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Stock Epileptic Trees

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Things that are frequently proposed in fan theories at a rate disproportionate to their occurrence in actual works of fiction.

See Also: Grand Unifying Guesses and Poison Oak Epileptic Trees.

Common theories with their own pages:

  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory:
    • The cast died in the first episode and now they're all in Purgatory. Explicitly Jossed by the creators of Lost, among other writers. There was an infamous (false) rumor that this was how Dungeons & Dragons (1983) would end. After being explicitly Jossed, Lost actually ended this way. However, it was a case of the characters ending up in Purgatory either during or after the series, rather than being Dead All Along.
    • There's also the one where character X is literally Jesus/God/Satan.
    • Inversion: pick any character who died. They aren't really dead / they'll come back.
    • Another death one is the (usually tongue-in-cheek) theory that a character who left offscreen or disappeared was killed by another character, even if said character is definitely not a killer.
    • Any Ambiguously Absent Parent will be speculated as dead. If it's the mother, people will often speculate that she died in childbirth.
    • Absent Animal Companions are often theorised as being dead too, especially if they belong to a short-lived species like mice.
  • Delusion Conclusion: This sometimes reflects either some fans' lack of faith in the writers or their lack of imagination; revealing that the whole story was All Just a Dream as a Deus ex Machina has been a Dead Horse Trope for quite a while. Variations of this include:
    • The hero is insane and delusional, and the entire story is their hallucination in an asylum. Usually with an element of And You Were There, with the other characters representing people from the hero's life or staff and patients from the asylum.
    • Dying Dream is a very commonly speculated form, especially if the series starts with a near-fatal accident.
    • The Tommyverse is well-known outside of TV Tropes. Essentially Six Degrees of St. Elsewhere it postulates that every show that has ever crossed-over with St. Elsewhere exists in a shared universe wherein everything takes place entirely within the mind of autistic child Tommy Westphall, and the shows that crossed over with them, and so-on. This ultimately leads to a staggering number of television shows stretching from The X-Files to Arrested Development. On the other end of the spectrum it has sparked some fascinating (and pretentious!) discussions about the nature of intertextuality, metafiction, As Himself, and other such post-modern concepts.
    • There's also the theory that one or more characters are just hallucinations or dreams or imaginary.
    • A downplayed version of this is that only one or more episodes/chapters/seasons were dreams. Notably, if a specific part of the story is canonically a dream/hallucination/virtual world/whatever, it will be assumed that the rest of the story is, too.
    • An inversion is the theory that a character who's a dream person, Imaginary Friend or hallucination is real.
    • There's the theory that all the events were the hallucinations of the protagonist or an Original Character, who is on drugs.
    • The lovechild of the Delusion Conclusion and the Dead All Along theory is "Most of the characters are all dead and Character X (usually the protagonist) is either having grief-induced hallucinations or pretending they're still alive to cope".
  • Fanon Welding: A type of theory which argues that Show X is set in the same universe as Show Y.
    • Inversion: The spin-off is not really set in the same universe as the original.
    • Or sometimes: The spinoff IS set in the same universe as the original
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: A legitimate trope, but fans take it way too far, especially with their tendency to assume that the Big Bad is the father of The Hero, even when there is obvious evidence against it. This is probably influenced by the widespread belief that Freud was right and that all conflicts can be reduced to Oedipus Calling the Old Man Out.
  • Earth All Along: Any fantasy setting is often presumed to be Earth either far in the future or far in the past, the epileptic trees even covering up cases where the dates are explicitly stated through an Unreliable Narrator. For stories that take place in a Constructed World (which isn't supposed to have anything to do with our world): Show X takes place After the End, or else in the distant past and two of the characters are Adam and Eve. Often crops up in stories where all the characters are Funny Animals.
  • Diagnosed by the Audience: Sometimes done out of a desire for representation, the idea that one or more characters has a mental disorder, alternate neurology, or similar. Common variations include:

Other theories common to general fandom:

  • The Big Bad is actually a pawn of the real Big Bad, who is the character you would least suspect (for example, the ridiculously cute Non-Human Sidekick).
  • The story is actually being told by Character X, who may be an Unreliable Narrator. If the story actually is being narrated by one of its characters, they can't be trusted; if the story admits they can't be trusted, they're lying about different things than are implied.
  • The protagonist is the villain.
  • The protagonist is fighting on the wrong side. The agency they work for is secretly working for the enemies, or has a conspiracy going.
  • The protagonist is fighting on the wrong side, because the "evil" characters are actually in the right and the protagonist is too blind or prejudiced to notice.
  • Character X is a mole or traitor who will Face–Heel Turn. Alternatively, villainous Character Y is working for the heroes or will make a Heel–Face Turn. It used to be less common for a villain to receive enough development to make this one plausible unless it was bound to happen; these days, more creators are interested in humanizing the opposition, but that doesn't stop audiences from speculating.
  • Characters X and Y share the same last name, therefore are related. This one might fly in a world with Minimalist Cast — but the more characters there are, the less likely it is. Unless, of course, your name is Charles Dickens (or if the last name is particularly unusual).
  • Any "Character X and Character Y are the same person" theories qualify, even when there's no clear reason for one or the other character to change their identity and they don't look anything alike. (Lost gets this a lot, too). By extension, Character X is actually a Shapeshifter or Body Snatcher pretending to be Character Y (in universes where they exist).
    • A subset of this is "all characters are actually ''part'' of the main character." For example, both Final Fantasy XII and Mother 3 had this idea, the latter for a character from a previous game.
    • Any given pair of characters who played a big role in the backstory and then vanished (or one such character, and a current character with a mysterious past) will have a theory postulating that they're the same person, usually latching onto minor details in both stories to "prove" it. (Granted, this is more likely than a lot of these theories to be true.)
    • Character X is transgender and is now Character Y. Seems to be common among the fandoms of Western Animation shows that used models that were re-used a lot such as Thomas & Friends. Like the above, this is also more likely to be true than most "two characters are the same person" theories.
  • The entire story is an Author Tract regardless of Word of God. Common topics include sexuality, religion, politics, nukes or drugs.
  • The future is actually in the past, and vice versa.
  • Each character represents one of the Seven Deadly Sins (or other theories which basically state "one or more characters represent an abstract concept").
    • Another common "one character is an abstract concept" theory is the theory that any "voice of reason" character actually is just a representation of the protagonist's conscience.
  • X Character is actually a robot/angel/witch/wizard/alien/ghost/vampire/etc.
  • Any character with Charlie Brown Baldness (especially if they're a child) has cancer (often specifically leukemia), and their lack of hair is due to them being a chemotherapy patient.
  • All Inexplicably Identical Individuals are clones.
  • Two best friends are actually a couple (this is especially common in same-sex best friends in stories with no gay or bi characters, since straight viewers may do this because Girl on Girl Is Hot or Guy on Guy Is Hot, while LGBT viewers do it because they want representation.). See also Shipping.
  • The story is actually being made up by one of the characters to entertain themselves or another person, or the whole story is actually a play/video game/simulation, etc. Basically, Delusion Conclusion minus the idea of insanity or dreaming.
  • An episode that involved a Plot Hole took place in a parallel universe.
  • Any work where the characters live somewhere crazy like under the sea or in a zeppelin will have people speculating that they live there for some dark reason like pollution or overpopulation. The Jetsons is a common one for this. Can overlap with the Earth All Along notion if the setting is not canonically Earth, and sometimes overlaps with the "the past is actually the future/the future is actually the past" theory.
  • A pet actually has human-level intelligence and may be evil, or what appears to be an inanimate object is actually sentient.
  • A character was actually an impostor during an Out-of-Character Moment.
  • Any work that involves children playing make-believe games will get theories claiming that the "games" are actually real. Conversely, any work that does involve magic or other unusual events, but which focuses on children, will get theories that the whole story (or the more bizarre/supernatural parts of it) is just a game being played by the children.
  • Any gloomy, serious, or nervous character had something terrible happen to them in the past that made them that way.
  • Any character who doesn't look like their parents will get theories that they're adopted or that their mother cheated on their father.
  • Child and teenage characters will often attract theories relating to having certain professions when they grow up, based on parts of their personality.

Theories common to TV Tropes fandom

  • Time Lord (that a certain character is a Time Lord from Doctor Who, especially any Time Traveller in the history of everything ever)
    • Sometimes paired with "and Y is his/her TARDIS."
    • The suggestion that X character is Haruhi Suzumiya (especially any Reality Warper or The Omnipotent or any protagonist in the history of everything ever), is another epileptic tree specific to TV Tropes.
    • And the idea that character X is a Genius is becoming popular as well. In a similar vein, the idea that character X is a Spark.
  • Series X is just a hallucination taking place during Instrumentality.
  • Any trickster is Nyarlathotep.
  • Every character with the same actor/voice actor/name as a character from another franchise is actually that other character. (Tongue in cheek, usually.)
    • Subverted in Scrubs: J.D. and Turk recognize The Janitor while watching The Fugitive. Neil Flynn (who plays The Janitor) actually had a minor role in The Fugitive. In the Scrubs universe, it was The Janitor himself who played the part.
  • Any Fan Fic which has gained fame for being poorly written is a Troll Fic. Which is usually true, but that's not the point.
  • Something awesome is powered by Spiral Energy.
  • The Men in Black keep tabs on [insert odd character or creatures here].
  • [insert genius, mad scientist or any inventor here] works/worked for Gizmonic Institute.
  • X character is Ash's father. While an ubiquitous enough Wild Mass Guess in-universe (to the point of having its own page), crossover theories about Ash's father are also very popular, which can additionally overlap with other items in this section.