(Major spoilers ahead for the Season 7 finale of “Game of Thrones.”)
Editor’s note: this post was originally published on May 8, 2016, but has been updated in light of the season 7 finale on Aug. 27, 2017.
In the Season 7 finale of “Game of Thrones,” the show finally paid off a series of flashbacks that had been popping up every once in a while since the middle of Season 6.
These flashbacks have come courtesy of Bran Stark’s visions of the past, to a few huge moments in the backstory of the series. In Season 6, Bran saw Ned Stark’s visit to the Tower of Joy at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. Bran visited that scene twice last year, when he saw Ned outside the tower, and then again in the Season 6 finale when he followed him inside.
In the first part of the vision, we saw young Ned confronting Ser Arthur Dayne outside the tower. “Where’s my sister?” Ned demands to know before the confrontation devolves into violence.
This tower, readers of the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels on which the show is based know this tower as the Tower of Joy, where Ned’s sister Lyanna was kept by Rhaegar Targeryen during the war. The flashback ends when Ned enters the tower, which drove both Bran and viewers alike crazy. We all want to know what’s in the tower.
Well, in the season 6 finale, we got a good look at what was in that tower: Lyanna Stark, covered in blood, having just delivered a baby.
That baby was Jon Snow.
The show did not outright reveal who the father was in Season 6, but the Season 7 finale finally made it plain when Bran went back to that scene in the Tower of Joy and we heard Lyanna say that Jon Snow’s true name is Aegon Targaryen, the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen. Since Daenerys is Rhaegar’s sister, that would make Jon her nephew. Which is of course an amusing thing to know given they had sex in the finale.
The context came to us via Sam Tarly, who arrived in Winterfell with the news that Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia Martell — the person who everybody thinks Rhaegar was married to until he died — was annulled and he married Lyanna in a secret ceremony. Bran also did us the courtesy of flashing back to Lyanna’s wedding ceremony as well as returning to the Tower of Joy and letting us hear Lyanna say what Jon’s real name was.
In the show, characters have referred to this whole situation with Rhaegar and Lyanna before, the biggest one coming in a conversation between Little Finger and Sansa Stark in season 5.
Back before Robert’s Rebellion, Lyanna was pledged to be married to Robert Baratheon, and Rhaegar Targaryen was married to Elia Martell of Dorne. But when Rhaegar won the Tourney at Harrenhal (jousting), allowing him to symbolic honor of choosing the “queen of love and beauty” — but instead of choosing his own wife he chose Lyanna Stark.
From there, the story goes that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna and locked her in the Tower of Joy. Rhaegar was killed by Robert at the Battle of the Trident, and Ned at the conclusion of the war set off with a handful of men — including Howland Reed, father of Jojen and Meera — to rescue Lyanna.
It wasn’t always clear that the story of Jon Snow, who has always been known as Ned Stark’s bastard son, was connected to that of Lyanna. When Ned returned to Winterfell after the war, he brought with him a baby, Jon Snow, who he claimed as his own bastard son.
Nobody knew who Jon Snow’s mother was — in season 1 in their last conversation, Ned promised to tell Jon about her the next time they met, but of course Ned was killed before that ever happened, taking the secret to his grave.
Meanwhile, some characters have cast doubts on the idea that Ned would be the sort of man who would have a bastard in the first place — Stannis said in season 5 that Ned was too honorable to have done something like that.
To get to the point: the prevailing fan theory about Jon Snow’s parentage was that he’s not Ned’s bastard at all, but actually the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, who Ned rescued from the Tower of Joy. So now that we’ve seen Ned go into the tower, we know, and in the Season 7 finale Bran’s narration made it plain: Jon was never a bastard, but the trueborn Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne.
In Season 6, Melisandre made a comment about Jon Snow that ties into a much bigger fan theory about how the series will end. Upon his resurrection, the Red Woman referred to him as “the prince that was promised,” a turn of phrase that means a whole lot to dedicated fans.
The prince that was promised refers to a prophecy about the impending long winter and the war against the White Walkers. It describes a hero that will save the world from this threat, and that this hero will be of the “blood of the dragon.” As we know from years of following Danaerys (aka The Last Dragon) around, this is a colloquial description for the Targaryens, or at least those members of the family who are highly resistant to fire. Since Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, then he might just be a dragon himself, in that colloquial sense.
In “A Feast for Crows,” Maester Aemon tells Sam Tarley that “the dragon must have three heads,” meaning, we think, the prophecy refers to three people who all fit the same qualifications. This leads to the further line of thought that Danaerys and Jon Snow will be two of those heads — with Tyrion as the third. If you want to delve into how Tyrion might fight these qualifications — because that’s a doozy — then you’ll want to check out our explanation of that theory here.
Finally, another bit from a book that was curiously omitted from the show directly implicates Jon Snow as the prince that was promised after the info that came to light int he Season 7 finale. It came in “A Clash of Kings,” when Daenerys visited the House of the Undying. She saw a vision of Rhaegar holding his baby son, naming him Aegon and saying that “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” The official histories say Rhaegar did have a son named Aegon, but with Elia Martell — and that baby Aegon was supposedly murdered by the Mountain when the Lannisters laid siege to King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion. It could be that Rhaegar had two sons named Aegon — but it feels likely no that the one from the vision was Jon Snow.
Viewers of the show are generally at a disadvantage in this whole discussion, though, because the prophecy has rarely been discussed outside of Melisandre’s past declarations that Stannis would unite the Seven Kingdoms and beat back the invading undead hordes from the North. Certainly, nobody’s been really discussing qualifications. Whereas in the books this has kind of been a thing hanging over everything that’s been going on.
For more of the “Game of Thrones” community’s speculation about the future of the show, check out our gallery of fan theories below.