How Game of Thrones Confirmed Jon Snow's Real Parents
Jon Snow meeting Daenerys Targareyn has been one of the biggest events of Game of Thrones season seven. One thing that we learned last season is who Jon Snow's parents really are (Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned's sister Lyanna Stark), a fact which is reinforced this season when we learn that Rhaegar and Lyanna were actually married. We're dying for Jon to get back to Winterfell and talk to Bran, but in the meantime, let's go back over how the show dropped the breadcrumbs of Jon's parentage for several seasons now.
Though Jon is known as "Ned Stark's bastard," the theory (which has now been proven true) was that he's only Ned Stark's nephew, and that his real mother is Lyanna Stark, Ned's sister, and his father is Rhaegar Targaryen, the son of the Mad King Aerys. We had never met either of these characters on the show, as they died years before the show's events commence — until season six, when Bran revisits Ned's youth and we saw a young Lyanna. They have also been referred to on the show at key times, including in seasons one, five, six, and now in season seven.
Rhaegar Targaryen, if you need a refresher, is the oldest brother of Daenerys, and he is killed during Robert Baratheon's rebellion. What we know of Lyanna is that she had been kidnapped by Rhaegar when she was engaged to Robert, and when Ned finds her at the Tower of Joy (shown in a season six flashback), she's dying in bed, but it's never said how she dies — until we see her at the Tower of Joy on the season six finale.
Sansa and Littlefinger's Conversation in the Winterfell Crypt
In season five episode "Sons of the Harpy," Littlefinger and Sansa have a conversation in the crypt below Winterfell about Sansa's deceased aunt Lyanna. Littlefinger recounts the event that predates Game of Thrones (by, oh, about how old Jon Snow is): the tourney at Harrenhal. Prince Rhaegar gave roses to Lyanna, not his own wife, Elia, insulting plenty of people, including Lyanna's betrothed, Robert Baratheon. "How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?" asks Littlefinger, and Sansa replies, "Yes, he chose her, and then he kidnapped her and raped her." This is what everyone in Westeros has believed for years, yet they don't discuss whether a child came from that union, rape or not (or whether she may have died in childbirth). It's an echo of the conversation Ned and Robert Baratheon have in the series premiere, and bringing the focus back to these two characters was a big hint that they're actually Jon's parents.
Ser Barristan's Sweet Anecdote About Rhaegar
But what if Rhaegar hadn't raped Lyanna and they had been in love? The seed of that possibility comes up when, in the same episode, Ser Barristan recounts a sweet story to Daenerys about her brother going out into the city to sing to the people. "Rhaegar never liked killing; he loved singing," Barristan says, essentially making the claim that Rhaegar was actually a good and gallant man. This is Daenerys and Barristan's last conversation, so his anecdote means something. I think it's supposed to establish Rhaegar as an honorable person, not a villain, as only the father of someone like Jon could be.
Of course, in season seven, it's confirmed that Rhaegar was good — or at least, he's not an adulterer. He and Lyanna were in love and their marriage was legitimate.
Stannis's Reminder That Ned Wasn't Dishonorable
Ned Stark dies for his honor in season one, and it's always been a mystery how such a good man, who seems so devoted to his wife and family, could cheat — and in his first year of marriage no less. We're reminded of that fact during season five when Stannis and his wife, Selyse, are discussing Jon, and she refers to him as the son of "some tavern slut." Stannis retorts, "Perhaps. That wasn't Ned Stark's way." No. It was not.
This Heavy-Handed Maester Aemon Scene
Before Maester Aemon's heartbreaking death, the old man talks about his heir, Daenerys (Aemon reveals he's a Targaryen in season one), in the episode "Kill the Boy." He remarks, "A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing," . . . and then the camera goes to Jon Snow. Hmmm.
This Throwaway Line
After the epic battle at Hardhome in season five, Jon Snow brings a huge population of wildlings back to the Wall, and Alliser Thorne observes, "You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It'll get us all killed." What seems like a throwaway line may have more impact, though: Lyanna Stark was said to be a wonderful person, and Rhaegar (see the anecdote about Ser Barristan's account of him) may have also been. Their actions together incited Robert Baratheon's rebellion, displacing the line of Targaryen kings for the first time in years, i.e., getting them all killed. (To be fair, Jon Snow's good heart did get himself, and also Thorne and his mutinous associates, killed).
It's an understatement to say that Bran's visions have been important. His role in Hodor's life and death has proven that, so we can't forget Bran's first trips to the past early on in season six. He visits Winterfell and sees his father Ned as a child, and special focus is placed on Lyanna. Then, he goes to another time, years later, after Rhaegar has been killed, to the battle at the Tower of Joy, which is where Lyanna dies in childbirth. We finally get to see what happens with her on the season six finale. Then, when Sam comes to Winterfell and spills what he knows, Bran goes and sees the wedding of Rhaegar and Lyanna.
The question now is: when will Bran finally tell Jon what he knows?!
And Let's Not Forget the Name of This Series
The book series that Game of Thrones is based on is not called the Game of Thrones series — that's simply the name of book one. The actual series is called A Song of Ice and Fire, a title that becomes unsubtle about this being the story of Jon Snow and Daenerys being the rightful rulers of the Seven Kingdoms. Still don't see it? Ice = Jon Snow, and fire = Daenerys. Yes, the final Targaryen heirs could marry. It would be weird for Daenerys to wed her nephew, but the Targaryens used to marry brother to sister, so this is . . . actually not so weird.