WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the Game of Thrones TV series and A Song of Ice and Fire books. Do not read on unless you have seen Season 6, Episode 2, 'Home.'
The mysterious nature of a show like Game of Thrones gives plenty of scope for fan theories, some that completely make sense and others that really just don't. Out of all of the crazy ideas to be dreamt up by viewers and readers alike over the course of the series, the vast majority have either been proven or debunked by now, with the latest episode at long last putting to rest the Jon Snow dead-or-alive debate.
But there is still one particular theory that has been floating around since before the show even aired that has yet to be confirmed or denied. And by the looks of next week's preview, we're finally going to find out whether it's founded on fact or fiction. Which theory am I talking about? R + L = J. For those of you who aren't quite sure what I'm referring to, here's a definitive guide to set you in good standing for Season 6, Episode 3.
What Does The Equation Stand For?
Rhaegar plus Lyanna equals Jon.
And What Does It Actually Mean?
In its simplest form, the theory suggests that Jon Snow is not in fact the son of Ned Stark, as we have been led to believe, but rather the bastard child of Ned's sister Lyanna and her kidnapper Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, son of Aerys "the Mad King" and brother of Daenerys.
How Could It Have Happened?
According to the books, after winning a tournament at Harrenhal, Rhaegar was granted the privilege of crowning any woman in attendance as the new queen of love and beauty. In what Ned Stark later recalls as "the moment when all smiles died," Rhaegar rode past his wife, Princess Elia Martell of Dorne, and placed a crown of blue roses in the lap of Lyanna.
Some time later, Rhaegar supposedly abducted Lyanna and they both disappeared, an act that would eventually lead to Robert's Rebellion (Robert and Lyanna were betrothed at the time). It is believed that Rhaegar and Lyanna stayed at the Tower of Joy in Dorne for most of the war until Rhaegar went off to battle Robert in a single combat that would ultimately end in Rhaegar's death and Robert's victory.
Shortly after, Ned and his men rode to the Tower of Joy to find Lyanna, where they were met with three of the Kingsguard. The ensuing battle left only two remaining survivors: Ned and his companion Howland Reed, who went up the tower to discover Lyanna in a bed of blood. Just before her death moments later, Lyanna entrusted her brother with a promise, which has never been revealed; all we know is that Ned later returned from the war with a bastard son, and would never speak of the child's mother to anyone.
The R + L = J theory suggests that contrary to the common belief that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, the pair actually ran away together and hid in the Tower of Joy, where Lyanna became pregnant. According to the theory, Lyanna's death was in fact a result of childbirth and the promise Ned made was to protect little Jon and raise him as his own.
But Is There Any Real Evidence?
Yes, quite a lot, actually. The "bed of blood" that Lyanna was found in is a pretty strong implication of childbirth and somewhat contradicts Ned's claim that she lost her strength to a fever. The fact that three out of seven of the Kingsguard were protecting Lyanna as opposed to the king himself suggests there was something far more important going on in that tower than just a girl being held hostage.
In a scene from Season 1, Episode 4, in which Jon is actually discussing his origins with Sam at Castle Black, the initials R and L can be seen on a wooden beam. At one point, the frame lines it up perfectly so that we see R L and then Jon (J). Additionally, while all of the Stark children's direwolves have dark fur, Jon's direwolf Ghost has white hair, a well-known Targaryen trademark.
The thing that perhaps makes the theory most plausible is that Ned's whole character is based on the fact that he is an honest and honorable man. Having a sneaky affair while he was away from Catelyn has always seemed rather alarmingly out of character for Ned, but putting his reputation on the line in order to honor his sister and keep Jon safe? That sounds far more like something he would do (and has actually been shown to do when he "confessed" treason to protect Sansa).
And if you're still not convinced, check out this genuine quote from Sean Bean in an interview with Vulture back in 2014. In what's some pretty impressive foreshadowing, the interviewer poses a theory that we might revisit Ned in flashbacks in future episodes, to which Bean replies:
"But it's a good theory! And that should happen, shouldn't it? I've definitely got some unfinished business that needs to be resolved there. I'm obviously not Jon Snow's dad. And you need that to be revealed at some point, don't you?
"So Bran would kind of be the one having the flashback, and he would see Ned praying, right? And revealing those things? You never know what those guys are going to do with that. It's got to be something special. But I'm into that. I certainly would be into that. Print that! Give them a nudge. [Laughs.] Hopefully I'll get a call soon."
R + L = J + M?!
If you thought all of that was crazy enough, get ready to really have your mind blown by this. More recently, an extension of the theory has appeared, suggesting that Jon has a secret — twin sister! OK, OK, I know it sounds far-fetched at first, but stick with me on this one. I hope you've been listening.
At the Tower Of Joy the day Ned supposedly inherited Jon from Lyanna, two men actually made it through the battle with the Kingsguard: Ned and — remember who else? None other than Howland Reed, the father of Bran's travel buddy Meera. The idea is that Ned and Howland divided the twins, à la The Parent Trap, with Meera raised as a Reed and Jon raised as a Snow. And get this: It might be pretty difficult to tell on the show, but in the books Jon and Meera are born in the exact same year. Coincidence?
So When Will We Find Out For Sure?
Next episode, by the looks of things! In Bran's first vision last episode, we were finally introduced to Lyanna Stark — and dammit is she ever cool. The preview for Episode 3, which is entitled "Oathbreaker," seems to suggest that the flashback we saw is setting us up nicely for a full reveal of Lyanna's fate at the Tower of Joy. Check it out below.
So now that you're fully informed...