Happy Valentine’s Day! (If you’re into that thing.) This post will be talking about Game of Thrones and a very specific story of love and broken hearts. I’ll be tromping all over a spoilery plot detail, one that some might argue hasn’t been 100% comfirmed, so I’ll just let you decide if you want to keep reading.
“Promise me, Ned,” Lyanna’s statue whispered. She wore a garland of pale blue roses, and her eyes wept blood.
Whoa, Jon is Ned’s…
Season Six of the television show has pushed past the books in some important ways, but perhaps the most anticipated moment that has not yet been seen in the books was in a Bran-warging flashback where a young Ned Stark reunited with his beloved sister, Lyanna.
And she handed him his nephew, a young boy who would grow up acknowledged as Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow.
Now, the show has not absolutely positively beyond-all-shadow-of-an-unreasonable-doubt confirmed that Jon Snow is actually Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen’s baby boy. I mean, maybe that chubby cherub handed to Ned at the Tower of Joy was actually the future Sam Tarly, and Ned just dropped the kid off at Horn Hill since Randyll Tarly was otherwise occupied.
But come on. We know what happened, right? I can’t say that everyone who read the books had this epiphany, but it was a commonly held belief among book readers that Ned’s promise to Lyanna was to keep Jon’s identity a secret, to save the boy from Robert Baratheon’s wrath.
This was one of those unconfirmed but commonly-held theories among the fans that loomed over the show with a quasi-spoilery status. It was just speculation, but should this explosive hypothesis be talked about to people who hadn’t been exposed to the clues?
There were so many clues in the books, and almost all of them dreamlike references to blue roses, the flowers which made up the garland given to Lyanna by Rhaegar at the Tourney of Harrenhal. (Harrenhal dooms everything.)
I’m not trying to be the arbiter of how speculation should be handled in general, but for me and this specific theory, it seemed that if the speculation was true, then it would be such a dramatic reveal that the theory shouldn’t be discussed openly, just out of politeness. Or at least the chatter should be handled carefully and obliquely.
This view was more or less in sync with how the online community mostly talked about Jon’s mysterious parentage, even coming up with a mathematical codename for the theory: R + L = J. This equation could conveniently be used when among “mixed” company. (And no, the Joffrey of Podcasts, the formula did not mean Robert + Lysa = Joffrey.)
I won’t try to recap all of the debates and unanswered questions concerning the backstory of Rhaegar’s abduction of Lyanna (you know: whether Lyanna went willingly with Rhaegar, or if they got married as part of the process, or if they actually had twins, etc.)
I’m not recapping all that because it can be found elsewhere and probably more eloquently expressed.
Instead I’d like to talk about all of the consequences of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s story, regardless the level of consent (I say she was totally in love with Rhaegar), or how many kids Lyanna had (I say she totally only had one child – come at me Meera theorists), or whatever.
The Doom that Came to Westeros
We’re not sure exactly what the Doom was that came to Valyria, but a lot of political consequences and strife in Westeros can be attributed to Rhaegar and Lyanna’s situation.
- Lyanna’s perceived abduction by the crown prince directly led to the death of Lord Rickard Stark and his eldest son, Brandon. (Lyanna’s dad and big brother weren’t too keen on the Targaryen prince’s intentions towards Lyanna, and the mad king was having none of their lip about it.) This had personal consequences for Lyanna, but represented a huge political situation in regards to the crown and the North.
- Robert, Lyanna’s betrothed, raised the Stormlands in defiance of the crown. The North likewise rebelled. The Lord of the Vale, political foster-father to both Ned Stark and Robert also rebelled. Love and War, baby.
- Hoster Tully’s eldest daughter Catelyn had been betrothed to Brandon Stark, but Brandon’s execution pretty much ended that. So the new Lord of Winterfell, Ned Stark, honorably stepped in as the replacement groom to keep faith with the Tullys and form the political marriage between the North and Riverrun.
- The Riverlands, situated in-between the North, the Vale, and the Crownlands, saw a lot of fighting.
- “Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died.” (Thanks, Ser Jorah, for that quote.) Allegedly, Rhaegar had been quietly talking to some of the lords about having Mad Dad abdicate, once the rebellion had been dealt with. Those plans were crushed, like Rhaegar’s sternum, at the Trident.
- Jaime Lannister assassinated the Mad King, and Lannister goons murdered Prince Rhaegar’s family, to remove any ethical problems from Robert Baratheon’s plate.
Tywin: Now you don’t have to kill any babies. You’re welcome.
Robert: Oh, there’ll always be a baby or two that needs killing.
Ned: Man, I don’t even know you.
- Weeks later in Dorne, Ned located his sister Lyanna dying in a bloody bed. Rhaegar probably had good reasons for keeping Lyanna off at the remote location, but it probably wasn’t the best place for a difficult childbirth.
Ned: Oh, a baby. *Remembers what happened to baby Aegon and young Rhaenys*
- The last children of King Aerys: Viserys and itty-bitty Daenerys Targaryen, escaped to Essos keeping just ahead of assassins and ne’er-do-wells. With Rhaegar and his first son Aegon dead, and Jon’s birth kept a secret (regardless if he was legitimate or not) Viserys could claim to be the rightful king of the Seven Kingdoms.
- With Lyanna Stark dead, on the urging of Lord Jon Arryn, Robert Baratheon married Cersei Lannister to cement an alliance with the kingdom of the West. It’s fair to say that the Lannister influence in the realm took advantage of King Robert’s lack of interest in the minutiae of ruling. Thus laying the groundwork for Robert’s death and the resultant and bloody War of the Five Kings.
Not counting all of the smallfolk and other lords who died during the war, Lyanna and Rhaegar’s romance took a toll on their families, resulting in two Stark deaths and five Targaryen deaths (I’m counting Elia of Dorne here, but not counting Daenerys’ mother. Maybe I should. Viserys was so awful that I assume he was doomed to an early grave no matter what.)
But I don’t want to lay all of the bad situations on the love between Rhaegar and Lyanna.
- Had the Mad King not wildly overreacted to Lord Rickard and Brandon’s legitimate family concerns, the realm might not have plunged into rebellion. (Maybe Brandon could have been a bit cooler-tempered about it, as well.)
- After the rebellion, maybe Jon Arryn shouldn’t have been so quick to set up an alliance with the ambitious and treacherous Lannisters. It might have worked out better to secure the favor of Highgarden and get the Reach (since it would be unlikely for the remaining kingdoms of Dorne and the Lannister West to ally against the new regime.) But Margaery was just a child at the time, and it probably wouldn’t have worked for Robert not to secure a political marriage for the stability of the Realm.
- Regardless, it wouldn’t have killed Robert to have tried to be a decent husband to Cersei and a good king to the realm. That would have mediated A LOT of problems. And I’m serious about it “not killing” him. But maybe I’m asking too much.
More of those What ifs…
Okay, I understand the inclination to tsk-tsk Rhaegar and Lyanna for their unannounced elopement. The die was probably cast at that moment. But let’s imagine if the two star-crossed lovers opted to not act on their love.
For starters, Jon Snow would not have been born. Neither would have Robb, Sansa, Bran, Arya, or Rickon.
Catelyn would have married Brandon Stark (who I don’t think was a cool as my man Eddard) and Ned would have married someone else. (We book readers think we know who.) It’s possible that Ned would have been able to produce a daughter much like Arya, who seems to have inherited the bare minimum of Catelyn DNA (as opposed to Sansa, who might have been produced parthogenetically from her mother.)
I don’t know if I’d like having a Westeros where Arya Stark wasn’t running around with a kill-list. (Arya haters, no need to respond with your wrong wrongnesses.)
Anyway, it’s not like the past can be changed.
Bran: Hey! I’ll just warg back in time and tell Rhaegar and Aunt Lyanna to keep it in their pants.
Me: Hold up, Doctor Who. Wouldn’t that prevent you from being born, therefore unable to warg back in time in the first place? Hey! Maybe this time-travelling cock-blocking plan of yours is what caused them to elope in the first place!
Bran: *brain explodes*
(I’ll talk more about Bran/warging/time-travel in a month or so. Sorry about that.)
Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day to all you lovable lovers out there. Just be glad that you and the object of your affection aren’t likely to cause a tremendous story of bloodshed and heartbreak.
At least I assume you two crazy kids don’t have a romance of mass destruction. Maybe your love life is way more interesting than I’m imagining. But go follow your heart! Before someone stabs it!
Or eats it…
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved