The two most recent episodes of HBO's Game Of Thrones have graced viewers with two major events that readers of George R.R. Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire have been awaiting for almost 20 years: the meeting of Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen and an epic battle with the White Walkers. These are momentous occasions that Martin has thus far withheld from his loyal fan base... but given that Season 5 of Thrones is set to catch up to — and in some cases, surpass — Martin's novels, showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss have no qualms accelerating past the author's slow pace. Could the showrunners' penchant for spoiling the books extend to the secret of Jon Snow's parentage?
Benioff & Weiss seem to be headed towards a revelation surrounding Jon's past far sooner than Martin intended. Season 5 has been veritably stuffed with Jon Snow parentage clues for those who have been paying attention. (Spoiler alert, even though this theory is technically speculation.) Book readers have long taken it for granted that Jon isn't truly the bastard son of Eddard Stark, but rather the secret love child of Ned's sister Lyanna and Targaryen prince Rhaegar. The show has been dropping hints about this particular development since way back in the pilot episode, but things have definitely amped up this year. From Maester Aemon's dying words to the Season 5 finale title, the clues are everywhere.
But as heavy-handed as the current crop of episodes has been about Jon's not-so-secret parentage, Martin's own novels are even worse. While stopping short of outright confirming the theory, there is plenty of evidence to be found on the page that didn't make the translation to the screen. Most of this evidence comes from Ned's internal monologue, since he's one of the only people in the world who knows the truth... and since he gets his head chopped off at the end of the first book, most of this evidence actually came surprisingly early in the series:
He could still hear her at times. Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 4
When Robert visits Winterfell to ask Ned to be the Hand of the King, the two old friends descend into the castle's crypts to pay their respects to Ned's dead sister — who had been betrothed to Robert before being "abducted" by Rhaegar. As they visit Lyanna's tomb, Ned remembers a promise he made to her. Although we're made to believe in the moment that the promise involved burying her body in Winterfell's crypt, that doesn't seem to carry enough weight for the number of times Ned remembers this vague promise throughout the book.
That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. "Never ask me about Jon," he said, cold as ice. "He is my blood, and that is all you need to know." — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 6
It's interesting to note that Ned himself never once calls Jon his son. For example, in this instance, he refers to the boy as his "blood," but not his own offspring. Referring to Jon as such allows Ned to not lie more than he has to — Jon is his nephew, after all — while still concealing the truth.
"He cannot stay here," Catelyn said, cutting him off. "He is your son, not mine. I will not have him." It was hard, she knew, but no less the truth. [...] The look Ned gave her was anguished. "You know I cannot take him south. There will be no place for him at court." — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 6
When Cat requests that her husband take his bastard with him when he goes to King's Landing, Ned balks. In fact, his expression is specifically referred to as "anguished." Why such an extreme reaction? King Robert's hatred of all things Targaryen is well-known throughout the realm; he sends assassins to kill young Daenerys because even the thought of one of Rhaegar's relatives surviving is too much for him to bear. Ned is likely less concerned here about the propriety of bringing a bastard to court than he is about what would happen if Robert were to find out that Jon was actually half-Targaryen.
Jon had their father's face, as [Arya] did. They were the only ones. Robb and Sansa and Bran and even little Rickon all took after the Tullys, with easy smiles and fire in their hair. — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 7
Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had died before she was born. "Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You even look like her." — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 22
It is specifically mentioned that, while four of the Stark children resemble their mother's side of the family, only Arya — and her bastard brother Jon — take after the Starks. Later, Ned mentions that Arya looks like his sister. It stands to reason that if Arya looks like Lyanna and Jon looks like Arya, then Jon also looks like Lyanna... his mother.
Troubled sleep was no stranger to him. He had lived his lies for fourteen years, yet they still haunted him at night. — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 12
This statement comes out of nowhere for the typically honorable Ned, and is curiously not followed up on. What lies has he been living for 14 years? Lies like passing off his sister's half-Targaryen son as his own bastard, tainting his own reputation in the process? Note that, while all the Stark children were aged up for the TV show, Jon is — you guessed it — fourteen years old at the beginning of the novels.
He dreamt an old dream, of three knights in white cloaks, and a tower long fallen, and Lyanna in her bed of blood. [...] As they came together in a rush of steel and shadow, he could hear Lyanna screaming. "Eddard!" she called. A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death. [...] It was said that Rhaegar had named that place the tower of joy, but for Ned it was a bitter memory. They had been seven against three, yet only two had lived to ride away; Eddard Stark himself and the little crannogman, Howland Reed. — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 39
The biggest glimpse we get of Lyanna's death and Ned's promise to her comes from a fevered dream Ned has after being injured in his duel with Jaime Lannister. But since Benioff & Weiss had already made a commitment to feature no flashbacks on their show (a rule that held until the opening scene of Season 5 this year), this entire sequence had to go. In the books, we learn that Rhaegar was holding Lyanna in a place called the Tower of Joy. Her brother came to rescue her with six of his friends, and found three members of the Kingsguard protecting her. After all bloody battle, all but Ned and his friend Howland Reed had perished, and Ned entered the tower to find his sister already dying in a "bed of blood" — which is when he made his promise to her.
There are several clues here that pertain to Jon. First, why would the Kingsguard be there if Rhaegar wasn't, unless they were guarding their prince's heir? Second, while we never learn exactly how Lyanna died, her "bed of blood" is a pretty blatant reference to childbirth. And finally, what deathbed promise would Lyanna make after giving birth, other than ensuring that her brother would protect the identity of her newborn babe? (Fun fact: Howland Reed is the father of Bran's cohorts Jojen and Meera Reed; and being the only other person who left the Tower of Joy alive, he's likely the only one in all of Westeros who can reveal the truth about Jon.)
Ned thought, If it came to that, the life of some child I did not know, against Robb and Sansa and Arya and Bran and Rickon, what would I do? — A Game Of Thrones, Chapter 45
Curious that Jon's is notably the only name absent from this list of Ned's children. And this is an internal monologue — there'd be no need to leave out his bastard for decorum's sake. Surely, if Jon were really his bastard, Ned would still consider him as much his own child as the other five?
A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness. — A Clash Of Kings, Chapter 48
The only crucial clue that exists outside of Ned's perspective that the show failed to adapt to the screen is a vision that Dany receives when she enters the House of the Undying at the end of the second book. That entire sequence was changed for Thrones; on the page, she receives a long stream of strange, fleeting visions, including foreshadowing for the next book's traumatic Red Wedding. One of the images that was lost in translation was that of a blue flower growing from a wall of ice. At this point in the books, winter roses have already been firmly established to represent Lyanna. So what's her flower doing at The Wall? This is as clear a reference to Jon being Lyanna's son as exists in any of the books.
While the HBO show is called, simply, Game Of Thrones, that's merely the title of the first book in Martin's series. The series as a whole is referred to on the page as A Song Of Ice And Fire. If Jon is truly the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, then that would make him the literal embodiment of both "ice" and "fire." We all knew Ned's bastard would be important to the narrative from the beginning, but if Martin's title is as big a spoiler as it seems, then Jon Snow is the linchpin of the entire saga.
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