Warning: This post contains spoilers for season seven of Game of Thrones.
The truth about Jon Snow's parents has been one of the most enduring mysteries of Game of Thrones — even before the show began. In fact, the question is so integral to the story that George R.R. Martin says he only agreed to allow David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to adapt his Song of Ice and Fire series after they correctly guessed the identity of Jon's mother based on information from the first five books.
There have been many fan theories about Jon's parentage over the years, but the most popular is commonly referred to as R+L=J — i.e., Rhaegar Targaryen + Lyanna Stark = Jon Snow. The season six finale — along with a HBO infographic — all but confirmed this to be true. However, it still has not been explicitly stated.
Luckily, the show seems to be moving toward revealing the full story surrounding Jon's birth, with a throwaway line in Sunday's episode serving as a thinly veiled reference to the fact that he is actually a trueborn Targaryen.
The final scene of "Eastwatch" saw Jon and six companions set out into the wilds beyond the Wall. But before we find out how the King in the North fares in his quest to capture a wight, let's recap what we know about his true heritage — and how that may change things going forward.
Who is Jon Snow?
Jon has come a long way from the brooding teen we met in the Game of Thrones pilot. After leaving Winterfell — where he was long mistreated by Catelyn Stark for being her husband Ned's bastard — he spent the show's first five seasons rising through the ranks of the Night's Watch, eventually becoming Lord Commander. However, following his murder at the hands of his sworn brothers — and subsequent resurrection — Jon left his post at Castle Black to retake Winterfell from the Boltons. He was named King in the North in the season six finale and has since been on a mission to convince the people of Westeros that their true enemy is not each other, but rather the army of the dead.
Who is Jon Snow's mother?
Jon — along with nearly everyone else in Westeros — believes he is the illegitimate son of Ned Stark and a lowborn woman. But thanks to flashback scenes in which Bran Stark witnessed Ned's final conversation with Lyanna following his — and Howland Reed's — defeat of Arthur Dayne and the Targaryen kingsguard at the Tower of Joy, viewers know this isn't the case. Jon is actually the child of Ned's younger sister Lyanna, who made her brother promise to conceal Jon's identity out of fear that Robert Baratheon — her former fiancé — would kill Jon if he found out the truth.
Who is Jon Snow's father?
Although Thrones has yet to definitively acknowledge the identity of Jon's father, HBO released an infographic following the Tower of Joy reveal that seemed to confirm he is the child of Rhaegar Targaryen. Rhaegar was the eldest son of the Mad King who had two children with his wife, Elia Martell (the older sister of Oberyn). He was killed during Robert's Rebellion by Robert Baratheon for allegedly kidnapping and raping Lyanna, who had been betrothed to Robert. However, some fans have long suspected that the two were actually in love and ran away to be together. In the books, multiple characters — Jorah Mormont, Jaime Lannister and even Ned — have positive opinions of Rhaegar, and hint that he did not take Lyanna against her will. The show has also slipped in some clues to this point.
When Oberyn arrived in King's Landing to attend Joffrey Baratheon's wedding to Margaery Tyrell, he had a conversation with Tyrion Lannister in which they discussed Rhaegar's marriage to Elia. "The last time I was in the capital was many years ago, another wedding. My sister Elia and Rhaegar Targaryen, the Last Dragon," he said. My sister loved him, she bore his children, swaddled them, fed them at her own breast — Elia wouldn't let the wet nurse touch them. And beautiful, noble Rhaegar Targaryen left her for another woman."
His last comment seems to suggest that Rhaegar left Elia to build a relationship with Lyanna, not take her hostage.
"Rhaegar never liked killing, he loved singing," Ser Barristan once told Daenerys Targaryen. Barristan was not only extremely close to Rhaegar, but had a reputation as one of the most honorable men in the Seven Kingdoms. It seems likely that he wouldn't have continued to speak highly of Rhaegar unless the rumors Robert spread were not true.
Ser Arthur was the best swordsman in Aerys II "The Mad King" Tagaryen's kingsguard. However, instead of sending him into battle during Robert's Rebellion, Rhaegar stationed him at the Tower of Joy to protect Lyanna. This implies that Rhaegar loved Lyanna and was willing to do anything to keep their unborn child safe.
This Means Jon Snow is a Targaryen
With Rhaegar as a father, Jon would be the only half Stark, half Targaryen in existence. But does any of this matter if he's still technically a bastard? As it so happens, that may not be the case. While reading one of Sam's Citadel books aloud in "Eastwatch," Gilly noted that a High Septon Maynard had issued an annulment for a "Prince Ragger" — an apparent mispronunciation of Rhaegar — and remarried him to someone else at the same time in a secret ceremony in Dorne. If this person was Lyanna, it would make Jon a trueborn Targaryen and give him an even greater claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys.
Are Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen related?
Thrones may be setting up a romance between Jon and Daenerys, but if Jon really is the blood of the dragon, the two are pretty closely related. Rhaegar was Dany's older brother, which would make her Jon's aunt. However, the Targaryens have a long history of incest, having spent over 300 years wedding brothers to sisters to keep their bloodline pure. With that being said, a union between aunt and nephew seems within the realm of possibility.
Who knows about Jon Snow's parents?
Thanks to his ability to see the past, Bran Stark is the only character at this point who seems to be aware of the truth of Jon's heritage. However, considering the fact that Howland Reed was the only survivor of the showdown at the Tower of Joy other than Ned Stark, he may also be in the know. Unfortunately, a present-day version of Howland has never appeared on the show and in the books, he hasn't left Greywater Watch — a moving castle that can't be reached by raven — since Robert's Rebellion.
The sixth episode of Game of Thrones' seventh season airs Aug. 20 at 9 p.m. on HBO.