Putting on their amateur forensic pathologist hats, some Game of Thrones fans say a blood spatter pattern confirms the identity and fate of one of the series' central characters.
Season 5 of the enormously popular HBO fantasy drama ended with the Julius Caesar-like death of Jon Snow, perhaps the sole remaining hero in a show that absolutely loves to kill off its heroes.
Snow, the Lord Commander of the show's paramilitary Nights Watch who "guard the realms of men," was lured into a trap and stabbed repeatedly by a group of his brothers, including Olly, the young orphan Jon took under his wing. It was a very "Eh tu, Brute?" moment, and the last shot of season 5 was Snow dying in a pool of his own blood just before the credits began to roll.
In Sunday night's premiere, Ser Davos Seaworth discovers Jon Snow's body and, with the help of a handful of Nights Watchmen who were Snow loyalists, moves his body to a room inside Castle Black. But after the other men lift Snow's body, Ser Davos lingers a moment, studying the blood-stained snow.
Like a Rorschach test, some people saw a simple pool of blood, but others say the pattern evokes the image of a man riding a dragon. Regardless of whether or not viewers agree with that assessment, it is true that the camera lingers for an unusually long time over the blood spatter before cutting to the next scene.
Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been coy about the fate of the Lord Commander, telling interviewers that Snow is dead, but avoiding any declarative statements about his future on the show. Notably, Harington was spotted in costume shooting scenes for season six.
So what does the blood image mean?
Some fans say it confirms a long-running fan theory that Jon Snow isn't the bastard son of Lord Ned Stark, but actually the son of the late Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned Stark's sister, Lyanna.
The theory makes a lot of sense, and would neatly tie together loose ends and "Chekhov's guns" sprinkled throughout the series and the books it's based on. In the show's universe, Robert Baratheon leads a rebellion that ultimately topples the Targaryen dynasty and leads to Robert being crowned king.
Much of the first season revolved around King Robert trying to kill the apparent last remaining Targaryen, the fiery Queen Daenerys. But if Jon Snow really was the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen -- Daenerys' older brother -- and Lyanna Stark, that would mean Snow is not only a Targaryen, he's the trueborn heir to the Targaryen dynasty.
It would also make a lot of sense given what audiences know of Ned Stark, Jon Snow's father. Both the books and TV show took pains to show audiences that Ned Stark was an honorable man -- so honorable, in fact, that it led to his downfall and execution.
So how could such an honorable man cheat on his wife, father a bastard, and bring that bastard back home to raise as his own? It doesn't fit Ned Stark's character -- unless Jon Snow really isn't a bastard at all, and is a trueborn Targaryen. Then the pieces start to make sense -- the honorable Ned Stark would stick to the fiction that Jon Snow was his "bastard" to protect Snow from King Robert's wrath.
And if that's true, then Jon Snow could be one of the three prophesied "Heads of the Dragon," a Targaryen who takes his place alongside Daenerys to reconquer Westeros, restore the Targaryen dynasty, and lead humanity's fight against the White Walkers.
That's a lot to absorb, even for fans who have closely followed the show. But it still leaves one obvious question: How can Jon Snow be all of those things if he's dead?
Game of Thrones is notable for being a fantasy series that's decidedly light on fantasy elements, favoring intrigue and Machiavellian court politics over Tolkienesque fantasy elements. There aren't any elves or faeries, no Nazgul riding Fellbeasts, no wise wizards.
But it is a universe where death isn't necessarily final, and the audience has already seen precedence for that with the Red Priest Thoros of Myr, who was able to successfully resurrect his friend, Lord Beric Dondarrion. The prevailing theory is that Jon Snow will be resurrected by the Red Priestess Melisandre, and will return to lead his men and exact vengeance on his killers.
On the show, Melisandre sees the future by staring into the flames, but the show's fans might have seen the future by staring into the blood-spattered snow.