in from the translation. Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame. The language misled us all for a thousand years."

Aemon is actually talking about how the prophecies of old could have been genderless in their text, and that the title of "The Prince That Was Promised" may well belong to Daenerys Targeryen. But the important part for us is that this implies it was biologically possible for Vermax to lay those eggs somewhere next to the sullen stone statues of the Starks underneath Winterfell

winterfell crypts
via Thomas Denmark

The World of Ice and Fire disagrees with this premise, saying those who believe in sex-changing dragons are mistaken. But we have to remember that even though it's something of an enyclopedia, TWoIaF is written from the perspective of a fictional person within Westeros, a narrator that is biased and therefore completely fallible. At this point, it's the word of one maester against another -- we can't be certain who's in the wrong, or even if neither are in the right.

The only thing we do know is that there's something going on down in those crypts. They supposedly predate Winterfell itself, so anything is possible. This mystery has fascinated several people within the books and the TV series. King Robert, Lady Dustin, Mance Rayder and more are all itching to get downstairs for various reasons. Jon Snow, on the other hand, is not in a big rush. 

"Somehow I know I have to go down there, but I don't want to. I'm afraid of what might be waiting for me."

If L+R=J is indeed true and Jon Snow is a secret Targaryen, could it be that his own dragon egg is waiting for him to claim it?

Then again, it may be that this is all symbolism, that Jon doesn't want to visit the graves of Starks because he's not really one of them. The "dragon beneath Winterfell" could be a fancy way of saying that a Targaryen is hiding in plain sight. Hell, there's nothing standing of the way of both theories being true, that Jon Snow is a Targaryen and will eventually ride a badass ice dragon into battle and give Euron Greyjoy the worst case of shrinkage ever. Again, knowing George R.R. Martin, we probably won't be so lucky.

3. The unknown continent South of Westeros

via Jonathan Roberts

The books and the show spend a lot of time in Westeros and a bit of time in Essos, the continent across the sea. But there is another immense landmass to the South that has fascinated fans for years. Sothoryos is fittingly located in the South of the known world. As the stories go, Sothoryos is a place so dense with darkness that man can hardly survive. A maester estimated that anyone stepping foot on the contintent has a 90% chance of catching a rare and terrible illness, and a 50/50 shot of dying shortly thereafter. We're talking about afflictions with names like sweetrot, blood boils, brownleg, green fever, pus-eye and the Red Death. There are less diseases in a state fair port-a-potty on coupon day than in one square inch of Sothoryos. 

And those are just the sicknesses. We haven't even touched the oppressive temperatures and humidity. Or more importantly, the local wildlife -- we're talking giant allegators, vicious piranha-like fish and worms that burrow into your skin to lay their eggs. And if you keep going South into Sothoryos you'll get to an area called the Green Hell, which is populated with gargantuan snakes and carnivorous lizards. There are reportedly a vast array of wyverns, which are basically smaller, assholier dragons. Some wyverns are small but hunt in deadly packs, and others are like large, jet-black demons that are impossible to see at night and hunt down their victims like the Predator. And there's no choppa to get to in Sothoryos.

Though many have tried to exploit the riches of Sothoryos -- from gems and pearls to gold exotic spices -- the contintent remains mostly unsettled by the outside world. Western and Eastern civilizations who attempt to tame the wild South have all met with tragedy. Sothoryos remains such a mystery that we don't even know how big it is -- that map above is about a complete look as we have. Ships who have passed that point either never shared their findings or, more likely, never returned at all. 

The few signs of human life we do see are creepy as hell. Enter: Yeen. 

via Nutchapol Thitinunthakorn
Maybe the best way to explain the mystery and horror of Yeen is to go back a thousand years or so. Back then, a warrior queen named Nymeria was leading her people on an exodus from the dickbags that were the Valryians when they decided to settle on Sothyros. Bad idea. Nymeria herself set up camp on the Northern coast of the continent in a long-abandoned settlement called Zamettar. Her people, the Rhyonar, were not super-thrilled with the balmy and murder-y climate, but some of them did venture further into the continent to settle in the long-abandoned ruins of Yeen. 
They probably should have known something was up right away. Yeen is made entirely of "oily black stone" in blocks so huge it's a wonder they were ever moved at all. The impossible construction of an entire city made of what sounds like obsidian is a mystery that dwarfs the origins of Egyptian pyramids. If you'd guess there was some kind of dark magic involved, you'd probably be right. See, when the Rhyonar reached the forbidden city, they noticed that -- despite it being more ancient than that vacant Hollywood Video building that's still in town -- Yeen has been completely untouched by nature. Every other ruin you normally come across gets reclaimed by grass, moss, trees and wildlife. But when it came to Yeen, nature was like "Nah, we're good. You go on ahead." 
Nymeria herself soon came to agree with nature. A boat was sent down river from Zamettar to check on the settlement down South, and it arrived to find everyone in Yeen had completely vanished. Gone without a trace. Every man, woman and child in Yeen had been straight-up Roanoke'd. After that, Nymeria took nature's cue and booked it the fuck off of Sothoryos, never to return again. 
We'll probably never know more about the mysterious Southern continent, its inhabitants or the true origins of the dark city of Yeen. But we're probably better off that way.

4. The Mysterious Quaithe 


Identity is a huge part of the themes in A Song of Ice and Fire. Many, many major characters change names and roles for various reasons. There's Arya, who becomes Mercy in her quest to become No One; Jon Snow acts like he's defecting from the Night's Watch to the side of the Wildlings; Sansa takes the name of "Alayne" to hide out in the Vale. Even the show version of Dorne is trying to masquerade as watchable television. 

But there are a few key players that have kept themselves hidden even from fans. Above you can see Quaithe, the masked mystic who seems to have the power of clairvoyance. She's not around a ton in the show, but Quaithe is seen and mentioned throughout the books, warning Daenerys with vague and forboding prophecies like this one:

The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin,the sun's son and the mummer's dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.

There's a lot to unpack here, and plenty of people have pieced parts of it together. But more fascinating than what the "pale mare" represents or who the "perfumed seneschal" might be is just why Quaithe is going to all this trouble trying to guide Daenerys. Who is Quaithe, and what does she really want? Why can't she just say what she means instead of speaking in infuriating riddles straight out of a David Lynch dream sequence?

With this little to work with, inevitably a variety of wild theories started to crop up. One of the biggest of which suggests that Quaithe is actually a future version of Daenerys. The idea being that Future Dany wears a mask to protect her identity, and speaks in cryptic poems so that her young self will have some help but not enough to make it easy to mount the world, as it were. 

At least we've seen Quaithe here and there during the War of the Five Kings. Not so much can be said for this guy:

5. The Elusive Howland Reed

howland reed

That's a young version of Howland Reed -- father to Meera and the late Jojen Reed -- as seen in the flashback to the Tower of Joy. As the story goes, Howland was the only other person to survive that badass swordfight, other than Ned Stark (seen at right). And since Joffrey got all decapi-happy decades later, Howland remains the last man alive who knows what actually happened after the brawl.

And since the Tower of Joy and who's inside could have some pretty big implications for the line of royal succession -- not to mention the Reeds being one of the best friends the Starks have -- you'd figure we would have heard from Howland and some point. Nope. Barring this flashback, Howland is nowhere to be found. And it doesn't have to mean anything, but it has to mean something, right?

Many fans have speculated that Howland is hiding in plain sight. It could be that we're already familiar with Howland Reed, and depending on how you feel about the Faith, familiar with hating his stupid face:

howland reed

That's right -- it's come to be believed by many fans that the High Sparrow is none other than Howland Reed in disguise, sent to King's Landing to disrupt the Lannister reign. It sounds pretty silly and frankly, out of left field, but some expert fan theorists have put forth a pretty convincing case. 

See, the last time we really heard about Howland was back when Robb Stark still had his head. The King in the North actually sent a letter to Howland asking for some navigators to guide his men through the bogs around his stomping ground. It may well have been this point that Robb asked the family friend for a huge favor. When questioned by one of his men about Howland's reliability, Robb shot back:

Galbart Glover rubbed his mouth. "There are risks. If the crannogmen should fail you..."

"We will be no worse than before. But they will not fail. My father knew the worth of Howland Reed."

As with pretty much everything Martin writes, there are a number of ways you could take Robb's statement. On a surface level, he could just be assuring his men that Howland is totally good for it. But he is specifically talking about "the worth" of his dear bannerman. See, Howland and his people are crannogmen, a swampy people who usually keep to themselves. They're humble (like the High Sparrow) and often pretty dirty (like the High Sparrow) -- and most importantly, they are said to "prefer to hide from foes rather than face them in open battle." In other words, they make great spies. 

Now, a High Septon is in a pretty nice place to be in if you're into subterfuge. But there's another reason that Howland Reed specifically might be positioned in that role. It rhymes with Yon Blow. 

jon snow

As stated before, Howland Reed is the only person alive who knows what happened at the Tower of Joy. And pretty much every seasoned fan believes that it was there that Lyanna Stark gave birth to Jon Snow, son of the deceased Rhaegar Targeryen. As the story goes, Lyanna made Ned pledge to protect the identity of her son ("Promise me, Ned..."), the true heir to the Iron Throne. 

If anyone in the land can definitively verify this truth to all of Westeros, it's Howland Reed. But it wouldn't really matter if Jon Snow was bound to the Night's Watch, right? No matter how Jon feels about it, the legalities are still pretty tricky. But as it turns out, High Septons have a way around that. See, the Night's Watch Maester, Aemon, was offered the job of King after his older brother passed -- an offer that was only possible because the High Septon was willing to release him of his vows. From A Clash of Kings:

First, they offered it, quietly, to Aemon. And quietly he refused. The gods meant for him to serve, not to rule, he told them. He had sworn a vow and would not break it, though the High Septon himself offered to absolve him.

So the High Septon would be able to absolve Jon Snow of his legal obligations to the wall. And that sounds like something a cherished friend of the family might want to do. 

This is all just a theory, of course. But that's what happens when a character is so often referenced but never actually seen. When pestered about , George R.R. Martin admitted that Howland Reed would "appear eventually." In Martinspeak, we can assume that equates to "Don't worry, the TV show will spoil it soon."

6. The Tragedy at Summerhall

game of thrones
via Marc Simonetti

Of all the mysteries in Westeros, the Tragedy at Summerhall is the one that remains the most tantalizing. We know that there was a ceremony at a great castle to herald the birth of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, and we know that the celebration ended in horror with many dead -- but we don't have a lot of the details of the how and why. It's like we have the whole picture but it's juuust enough out of focus that we can't see the finer details, like a Magic Eye painting that's supposedly hiding a dinosaur.

As for the facts we do have: Summerhall was a fantastic castle built by the Targeryens, a little over a century before Daenerys' dragons hatched. Constructed during peacetime, Summerhall didn't have much in the way of defensive capabilities, nor did it have any strategic value of note. It was just an awesome castle that the royal family liked to hang out in sometimes; the high fantasy equivalent of having a log cabin in Vermont. 

The castle was a favorite in particular of King Aegon V, a young version of which stars in George R.R. Martin's Dunk and Egg novellas (which you should totally read, by the way). Aegon was a pretty nice dude all told, kind and intelligent as opposed to the "savage and bloodthirsty" type that seem to make up half of the Targeryen lineage. Here's the King with his family:

game of thrones
via Karla Ortiz

That's Aegon in the back left, with his sons Duncan, Jaehaerys and Daeron filling out the squad. Daeron over on the right may be of particular importance; we'll get back to him and his sweet ponytail a bit later. 

It's important to note that Aegon was called "Aegon the Unlikely" for a reason. He was the fourth son of a fourth son -- following the rule of royal inheritance, Aegon should have never been crowned. A whole lot of terrible things had to happen and a whole lot of people had to die for The Unlikely to ascend to the throne, but that's what happened. Aegon was determined to step up to the task, however, and it turned out that his dedication to the prosperity of the people would be his own undoing. 

See, Aegon wasn't like the kings of the past. He grew up around "smallfolk" (i.e. people who always seem to have dirt on their face), going on adventures with Sir Duncan the Tall. So when he arrived at the throne, Aegon wanted to make life better for everyone, peasants included. Thing was, the other lords weren't super into the idea, seeing as "minimum wage" has no meaning in Westeros. So Aegon figured the best way to assert his power and get what he wanted would be to get what no Targeryen had in a century: Dragons. 

On that night at Summerhall, Aegon was using a combination of sorcery and worship in an effort to hatch dragon eggs. Instead, the entire castle ignited, and Aegon perished in the flames along with his son Duncan.


In more than one way, this can be seen as another Doom of Valyria on a smaller scale. We can sort of guess at what happened -- a fragmented record that barely survives mentions wildfire -- but once more, we don't know exactly why or how it happened. 

You could go the easy way out and say that Aegon's obsession with hatching the dragons backfired and the dark rites he attempted to use ended up consuming him and his loved ones. But that's ignoring a lot of the things going on around the sidelines, things that mirror events chronicled in the books and show.  

Around the time of Summerhall, the Targeryens didn't have a ton of friends, and there's a good reason why. Barristan Selmy recounts as much in A Dance With Dragons:

All three of the sons of the fifth Aegon had wed for love, in defiance of their father's wishes. And because that unlikely monarch had himself followed his heart when he chose his queeen, he allowed his sons to have their way, making bitter enemies where he might have had fast friends. Treason and turmoil followed, as night follows day, ending at Summerhall in sorcery, fire and grief.

Basically Selmy is implying that Aegon pissed everyone off by letting his sons marry for love instead of using those valuable betrothals to forge strong alliances. He's probably right, too. One of the pissed-off in this scenario: Olenna Redwyne. You might know her as the Queen of Thorns. 


Olenna was engaged to Aegon's son Daeron for quite a while. But once he came of age, Daeron decided to call the marriage off because he was in love with another man. The same thing happened with Duncan, who was matched with a Baratheon before he ditched the arrangement for someone he truly desired. And again with Jaehaerys, who turned down a Tully because he preferred the company of his own sister. 

History repeats itself. Margery wasn't the first Tyrell to get engaged to a gay man. Robb wasn't the first one to marry for love instead of honoring a pre-arranged agreement -- a mistake that has been shown time and time again to end in tragedy. 

Could Olenna have had something to do with the deaths at Summerhall? Maybe. Joffrey rubbed her family the wrong way, and he ended up with those weird eyeball stones on his face. It could be considered incidental, but it's also important to remember who else was around at the time. 


Ah, Maester Pycelle. Though he appears a dull geezer, it's important to remember to ignore the doddering facadePycelle has survived for 40 years for a reason: He keeps a low profile so he can manipulate events without alerting anyone. So we should probably be more than a little suspicious that Pycelle was brought on as Aegon's Grand Maester just months before Summerhall burned to the ground.

Not only that, but Aegon had a string of bad luck with Maesters leading up to that point. Before Pycelle came on board, two Maesters had died, each after less than a year of service. A third Maester succumbed to "a chill" on the trip to King's landing, and then Pycelle was called for the job. Sure, it could have just so happened this was the natural sequence of events, but we should know better than to assume everything is a coincidence in Westeros. 

So why undermine the crown? Well, Maesters in general have shown to be intent on keeping dragons dead and gone. Maester Marywn admitted as much to Sam in A Feast for Crows. 

"Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?"

There are a multitude of other factions that could have had a hand in Summerhall. The Faceless Men presumably still have a grudge against Valyrians and they wouldn't want the dragons to come back either, so they have all the reason in the world to sabotage the hatching ritual. Hell, Tywin Lannister was an asshole teenager at the time, and we all know he was capable of some pretty horrific things even at that age -- why not throw him into the mix?

Occam's Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. But with so many outside forces at play, it's hard to believe that Summerhall was the result of a simple accident. That, and this is George R.R. Fucking Martin we're talking about.

Tristan Cooper can be found on Twitter.