A lot of people claim to hate Samwell Tarly. For a character with not a single trace of evil in his bones, Jon Snow's BFF seems to be a surprising source of controversy — and it's not because of what he does, but what he doesn't. To be fair, when you really think about his role in the show, Sam doesn't actually do anything.
He spent most of Game of Thrones Season 6 on the road with Gilly, his newly-madeover Real Housewife of Hornhill, even though Varys traveled from Dorne to Meereen in the space of thirty (very surreal) minutes. He stole a family heirloom in the form of Heartsbane, a Valyrian steel sword, and it was never mentioned again. Finally, he arrived at the Citadel (clip below) and discovered a library so vast you could probably swing Drogon in the atrium. And that was the end of it.
Except it wasn't the end. Every character in Game of Thrones has a purpose, a journey, an end destination, even if they have only the slightest chance of reaching it without being slain by another player in the great game. Samwell might be a buffoon, but he's not mere comic relief. He has a purpose, and one theory that's been doing the rounds since "The Winds of Winter" aired thinks it's got to the heart of the mystery surrounding said purpose.
Is Samwell Tarly The Narrator Of Everything We've Seen On Game of Thrones?
In essence, the story we've been watching for the past six seasons is not events playing out in the present, but the past being recounted by somebody with access to a vast wealth of information about an entire period of Westerosi history. Where would one access information like that? In a library. Which of the Seven Kingdoms' cities has the library to end all libraries? That would be the Oldtown. And who just rocked up there? Yup, all roads lead back to Sam.
On the surface I like this theory because, while most Thrones fan theories predict the future of a specific character, this one asks us to believe that everything — everything that came before, everything that's still to come — is being told through a narrator. Because Samwell Tarly is not God (bank that theory for another day), any account of the War of the Five Kings and the wars that followed can only have been learned in history books or by being present at the time. That would make his information susceptible to considerable bias.
If we imagine that Samwell actually wrote the history books himself, in the future, as a wise, all-knowing Maester, that would put everything we've seen to date through a lens of Northern bias. In particular it would explain why Jon Snow is generally depicted in a somewhat saintly light, and conversely why the Lannisters are all shown to be ruthless, power-hungry or downright evil, Tyrion aside. Ultimately, it suggests that the Game of Thrones we've born witness to was actually just one interpretation of what actually happened.
The only reason the show would pull a stunt like that is if it's also part of George R. R. Martin's masterplan for the books, which is not unlikely when you consider that authors of fiction often create a surrogate character who represents some version of themselves. The idea is supported by the presence of the globe-like gyroscopes in the library, mirroring those in the iconic title sequence (watch it again below if you're that rare sinner who dares to skip them when new episodes air).
Here's what actor John Bradley had to say about the theory in interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
"The one thing I found moving about [the gyroscopes] being the same in the Citadel and in the opening titles is that it's a testament to [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss'] foresight, that they can plan something that only comes to fruition much later on."
"If you take the logic of the story now, the story of Westeros and the story of the battle for the Iron Throne, it would be a book in that library. The visual motif of that is you're about to be told a story — the sense of an idea of being told a story, and people gaining that knowledge, the way Sam is absorbing knowledge in the library."
Personally, I'm not sure that Game of Thrones would risk throwing a curveball of this magnitude after asking its audience to invest in the fates of Jon Snow, Daenerys and countless other heroic (and villainous) figures for six years. In effectively revealing that everything we thought we knew was a lie of sorts, it would almost create a parallel with the controversial finale of Lost, and that's not something anybody wants to relive.
The show has also spent the last season or so in particular building toward the realization that nobody should wield absolute power — it only corrupts, as it has Cersei and arguably Daenerys — so to give one character the absolute power to tell a story of such scope and nuance would feel like hypocrisy of the tallest order.
I want to believe that this game is real, that it's happening now, and that Samwell Tarly is just one pawn on a very large chessboard — not the chessmaster himself.