WARNING: This post contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Game of Thrones up to and including the Season 7 finale “The Dragon and the Wolf.”
R+L = J, aka Jon Snow has the Strongest Claim to the Spiky Chair
It finally happened. After 5 books and more than 60 episodes of television, Game of Thrones finally revealed Jon Snow’s parentage. Now if somehow you missed the spoiler warning at the top of the article, let me repeat again, this article exists almost exclusively to look at one of the biggest reveals in the series and what it might mean going into the final season. So turn back now if you don’t want to spoil yourself.
How Did We Get Here?
As you may recall from Season 1 of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow is the bastard son of Ned Stark and doesn’t know who his mother is. In fact, no one aside from Ned and Mystery Mom know who Jon Snow’s mother is because Ned won’t tell anyone.
“The next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother.”
Thanks, Maury. In fact, as we learned in season six, Ned’s been doing a lot of lying. Lying to his wife, Catelyn. Lying to his best friend (King) Robert Baratheon. Lying to Jon. Ned Stark’s handing out lies like Floyd Mayweather Jr. hands out Ls. Jon Snow isn’t even his kid – he’s his nephew.
As audiences learned in the Season Six finale, Jon Snow is the son of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister. And while that episode played it somewhat ambiguous as to who his real father was, the season seven finale finally revealed that Jon’s father is Rhaegar Targaryen, eldest son of Aerys II Targaryen aka the Mad King aka the guy Jaime Lannister killed to get the name Kingslayer.
So how did we get to the point Ned was lying about Jon being his son? Well, it’s all about a girl. Rhaegar, who was married at the time (more on that in a bit), “abducted” Lyanna, angering the Stark family. Ned’s father and elder brother, Brandon, rode down to King’s Landing to confront Rhagear’s father, King Aerys, about Rhagear’s actions. Offended that the Starks would ever accuse his son of such behavior, Aerys has Lord Stark and Brandon killed (in quite gruesome fashion). Angered by the Mad King’s actions, Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon lead a rebellion against the Iron Throne. For Robert this wasn’t simply supporting his friend – he loved Lyanna, intended to wed her, and saw Rhaegar’s actions as a personal affront.
From there, things got really messy. Rhaegar’s wife, Elia Martell, was raped and murdered by the Mountain, along with their two children, Rhaenys and Aegon. Rhaegar’s mother, Queen Rhaella, and his younger brother, Viserys, escaped from King’s Landing to Dragonstone where Rhaella would die giving birth to Daenerys.
Rhaegar himself would die during the Battle of the Trident where Robert would strike Rhaegar down with his war hammer. Lyanna, however, had been been taken to the Tower of Joy in Dorne where she was guarded by two of the Kingsguard: Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Gerald Hightower. It was there that Ned would find her, dying from her own complications in childbirth.
Lyanna tells Ned that he must protect the child at all costs. Robert Baratheon was ruthless in battle and wanted all the Targaryens killed, even the young Viserys and the newborn Daenerys. Surely he would want the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna to die.
And so Ned lied and claimed Jon as his own, keeping him in his own home when many other lords would abandon their bastards to the world.
So What’s the Fuss About?
As we also found out in the season seven finale, Rhaegar and Lyanna weren’t just lovers, but were wed in secret, after Rhaegar also had his marriage to Elia annulled (thanks Gilly for reading that passage, and screw you Sam for taking the credit). This makes Jon Snow a legitimate child, not a bastard. We also learn his new name: Aegon Targaryen.
Bra– excuse me — The Three-Eyed Raven confirmed this in a vision and realized that this meant that Jon was actually the heir to the Iron Throne. Jon has never been one to seek power, he’d prefer to be the hero/martyr/idiot that everyone loves. Nevertheless, he’s often found himself thrust into positions of power, and he typically accepts those roles based on the desire of his comrades. So one would expect, especially with the effort author George R. R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have put into making this, that Jon is going to find himself in contention for the throne. There’s just one problem: Daenerys.
Perhaps more than any character in the show, Daenerys has been motivated by the desire to sit upon the Iron Throne. She views the Throne as hers by birthright, and though prior to this season she’s never seen it or the lands it represents, it drives her actions throughout the show. Unfortunately for her, Jon’s claim to the throne takes precedence over her own.
You see, Daenerys’ claim to the throne rested upon the deaths of her father, both her brothers, and the death of Rhaegar’s children. Since Jon aka Aegon (why did you name both of your sons Aegon, Rhaegar? Why?!) is alive, and the children of Rhaegar and Elia are retroactively bastards thanks to the annulment (also they’re dead), Jon has the best claim.
With Jon having a better claim to the throne than Daenerys, one has to ask, why did George R. R. Martin put them both in contention for the throne?
What Does this Mean for Game of Thrones?
I find it hard to believe that George R. R. Martin set all this up only to not have any narrative consequences. It’s one thing to hide Jon’s parentage from Jon himself, but to hide it from the readers, even when they’re in Ned’s point of view, is a sure-tell sign that it has big implications. At the same time, we’ve seen that Jon is willing to yield to Dany’s authority, so one has to imagine that he’d give up his claim to her. So why even do this?
Game of Thrones is a series that often plays around with fantasy tropes, subverting the expected heroes (Ned and Robb Stark) and making the “villains” complex and nuanced individuals (Tywin, Jaime, Cersei, Varys, hell even Joffrey has some depth to him). And so it always struck me as odd that the main villain, the White Walkers and their Night King, were largely undeveloped. Even now, at the end of season seven, can anyone tell me what their motivation is beyond “kill everyone” or why that is their motivation beyond “because”? Because even if that is all they’re about, that seems hollow for a show like Game of Thrones which has spent so much time working against the traditional good vs. evil fantasy story. Are we even sure they’re the true antagonist? Maybe they just want to go to the beaches in Dorne…
No, I think Game of Thrones has one final wrinkle to develop. For a long time, I’ve been of the opinion that Dany is actually the “villain” of the story, such as there is one. Think about it, Game of Thrones has played with fantasy tropes, subverting expectations. What better way to tell a story than to make the evil magical being, with their evil dwarf sidekick, destructive dragons and hordes of nameless evil foreigners all likable. Subvert expectations tropes by making us care about them and their goals and providing depths to their culture. It seems almost fitting if Game of Thrones pulled back the curtain one more time and showed us that while we love these characters, they are human, and flawed, and perhaps want power for power’s sake and aren’t the people we should be rooting for (but maybe we do anyway).
However, I’m not so sure about that theory anymore. Game of Thrones has just six episodes left. Both Cersei and the White Walkers stand, and while I suspect that the Night King’s forces will be dealt with before the back-half of the final season, I’m not so convinced the show can effectively pull off a Daenerys heel-turn in the time we have left.
Additionally, Dany isn’t evil, and while she’s been a bit ruthless and isn’t always one to listen to advice (plus that whole Mereen thing didn’t turn out too great), I have a hard time believing that she’d sit on the Iron Throne and have Drogon and Rhaegal burn everyone else to a crisp. And in this newest episode, I think we get a clue as to her true fate. She laments the existence of the dragonpit, and what it did to the dragons of her ancestors. But she also knows from her experience in Mereen that dragons cannot be completely tamed.
If I were to hazard a guess at the show’s ending, I would now say that Daenerys will likely cede her claim to the throne to Jon, having found that she does not want to sit, imprisoned along with her dragons by the weight of the crown. I think she, Drogon, and Rhaegal will fly off into the sunset. A bittersweet ending, but one I think would be appropriate for the series.
Or they’re all going to get killed by this dude.