Game of Thrones Theorycrafting: The Grand Northern Conspiracy

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

This post originally ran in July of 2015, but considering the questions raised by the Umbers’ betrayal last night, it seemed like a good time to bring it back up.

In these series of posts, we’ll explore different fan theories regarding the past, present, and future of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. Warning: SPOILERS abound. This particular theory, in particular, is very wide-reaching and encompasses not only the show, but the entire A Song of Ice and Fire book series. You have been warned.

Now, let’s proceed…

When I first came across The Grand Northern Conspiracy, I had been doing what most fans of the show and books do during their down time: I was Googling Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire theories. After only minutes of sifting through the various tinfoil hat theories (super-crazy fan ideas), I came across The Grand Northern Conspiracy (TGNC), and was instantly enthralled.

Since then, I have tried to find the original author of TGNC, but have had no real luck. I do know, however, that the theory originated on, one of the oldest and most reliable Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire websites around. I originally came across it when snooping around the ASOIAF subreddit. The original poster (OP) on the subreddit even gave credits to, and laid the theory out nicely on a Tumbler page called ASOIAF University.

The Grand Northern Conspiracy is divided into seven parts, but before we get into that, let’s quickly go over the key players and events leading up to the North’s bid to reinstate the Starks in Winterfell.

The Grand Northern Conspiracy revolves around the idea that the citizens of the North are enraged after Lord Walder Frey, together with Lord Roose Bolton, killed Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark, and Robb’s men at the Red Wedding, even though they should have been protected by guest right (the tradition which protects guests from harm so long as they’ve partaken of salt and bread from their host).

The phrase “The North remembers” comes into play in a major way here. The Starks were Kings in the North before Aegon came with his dragons. After  Torrhen Stark—known as the King Who Knelt—surrendered the Crown of the Kings of Winter to Aegon the Conqueror, the Starks were named Lords of Winterfell and Wardens of the North. They passed that title from one generation to the next for many years, and the Northerners got very used to it. Now, however, with Lord Eddard Stark dead and his heir Robb Stark murdered, the North is in a state of chaos. Winterfell has been razed and the betrayer Roose Bolton rules as Warden of the North.

With the backing of the Crown (mainly House Lannister) and the support of the Freys, House Bolton looked to secure its hold on the North by bringing the other Great Northern Houses to heel under its rule. But as I mentioned, the North remembers, and a certain Lord who happens to be too fat to sit a horse (Lord Wyman Manderly), is secretly leading a group of Stark loyalists who would see a Stark rule the North from Winterfell once again.

It’s Rickon, the Stark no one remembers. /

But which Stark will it be? Lord Eddard is dead. Lady Catelyn is dead…and undead. The Young Wolf, King Robb Stark, is dead. Very few people in the books know the whereabouts of Sansa and Arya. Bran and Rickon are also thought to be dead, although as of A Dance with Dragons Lord Manderlay at least believes Rickon to be alive on the island of Skagos. Who’s left? Oh…you truly know nothing.

Jon Snow is a bastard, and his parentage is a source of a network of elaborate, wonderfully thought-out theories. For now, though, the North believes him to be the illegitimate son of Lord Eddard Stark. As a bastard, he is to receive no lands or titles from his father, not unless Ned recognizes him and legitimizes him as his son. As we know, that never happened. However, there was another Stark who had the power to legitimize Jon…

In A Storm of Swords, Robb and Catelyn have a discussion about who should be Robb’s heir in the event that he dies without having fathered a son. Catelyn suggests a number of candidates, but Robb is sure of who he should name: his bastard brother Jon.

Before his death, so the theory goes, Robb Stark, as the King in the North, had papers drawn up and witnessed by his most trusted bannermen. We never find out all the details regarding the content of these papers, but in light of his talk with Catelyn, it stands to reason that they represented a will of sorts, a document that would legitimize Jon Snow in the event of Robb’s death. Robb did this so that, should he die during the War of Five Kings, Winterfell and the Wardenship of the North would pass to a Stark, rather than to any upstart usurpers like the Boltons.

At the time he had these papers drawn up, Robb believed that Theon had killed both Bran and Rickon, so Jon would have been, in his mind, the only man (and in this medieval-inspired society, it’s important for it to be a man rather than a woman) alive with any decent claim to the Stark legacy. Now that Robb is dead, the theory holds that the loyal Stark bannermen are getting ready to take out Stannis and the Boltons and install Jon as their new liege lord. (We’re not going to get into how Jon’s apparent death complicates matters—that’s a job for an entirely different article.)

Much of these details are confined to the books, but the Grand Northern Conspiracy could still find its way onto the show. For example, we know from the leaked casting calls that HBO seems to be looking to stay in the North for much of Season 6. We also know that Northern Lords are being cast, and one in particular is central to the Grand Northern Conspiracy idea.

"Lord of Northern Stronghold: This northern lord is “ruthless and calculating” and will appear in three episodes. Running with the whole “Northern resistance” theme, might this be Lord Wyman Manderly?"

That description does indeed fit Lord Wyman Manderly. In the books, Lord Manderly rules his House from White Harbor, a port city near the Neck. His titles (because everyone in these books has a long string of titles) include the Lord of White Harbor, Warden of the White Knife, Shield of the Faith, Defender of the Dispossessed, Lord Marshal of the Mander, and Knight of the Order of the Green Hand. Many fans of the books were upset that Wyman Manderly and the members of his House did not show up in Season 5, but if this particular casting rumor holds true, he and his subplot from A Dance with Dragons could show up in Season 6.

At this point, you may be asking: Why does Lord Manderly care so much about the Starks? That’s an excellent question: let’s look into it.

The Manderlys are an ancient House descended from the First Men, the first human settlers in Westeros. Long ago, they lived not in the North but in the Reach, along the banks of the Mander River. Before Aegon Targaryen’s conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, House Gardener ruled the Reach from their seat at Highgarden (the Tyrells, who currently rule the Reach, were only stewards to the Gardeners during this time). It was during this period that the Gardener King exiled the members of House Manderly from his lands, as he was afraid of their growing wealth and influence.

Friendless and without a home, the Manderlys fled to the North, where they were welcomed by the Starks of Winterfell as their own bannermen. The Starks awarded the Wolf’s Den to the Manderlys and assigned them the defense of the White Knife, in return for an oath that they would always be loyal subjects of House Stark. It was because of their hospitality that House Manderly has always been fiercely loyal to the Starks, their liege lords.

And now you have the basic bones of The Grand Northern Conspiracy. However, there is so much more that I have intentionally left out of my description, so that you can base your own opinion on the works of the original author. Click the links and read the theories—they are well-written and thought-out, and I absolutely believe this theory to be true.

As I said before, I consider this to be one of the best Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire theories currently circulating around the internet. Of course, as with all theories, words could be wind, and it all could mean nothing. With both Season 6 of Game of Thrones and the sixth book in George R.R. Martin’s ASOIAF series, The Winds of Winter, coming down the pipeline, we could very well get confirmation on some of this soon. Until then, we will continue to craft our tinfoil hats.

Next: Bronn and Jaqen H’ghar back for Season 6, new young actor cast in mystery role