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Jon Snow Game of Thrones Theory Recap: What We KNOW

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This Jon Snow Game of Thrones theory is written primarily for those who watch the show and are interested in the parentage of Jon Snow. This contains SPOILERS on that topic from the books, so be warned.


This is also a quick reference for those seeking info on R + L = J or R + L = Royal J.

Who is Jon Snow? Surprising theories & spoilers for non-book readers #GameofThrones Click To Tweet
Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly standing there in the freezing snow. As usual.
Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly are basically children who just took a lifelong vow of celibacy and hard labor. Here’s them standing in the freezing cold, which is, by the way, the weather they’ll enjoy year round.

R + L = J

Several years ago, I came across this fan theory. It made so much sense, especially of the book’s enigmatic Ned vs. Kingsguard flashbacks, that I sent it to my buddies. The honor of first bringing this to my attention goes to “The Bastard of Walton” at who adds his spin on the succession of the crown.

Speaking of the succession. /u/yakatuus over at just won their annual “Best Theory Analysis” award for 2015 with this breakdown of the Tower of Joy dialogue.

Older and more comprehensive treatments of R+L=J can be found here.

Our Summary of R + L = J

Ned Stark swears up and down that Jon’s his bastard son. The only thing is, that doesn’t seem anything like Ned. And the people of Westeros seem to agree. Early in the series, Ned happily sends Jon packing to enjoy the hard and celibate life of a man of the night’s watch. Let’s face it folks, he’s practically pushing Jon out the door. Odd behavior coming from the seemingly honorable Ned. He’s certainly not up for any Bastard Father of the Year awards.


Several characters in the books are seeking answers about Jon’s parentage – including Jon Snow himself. Sadly, George RR Martin has left us no concrete answers – quickly lobbing off the head of the only one who could tell us for certain – Ned himself.

But clues were left to help us piece things together, and some clever fan has figured it out.

Spoilers. We warned ya.

So here it is: Jon Snow is Ned Stark’s nephew. Prince Rheagar knocked up Lyanna with a half-Targaryen half-Stark baby. Ned is lying about his parentage because if King Robert knew Jon was Targaryen, he’d bury a morningstar deep into Lord Snow’s little forehead.

The Evidence for R + L = J

Here’s a summary of the proof, borrowing heavily from the above named sources and also adding my own spin:

The fact that Targaryens were victims of genocide in King’s Landing is well known, so it makes sense that Ned would lie to protect his sister’s son. The books hint that Ned made some sort of promise to his sister Lyanna on her deathbed, but we don’t know what it was.

What we DO know, at least what most of our characters seem to all agree upon, is that the Targaryen Prince Rhaegar, heir to King Aerys, was rumored to have kidnapped Lyanna Stark, Ned’s adult sister. This was an even bigger problem, because Lyanna was betrothed to a powerful Southern Lord, Robert Baratheon. The kidnapping was the start of a domino effect that leads to a revolutionary war and Robert becoming king.

It also results in Lyanna’s death. But how?

In short, when Ned’s brother Brandon hears about the kidnapping, he gets all hot and bothered. So Brandon storms up to the palace and demands justice. Brandon has terrible timing.

You see, Aerys hasn’t really been the same since he was kidnapped and nearly killed just a few years before. And lately, he’s noticed something very fishy lately about the Lords of the seven kingdoms. They aren’t marrying their vassals.

For generations they’d married their children to local lords and ladies. Within their own region. It was a pretty strong, but unwritten, tradition. And now, these Lords are starting to marry their children to other powerful Lords across the map. Like, all of them. Jaime, Cercei, Oberyn, Ned, Robert, Catelyn, Lysa… the list goes on. Something strange was going on. Aerys must have wondered if these were political marriages – meant to strengthen their family ties in anticipation of an uprising.

Perhaps Aery’s kidnapped Lyanna himself to prevent the joining of House Stark and House Baratheon. Maybe Rhaegar was just following orders. Maybe Rhaegar sensed the conspiracy and took unilateral action. Or maybe Lyanna fell in love with the already married Rhaegar and ran off with him willingly. We may never know.

But when Brandon rolled up on the Red Keep and started running his mouth, well… lets just say that didn’t sit too well with the King.  Then when the Lord of Winterfell, Ned’s father, came to please mercy for his son. The king gave it some thought and then decided to burn them both alive.

This leads to the revolutionary war called the War of the Usurper that places Robert on the throne as king.

So what happened to Lyanna?

After defeating King Aerys and his heir Rhaegar, Ned goes to look for his sis and finds her in a hidden tower that is guarded by the three of the best swordsmen on the planet – the Kingsguard. The Kingsguard refuse to yield, and everybody dies except Ned and his buddy Howland Reed. (By everybody, do we mean Ned’s friends or the Kingsguard as well? That, we don’t know.)

Things get really fuzzy at this point. Was Ned’s memory injured, or is he just withholding information in his POV chapters? It’s hard to tell. I prefer the former. But here are the fight details:

Ned’s group is comprised of seven guys – mostly young adults. They have just been through a war, so they are pretty good with weapons. There are seven total Kingsguard, but only three are present. Present company includes the #1 in command of the Kingsguard, Gerold Hightower, and the #2 most talented swordsman in the Kingsguard, Arthur Dayne.

Ned lost five of his friends that day, and he thinks he would have died as well if it weren’t for Howland Reed. What did Howland do? We don’t know. But it saved Ned. Maybe he used magic to kill the Kingsguard. Maybe he saw how the battle was gong and knocked Ned out and surrendered? We really don’t know.

Oh and Ned also remembers hearing Lyanna scream at them to stop fighting.

But afterward, Ned has hazy memories of seeing Lyanna in her “bed of blood”. She has blood on the front of her skirt. She makes Ned promise her something. And Ned seems to think that promised has cost him dearly. We don’t know what it was.

This leaves lots of questions; did Lyanna die that same day? Why?

Anyway, the information about what happens next is really strange, and not all of it comes from Ned’s thoughts. You see, the story is that Ned then tears down the tower (quite a feat) and does some really weird things with everyone’s bodies. He buries his buddies and the fallen Kingsguard in cairns made from the tower he just puled down. He then goes straight to Starfall to bring the Dayne family back their one-of-a-kind sword Dawn. This is strange because he could have also brought Arthur Dayne’s body along with him. We know that Ned cares about stuff like that, because Catelyn moves heaven and earth trying to get Ned’s body after his beheading by Joffrey. Ned is also transporting Lyanna’s body, but whatevs.

Ned’s crush is Ashara Dayne, Arthur Dayne’s sister. Ned is married now, and just killed Ashara’s bro, so when Ashara finds out what happened, she gets upset and throws herself from a tower into the sea. No body is found. Despite all this, we meet a Dayne kid named Ned later in the story who seems to think Ned Stark was a swell guy. Strange indeed.

Ned then returns to Winterfell and *gasp* buries a woman in the men’s tomb! He puts Lyanna and a big ass statue of her in there, breaking hundreds of years of tradition.

So that’s the story in a nutshell. Now lets look closely at the facts to see not only why R+L=J, but also why R+L= King Jon Targaryen, the true heir to the Iron Throne.

R + L = Royal J

As I discussed above, we are given visions, strange memories coming to Ned throughout the first book. On first read, I assumed it was something akin to PTSD. I mean, three Kingsguard practically MAKE Ned kill them. These are guys that young Ned practically worships, and it all seems so pointless that he had to kill them. The rebellion has already won the war – so why not bend the knee?

It made sense to me that it would bother Ned for, like, always. But now, I don’t think that is why Martin wrote those chapters. Martin wrote those chapters because they contain the key that unlocks the entire series.

Ned has a dream: 

“He dreamt an old dream, of three knights in white cloaks, and a tower long fallen, and Lyanna in her bed of blood.

The three Kingsguard are described as “No Ordinary Three” — Ser Arthur Dayne, The Sword of The Morning (considered second only to Barristan Selmy in skill), Ser Oswell Whent, & Ser Gerold Hightower, the White Bull, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. The three best & most proven shields of the king, with the exception of Barristan.

“I looked for you on the Trident” Ned said to them.

“We were not there.” Ser Gerold answered.

“Woe to the usurper if we had been,” said Ser Oswell.

Why did three of the best Kingsguard not ride to battle at the Trident?

“When Kings Landing fell, Ser Jaime slew your King with a golden sword, and I wondered where you were.”

“Far away,” Ser Gerold said, “or Aerys would yet sit the Iron Throne, and our false brother would burn in seven hells.”

Why were they not at Aery’s side, protecting him & Rhaegar’s children? It was their job to protect the king & the heir, but they were left to die at Kings Landing.

“I came down on Storm’s End to lift the siege” Ned told them, “and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dipped their banners, and all their knights bent the knee to pledge us fealty. I was certain you would be among them.”

“Our knees do not bend easily,” said Ser Arthur Dayne.

If they hadn’t been at the Trident, Ned was sure they would be at the thick of the siege of Storm’s end. It makes sense that three of the greatest warriors would be on one of these battlefields, but they where not.

“Ser Willem Darry is fled to Dragonstone, with your queen and Prince Viserys. I thought you might have sailed with him.”

“Ser Willem is a good man and true,” said Ser Oswell.

“But not of the Kingsguard,” Ser Gerold pointed out.

“The Kingsguard does not flee.”

Not with King Aerys, not with his Heir, Prince Rhaegar, not with Rhaegar’s heir Aegon, not with Viserys, the last Targaryern heir.

This makes sense only if you fill in the blank: not only was Jon Snow the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna (R+L=J), but Jon was also the presumed heir. (R + L = Royal J) Why else would these men continue to fight, and why were they not protecting Dany & Viserys instead? Why did they not die by their King’s side in King’s Landing? The key lies in that final line:

“But not of the Kingsguard,” Ser Gerold pointed out.

“The Kingsguard does not flee.”

These men were no cowards. They were ordered away from the King’s side. Do you think they were made to leave the King, the Prince, and the biggest battles – all to protect Lyanna Stark? I don’t think so. I think it was the son in her belly, who had, by some turn of events, been named the heir to the Iron Throne after prince Rhaegar’s death. Their orders were to keep the young prince from falling into the hands of the rebel leaders; and they failed.

A Few Ned Stark Passages:

AGOT p.65

“He is my blood, and that is all you need to know.” – Ned to Catelyn

AGOT p.380

“I will,” Ned promised her. That was his curse. Robert would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall, but Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promises he made to Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he’d paid to keep them.

There are plenty of other reasons to believe Jon is Targaryen. Take, for instance, the dire wolf puppies found by the stark family. Each Stark child got one, and an albino one for Jon. Since Targaryens were known for their silver hair and purple eyes, it is hard to imagine a more perfect symbol of what happens when you combine House Stark with House Targaryen – an albino dire wolf.

Finally, if you still need more convincing, I suggest researching the “blue winter rose” – a particularly convincing trail of breadcrumbs which I chose to omit here simply for brevity’s sake. You may find that evidence most convincing of all.

Not long ago, Martin said this at a Q&A:

“When asked about the many fan theories appearing on websites, Martin said: “I’ve wrestled with this issue, because I do want to surprise my readers. I hate predictable fiction as a reader, I don’t want to write predictable fiction.

“I want to surprise and delight my reader and take them in directions they didn’t see coming.

“But I can’t change the plans. That’s one of the reasons I used to read the early fan boards back in the 90s but stopped. One, I didn’t have the time, but two is this very issue.

“So many readers were reading the books with so much attention that they were throwing up some theories and while some of those theories were amusing bulls— and creative, some of the theories are right.

“At least one or two readers had put together the extremely subtle and obscure clues that I’d planted in the books and came to the right solution.

“So what do I do then? Do I change it! I wrestled with that issue and I came to the conclusion that changing it would be a disaster, because the clues were there.

“You can’t do that, so I’m just going to go ahead.

“Some of my readers who don’t read the boards, which thankfully there are hundreds of thousands of them, will still be surprised and other readers will say: ‘see, I said that four years ago, I’m smarter than you guys’.”


Later, Sean Bean reaffirms – he’s not the daddy

Now let’s reflect on how this new perspective on Jon Snow could place him at the center of the series titled A Song of Ice and Fire:

1. He may be the King when the dust clears.

You can count on one hand the number of living Targaryens. This means that he either is or could very easily become the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.

2. John’s got massive “Ice and Fire” Symbolism:

  1. His Parentage
    1. His mother is Stark (ICE – “Winter is Coming”).
    2. His father is Targaryen (FIRE – “Blood and Fire”).
  2. His Social Identity
    1. His bastard name (SNOW – ICE).
    2. The dragon blood in his veins (FIRE).
  3. His Great War
    1. The Wall is made of ICE.
    2. Wights are only killed by FIRE.
  4. Family Weaponry
    1. Starks own Valyrian greatsword ICE.
    2. Targaryens own Valyrian sword Blackfyre.
  5. Possible character duos of ICE and FIRE
    1.  Jon Snow (ICE) and Danareys (FIRE)
    2. Jon Snow (FIRE) and Arya (ICE)
    3. Varys (?) and Littlefinger (?)
    4. Jon Snow (ICE) and Jon Snow (FIRE)

Finally, an important development for fans of the books and series alike:

The Books and the Show are NOT the same canon.

Because of this little twist, predictions become much more tricky. We could witness a complete revision of the story, and in some ways we already have. That makes developing theories built on both the show and the book all the more tenable. So we are left to speculate. And speculate we must.

What is canon? We cover that here.

Next, we’ll discuss the epic back-story of Jon Snow’s weapon in:

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    Derek is a licensed (non-practicing) attorney with a keen interest in avoiding catastrophe. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

    Contact: [email protected]

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