In Game of Thrones Season 5, the HBO series started to stray from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books in major ways. Few of the season’s book-to-TV changes proved more shocking or controversial than the sudden death of Ian McElhinney’s Ser Barristan Selmy.
The character’s still breathing in Martin’s books and remains a loyally active defender of Daenerys Targaryen. Barristan’s even alive at the start of The Winds of Winter, the highly anticipated sixth installment in A Song of Ice and Fire. However, one popular fan theory speculates that Barristan will play a surprising role in plot events we already know — thanks to Game of Thrones — will set in motion Daenerys’ tragic downfall.
The Theory — Of the Winds of Winter chapters Martin has released early, two are told from Barristan’s perspective. These chapters see him preparing for and engaging in the second siege of Meereen; neither reveal whether he survives the climactic conflict. Some fans believe Barristan will die in battle, but others believe he’ll survive to fight another day.
Among those fans favoring Barristan’s survival at Meereen, some speculate the character will abandon Daenerys later in The Winds of Winter, swearing his allegiance instead to Young Griff a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen VI (a.k.a. fAegon, to certain corners of the fandom).
Barristan the Turncloak — In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Martin makes it explicitly clear that one of the primary reasons Barristan swears his allegiance to Daenerys is because he doesn’t see her becoming mad like her father. Instead, he sees Daenerys as a strong leader – like her brother, Rhaegar, whom Barristan held in high regard. If Daenerys begins to display more violent and vengeful tendencies — as she does in the TV series, and as many believe she will in the books — it’s possible that Barristan may question his loyalties to the Mother of Dragons.
That’s where Aegon, allegedly to be the surviving son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, comes in. Fans speculate that Barristan will learn of Aegon’s campaign for the Iron Throne and come to believe he is Rhaegar’s son — making him a more rightful heir to the throne than Daenerys. The strength of Aegon’s claim, combined with Barristan’s diminishing opinion of Daenerys, could ultimately drive him to change sides.
Assuming that comes to pass, Barristan’s betrayal could fulfill another part of the visions and prophecies Daenerys experienced in the House of the Undying. Specifically, Barristan’s departure from her service could easily qualify as the betrayal of blood she was warned about since Barristan will swear allegiance to Aegon on the strengths of his alleged bloodline.
The Inverse Analysis — On paper, Daenerys’ descent from beloved queen to mad tyrant makes a fair amount of sense for the character. The problem with the way it was done in Game of Thrones came down to the show’s writers rushing through her spiral while unconvincingly retconning many of her past moments and actions.
Fortunately, there’s reason to believe that Martin will handle Daenerys’ final arc in a far more logical, satisfying manner. Even the presence of a character like Young Griff presents the justification for Daenerys’ rage that her arc desperately requires. And if Barristan Selmy doesn’t merely die in The Winds of Winter but turn against Daenerys, there’s all the more motivation for her to become a paranoid and angry despot.
Of course, this assumes Daenerys’ overall arc in Martin’s books will mirror her storyline in Game of Thrones – though, for now, we have little reason to believe it won’t.
The Winds of Winter will be released whenever George R. R. Martin finishes writing it.