‘Game of Thrones’ Theories: R+L= J

Seven hells, they are laying the R+L=J allusions on thick in this episode. I’m going to have to do a feature on it before long.

Self-fulfilling prophesy, really. Roll up your sleeves and get out your notepads, Thrones Fans. We’re about to get theoretical!

For the unfamiliar, R+L=J is a shorthand summation of one of the most popular Game of Thrones and Song of Ice and Fire fan Theories. What is that theory? Well it has to do with the true parentage of Jon Snow, the bastard of Winterfell.

Of course, we already have the apparent explanation of Jon Snow’s parentage that the show has gone with. Way back in the first season when Robert and Eddard were headed south on the King’s Road, Robert asked Ned about his bastard’s mother, whom Ned grudgingly named as Wylla. Not much more was said about her in the show, other than an implication that Ned took up with her due to the bleak pressures of war.

That war was Robert’s Rebellion against Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King. In the books, Wylla is a wet-nurse at Starfall, which is the Ancestral seat of House Dayne in Dorne.

This theory purports otherwise. According to this fan theory, Eddard Stark isn’t even Jon’s Father. His true parents are Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.


Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark

Besides the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen, there are probably no other characters that have been more important to the show’s backstory than Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. We’ve heard the story of Lyanna Stark all the way back in season 1 when Robert Baratheon paid his respects to her idol in Winterfell’s crypt. He and Lyanna were originally betrothed. Then came the infamous tourney at Harrenhal which we’ve now just heard the story of in “Sons of the Harpy”.

It bears repeating. Rhaegar Targaryen, then Prince of Dragonstone and the Mad King’s heir to the Iron Throne, spectacularly won the tourney, besting many great knights including Barristan Selmy in his prime. Rhaegar was currently married to Elia Martel, but he trotted his horse right past his wife and shocked the crowd by giving his victory favor to Lyanna Stark, still betrothed to Robert Baratheon. Doubly scandalous.

We also heard in “Sons of the Harpy” that Rhaegar disappeared with Lyanna shortly after the tourney. Whether or not Rhaegar abducted and raped Lyanna, as Robert believes in the books, as Sansa at least believes in the show, or whether Rhaegar and Lyanna developed genuine feelings for each other is unknown.

In any event, her abduction, and the Mad King’s fiery execution of her father and brother when they came for justice, incited the rebellion of the North and the Vale against the Iron Throne. Rhaegar had taken Lyanna to the Tower of Joy in the Red Mountains of Dorne and had tasked three knights of the King’s Guard to protect her while he led the royal army. Robert of course killed Rhaegar at the Battle of the Trident, and with the Lannister’s strategic intervention, deposed and killed the Mad King and Rhaegar’s children.

From here, these are all details exclusively form the books, not yet mentioned in the show. Though they are discussed in the box sets’ bonus features and are similar. After that decisive series of events, Eddard continued his march south to bring the southern kingdoms to heel under the new King Robert and liberate his sister. Of all Eddard’s company of six and the three remaining loyalist Kings Guard, only Eddard and Howland Reed survived the encounter at The Tower of Joy.

Eddard stumbles into his sister’s chambers to find her dying, Reed follows closely. Before her death she makes Ned promise her something. Though Ned swears to his sister, he never once divulges what he promised her to any one, ever. In the books, Lyanna was all of sixteen by the time of her death. Sheesh.


Ned’s Promise to Lyanna

Now the theory comes in. According to R+L=J supporters, Rhaegar got Lyanna pregnant during her absence and Ned’s promise to Lyanna was to safeguard the identity of her and Rhaegar’s infant child. If Rhaegar and Lyanna had married, that would make this boy the sole surviving heir apparent to the Iron Throne. Also an excellent reason to post 3 of the precious King’s Guard around the wife and son of their prince.

So how would Ned protect this child’s identity? By claiming him as his own bastard, begot by a commoner during the course of the war. Thus Jon Snow was doomed to bear shame to cover a secret that could threaten his very life.

Why would Ned Stark do this? Well, foremost, Jon Snow is still his nephew, blood, and we’ve seen how important family is to him. Second, Ned’s sense of honor would definitely compel him to keep his promise to his sister. Also I don’t think Ned would be too bothered bearing a shame that he at least knew to be false at least, instead of a shame of outing his own blood.

And Robert. Robert “Ours is the Fury” Baratheon. Robert may not have laid hands on or ordered the killing of Rhaegar and Elia’s children, (that was Tywin), but no one else in the show has been so callous about their deaths. And we also saw Robert’s furious insistence that Daenerys had to die later on.

If Robert discovered that Rhaegar had had another legitimate child, by his own beloved Lyanna, Robert just might have killed Jon himself. So Jon got to grow up the Bastard of Winterfell and live instead.

Game of Thrones: The Claimants to the Iron Throne

Is it True?

The extent that what follows constitutes evidence that R+L=J is true in and of the show, is debatable. Obviously, the showrunners aren’t going to reveal specific information that points to it being true, but there have been some hints that echo evidence that exists in the books, at least thematically.

Dany’s visions in the show. In the books, when Daenerys pays her visit to the House of the Undying she has visions having to do with Rhaegar, a prophesy of The Prince that was Promised, and plenty of imagery that could refer to Jon Snow. That prophesy has never been mentioned by name in the show, however, Daenerys’s visions in the House of the Undying in the Show have imagery that points to a similar conclusion.

She wanders an empty throne room with a broken ceiling and snow falling on the Iron Throne. Snow. On the Iron Throne. She also walks through the Wall by way of the gates at Castle Black. Why shouldn’t this mean that one with the right to sit the Iron Throne currently bears the surname of Snow and resides at the Wall? On the face of it, these images could also simply refer to the looming threat of Winter, and that this time when Winter comes, Westeros will be snowed in all the way to King’s Landing. Maybe but that would be boring!

Rhaegar’s musical skill wooing Lyanna. In the very same episode, we hear the story of Rhaegar disappearing with Lyanna, whom he gave his favor, and the anecdote from Barristan Selmy how Rhaegar was a gifted musician. The proximity of these two bits of information are significant. In the books, at the tourney at Harrenhal, Rhaegar makes Lyanna weep with a sad beautiful song. This is made to be really out of character for Lyanna. In the books Arya is often compared to Lyanna in terms of her preference for traditionally male activities and dispositions in this series. Could this mean that the show is going with Rhaegar and Lyanna having impulsive feelings for each other?

The Reeds and greensight. Again, in the books, Howland Reed was the only other party present to witness Lyanna’s death and the promise she urged from her brother Ned. Now that Ned and Lyanna are both dead, Howland may be the only person living who knows the truth about Jon’s true parentage (in the show).

Meera and Jojen Reed are Howland’s children. One detail that has apparently been kept consistent between the books and the show is that Howland Reed saved Ned’s life during the skirmish to rescue Lyanna from the Tower of Joy.

Bran Stark: “Your father is Howland Reed. He saved my father’s life during the rebellion.

Jojen Reed: “Your father told you about the rebellion? Mine never did.

Is it possible that Howland Reed new of his son’s gift of sight? Is it possible that Howland Reed may have dispatched his son specifically to try and guide Brandon’s sight to events that would reveal the true parentage of Jon Snow? Perhaps. Now that Jojen is dead, it’s even more unlikely that we will find out any ulterior motive Howland Reed may have had.

George R. R. Martin has said (at a Con back in 2001, but it still was said) that Howland Reed will appear in the books eventually. May he also appear in the show yet to spill his secrets?


The Implications

If R+L=J is true, obviously the most immediate implication would be that Jon Snow is a legitimate claimant to the Iron Throne. Forget being Lord of Winterfell, this is the big leagues, Snow! The top of the Ladder! This is of course contingent on Rhaegar and Lyanna having wed in secret. A detail that we have no information on one way or the other.

But let us assume that they did and that Jon Snow is in fact rightfully Jon Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone. Where does he fall on the line of Targaryen succession to the Iron Throne?

One of the most curious implications of R+L=J for me is how it links Jon and Daenerys, two of the shrinking number of characters who otherwise have nothing to do with each other. If Jon Snow is Rhaegar’s son, and since Daenerys is Rhaegar’s sister, that would make Jon Snow Daenerys’s nephew. Even though they are approximately the same age in the show and the books.

So with that family branch in mind, what do the realm’s law of succession say? The relevant law reads thus; “The sons of the first son come before the second son.”

Aerys II was the last Targaryen King. Rhaegar was his first son, Viserys his second and Daenerys his third child and only daughter. If Jon is in fact Rhaegar’s legitimate son, that would make him the rightful heir to the Iron Throne before Daenerys.

Wow. Mind Blown. Though I don’t think Jon would want to be King of the Seven Kingdoms. He’s turned down being Lord of Winterfell before he was even elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. That was something he’s dreamt of his whole life. He’s not going to be keen on sitting right in the eye of the storm that lost his “father” his head and got his family killed.

But if he did have a mind for it, would he be able to get along with Daenerys? If Jon did prove his superior claim to the Throne would Daenerys accept Jon as King? I’d guess not. There would probably be plenty of Targaryen loyalists eager to remind Daenerys that Jon is allegedly the son of one of her father’s deposers. Daenerys also has the dragons, after all and looks the Targaryen Part.

This season of Game of Thrones is especially good at showing that the books are getting less and less reliable for predicting the show and cool factor doesn’t make fanon into canon. But it is fun to think about!