For anyone who’s ever read one of George R. R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones series of books or has seen the hit HBO show, the relationship between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark has made up the vast majority of speculation. For years, people have speculated on the relationship, which was presented initially as one of violence but has since been revealed to have been one of true, amorous feelings.
There have been hints, asides, and finally, some true reveals about the nature of this relationship, which we never got to see directly either in print or on the screen. What we do know, we have compiled into this article, so anyone who has an interest in what happened between the Dragon and the Wolf can find out here, in one place. Some of the information covered here will deal with the reveals we just mentioned, but a lot of what we’ll discuss will consist of some of the more probable fan theories, many of which have turned out to be true. For years, fans of the books kicked around R+L=J with many not knowing what it meant, but now that that theory has been confirmed, it’s only one of many we’ll go over here.
It should go without saying, but if you aren’t 100% up to date on the books and the television series, some MAJOR SPOILERS await you in this article. You’ve been warned. Now that the Spoiler warnings are out of the way, prepare to learn everything you possibly can about the most speculated relationship in the world of fantasy.
Here are 15 Things You Need To Know About Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
15. Lyanna once saved Howland Reed from a group of Squires
Lyanna Stark was the sole daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, the head of House Stark and Lord Paramount of the North. This placed Lyanna as the only daughter to one of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms and an important person in the events that would follow her meeting Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. During a tournament at Harrenhal, Lyanna saved Howland Reed from a group of Squires. Three Squires who were much larger than Reed began cursing him as “Frog eater” and began to beat him until Lyanna came to his defense. Following her rescue of Reed, she took him to a tent to meet her brothers.
In the tent, Reed met Eddard, Brandon, and Benjen Stark, who would all become incredibly important to Reed. Two years later, Reed would save Eddard’s life at the Tower of Joy, making him an integral part of Robert’s Rebellion and the events that led to the downfall of the Targaryen’s from ruling Westeros.
14. The couple caused an uproar at an important jousting tournament
At the infamous Tourney at Harrenhal in 281 AC, Rhaegar stood as the champion of the jousting competition, a position he found himself in more often than not. As is the custom in Westeros, the champion of the tourney would name a lucky lady the Queen of Love and Beauty to honor the woman of his choosing. While all eyes went to Rhaegar’s wife, Elia, he instead proclaimed the Stark girl, which caused an uproar the likes of which hadn’t been seen throughout Westeros’ royal family in centuries. Rhaegar placed a crown of winter roses atop Lyanna’s head, causing outrage at the tourney. When Ned Stark looked back on this event, he called it the day “all the smiles died” because what followed were two years of strife known as Robert’s Rebellion.
There isn’t a lot of information pertaining to the relationship between Rhaegar and Lyanna before this event occurred. Had he looked towards the crowd and seen the lovely young woman and thought only she could be called the Queen of Love and Beauty? Perhaps they had been intimate previously, but even if they had not, the outcry at Rhaegar’s proclamation stunned the crowd, and without a doubt, his wife.
13. Lyanna was the Knight of the Laughing Tree
The Knight of the Laughing Tree was a mystery knight who took part in the Tourney at Harrenhal to defeat three knights whose squires had bullied Howland Reed. Upon the knight’s shield sits a smiling heart tree, which is where his name comes from. Nobody knows the truth of who this person was, but many believe it was Lyanna. The knight was described as “short of stature” and wearing mismatched armor. Gaining so much attention brought the wrath of the Mad King down upon the knight who believed him his enemy.
He charged Rhaegar with unmasking the knight, but the Prince returned, saying all he could find was the knight’s shield. It’s believed that Rhaegar found the knight to be none other than Lyanna Stark, and it may have been his discovery of her that led to the two falling in love. This is yet to be confirmed and has only been hinted at thus far, but all indications suggest the knight was a Stark from the north due to the use of a Weirwood emblazoned upon the shield.
12. Rhaegar Targaryen was incredibly popular throughout the Seven Kingdoms
Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was the eldest son of King Aerys II Targaryen, known as the Prince of Dragonstone. He was the older brother of Daenerys and Viserys, who became known as the Beggar King (and Queen). While Tywin Lannister was Aerys’ Hand, he offered the hand of Cersei, his only daughter, to the King’s eldest son but was refused. The King insisted that the match was beneath his son, and the insult to Tywin drove deep.
Despite this dishonor to the Lannisters, the general opinion of Rhaegar was that he was an intelligent man who loved to read and was a compassionate person. He took up the sword later in life (more on that later), but “Rhaegar never liked killing,” according to Barristan Selmy, who further stated that “he loved singing.” Rhaegar was considered very charismatic and handsome, which may have ultimately led to his downfall, given what we’re about to reveal.
11. Lyanna Stark was known as the She-Wolf
When it comes to women in the Stark family, there appear to be two distinct types. At present, we have Arya and Sansa, two women who couldn’t be more dissimilar. Sansa is a lady who went through hell but came out with her dignity and rules the North, while John is out of town. Arya went off to train with the Faceless Men and became a talented assassin. She’s brutal and cunning, and she apparently gets these traits from her deceased Aunt Lyanna.
Lyanna was described as a She-Wolf because she was courageous, stubborn, and a fierce woman who would defend her own honor should the need arise. Much of what we know about Lyanna Stark is only referenced by other characters who remember her fondly. Littlefinger tells the tale of how she was kidnapped and taken South to Dorne by Rhaegar, but the story doesn’t make a lot of sense when it’s later revealed what type of woman Lyanna was. She wasn’t the type to be taken in such a manner, which cast doubt into Littlefinger’s recounting of the events that led to Robert’s Rebellion.
10. Robert Baratheon’s love for Lyanna poisoned his marriage to Cersei
After the events of Robert’s Rebellion, he became the King on the Iron Throne and was married to Cersei Lannister. This was, in part, due to the Lannisters’ assistance during the rebellion and Jamie’s assassination of the King. It was later revealed during a conversation between Robert and his wife that he never loved her, though she did, at one time, carry feelings for him. He was so distraught at losing Lyanna, he could never fill the hole left by her death. He continuously relived the moment he killed Rhaegar for “what he did to her,” though he never truly knew what happened between the two.
Sadly, Robert couldn’t even recall what Lyanna’s face looked like, but his remembrance of her is what eventually drove him and Cersei apart. The lack of love between the two ultimately led Cersei into an incestuous relationship with her brother, the birth of her three bastard children, and the death of Robert through her machinations.
9. Both were married or betrothed when they got together
As we just mentioned, Rhaegar was married at the time of the Tourney of Harrenhal when he proclaimed Lyanna the Queen of Love and Beauty instead of his wife. Elia, of the house Martell. She was the sister of Rodan Martell, Prince of Dorne and Oberyn, the Red Viper. She was the link between King’s Landing and the Dorne who would become a pivotal player in the events leading up to the war of the Five Kings and other conflicts that came later.
Lyanna wasn’t yet wed, but she was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, who would become the King of the Seven Kingdoms following the assassination of Aerys II, the Mad King. It was her relationship with Baratheon that ultimately led to the events that began the rebellion and the end of Targaryen rule of Westeros.
Elia was true to her husband, and she bore him two children, Rhaenys and Aegon, both of whom were killed following the rebellion by The Mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane. Clegane then raped Elia to death. As for Robert and Lyanna, it’s clear Robert loved her dearly, but her affection towards the Stag may have been a bit more one-sided than he ever knew.
8. Rhaegar’s death ultimately led to Robert’s rise as King
When Robert began his rebellion against the Mad King, it was as much against Rhaegar as anyone. His anger over the kidnapping of his beloved drove him to meet Rhaegar on the battlefield at Ruby Ford, so named because Rhaegar’s ruby-adorned armor shattered underneath the armor. Robert defeated Rhaegar with a blow from his mighty hammer, which killed him instantly. The Battle of the Trident led Tywin to move his army to King’s Landing in advance of the rebel forces. He did so under the guise that he was there to help the King, but when he learned of Rhaegar’s fate, he determined the Targaryen cause was lost.
Rhaegar’s death pushed Tywin to betray the King and to give support to the rebels as he knew they would soon rise as the leading factors in Westeros. It’s possible that had Rhaegar survived, Tywin may have turned his forces against the rebel army and supported the King, but we will never know for sure. It turned out that killing Rhaegar was the step Robert needed to become King despite Aerys II sitting upon the Iron Throne.
7. Lyanna was never kidnapped
It has long been believed that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna shortly after they met with the aid of two of his most trusted aids, Arthur Dayne and Sers Oswell Whent. Following her kidnapping, her eldest brother, one Brandon Stark, left for King’s Landing to demand a confrontation with Rhaegar. Brandon and his allies were imprisoned by the Mad King, Rhaegar’s father, for the crime of treason. The King demanded their fathers come to King’s Landing where all save one were executed. Lord Rickard Stark was burned alive and Brandon choked to death trying to save his father. The Mad King then demanded the heads of Robert Baratheon (Lyanna’s betrothed) and Eddard Stark, but Lord Arryn, Hand to the King, refused, and Robert began his rebellion.
All of this started because of the kidnapping of Lyanna, but it has since been revealed in the fourth episode of the seventh season of the show that she was never kidnapped but instead went willingly with her beloved. It’s conceivable to assume Robert’s rebellion and the dethroning of the Targaryens might not have happened had the supposed kidnapping not occurred, but we will never know for sure.
6. Rhaegar believed his heir would fulfill an important prophecy
There’s a very important prophecy throughout the books and television series that has driven much of the speculation surrounding the Game of Thrones. The prophecy is colloquially known as “The Prince (or Princess) That Was Promised” and comes from the followers of the Lord of Light more than five thousand years in the past. The prophecy states that a Prince (or Princess) was promised: “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, (he/she) shall be born again amidst smoke and salt.”
After reading about the prophecy in a scroll, Rhaegar changed his ways and decided to become a knight, saying, “I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.” Later, Rhaegar believed strongly that his infant son, Aemon, was the Prince that was promised. A comet was seen in the sky over King’s Landing when his son was born (the prophesied Red Star). There are other aspects to the prophecy calling for a return of dragons, which was fulfilled by Daenerys and that “the dragon must have three heads,” which explains the return of three dragons and the sigil the Breaker of Chains she wears on her chest.
5. Rhaegar would still be alive had he not sent his men to protect Lyanna
Of all the people involved in the wars that followed Lyanna’s supposed kidnapping, the greatest fighter of them all, Arthur Dayne, was known as the Sword of the Morning and could likely have helped Rhaegar survive the Battle of Trident. At that battle, Robert defeated Rhaegar with his hammer, but, at the same time, Dayne was protecting Lyanna at the Tower of Joy where Ned had gone to retrieve his sister. Dayne was such an eloquent fighter, the chance of Robert being able to kill this Lord in battle would have been small. And, as it turned out, because Ned was the one who attacked the Tower of Joy, his sister was in no danger from anyone.
Because Dayne was defeated (dishonorably, as it turns out), it’s possible he couldn’t have kept Rhaegar alive. If the Prince had survived, he would have succeeded his father to the throne, and Robert’s Rebellion may have died with him, leaving the Targaryens on the Iron Throne. Alas, we will never know what could’ve happened, only what did occur, and Rhaegar’s decision to send his best swordsmen to protect Lyanna may have proven to be the decision that killed him.
4. R+L does, in fact, = J
For years, fans talked about the equation mentioned above, which translates into Rhaegar and Lyanna being John Snow’s real parents. When he was first introduced, John was the bastard son of Eddard (Ned) Stark and some woman he refused to talk about, but this never made much sense. If Ned was anything, he was a truly honorable man who would never cheat on his wife. So, where did John come from? This was finally confirmed to be true in the final episode of Game of Thrones‘s sixth season when Bran views the past events proving Jon to be the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
As she lay dying, she spoke to Ned saying, “His name is […] If Robert finds out, he’ll kill him. You know he will. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned. Promise me.” Ned promised his sister to protect her son as she lay dying from childbirth, which is why he took the boy as his own. Had the world learned that Jon was of Targaryen blood, Robert would likely have ordered his execution as he did with all heirs of the Targaryen bloodline when he became King.
3. Jon isn’t a bastard
This is likely the biggest revelation about the relationship between Rhaegar and Lyanna to date. In the fourth episode of the seventh season of the show, Gilly is seen reading from a book while Sam is barely listening to her. She asks Sam, “What does annulment mean?” After learning the explanation from Sam, she continues to read that High Septon Maynard described an annulment he performed for a “Prince Raggar,” who married a second wife during a secret ceremony in Dorne.
What does this all mean? Jon Snow isn’t just the child of Lyanna and Rhaegar; he’s also the LEGITIMATE son of the two. He isn’t a bastard at all, and because his father was the successor to the Iron Throne and he remains alive, Jon (Targaryen) Snow is the true and rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and even has a claim higher than his Aunt Daenerys (Yes, she is his Aunt). This revelation changed absolutely everything, and it was dropped without warning. Jon’s legitimacy throws the premise of the series into question and establishes him as the true Prince Who Was Promised, born of Fire and Ice.
2. Lyanna’s death may have been prophesied
Because Jon Targaryen, as we are now calling him, was born to a mother who died in childbirth, it’s believed that her death and his birth were parts of the same prophecy. The prophecy calls for a Prince or Princess that was promised to be born of fire and ice. It’s believed that the childbirth must result in the death of the mother. This theory has also tied Jon to Daenerys and even to Tyrion’s birth, as both their mothers also died in childbirth. While that’s speculation, it’s based upon various statements made throughout the series and the books.
If Lyanna’s death was part of the prophecy that resulted in the birth of John, it would only help to support the conclusion that Jon is the Prince Who Was Promised. As the prophecy and the nature of Jon’s place in it unfold during season seven and eight, it may be revealed that this was the case all along, but only time will tell.
1. Jon’s true parentage is only known by four people
At present, there are only four people who know the truth of Jon’s true parentage, and the only one we know anything about is his cousin (former half-brother), Brandon Stark. The only people who previously knew were the King’s Guard, Ned Stark, Howland Reed, and two handmaidens who were present at the birth. Reed is still alive somewhere, and there’s nothing known of the two women, but everyone else is dead. Bran learned of the truth the same way we all did, through a trip into the past in his role as the new Three-Eyed Raven.
Bran was able to travel into the past (in a manner of speaking) to witness the fight at the base of the Tower of Joy and the subsequent birth of Jon. This revelation occurred at the conclusion of the sixth season of the television series, and without knowing what happened to the other people still alive, Bran remains the only person who truly knows of Jon’s parentage. As of yet, he hasn’t had an opportunity to tell him, so Jon remains ignorant of his true origin.
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