(Warning: This post contains major spoilers for “Game of Thrones” through the Aug. 13 episode.)
At the end of Season 6, “Game of Thrones” revealed something fans of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books have suspected for years: that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) isn’t the son of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), but of his sister, Lyanna, and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.
That was a huge moment. It means that Jon is both a Stark and a Targaryen, although still a bastard. But what Gilly discovered among the scrolls of the Citadel adds another wrinkle to Jon’s backstory — and it could seriously affect the line of succession for the Iron Throne.
Gilly discovered in the notes of High Septon Maynard, who served during the Mad King’s reign, that “he issued an annulment for a ‘Prince Ragger’ and remarried him to someone else at the same time in a secret ceremony in Dorne.”
The episode glosses over this bit, as Sam immediately starts whining about how much he hates the maesters before deciding to quit his training at the Citadel and head off to wherever. But that’s a monumentally important bit of information Gilly dredged up there and it’s worth discussing.
What she’s describing is that this Septon annulled Rhaegar Targaryen’s marriage to Elia Martell. The person that Rhaegar then secretly married in Dorne is almost certainly Lyanna Stark, Ned Stark’s sister who died at the end of Robert’s Rebellion after giving birth to Jon Snow — as we saw in the season 6 finale.
Robert’s Rebellion, the war that brought down the Targaryen dynasty, started specifically because of Rhaegar and Lyanna. She was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, but according to the histories, Rhaegar kidnapped her and whisked her away. When Ned Stark’s brother went to King’s Landing to demand Rhaegar return her (and when Brandon, Ned’s brother, told Rhaegar to “come out and die”), the Mad King threw him in the dungeon. Ned’s father rode south to beg for Brandon’s life — and the Mad King burned both Starks alive.
That put the Baratheons, the Starks, the Tullys and the Arryns to war with the Targaryens. Robert killed Rhaegar at the Battle of the Trident, and Lyanna died giving birth to Jon Snow. Ned Stark took Jon home and told everyone the child was his bastard, to protect his true identity from Robert, who was trying to wipe out every Targaryen to secure his claim to the throne.
If Rhaegar and Lyanna were officially married at the time of Jon Snow’s birth, that means he’s not a bastard, he’s Rhaegar’s trueborn heir. And that gives him a pretty great claim to the Iron Throne — better, in fact, than Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) claim as the last Targaryen. That’s probably going to create some friction in the future, and might change the discussion about just who needs to bend the knee to whom.