One of the biggest questions of Game of Thrones lore is who Jon Snow’s mother is, but if you’re really into it, you know that it’s not just a question of who his mother is, it’s his father too. Any self-respecting fan will tell you that there’s no way Ned Stark is Jon’s dad, though that’s how he was raised — and what we have been led to believe. While the truth of his parentage has not been revealed in George R. R. Martin’s books yet, there is one prevailing fan theory of who Jon Snow’s parents are. Previous seasons of the show haven’t given up much to confirm it, but season five has actually had a host of little hints that this major theory is true. While none of this counts as spoilers because it hasn’t happened in the books or on the show, this is where you should stop reading if you want to remain in the dark. For everyone else, let’s get into the theory and how this season has all but confirmed it.
Though Jon is known as “Ned Stark’s bastard,” the theory is that he’s only Ned Stark’s nephew, and his real mother is Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, and his father is Rhaegar Targaryen, the son of the Mad King Aerys. We have never met either of these characters on the show, as they died years before the show’s events commence, but they have been referred to on the show — at least, they have recently. Rhaegar, if you need a refresher, is the oldest brother of Daenerys, and he is killed during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion. What we know of Lyanna is that she had been kidnapped by Rhaegar when she was engaged to Robert, and when Ned finds her, she’s dying in bed, but it’s never said how she dies.
Sansa and Littlefinger’s Conversation in the Winterfell Crypt
Earlier this season, in “Sons of the Harpy,” Littlefinger and Sansa have a conversation in the crypt below Winterfell about Sansa’s deceased aunt Lyanna. Littlefinger recounts the event that predates Game of Thrones (by oh, about how old Jon Snow is): the tourney at Harrenhal. Prince Rhaegar gave roses to Lyanna, not his own wife, Elia, insulting plenty of people, including Lyanna’s betrothed, Robert Baratheon. “How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?” asks Littlefinger, and Sansa replies, “Yes, he chose her, and then he kidnapped her and raped her.” This is what everyone in Westeros has believed for years, yet they don’t discuss whether a child came from that union, rape or not (or whether she may have died in childbirth). It’s an echo of the conversation Ned and Robert Baratheon have in the series premiere, and bringing the focus back to these two characters is a big hint that they’re actually Jon’s parents.
Ser Barristan’s Sweet Anecdote About Rhaegar
But what if Rhaegar hadn’t raped Lyanna and they had been in love? The seed of that possibility comes up when, in the same episode, Ser Barristan recounts a sweet story to Daenerys about her brother going out into the city to sing to the people. “Rhaegar never liked killing; he loved singing,” Barristan says, essentially making the claim that Rhaegar was actually a good and gallant (if adulterous) man. This is Daenerys and Barristan’s last conversation, so his anecdote has to mean something. I think it’s supposed to establish Rhaegar as an honourable person, not a villain, as only the father of someone like Jon could be.
Stannis’ Reminder That Ned Wasn’t Dishonourable
Ned Stark died for his honour in season one, and it’s always a mystery how such a good man, who seems so devoted to his wife and family, could cheat — and in his first year of marriage no less. We’re reminded of that fact this season when Stannis and his wife, Selyse, are discussing Jon, and she refers to him as the son of “some tavern slut.” Stannis retorts, “Perhaps. That wasn’t Ned Stark’s way.” No. It was not.
This Heavy-Handed Maester Aemon Scene
Before Maester Aemon’s heartbreaking death, the old man talks about his heir, Daenerys (Aemon reveals he’s a Targaryen in season one), in the episode “Kill the Boy.” He remarks, “a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing,” . . . and then the camera goes to Jon Snow. Hmmm.
This Throwaway Line
In this week’s episode, the one after the epic battle at Hardhome, Jon Snow brings back a huge population of wildlings to the Wall, and Alliser Thorne observes, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It’ll get us all killed.” What seems like a throwaway line may have more impact, though: Lyanna Stark was said to be a wonderful person, and Rhaegar (see the anecdote about Ser Barristan’s account of him) may have also been. Their actions together incited Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, displacing the line of Targaryen kings for the first time in years, i.e., getting them all killed.
And Let’s Not Forget the Name of This Series
The book series that Game of Thrones is based on is not called the Game of Thrones series — that’s simply the name of book one. The actual series is called A Song of Ice and Fire, a title that becomes unsubtle about this being the story of Jon Snow and Daenerys being the rightful rulers of the Seven Kingdoms. Still don’t see it? Ice = Jon Snow, and fire = Daenerys. If Jon Snow really is a Targaryen and has claim to the throne, and so does Dany, they don’t have to war — they could marry. Yes, it would be weird for Daenerys to wed her nephew, but the Targaryens used to marry brother to sister, so this is . . . actually not so weird.
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