Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Game of Thrones,” including speculation of future events.
The “Game of Thrones” season six finale helped confirm the series’ biggest fan theories of all time — “R + L = J.” We know now that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
Rhaegar Targaryen was the son of the Mad King Aerys and older brother to Daenerys. Though Rhaegar has never been seen on the show, viewers did finally get a look at Lyanna on the sixth season finale. She was Ned Stark’s younger sister, betrothed to Robert Baratheon before running away with Rhaegar and bearing his secret lovechild, Jon Snow.
On the finale, Lyanna Stark was shown handing off a baby to Ned, begging him to protect it from the wrath of Robert Baratheon. After the finale aired, HBO confirmed that Jon was the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. But for now, let’s look at specific instances from the show that were foreshadowing the theory as well.
Scroll down for the biggest moments from “Game of Thrones” that proved “R + L = J” is true.
Ned kept Jon's true parentage a secret his entire life, choosing to raise Jon as his own for the boy's own protection. But Ned is an honorable and moral man. He avoided lying outright when he could help it. So when Jon asked Ned about his mother on season one, Ned replied carefully: 'You are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.'
The Stark family blood does indeed run through Jon. It just happens to be Lyanna's blood, not Ned's.
When Daenerys enters the House of Undying in Qarth, she experiences a series of prophetic visions. One of these was when she saw snow in the Throne Room of King's Landing. Immediately afterwards, she walked through a door and found herself at the Wall. This was heavy foreshadowing of Jon Snow's true family history and ties to the royal Targaryen family.
Before running off with Lyanna, Rhaegar Targaryen was married with Elia Martell -- the sister of Oberyn Martell. The running story in Westeros was that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna, but Oberyn seems to know about a different version of events.
'The last time I was in the capital was many years ago,' Oberyn told Tyrion. 'Another wedding: my sister Elia and Rhaegar Targaryen, the last dragon. My sister loved him. She bore his children … and beautiful, noble Rhaegar Targaryen left her for another woman.'
This was the first time on the series that viewers were told anything other than the kidnap and rape narrative. A significant moment for theorists watching.
On the fifth season, Jon Snow was elected Lord Commander while Stannis and his wife Selyse were staying at Castle Black. At one point, the husband and wife are watching Jon train young recruits and they have a telling conversation.
'You think highly of this boy?' Selyse asked Stannis.
'Lord Commander of the Night's Watch?' Stannis replied.
'And a bastard by some tavern slut,' Selyse throws back.
'Perhaps, but that wasn't Ned Stark's way,' Stannis said.
For the first time in five seasons, a character outwardly doubted that Jon might be the son of Ned Stark. Then, almost immediately afterwards, the next big clue came.
While in the crypts of Winterfell, Littlefinger told Sansa a story about Rhaegar and Lyanna.
'Lord Whent had a great tourney at Harrenhall,' Littlefinger said. 'Lyanna was already promised to Robert (Baratheon)... the last two riders were Barristan Selmy and Rhaegar Targaryen. When Rhaegar won everyone cheered for their prince (...) until he rode right past his wife, Elia Martell, and all the smiles died (...) he rode past his wife and lay a crown of winter roses in Lyanna's lap, blue with frost (...) How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?'
Then Sansa chimes in. 'Yes, he chose her. And then he kidnapped her and raped her,' she says.
Instead of replying, Littlefinger gives Sansa a knowing kind of smirk before changing the subject. He seems to know that Lyanna chose Rhaegar in return, and wasn't unwillingly taken anywhere.
Sam Tarly and Maester Aemon received a raven at Castle Black with news of Daenerys' struggling conquest of Slavers' Bay. Maester Aemon is one of Daenerys' uncles and last living relatives. He expresses regret about not being by her side during her time in need.
'A Targaryen alone in the world,' Aemon says. 'It's a terrible thing.'
As soon as Aemon finishes his line, Jon Snow walks through the door. He's technically half-Targaryen and is more or less alone in the world. As Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, he has few friends he can trust.
In the first Tower of Joy vision on season six, young Ned and two Targaryen kingsguard members have an important exchange.
'The Mad King is dead. Rhaegar lies beneath the ground. Why weren't you there to protect your prince?' Ned asks.
'Our prince wanted us here,' Ser Arthur Dayne replied.
This is big deal, because the five kingsguard are sworn to protect the royal family at all costs. Rhaegar's choice to station two of his five protectors at the Tower of Joy must mean there is something significant inside he wants safe. Ser Arthur Dayne was the greatest swordsman in Westeros at the time, so his presence on a battlefield could have helped the Targaryens win the war. Rhaegar was a believer in prophecy, and seemed to think that his child born with Lyanna was a worthier life to save than his own. He only would have made that kind of sacrifice for his child -- no one else's.
An essential part of the 'R + L = J' theory focuses on a dire promise Ned swore to Lyanna. On the season six finale, we finally heard most of what Lyanna said to her brother.
'His name is (audio cuts out). If Robert finds out, he'll kill him, you know he will,' Lyanna said to Ned. 'You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned.'
As far as Robert knows, Lyanna was kidnapped against her will by Rhaegar. His wrath against all Targaryens is established time and again throughout season one. Robert would want to kill any Targaryen child, and Lyanna must know this as well. This is why she makes Ned promise her never to tell anyone, and raise the boy as his own. He's only safe as long as no one realises his Targaryen roots.
In addition to the camera work making it clear that Jon was Lyanna's baby, the soundtrack playing at that exact moment was climactic and very symbolic. As the shot switched from baby Jon Snow to grown man, the iconic Stark theme song swelled in a huge crescendo that conveyed the importance of the moment. Viewers were meant to understand that this reveal gives Jon Snow a huge and significant backstory.
Then came the seventh season. There have been several more connections made between Jon and his parentage. One happened when Jon saw a dragon for the first time.
Jon Snow was startled by Drogon right after proclaiming he wasn't a Stark -- foreshadowing much? Jon telling Tyrion that he's not a Stark and then moment later being surprised by a dragon felt like one more nod to viewers -- we know the reveal of his Targaryen/dragon bloodline will be another big scene for Jon.
But for now, most of Westeros remains in the dark when it comes to Jon's parentage. We'll have to wait and see what other clues season seven provides. And in the meantime, fans can enjoy watching Jon and Daenerys interact while their family connection remains secret.
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