The latest episode of Game of Thrones reveals a truth about Jon Snow that will inevitably change his life forever: he's not truly a bastard son — he is the legitimate child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Before he can become aware of his heritage, all of the pieces of Jon's story, from the names of his true parents to the fact that they were legally married before his birth, need to come together. Until that happens, Jon will continue to believe he is the bastard son of Ned Stark and act accordingly. The story of his supposed illegitimate birth has shaped how the King in the North sees himself and others. Jon is the man he is today because of the life he has had led. Learning that Rhaegar Targaryen is his father will likely mean more to others than it will to Jon — at least at first.
Before Jon learns of his Targaryen heritage, it's important to remember his past, because it is the totality of his history that will inform what happens to him next. There are many possible repercussions that could come from the revelation that the King of the North is the trueborn son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, and how Jon faces them will in large part be determined by the realities of being raised as Ned's bastard son.
Jon Will Always Be a Stark
One thing that tends to get lost in the conversation about Jon's parentage is that he is still a Stark, and even though Ned is biologically his uncle, Jon will always be his son. From his stubbornness to his unyielding sense of duty, none of Ned's children are more like him than his nephew. Before Jon leaves for the Wall, Ned tells him, "You might not have my name, but you have my blood." And that remains true. Jon's mother is Lyanna, and his childhood cannot be erased by words. Learning who his birth parents are will alter his future in unknown ways, but it won't change his loyalty to the Stark name or to the North.
Being a Bastard Will Remain Part of His Identity
High Septon Maynard's diary reveals Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled, and the show suggests he married Lyanna afterward. That means, legally, Jon is not a bastard, but the legality of his birth cannot change how he grew up. As one of the most noble men in all of Westeros, people were shocked when Ned returned from Robert's Rebellion with a son, and no one was more appalled by this "shame" than his wife, Catelyn.
Catelyn always treated Jon as an outsider. After Bran's fall, she barely holds her contempt for Jon at bay as he says farewell to his little brother. It's true that ultimately Jon's life is much better than the one most illegitimate children lead in Westeros, but knowing that no matter how much you love your family, you will always be on the outside looking in is bound to leave a person with emotional scars. As a result, Jon tries to reject the label at first before ultimately embracing it after a conversation with Tyrion in season one. Tyrion tells him, "Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you."
From that point on, Jon begins to own his illegitimacy, and it stops being a weapon that can be used against him. If anything, it makes him stronger and more accepting of others, like the Wildlings. Because he has been treated as an "other," he recognizes the humanity and potential in all people, especially those that society deems different.
Will Jon Ever Find Out the Truth About His Parentage?
Yes. Barring a truly shocking twist of fate, Jon will reunite with Bran and learn who his parents were, and with Sam, who will at some point realize the importance of what Gilly reads in the High Septon's diary. There's no reason to tell the audience and not tell Jon. His Targaryen heritage has to come into play at some point before Game of Thrones ends.
Jon's reaction to this news will be telling. Don't expect him to embrace the idea that Ned had lied to him for years. If anything, this revelation will leave Jon angry, confused, and deeply saddened. He is going to have to find a way to live with knowing that he almost led a different life entirely and accept the weight of what being Rhaegar and Lyanna's trueborn son means. Jon technically has the strongest claim to the Iron Throne, but his focus isn't on being the king — it's on stopping the White Walkers.
How Will Jon React to Discovering He's the Rightful Heir to the Iron Throne?
His family and friends are sure to be far more focused on this news than Jon will be. At this stage in the game, Jon cannot split his focus. He has to stop the White Walkers, and that may mean making the ultimate sacrifice. If he survives the battle, then he may ultimately believe he can be the kind of ruler that Westeros needs. It seems more likely that the revelation about his heritage will be tied to the show's most pressing prophecy though, and have little to do with the Iron Throne.
The Prince That Was Promised
There's always a prophecy in Game of Thrones, isn't there? And it's the prophecy of the prince that was promised that Jon Snow is almost certain to fulfill. While there is much debate about whether Azor Ahai reborn and the prince that was promised are the same person, the two actually have different qualifiers (although that doesn't mean they're two separate people — prophecies are tricky that way).
It is sad that the prince that was promised's coming will be heralded by a bleeding star, and they will have a song, the Song of Ice and Fire. The Tower of Joy birth scene sees Jon born under a bleeding star (Ser Arthur Dayne's sword has a star on the hilt, and it is literally covered in blood), and he is the son of ice (Lyanna) and fire (Rhaegar). More importantly, he is the only person in Westeros who is actively preparing for the war with the Night's King, and the ultimate role of the prince is to stave off the darkness during the long Winter. In the books, Rhaegar also happens to be convinced his son, Aegon, is the one who will fulfill the prophecy. It now appears that his second son is the one who is destined to be Westeros's greatest hero.
As heartbreaking as it is to contemplate, Jon's gift to the world may be his death, and his entire life — the circumstances of his birth, the prophecy, being raised by Ned, his journey as a bastard — has been preparing him to sacrifice everything to save the people of Westeros. You might want to stock up on tissues now, just in case this turns out to be true.