Actual photo of your faithful reporter poring over all those freakin’ Game of Thrones fan theories.

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers through Game of Thrones season 6.

Winter is almost here again … and it’s kind of too bad.

Because let’s be real: the dirty little secret of Game of Thrones fandom is that not watching this show is almost as fun as watching it.

The off-season is when the fun stuff happens. Bored fans start nitpicking, and eventually all that digging starts to bring up some odd notions. Fan theories flourish, then start to spread faster than wildfire through a sept.

But now it’s time to try and get that blaze under control again. With Game of Thrones Season 7 about to kick off, no one’s got time to read a 7,000-word argument on why Hot Pie is secretly a Tyrell or Brienne has been warging into Pod this whole time or Yara and Dany are destined to rule Westeros together or whatever. (Actually, do send me that last one – what can I say, I ship it.)

So here, we’ve distilled all that fan theory madness down to the best of the best. These are the seven theories you absolutely need to know going into Season 7.

1. Jon Snow will kill Cersei Lannister

Image: HBO

Jon’s face is all like, "Kill Cersei Lannister? Heck, I don’t even want to be outside right now."

Basically everyone, up to and including our Magic 8 Ball, seems pretty sure that Cersei Lannister is gonna bite it. The only question is how.

On that front, we’ve got a little clue from Maggy the Frog. In Book 3, the fortuneteller tells Cersei that "the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you."

Valonqar is a Valyrian word meaning "little brother," so the most obvious interpretation of that prophecy is that either Jaime or Tyrion will be responsible for Cersei’s death. However, Maggy never specifies that it’ll be Cersei’s own valonqar – just that it’ll be a valonqar. Anyone who’s someone’s little brother is technically fair game.

Like, say, Jon Snow. We learned last season that he’s the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. That makes him the younger half-brother of Rhaenys and Aegon, Rhaegar’s legitimate heirs with Elia Martell. (Whew, these Game of Thrones family trees are complicated.)

Lord know he’s got plenty of reasons to want Cersei dead – and Lord knows Game of Thrones likes to zig when we think it’s about to zag.

How likely is it?: Eh. The one thing Game of Thrones loves more than shocking us is emotionally devastating us, and of all the potentially Cersei-killing valonqars on the show, Jaime would provide the most dramatic impact.

2. Jaime Lannister is Azor Ahai

Image: HBO

Look, someone’s gotta be Azor Ahai. May as well be this guy.

Game of Thrones fan theories tend to coalesce around a few key questions, and one of the biggest is "Who is Azor Ahai?"

For the uninitiated, Azor Ahai was a legendary hero who once saved the world from darkness. Disciples of the Lord of Light (like Melisandre) firmly believe Azor Ahai will someday be reborn as "the prince who was promised," but as of now it’s unclear who might fill that role.

Jon Snow seems to be Melisandre’s best guess right now, while some of the other red priests are betting on Daenerys Targaryen. Another intriguing dark-horse candidate? Jaime Lannister.

The biggest argument against is that Jaime doesn’t have Targaryen blood, and for various reasons too complicated to get into here, most fans believe Azor Ahai will be descended from that line.

But then again, mixed-up secret parentages are a recurring theme this show. It is known that the Mad King was obsessed with Jaime’s mother, Joanna. Who’s to say it’s impossible for Jaime to be Joanna and Aerys’ son?

How likely is it?: Okay, it might not be impossible, but it does seem like a stretch. Too much has to happen for this one to come true. Moreover, Dany and Jon seem like stronger possibilities even before you get into the nitty-gritty details. By which I mean that if you’ve ever read a fantasy novel before, you know they’ve both got "Chosen One" written all over them.

3. Tyrion Lannister isn’t really a Lannister

Image: HBO

… Because his real family is the friends he made along the way! (Just kidding.)

Right, speaking of that whole "mixed-up secret parentages" thing: What if Tyrion is the Lannister who’s not really a Lannister? What if he’s the offspring of Joanna Lannister and Aerys Targaryen?

The fan fixation on secret Targaryens doesn’t come out of nowhere. Thanks to Dany’s "three-headed dragon" vision at the House of the Undying, it’s widely believed that Dany will conquer Westeros with two trusted companions at her side. Those are likely to be blood relations, as both dragons and Targaryens favor Targaryens. (Incest being a way of life for these people.)

Dany was the only confirmed Targaryen left standing until Season 6 revealed that Jon also had Targaryen blood. That leaves one more dragon for one more Targaryen. And between his affinity for dragons, his troubled relationships with the other Lannisters, and Aerys’ fixation on Joanna, it starts to seem plausible that Tyrion has Targaryen blood coursing through his veins.

How likely is it?: I’m leaning toward "pretty likely," actually. Assuming Dany is right in thinking she’ll have two fellow dragon riders, and assuming fans are correct in assuming those two companions will have Targaryen blood, it’s tough to think of a more logistically coherent or narratively satisfying choice for the third dragon rider than Tyrion Lannister.

4. Cersei Lannister will marry Euron Greyjoy

Image: hbo

That is not the face of a woman who wants to share the throne with some salty dudebro.

It took a whole lot of tragedy, but Cersei finally got what she wanted in season 6: the Iron Throne, all to herself. Unfortunately for her, though, ascending to the Iron Throne is one thing. Staying on it is another thing entirely. And Cersei’s got a looooot of enemies with a vested interest in pushing her out. Might she be willing, then, to consider an alliance with another ambitious striver?

Some fans have speculated that Cersei could marry Euron Greyjoy. It’s not as out-of-nowhere as it sounds. She’d get all the fighting power of the Iron Islands, and he’d get to be king. There’s something in this for everyone, which is more than we can say for a lot of marriages on this show.

True, Euron’s already declared his intention to wed Daenerys. But Daenerys has gone and thrown in her lot with Yara, Euron’s biggest competition for the Salt Throne. And Euron’s not really in this for Daenerys anyway – what he’s after is power, and Cersei has plenty of that right now.

How likely is it?: Pilou Asbæk (the actor who plays Euron) has hinted that his character will try to get in with Cersei, so it seems extremely likely that we’ll see the two try to form some sort of formal alliance. Whether it’ll be marriage, though, I’m not so sure.

Cersei’s spent so much of the series chafing under the control of various men, including her abusive ex-husband, King Robert Baratheon. Now that she’s got ultimate power all to herself, my guess is she’ll do just about anything to keep from having to share it with anyone else.

5. Bran Stark drove the Mad King mad

Image: HBO

Bran actually looks like he’s going a little mad himself. Out of boredom.

After spending a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing, things finally started to pick up for Bran Stark in Season 6, when he served as our vehicle for confirming the truth about Jon Snow’s parentage. But … there’s gotta be a bit more to this thing, right? Surely he didn’t spend the past few seasons crawling through the snow and talking to birds just to become a flashback machine?

Well, if you believe this theory, yes and no. You’ll recall that Season 6 episode "The Door" (a.k.a. "The One Where We Learn What ‘Hodor’ Means And Subsequently Spend the Next Week Ugly-Crying About It On Our Couches") established that present-day Bran can make waves in the past.

Maybe, then, Bran’s actually played a much bigger role in Westerosi history than we’ve previously believed. In the Tower of Joy flashback, young Ned seems to hear Bran’s voice, even if he can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from. Could Bran also be responsible for the strange voices that Aerys Targaryen II kept hearing? In other words, did Bran drive the Mad King mad?

How likely is it?: I don’t know that the Mad King really needs an explanation for his madness beyond power-hungry paranoia and centuries of inbreeding. Throwing Bran into that backstory would only complicate things, and for no clear reason. I’m going to go with no.

That said, I absolutely believe that Bran’s time-travel abilities will come into play somehow. Maybe he really is all the Brandon Starks throughout history, or maybe the Three-Eyed Raven is just an older Bran come back to train his younger self.

Heck, even without time travel, Bran has a way of setting events into motion. Remember, basically everything that’s happened on Game of Thrones started with Jaime Lannister pushing Bran Stark out that window.

6. Varys is behind … everything

Image: hbo

THAT is the face of a dude who is definitely up to something.

It’s no secret that Varys is really, really good at playing the game. Never mind that he’s never gonna sit on that throne – Varys’ power lies in his gift for manipulation. He ferrets out secrets and uses them to get others to do his bidding, all the while keeping his own secrets extremely close to his chest.

For a long time, that included his motives. But it’s clear now that what he wants is to put Daenerys Targaryen on the Iron Throne. And he’s closer to succeeding than ever, what with her sailing across the Narrow Sea as we speak.

So just how much of that is Varys’ doing? Dany herself likely doesn’t know, since Varys wields so much of his influence in the shadows. But one theory suggests his involvement goes deeper than we know. He may have gotten Tyrion found guilty on purpose, as a way to get Tyrion out of Westeros and set him up with Daenerys.

After all, Varys saw firsthand what Tyrion did as Joffrey’s Hand of the King. He’d know better than anyone that Tyrion would make for a great Hand of the Queen.

How likely is it?: That Varys has been pulling the strings all along? Yup. Totally buy it. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing that guy isn’t secretly responsible for.

7. Syrio Forel is still a thing

Image: HBO

I mean, he did tell the god of death "not today."

Remember Syrio Forel? Arya’s "dancing" teacher from season one? The one who gave us the endlessly quotable line "What do we say to the god of death?"

And remember the last time we saw him? How he dies while fighting off Lannister forces so that Arya can flee? Remember how we never actually see him die, which in TV language means he may or may not actually be dead?

Fans have been clinging onto that faint hope of Syrio’s return for, gosh, six years now, and they’re not giving up. Forget that the showrunners have said, in no uncertain terms, that Syrio Forel is definitely, for sure, dead as a doornail. Not only have they lied before, but people come back from the dead all the time in Westeros.

A season 6 preview briefly gave fans hope that Syrio might’ve returned, on account of some shadow kinda looking like Syrio. That turned out to be a big fat nothing – the figure was just a random extra who happened to have similar hair – but, damnit, there’s still no evidence Syrio is dead! That means he could still be alive!

How likely is it?: Nah, Syrio’s dead. I’d love to be wrong on this one, though. C’mon, Game of Thrones! Haven’t we earned a little joy after all our years of suffering?

Want more Season 7 predictions?

Image: HBO

Dany is unimpressed by the quality of fan theories in Westeros.

Of course, fan theories will only get you so far. Go too far down that rabbit hole, and you mind find yourself deciding that Varys is a mermaid because there’s no definitive evidence that he isn’t. So let us rein you back in with some more grounded predictions: based on the Season 7 trailer, based on who was on top when we last left off, based on the sage analysis of policy experts, and (because why the hell not) based on a Magic 8 Ball.

Don’t like these fan theories? Make your own

"But those are boring," you may be whining to yourself right now. "I don’t want rational extrapolation or novelty gift magic. I want crazy fan theories that’ll blow my mind and change everything I thought I knew about this show!"

Well, put on your very best tinfoil hat, because we’ve got a little something to share with you.

You – yes, you! – can make your own. And then go argue about it earnestly on Reddit. And get so much traction that way that we end up covering it at Mashable, and including it in our next story about the best Game of Thrones fan theories floating around the internet, thus bringing the whole thing full circle. Just like some sort of time-traveling Stark kid.