Game of Thrones: Why is Rhaegar Targaryen so Important?

Barristan Selmy and Littlefinger, two of the most different characters in the entire series, both spoke of a deceased Targaryen prince on this week’s episode of Game of Thrones.

What sort of a person could impact these two to speak of him many years after his death? It is noteworthy that Littlefinger actually referred to Selmy during his recollection of the events at the Tourney of Harrenhal. Is this a mere coincidence or a hint at the importance of what was being said?

This article explores a popular fan theory and contains major spoilers.

Who was Rhaegar? 

Rhaegar Harp

Rhaegar Targaryen was the firstborn son of King Aerys II, commonly known as the Mad King. He was Daenerys’s brother, though she never met him. He is remembered for talent at arms as well as music. Though many say he only cared for the latter, and held no joy in martial pursuits. This view was reinforced when Ser Barristan Selmy recalled, “Rhaegar never liked killing. He liked singing.”

He was everything his father wasn’t; kind, level headed, and well liked, Rhaegar was a promising sight. Which many looked to for hope while enduring the terrible reign of the Mad King. Some say that by 281 AC, he had plans to overthrow his Father, whose madness had grown worse and was becoming an issue of some magnitude. Many who believe this also believe that the Tourney of Harrenhal was a cover for the lords of the Seven Kingdoms to meet and plan to remove the Mad King from power.

But if this is true, none of Rhaegar’s plans to topple King Aerys II came to fruition. As Littlefinger recounted this week, Rhaegar won the tourney in a legendary display of jousting. But when it came time for the champion to crown the queen of love and beauty, he rode past his wife, Princess Elia Martell, stopped before Lyanna Stark, and presented her with the garland of blue roses.

This was to prove a fatal mistake. Lyanna was betrothed to Lord Robert Baratheon (who was already madly in love with her) and the Targaryen Prince was already married himself. But the mood of the Noble Houses turned from outrage to open rebellion when he kidnapped Lyanna and rode off with her. And any hope of making amends was crushed when King Aerys had Lord Stark and his oldest son horrifically executed when they demanded the return of Lyanna.

If Rhaegar had indeed assembled a group of plotters against the crown, they may have seen an opportunity in rallying behind the impetuous, larger than life, Robert Baratheon instead of Rhaegar. Even the greatest Targaryen Kings had been known to father mad children, and the realm continually suffered from their depravity. Under Robert, the madness of the Dragon Kings could at least be avoided.

Robert’s Rebellion was to end only after more death and tragedy. Rhaegar was killed fighting Robert in the Battle of the Trident, and Lyanna died in “a bed of blood” at the Tower of Joy. Many have asked however, if their time together resulted in the birth of a child.

Could Lyanna Stark be Jon Snow’s Mother? 

Jon Snow 2

When Sansa used the words “kidnapped” and “raped” when she described the interactions between Lyanna and Rheagar, Littlefinger’s reaction was not sorrow or awkwardness, instead he gave a knowing half smile and changed the subject. Could there be more to the story than we’ve been led to believe? Both the books and the show suggest that there is. Lyanna and Rhaegar may have had a consensual, loving relationship. The Prince had never been known to be forceful with others and the tales against him are sharp contradictions of his gentle nature.

This paints a much different picture of the rebellion. One of tragic lovers rather than an evil prince preying upon a helpless girl. And it does raise questions about the nature of their time together at the Tower of Joy. Some fans have doubted that the always honorable Eddard Stark would actually have fathered a bastard. And that this inconvenient and embarrassing story is a cover up for a much more threatening piece of information.

Before she died in a “bed of blood” (which sounds suspiciously like a place she could have given birth), Lyanna asked Ned make a promise to her. But the nature of the promise is not specified. Could it have been to promise to keep her son’s identity a secret? He would be in grave danger if his royal blood were common knowledge, and she may have had no desire for him to sit the Iron Throne. His claim would have been strong, and he may not have even been a bastard, as there is speculation that Rhaegar and Lyanna were married in secret before he was born. But if this were brought to light, war would break out and the realm would suffer yet again.

Howland Reed happens to be the only person alive who knows what happened at the Tower of Joy and just what Ned Stark promised his sister before she died. He has yet to appear in the series, but his arrival is eagerly anticipated.

The books also have Daenerys experiencing a vision of a “winter rose growing from wall of ice” which is evocative of both Lyanna and the Night’s Watch. Consequently, we find ourselves scratching our heads and pondering the origins of Jon Snow.

Ned Stark

Lyanna may have been right to keep her son’s true name a secret. King Robert’s hatred of all Targaryens knew no bounds, in the first Season of the series, he remembered Rhaegar and said “In my dreams, I kill him every night”, he also ordered to have Daenerys assassinated. Disgusted, Ned Stark stepped down as Hand and planned to return to the North.

But was the pain at the thought of a child’s life being taken all it was? Or was he wounded in a deeper, more personal way? If Jon Snow is indeed half Targaryen, and King Robert was ordering Dany’s death simply because of her name, Ned may have pictured the boy he raised meeting a similar fate and refused to take part.

What does he have to do with current events? 

Jon Snow Iron Throne

If there is truth to the theory of Jon Snow’s parenthood, he may be a legitimate contender for the Iron Throne. Though he is still a member of the Night’s Watch, the arrival of the Others may promise to change the organization and how its members are expected to fulfill their duties.

When Daenerys arrives in Westeros, it is hard to predict whether she would see her brother’s son as an ally or a competitor. It is not hard to picture them clashing, but one can also picture them marrying and reestablishing the Targaryen dynasty. The prophecy that Daenerys experiences in the House of the Undying, where she learns from a vision of her brother that “the Dragon has Three Heads”, has yet to be realized. Could Jon Snow be one of them? Time will tell what is in store for the latest Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and whether Rhaegar’s legacy lives on.

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