Game of Thrones: The Similarities Between Robb & Lyanna Stark Are Heartbreaking
The following contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season seven.
The Game of Thrones season seven finale is a huge deal. Not because of Littlefinger's death, the ice dragon, or Jon and Daenerys finally doing the damn thing (though those are all extremely important developments in the show), but because it gives an official look at the much-debated relationship between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. And while fans were excited to finally get a tangible peek into Jon Snow's origins, Rhaegar and Lyanna's wedding scene is also bittersweet. Why? Because it solidifies that every bit of war and drama leading up to the current moment on the show was essentially founded on nothing.
To understand Rhaegar and Lyanna's choices, we need only recall Robb Stark and his bride, Talisa.
"Robert's Rebellion was built on a lie," Bran Stark tells Sam after witnessing the wedding through his greensight. "Rhaegar didn't kidnap my aunt or rape her. He loved her, and she loved him." Now that we know that Lyanna eloped with Rhaegar by choice, it means that Robert Baratheon rebelled against the Mad King based on a misunderstanding, dividing all of Westeros. It also means that Ned Stark's father and elder brother — who were killed for demanding that Rhaegar release Lyanna as his "captive" — died for nothing. Well, not for nothing . . . for love.
"The things we do for love" has been the catalyst for the entirety of GOT's seven-season plot, and not just because of Jaime Lannister's actions in the very first episode. Lyanna and Rhaegar sparked an avalanche of unfathomable events with their pursuit of true love before the series ever began, and we continue to see their choices affect Westeros even decades later. And they're not the only couple we've seen face unintended consequences through elopement on the show; to understand Rhaegar's and Lyanna's choices, we need only recall Robb Stark and his bride, Talisa.
Robb and Talisa Stark
Despite his betrothal to one of Walder Frey's daughters, Robb Stark falls in love with a highborn woman named Talisa and is so smitten that he shirks his political commitment . . . to marry her. The scandal of this choice has far-reaching and violent consequences, eventually culminating in the Red Wedding, when Robb, his wife, their unborn child, and his mother are slaughtered by the Freys.
Rhaegar and Lyanna Targaryen
Though she is engaged to wed Robert Baratheon, young Lyanna Stark falls head over heels for the eldest Targaryen prince, Rhaegar. Despite the fact that Rhaegar is married and a father of two, the pair runs away together in secret, leading the Starks and Baratheons to believe that Lyanna had been kidnapped by the Mad King's son.
While Rhaegar and Lyanna annul his marriage to Elia Martell and marry in Dorne, the entirety of Westeros dissolves into chaos: Lyanna's father and brother are killed by Rhaegar's father, Rhaegar's ex-wife and children are murdered, and his father's rule is eventually overthrown. Rhaegar is eventually honor-bound to fight in the war his actions caused, dying by Robert's hand at the Battle of the Trident.
By the time Lyanna gives birth to their child at the Tower of Joy, the damage to Westeros resulting from their union is so irreparable that Jon is raised as a bastard to protect him from his Targaryen name.
Similarities Between the Two Tragic Elopements
Both couples forsake the honorable choice in order to follow their hearts, sparking unanticipated consequences. They each wed in secret, outdoors under a tree, while officiated by a maester. Each couple conceives a baby shortly after the vows are exchanged, and each couple eventually dies as a result of their emotional decision-making and broken commitments.
Both marriages had tragic, fatal outcomes, proving that — at least in the scheme of Game of Thrones — emotional decisions can be foolish. Perhaps that is why Tyrion Lannister looks so disappointed as Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen begin their own romantic tryst; he knows that they're each prone to rash action based on their strong feelings, and when love is involved, it's bound to have consequences.
Here's to hoping that Jon and Dany take notes from their families' respective marriages to avoid the same sort of runaway consequences in season eight. We're not sure we could handle another heartbreak like the Red Wedding.