(WARNING: The following contains major SPOILERS for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, Season Six, as well as potential spoilers for both future novels and the rest of the HBO series. Proceed with whatever level of caution that suggests to you is wise, especially if you would rather know nothing, Jon Snow.)
With the third episode of Season Six — "Oathbreaker" — having finally brought us a glimpse of one of the most iconic moments in Game of Thrones' backstory, it's not all surprising that fans of the show (and especially the novels) are currently freaking out a little bit. If you've not read the books, however, and are preternaturally talented at avoiding plot spoilers and fan theories on the internet, then you may well be asking...
Why Is Everyone Making Such A Big Deal About The Tower Of Joy?
After all — and this is where those aforementioned SPOILERS begin in earnest — we've so far seen very little of the tower beyond an impressive fight scene outside of it, making the current internet-wide freakout a little unusual, right?
Well, not really. Y'see, to fans of the novels, the Tower of Joy is arguably the most important moment in Game of Thrones' extensive lore, what with it hiding both a near-universally accepted fan theory and the key to explaining several characters' narrative arcs.
And, as a result, here's...
Everything You Need To Know About The Tower Of Joy
Just What Is The Tower Of Joy?
Well, put simply, it was a tower that lay on the northern edges of the Red Mountains in Dorne. It received its name from Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, a.k.a. the eldest son and heir of the Mad King Aerys II (making him Daenerys's much older brother), before he died during Robert's Rebellion.
Why Does It Matter, Though?
For that to make any sense, you need to know a little Westerosi history (and scandal). Remember how Ned Stark's little sister Lyanna (above) was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, only for her to be stolen away by none other than Rhaegar Targaryen — thus beginning the rebellion that put Robert on the Iron Throne in the first place?
Well, that all began when Rhaegar snubbed his Dornish wife Elia Martell (whose death the people of Dorne are still very much not over in both the books and the show) during a tournament at Harrenhal, naming Lyanna the Queen of Love and Beauty instead of his wife — as was considered proper etiquette. In placing a crown of blue roses in Lyanna's lap, Rhaegar not only caused a major scandal, but when he abandoned his wife and stole Lyanna away a year later, set in motion both Robert's Rebellion and the fall of the Targaryens.
That Isn't The Full Story, Though
That's the story as told by the victors. Rumor — and fan theory — has it that Lyanna was in fact just as much in love with Rhaegar as he was with her, and that their running away together was more a classic love story than proof of Rhaegar (and the Targaryens as a whole) being unfit to be king, as Robert would later frame it.
What's more, it was a love story with a tragic ending. What we know for sure from the books is fairly similar to what we've seen on screen. We know that Ned Stark and a small group of close allies rode to the Tower of Joy after Rhaegar's defeat in battle, seeking to rescue Lyanna. There they found three (two in the show) members of the Kingsguard left by Rhaegar to protect her, and fought them to the death, with only Ned and Howland Reed surviving. At which point, Ned ran into the Tower, only to find Lyanna dying in a room that smelled of "blood and roses." There, she made him promise her something, which George R.R. Martin is yet to reveal in the books. Torn apart by his grief, Ned supposedly fathered an illegitimate son with a young servant girl named Wylla — the boy who would become Jon Snow.
Which Is Where That Fan Theory Comes In
Specifically, the one known as R+L=J, in which it is theorized that Lyanna was in fact dying during childbirth, and that her son with Rhaegar was none other than Jon Snow. Knowing that the boy would never be safe (Robert was never shy about hunting down Targaryen heirs), the promise she extracted from Ned would thus presumably have been to raise the boy as his own bastard — sacrificing his own honor to protect hers, and to safeguard the life of his nephew and the rightful heir to the throne of Westeros.
Now, it's never been officially confirmed, but there have been multiple hints to the twist in both the novels and the show. A particularly notable example from the book being the time Daenerys watched as "a blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness" in the House of the Undying. With Lyanna being heavily associated with blue flowers (both when Rhaegar named her the Queen of Love and Beauty, and during her death) and Jon being primarily associated with the icy Wall, its tough not to see the prophecy as hinting at his provenance — and helping to confirm the widespread suspicion that Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon.
All of which, it seems, is about to finally be revealed in Game of Thrones — just as soon as Bran gets the chance to hang around long enough to see it, or someone in the know tells Jon Snow.
If That Theory Is True, Though, Then What Does That Mean For The Show?
Well, for one thing, it likely means that Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne. After all, while Daenerys is a more direct relation of the Mad King, Jon benefits from the inherent chauvinism of Westerosi succession law, which would — assuming Rhaegar took the trouble to tell someone that he was recognizing the boy as his son — make Jon the Targaryen heir. Of course, since Rhaegar likely didn't do that, things get a little more complicated, and in fact make Jon a double bastard, being both an illegitimate Stark and an illegitimate Targaryen.
That, though, might well not stop the North — and perhaps other parts of Westeros — from rising up alongside him and supporting his (pretty darned strong) claim to the Iron Throne, should he choose to press it. If R+L=J is indeed true, then, it could well be that we haven't seen the last of Westerosi warring just yet.
But What About Daenerys?
After all, it doesn't exactly seem as though she's the sort of person who'd just step aside and let a surly Northerner take the throne she's fought so hard for. Could we be destined to see the two last Targaryens fight it out on the fields of Westeros for control of the Iron Throne?
Or could we perhaps see a very different outcome? After all, the Targaryens were known for marrying their close relatives.
The big question now, though?
What do you think?
Is Jon Snow really the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar?