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NBC’s The Blacklist revolves around an alleged list. Criminal, Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) uses the list to help the FBI track down some of the world’s most notorious criminals. Each name is associated with a number. What do they mean? Here are three theories created by seriously dedicated fans.

Here’s the most obvious reason for the list

The Blacklist
Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen, James Spader as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington | Will Hart/NBC

The Blacklist‘s entire plot is based around Raymond Reddington’s (Spader) list of criminals. Each criminal’s name correlates with a number and every episode focuses on that criminal’s story and capture (or otherwise). The numbers appear out of order with, seemingly, no rhyme o reason.

When Red turns himself into the FBI after evading capture for years, he offers this “black” list in exchange for immunity. From the start, Red’s insistence of only working directly with Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) is another central mystery. As The Blacklist goes on, Red’s list begins to involve Keen in some way more and more.

One theory about Red’s list may be the most obvious. It’s also the least likely: that the names are random. Some argue that each name pops up only as it affects Red or Liz.

“The concept of Red having a fixed list never made sense, he clearly just makes things up on the fly whenever something happens or it benefits him. The numbers are just something to toy around with for the writers at this point,” one fan theorized on Reddit.

This theory doesn’t work if viewers are also to believe that everything Red does serves a purpose. It’s typically Red’s ulterior motive to help himself, help Keen, or someone like his lawyer, Marvin Gerard (Fisher Stevens), escape from prison.

Randomized names may seem random on the surface but Red has proven nothing is random in his world.

The numbers correlate to the impact on Reddington’s life

Another theory about the list has more to do with how the names impact Red’s life. It could reference the order in which Red designated who deserved revenge more.

Or, as another Redditor posed, the list could be “a puzzle from Red to Liz. Another way for him to tell her their story.”

However, showrunner, Jon Bokenkamp, told the Wall Street Journal that while it might be a puzzle, the order of the names may not be listed in the way viewers think.

“I know a few who, in the mythology of the show, will end up in the top 5. But, to be quite candid — Spader said this once — there are as many Blacklisters as there are episodes that NBC will let us do. There’s no hidden algorithm or method to the Blacklist numbering,” he said.

He added that the numbers do carry weight, not completely eliminating the idea that the list’s numberings mean something.

“The Stewmaker might be off a bit because that was one of the first few episodes we did and he might be higher if we were doing his episode today. We do think a bit about it and wonder, “where does this guy fit? How would Red rank him?” So that’s how we come up with the numbers,” he said.

The list is actually about Liz Keen


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With a few names in the top 10 still to be determined, some believe the list revolves around how they fit into Keen’s life. For instance, Katarina Rostova (Lotte Verbeek) — a former KGB spy tasked with spying on, and seducing Red — is Keen’s mother and No. 3 on the list.

Likewise, Liz Keen’s husband, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold), is No. 7 on the list. He was hired to pose as Liz Keen’s loving, school teacher husband, when in fact he’s a skilled assassin. Tom Connolly (Reed Birney) — the Attorney General involved in Elizabeth Keen’s setup— is in the 11th spot.

That said, a few mentioned the top spot may be left open for Red himself as he’s posed the greatest threat to Liz Keen’s livelihood. Others suggest that Liz takes the top spot and that The Blacklist is a rouse to her big reveal as a criminal like her father.

Whichever theory comes to fruition, we have a feeling No. 1 will be a doozy.