So if you haven't heard yet, Eddard Stark is returning in Game of Thrones Season 6!
Sadly this doesn't mean that we're going to get to see Sean Bean showing up with his head sewn back on, rather Ned Stark will be appearing in a flashback (or flashbacks). 13-year old English actor Sebastian Croft will portray the young Ned, reportedly in a scene sparring with an older boy.
So that's kinda all we know for certain about Stark's return, but as the Game of Thrones fandom are want to do there's been all sorts of theories and such emerging about what this flashback could mean. It's kind of unusual for the show to use the structural device of flashback so it must be pretty important.
During A Dance With Dragons Bran Stark has a vision of a girl who looks like Arya, most likely Ned's younger sister Lyanna, and Benjen, Ned's brother, duelling with broken branches. It's been suggested by fans that this is the scene they'll adapt for the TV series, changing Benjen to Ned. By doing this they'd be able to introduce Lyanna, who is an important character in the history of the war.
So there's been speculation that we're going to see Eddie Eyre playing a 20-something version of Ned Stark in another flashback, fighting at the Tower of Joy. The Tower of Joy is important in the books as this is the location where Lyanna Stark was held by Daenerys' elder brother Rhaegar Targaryen. Betrothed to Robert Baratheon, Lyanna was kidnapped by Rhaegar who had supposedly fallen in love with her after he crowned her Queen of Beauty at the Harrenhal tourney instead of his own wife Elia Martell.
Towards the end of the war that saw Robert crowned king Ned and six others stormed the Tower of Joy to rescue Lyanna and found her dying in a "bed of blood". The actual cause of her death is never explained: it is stated that a fever had taken her strength away, but that doesn't explain the blood.
As she died she made her brother promise her something, and when he agreed she died without fear. The promise is never stated, but the prevailing theory relates to the real parentage of Jon Snow.
This debate has been the central question in the Game of Thrones fandom ever since Season 5 ended: what the hell happened to Jon Snow (Kit Harington)? He can't really be dead, right? He's a popular character, and I think a big part of the reason people were upset by his death was cause he's at the centre of this theory that fans hoped to see resolved during his run on the show.
Now Rhaegar Targaryen was slain at the Ruby Ford by Robert Baratheon towards the end of the rebellion. Elia Martell and their two children, Rhaenys and Aegon, were killed by Ser Gregor Clegane during the Sack of King's Landing. When Daenerys is in the House of the Undying during A Clash of Kings she has a vision of Rhaegar talking to Elia Martell about his children, stating "The Dragon has three heads, there must be one more."
This suggests that there would be another child, another Targaryen. Following the deaths of Viserys and Maester Aemon, Daenerys is currently the last Targaryen and therefore one of the heirs to the Iron Throne.
The Third Child of Rhaegar Targaryen?
We don't know much about Jon Snow's parentage, supposedly he's a bastard child sired by Ned with a mystery woman whilst he was away from home and his wife during the war. However in the first book in the series multiple characters mention how out of character it would be for Ned, a man of honour who loved Catelyn Stark dearly, to sleep with another woman. Even Snow himself doesn't know who his mother was and he never receives a solid answer when questioning Ned about it.
The prevailing theory is that his mother was in fact Lyanna Stark, and his father Rhaegar Targaryen. Lyanna was taken by Rhaegar at the start of the war and died at the end - so would have spent approximately a year with him, more than enough time to bear a child. Lyanna is often described as dark haired and wolfish, called "The She-Wolf" or "The Wolf Maid", so this would account for Jon Snow's dark and unruly appearance, although fan-art shows us another option...
It would also explain some unclarified facts from the books:
- Lyanna's death - she died in childbirth in a "bed of blood"
- The promise - take the child, raise him as your own, don't let anyone know he's a Targeryen or he'll be killed
- Rhaegar's comment about the the third head of the dragon
- Ned's evasiveness around Jon Snow's parentage
- Why Snow was sent away to the Wall
As a man of honour Ned would eschew his own to protect his sisters, letting everyone believe him a man who sired a bastard in order to protect his nephew. This would also make Jon Snow the half-brother of Daenerys, and contender for the throne. You know, if he wasn't dead.
This theory has been around in the fandom for a long time, but it's been pulled back into the spotlight following the news of the Ned Stark flashbacks and the possibility that Lyanna could be introduced into the narrative. Now that Jon Snow is dead (we assume) there's no reason to protect the secret, but is there anyone left alive know who knows the truth?