House of Cards returns on Netflix in 2016 for its fourth season - which, as you should already know, is kind of a big deal, being one of the best shows on TV right now (and it's not even on TV). A few teasers have been shared ahead of season 4, but we thought we'd take a deeper look into a few of the popular fan theories surrounding the series, and what they might mean for Frank, Claire and the rest of Capitol Hill. So, let's get to it.
#1: The 378 Day Theory
The first season of House of Cards premiered Feb 1, 2013 on Netflix. The second dropped Feb 14, 2014. That's a gap of 1 year and 13 days, or 378 days. The same gap recurred between seasons 2 and 3, which premiered Feb 27, 2015. Season 4 will most likely drop on March 11, 2016.
But that's just mathematics. What's the meaning behind it?
Well, it could be that the extra 13 days is there to give viewers the chance to burn through the previous season again at a pace of an episode a day before the new one drops. But it could be that the number 13 has some additional significance inside the mythology of the show. The Thirteen Colonies, for instance, are a big part of North American history, but their connection to Frank Underwood or the show itself is unclear.
To swing in a completely different direction, Jesus and his 12 disciples took the last supper together, and Judas was - allegedly - the last to take his seat at the table. If we take 13 to be symbolic of a betrayal, Frank might either be seen as the Judas figure - he did orchestrate the downfall of President Walker, after all - or the Jesus figure, which would beg the question: which of the few people he trusts will be his Judas? We know Francis is not religious, but the analogy might be writer Beau Willimon making a cruel joke at his expense.
Verdict: A plausible theory which poses more questions than it answers.
#2: The Shakespearian Tragedy Theory
An interesting article in New Yorker magazine written when the first season premiered in 2013 draws out several parallels between House of Cards and Shakespeare's epic tragedy Richard III, with the author observing that:
"[The show] owes much of its style and tone to the great power plays of Shakespeare - a good dose of “Richard III” spiced with a dash of “Macbeth” ... Frank speaks directly to the audience in theatrical asides, a device borrowed from the original British series, and owing to “Richard III” ... “House of Cards,” like “Richard III,” becomes a morbidly comedic melodrama of human cruelty.
Kevin Spacey also spends much of his time when not filming the show in the UK, where he has been the artistic director of the prestigious Old Vic theatre for over a decade, including a stint as Richard III - a year before House of Cards premiered, which seems unlikely to be mere coincidence.
This theory points to the fact that Richard III is a five-act play, and thus that Cards will play out over the course of 5 seasons. In a twist, the remains of the real-life Richard III were discovered buried beneath what had since become a car park in Leicester, England, in 2012. In season 1, Frank murders Peter (Corey Stoll) in his car in an underground parking lot, dressing it up as suicide, although there's every chance that really is just a spooky coincidence.
The words spoken by Richard III in Shakespeare's play mirror Frank's anti-hero status in House of Cards. We've seen him commit murder, twice, so there's no doubting his villainy. But we're also rooting for him, because he's likable and, in his own way, principled. The parallels between the two men are clear.
Verdict: There's zero doubt that Frank is heavily inspired by Richard III, and as with the King, Frank's death does seem inevitable. But whether it gets to 5 seasons remains to be seen.
Bonus theory: Frank's lung cancer and the Jackie Sharp connection
This one is a little less abstract. You may remember that in season 3, episode 10, Frank is revealed to be keeping a bowl of cigarettes in his kitchen, despite having given up his habit previously at Claire's request. He later has an epic coughing fit during the press conference regarding the Israel situation, which doesn't seem to serve any purpose story-wise, except to sow a few seeds. The very next shot cuts to the office of Jackie Sharp's doctor husband, where there's a chest X-ray of an unknown patient visible on the computer screen, complete with busted lung.
All of which smacks of foreshadowing. Let's not forget that Jackie is expected to run opposite Frank for the Democratic candidacy in the looming Presidential election - so whether her husband identifies Frank's symptoms and uses the knowledge of his health problems to benefit Jackie's campaign, or whether the issue plays out in a way more beneficial to Frank, it seems highly unlikely that the President just happened to have a bad cough that day.
Verdict: it seems overwhelmingly likely that cancer complications will screw with Frank's bid to get elected, and that the ruthless careerist Jackie Sharp will try to turn the situation to her advantage.
So there we have it: three surprisingly plausible fan theories which could hint at how House of Cards will play its hand in season 4 and beyond. Let me know what you think in the comments - will Frank make it to a fifth season, and will Claire turn out to be his Judas?