There’s a wild ‘Game of Thrones‘ theory doing the rounds that points to beloved Ned Stark somehow still being alive.

Now, it is my regret to inform you that Lord Eddard Stark is absolutely dead. His beautiful head was cleanly sheered off by Ser Ilyn Payne at the end of season one, and bounced on the stones outside the Great Sept of Baelor. He is, to use the medical term, gonezo.

But a theory that Ned is actually alive and well (and hiding all this time while his family is slowly slaughtered) is doing the rounds once again, so let’s get into it, shall we?

The theory goes that Ned, sword-master Syrio Forel and Faceless Man Jaqen H’ghar performed a complicated switcheroo. This theory, which was first posited in 2013 on the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire‘ wiki and later elaborated on via a ‘Game of Thrones’ theory YouTube channel, points to Syrio being executed in Ned’s place.

It begins with why the hell Jaqen was imprisoned in the Red Keep in the first place, when surely as a Faceless Man he would be able to avoid capture. Diehard fans have been arguing about this one for years, with the general consensus falling somewhere between ‘even hardcore assassins sometimes get captured’ and the more tin-foil view of ‘well, he was there to help Ned’. This theory clearly entertains the latter.

A Deep Dive Into That Wild ‘Game Of Thrones’ Theory That Ned Stark Is Alive

Then you’ve got Syrio Forel, a sword-master who himself an immigrant from the free city of Braavos (where the guild of the Faceless Men is also based). He was hired by Ned to train Ayra in the art of sword-fighting, and was last seen fighting off Lannister men trying to kidnap Arya with only a wooden sword. He was doing pretty well, too, until Ser Meryn broke his only weapon. Syrio tells Arya to flee, and he stays to fight an armed member of the Kingsguard with nothing but his fists. We all presumed he was dead.

A Deep Dive Into That Wild ‘Game Of Thrones’ Theory That Ned Stark Is Alive

But…. [giant conspiratorial whisper] ….what if he wasn’t???

This theory goes that Syrio somehow escaped Ser Meryn, and then – presumably after being convinced by Varys, but more on that in a minute – took Jaqen’s face, so that Jaqen could take Ned‘s face and be executed in his place.

The evidence points to Arya, Sansa and Caitlyn Stark all making reference at some point or another that Ned no longer looked like Ned – Arya during the execution, Sansa when being forced to look at his head, and Caitlyn upon receiving his bones.

Then there’s the connection between lines said by Syrio and Jaqen, both of whom become ~relatively~ protective characters. Syrio tells Arya that “There is only one God, and his name is Death”, while Jaqen later tells her that “There is only one God, and A Girl knows his name.”

It also relies on the long bow that the Faceless Men can, in fact, borrow the faces of those still alive, despite the books and shows often hinting that they cannot.

So, Varys. He *did* tell Ned that he could get him out of the cell if he wanted, but that he wouldn’t. This theory reckons that Varys didn’t do it because it could too easily be attributed to him, and so orchestrated this whole switcheroo. Oh yeah, and Syrio needs to be a Faceless Man in this theory. Did I mention that? He, the sword-master, is also Faceless.

A Deep Dive Into That Wild ‘Game Of Thrones’ Theory That Ned Stark Is Alive

It begs the question: just what the fuck has Ned been doing all this time? His men went to war with the south. His wife, eldest son and unborn grandchild were murdered. His youngest son escaped North of the Wall. His second youngest son was murdered. His youngest daughter was missing, presumed dead by just about everyone. And his eldest daughter was betrothed twice to the two most psychopathic men in all of Westeros.

The theory reckons that Ned was either hiding out in the free city of Pentos, as a guest of Varys’ good friend Illyrio Mopatis, or at House Reed, as a guest of his former right-hand man and the only man to know of Jon Snow’s true identity, Howland Reed. The theory doesn’t posit why Ned, the noblest man in all of Westeros and the series’ moral compass, escaped his own death and hid for years while everyone he loved was slaughtered – it just says that he did.

Honestly, though, imo? This theory is interesting but severely undercooked. Why would Syrio be a Faceless Man, just because he hails from Braavos? Surely the stress on Death being the only god is just a Braavos thing? Why would Ned do nothing while his youngest son leads his men into war? And surely Arya, Sansa and Caitlyn, when referring to Ned as looking different, were all just experiencing their grief and shock at the brutal finality of death?

Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, even brought up a version of this theory once to showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss.

“I was always like, ‘Oh no, I feel like [Syrio] is still alive’,” she told IGN. “I always had my own theory that he and Jaqen were the same person.” But when she put it to the showrunners, they told her simple, “No, he is dead.”

But most importantly: it is just not George R.R. Martin‘s style to throw this huge enourmous spanner in the works without any prior hints, when he’s spent decades nudging his widely orchestrated plot into one final conclusion. Ned ~suddenly reappearing~ would do little to further the plot, and everything to undermine Martin’s credibility as a master story-teller.

Still. It’s a nice theory. RIP Ned Stark.

Photo: HBO.