Game of Thrones used the second episode of Season 6 to introduce us to Lyanna Stark, the oft-mentioned, never seen, long-dead sister of Ned.
Seen in a flashback to happier times (Westeros wasn't always at war) through the eyes of Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven, our first meeting with the spirited, headstrong young Stark will quite possibly turn out to be as significant to the history and future of Game of Thrones as another, much more hyped event this week, involving a certain Red Priestess and a dead bastard child.
Those who haven't read the books, though, probably won't have much idea of why Lyanna Stark, so long dead, is of such importance to the series' mythos. With that in mind, let's take a look back at the beginnings — and end — of Lyanna Stark, and how Bran's vision this week shines a light on the eventual winner of the "great game."
The Life And Mysterious Death Of Lyanna Stark
The young Lyanna is described by Ned in the books as tomboyish and wolf-blooded, of a similar temperament to Ned's youngest daughter Arya. In Season 1, Ned tells Arya that Lyanna probably would've trained with a sword if their father had allowed it.
From a young age she was promised to Robert Baratheon, the man who would go on to be king. Fate, however, had other ideas. Rhaegar Targaryen — son and heir of Aerys "the Mad King" — met Lyanna at Harrenhal in the Year of the False Spring, setting in motion the events that would lead to Robert's Rebellion.
Although married to Elia Martell, Rhaegar had competed in a tourney that saw him defeat Lyanna's elder brother Brandon. Upon being crowned the winner, he broke with tradition by riding his horse straight past the Princess Elia to lay a blue rose on the lap of Lyanna. Being in possession of the rose gave Lyanna the title of Queen of Love and Beauty, which, obviously, caused quite the scandal.
A year later, Rhaegar supposedly took Lyanna hostage to Dorne, leading to Brandon Stark riding to King's Landing to demand his sister's immediate return. Brandon was charged with treason and beheaded by the Mad King. In response, Ned, Robert and Jon Arryn declared war on the Targaryens.
To further complicate matters, there's some uncertainty about whether Lyanna was actually Rhaegar's hostage, or whether they had in fact run away together. Either way, by the time Ned arrived at the Tower of Joy in Dorne, Lyanna was on the cusp of death. Before she went, Ned made her a mysterious, as-yet-undisclosed promise.
Robert Baratheon defeated King Aerys, taking the Iron Throne and driving the young Targaryen heirs, Viserys and Daenerys, into hiding. Ned returned to Winterfell with a baby, supposedly a bastard who he had fathered during his travels.
The most widely held Game of Thrones fan theory takes the view that the bastard, Jon Snow, was in fact the child of Lyanna, fathered by Rhaegar, either the product of rape or a secret affair, and that Ned took him as his own to protect Lyanna's honor.
In short, pretty much every detail of what happened between Lyanna's so-called abduction and her death is a mystery, but it led to both the demise of the Targaryens and a new era of Baratheon rule that would last 17 years, until the events of Season 1 and the breakout of a new war in Westeros.
So Why Revisit Lyanna's Death Now?
What's so exciting about the fact that Season 6 just introduced us to the young Lyanna is that it essentially confirms the R+L=J theory. In other words, when the Three-Eyed Raven takes us to the Tower of Joy in Episode 3, we're going to discover the truth about Jon Snow's parentage.
That's significant because Jon being the son of Rhaegar (arguably) makes him the true Targaryen heir, with a greater claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys. It also makes it a strong likelihood that he (alongside Tyrion and Daenerys) will have a dragon's-eye view when the three Targaryen dragons return to take Westeros, as prophesied in the books.
It's almost certainly not a coincidence that writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss chose to give Bran, and us, our first look at Lyanna in the same episode in which we saw Jon Snow resurrected by Melisandre.
In many ways, the next episode could be the most important in Thrones history. George R. R. Martin has given Benioff and Weiss his notes for the sixth book, so they know exactly where Jon Snow's story is headed. Our trip to the Tower of Joy could be the beginning of that story — and for everybody who doesn't belong to House Targaryen, it might well be the beginning of the end.
It goes without saying that you'll be tuning in to Game of Thrones this Sunday, May 8 on HBO. Expect the internet to break, and tell me: