Who is Jon Snow’s Mum? The R + L = J Theory Explained for Show-Watchers
This is about as spoilery as spoilery can get. For those of you who only watch the show, these are some major book spoilers. What I’m going to reveal comes from the Song of Ice and Fire books, but written for someone up-to-date with the show. Keep in mind that while much of the history is true, the theory itself remains uncomfirmed.
I’ll provide another warning when the theory itself is revealed.
So apparently there is this really popular theory out there called R + L = J.
I always got the impression that Ned Stark was one of the unfailingly honorable people in the whole series. Catelyn Stark describes her relationship with Ned by saying, “A marriage of honour and of obligation which was built up, brick by brick, and grew into love.” Ned and Cat never really loved one another in the maddening, passionate way that, say, Jaime has for his sister (gross). It always just struck me as odd that he would even take another lover and father a bastard son. Even though his true passions might lay somewhere else, he seems like the type that takes oaths and responsibilities very seriously. Almost too seriously. He’s honorable to a fault.
The other hint — one that is completely a spoiler to those only watching the show — is that at some point after the events of Season 4, Stannis shows up at the wall and the Red Witch Lady Melisandre gets a little obsessed with Jon Snow for some reason. She’s already talked about him several times throughout the course of the show, which is weird considering he is supposedly just the bastard son of the Lord of the North and the half-brother of the now dead supposed King of the North. Weird, when her fetishes have everything to do with King’s blood. Hrmmm!
Anyway, the gist of it is that these two things sort of imply, in my mind at least, that Ned would never really cheat on Cat even if he loved somebody else AND that Jon is not necessarily just a bastard child. Maybe he’s not even Ned’s? Perhaps he is something more that we just don’t know yet.
Necessary back story and comprehensive history lesson:
The Mad King, as we’ve come to know him, had three kids.
Rhaegar was the oldest, and then came Viserys, and then Daenarys. You’ll remember Viserys as Daenarys’ asshole brother who got his “Golden Crown” from Khal Drogo. Rhaegar, however, was married to Oberyn’s sister, Ellia Martel. In the siege of King’s Landing, in which Jaime killed the King, the Mountain killed Rhaegar’s son and daughter and raped and killed Ellia. This is why Oberyn was so pissed off at the Lannisters. This is also why Daenarys is considered the Last Targaryan and the “true” heir to the Iron Throne. All her kin are dead. If Game of Thrones is about the gradual extermination of the Starks, then its prequel is about the eradication of the Targaryans.
It’s important to note, however, that the whole war called “Robert’s Rebellion” that led to him becoming King in the first place started a bit like the siege of Troy. Rhaegar (who was by all accounts the most beautiful man ever) abducted Ned Stark’s sister, Lyanna. You might remember that Robert had the hots for Lyanna, which is why Cersei always resented him. Think of Lyanna as Helen of Troy. The face that launched a thousand ships.
Fun fact: Ned and Robert grew up together in the Eyrie (the castle of creepy breastfeeding and sky doors), fostered by Lord Jon Arryn, which is why Ned and Rob were always so close. Lord Arryn was serving as the Hand of the King to Robert and was poisoned just before the start of Game of Thrones (by his creep of a wife), which is why Robert asks Ned to become the new Hand of the King. When they are talking just the two of them, Robert brings up a “wench” named “Wylla” that Eddard apparently bedded. Take a look at the scene here:
Ned never really fesses up outright to that being the mother of Jon Snow, and he grows really distracted all of a sudden in the way that bad liars do when they are hiding something. We know for a fact that George R. R. Martin has revealed certain secrets to some actors on the show to inform their back story.
What did he tell Sean Bean about Jon Snow’s lineage?
Quickly enough, Rob and Ned wind up talking about the newly married Daenarys and we don’t hear any more. In fact, Ned never even talks about Jon’s mother to Catelyn or even Jon for that matter. In a bit of tragedy, the last thing he says to Jon is, “The next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother.”
Too bad Ned winds up dead.
Anyway, back to the history of Robert’s Rebellion: Rhaegar fell in love with Lyanna the moment he saw her at some jousting event, and as the Prince and heir to the throne, he sort of felt like he could just do whatever the hell he wanted, which included snatching her up and hiding her in a fancy tower, guarded by 3 of the best knights in the Kingsguard. This enraged Robert, who believed that Rhaegar stole her away and was constantly raping her. This is why Robert sounds so pissed in the above scene with Ned. He started the Rebellion to save Lyanna, believing the Targaryans to be mad, incestuous rapists who needed to be wiped off the face of Westeros. Maybe that’s true, and maybe the Lannisters are now the new mad, incestuous rapists set to be the next House exterminated? Nobody really knows anything about the Rhaegar-Lyanna relationship, because they’re both dead. We do know that Rhaegar had a wife and two kids, the ones killed by the Mountain, but he kept Lyanna tucked away for his own personal reasons.
Were they in love in some odd way? Did Lyanna go willingly? We might never know.
Robert killed Rhaegar in one-on-one combat at some river before his forces stormed King’s Landing and took the city. After King’s Landing was taken, Ned took 6 soldiers to the tower where Lyanna was being kept by 3 Kingsguard. (Fun fact: one of Ned’s closest companions and best friends at the time was Lord Howland Reed, the father of the two kids that found Bran Stark, you know, the feverish Warg kid named Jojen and his bow-toting sister Meera?) Of the 7 men who fought those 3 knights, only Ned and that dude survived. Funny how his two kids are now Bran Stark’s closest companions…isn’t it? It makes you wonder if they know something that the Stark’s don’t. George R. R. Martin has admitted that Lord Howland Reed will “appear eventually.” But why? And you also have to ask: why would three members of the Kingsguard bother to protect the mistress of a prince? Perhaps she was more than a mistress, and perhaps there was more in that tower than just a woman.
Lyanna was very sick at the time she was rescued and died soon after. All we really know for sure is that just before she died, she made Ned “promise” something important. We never really come to find out exactly what that thing was, because she died, with her last words being, “Promise me, Ned,” words that haunt Lord Eddard Stark until the end of his days. Now Ned is dead too. But Lord Howland Reed, who bore witness to that promise, is still out there. He’s still around so he can tell us about that promise when he appears in one of the last books.
The big reveal.
The going theory of L + R = J is that Rhaegar and Lyanna did have sex, whether forced or not, and Lyanna bore him a child. Knowing what that child meant for the Iron Throne, Lyanna made Ned swear that he would raise the child as his own, telling all that it was his bastard. He was uncle to this baby anyway, and it would surely resemble him at least somewhat, except it would probably be really good looking. After all, it’s two parents were some of the prettiest people in all of Westeros. By all rights, this child, should it survive, would be the One True King with more claim than any Baratheon, Lannister, or other Targaryan — even Daenarys. Instead, that child was raised as the Bastard of its uncle to protect it from the rest of the world.
Where is that gorgeous child now? He’s about to become the Commander of the Night’s Watch. He’s also gracing the cover of GQ every now and then.
The Song of Ice and Fire has always been about the Game of Thrones: who has all the power in Westeros? So you can understand the focus on what’s happening in King’s Landing. You can understand why so much time is spent on Daenarys’ bumbling around across the narrow sea. But why is so much time and weight given to the gallant bastard son of a long-dead northern lord?
Because folks, Jon Snow is the One True King of Westeros. He just doesn’t know it yet. But now you do.
There are a few fun details that seem to support this. In later books, there are murmurs of Ice Dragons in Westerosian fairy tales. Not long ago, Fire Dragons were also part of fairy tale but have become very real. Perhaps Ice Dragons are somewhere North of the wall with the Others/Whitewalkers? Perhaps they are sleeping under the Wall?
Regardless, if Jon Snow’s parents truly are Lyanna and Rhaegar, then that means he is both Ice and Fire. Sound familiar?
The romantic in me wants Jon Snow to become the Father of Ice Dragons, and for him to wind up marrying Daenarys and uniting the world in peace. Because I am lame like that.
What do you think of the theory? Who do YOU think Jon’s mum is?
Note: this entire theory, while popular, is unconfirmed in both book and show. Very few people in the entire world know who Jon Snow’s actual mother is. It’s very possible that he truly is Ned’s bastard by some tavern wench named Wylla. We’ll find out eventually!