Is Tyrion Lannister related to Daenerys Targaryen?
Game of Thrones, HBO
Peter Dinklage recently reignited a Game of Thrones fan theory with just four words during an acceptance speech at the 2018 Emmys in September. It’s a crock theory, and really only a handful of social media users jumped on his unintentional phrasing, but for several entertainment news websites hungry for any sort of Game of Thrones-related traffic, it was content.
Shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld, with their complex, tangled plots, turn many viewers into amateur detectives and prognosticators—and send entertainment writers down the rabbit hole after them. These fiction-based theories, many of which are developed on Reddit, are a vibrant part of modern fandom, and journalists recognize the appeal, traffic value, and occasional narrative insights these theories provide. The key, according to writers, is knowing how to tell good fan theories from bad ones—and then choosing whether or not to aggregate these stories. Because, even though it’s speculative fiction, there are consequences.
“My Theory 101 course starts with the question of Why does it matter?” explains Kim Renfro, a senior culture reporter for Insider. Renfro, who is currently writing an unofficial history of Game of Thrones, has seen more than her share of shoddy theories, and the bad ones betray a total ignorance of traditional storytelling and narrative rules. “You can line up a bunch of evidence for why you think something is going to happen, but if you can’t then explain what the result would do to the story in a meaningful way, then it doesn’t matter,” she says.