“The Winds of Winter” featured a major revelation about Jon Snow’s parentage. We’ve long been told that he was the son of Ned Stark and a random woman, but last night we found out (or, in the case of many fans, had it confirmed) that Ned was not the boy’s father. He was the son of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, and another man.
For years, the show struggled to portray the mystery of Jon Snow’s origin onscreen, whereas the books made an undercurrent out of it. Novels can carry along unspoken, mysterious subtexts, hinted at by indirect references and interior monologues. TV does not have these luxuries, and while there was always an air of mystery about Jon’s parentage on Game of Thrones, sometimes the show had trouble directing viewers to the information they need to know.
Part of what broke the dam was the show finally working in a version of the tale of the Tourney at Harrenhal during the Year of the False Spring, where Rhaegar Targaryen rode right past his wife, Elia Martell, to crown Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty. Littlefinger finally told this story in Sansa in Season 5’s “Sons of the Harpy,” and while it was much paired down (there was nothing about Lyanna hearing Rhaegar playing his harp and crying, for instance, or about the Knight of The Laughing Tree), it was enough to get people wondering, especially after Sansa finished the story for Littlefinger by saying that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna, and Littlefinger smirked.
It seemed like the proof book readers has been looking for—that the story that Rhaegar had kidnapped and raped Lyanna was just that—a story Robert forced everyone to agree was true, because he could not handle the reality that he never really knew Lyanna, and that she was bored by him and in love with Rhaegar Targaryen.
This is a mystery that some have been wondering about every since the very first book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996. Last night, in “The Winds of Winter,” the show finally gave us half of the answer, as Bran (and the audience) followed young Ned Stark up the steps of the Tower of Joy and watched as Lyanna, who lay dying, handed him her newborn son, telling him that “Robert would kill….if he knew…” and those immortal words from Eddard’s memories in his POV chapters published 20 years before: “Promise me, Ned.”
The cut from the baby’s face to Jon Snow’s was merely spelling it out for the people in the back row. Ned Stark had been lying to everyone, including Catelyn, for all those years, to keep Jon Snow—his nephew, and his sister’s only child—alive and safe from Robert.
Many fans have an answer ready: “Because the child is Rhaegar’s! Because Robert would have killed him, knowing he had Targrayen blood in him! Not to mention that he was the love child of Lyanna and Rhaegar, and proof that Robert’s version of history was bunk!”
Yes well, that’s a very nice theory. But I’ve already seen some extremely stubborn folks on Twitter today claiming that Jon Snow’s “black hair” proves that he’s Robert’s son (remember, that’s how we knew Gendry was Robert’s bastard, back in Season 1!) and that Lyanna did what she did to keep Jon Snow safe…from the Lannisters. (Since Tywin was plotting to have Cersei engaged to Robert by then.)
#GameOfThrones If Robert is the father, LANNISTERS would kill the baby, like they killed all the other dark haired babies.
— Allison F. (@ablington) June 27, 2016
So although there are many of us who would very much like to believe that last night proved R+L=J, the truth is, it actually only gave us two thirds of the equation. (x)+L=J. Finally, the show has brought fans to ask the other side of the question: If Lyanna is Jon Snow’s mom, and the Starks don’t go in for Targaryen/Lannister-type familiar relations, who is Jon Snow’s father?