While some years a go there was a claim that Martin had said (in a mail to an individual who reported on the GeorgeRRMartin mailing list) that Aegon was dead, the exact wording of this statement was never produced and the reporter could not vouch that he had correctly interpreted GRRM’s statement to him. Since then, GRRM has been cagier about the issue. For example, when asked about the fates of both of Rhaegar’s children, he only provided a definitive answer concerning Rhaenys’s fate (SSC). When probed further about Aegon, his answer was rather coy (SSC).
The popular theory as to why Aegon is not dead is that he was spirited out of the Red Keep at some point, and replaced with another baby who looked somewhat similar (not the easiest thing to do, since Aegon was coming out more Valyrian, but presumably any child with fair hair and blue eyes would probably pass inspection by the likes of Ser Gregor Clegane). It’s usually thought that if this was the case that Varys would be responsible for it. Candidates for who Aegon may now be are many, and include Samwell (too old, in fact), Edric Dayne (too young), an as-yet-unnamed child residing with Howland Reed in the Neck (speculation based on metaphorical analysis of the text), or someone else entirely. One reason why some feel that Aegon must have survived include Rhaegar’s definitive statement that Aegon was the prince who was promised and that the dragon has three heads (II: 512). Martin has noted, however, that one does not necessarily have to be a Targaryen to be one of the three heads (SSR).
A Dance with Dragons provides us Young Griff, who is apparently revealed as Aegon Targaryen, the trueborn son of Prince Rhaegar and the rightful Targaryen heir to the throne. Much as speculated in the past, the tale goes that Varys spirited him out of the Red Keep, substituting another child in his place. Raised in secret of Essos, he was placed in the care of “Griff”—the exiled Jon Connington, who at Varys’s suggestion let it be put about that he died in disgrace—who, with other Westerosi, raised him in preparation of his claiming the crown one day. Tyrion Lannister appears to accept this story, and puts it into Aegon’s head that he should invade Westeros rather than seeking Daenerys. Aegon’s landing on the shores of the stormlands causes confusion in King’s Landing, as with the help of the Golden Company he successfully seizes several castles.
However, our own view is that Aegon is not, in fact, Aegon Targaryen. Despite the many details that appear to match up—including his apparent age and Valyrian features—the fact is that there is no proof from Connington that Aegon is who he says he is. He only has Varys’s word for it. Valyrian features still remain visible in the Free Cities, particularly in the Free Cities of Lys and Volantis, which are repeatedly noted (especially in A Dance with Dragons) as still having the silver-gold hair and violet eyes among a significant portion of the population. It would not have been hard for Varys and his partner-in-crime Illyrio to have a child to take over for the deceased Aegon, to construct this false narrative, and to pass the boy off as Rhaegar’s to a man who bother worshipped Rhaegar and dearly wanted to believe that there was a way back to Westeros to reclaim his lost glory and honor.
One of the most intriguing theories connects to Illyrio’s conversation with Tyrion as they travelled from Pentos to meet Griff and his company. There, Illyrio revealed three important pieces of information: that there was more than just a bond of friendship leading him to work with Varys (V: 74), and that he adored his now-deceased concubine Serra of Lys whose features included silver-gold hair (V: 79). This has led us to speculate that “Aegon” is in fact Illyrio’s own son by Serra, passed off as Aegon with Varys’s connivance. This would neatly explain his affection for the boy (whom he seems to have raised in his own household right up to the time that the opportunity to ensnare Connington in their plot presented itself [V: 22]), what gain he seems to think to gain from this risky venture (having his own son on the throne must be quite a pleasing thought to his ego), and the possible reasons for why “Aegon”‘s Valyrian appearance comes from his Lyseni mother, where men and women alike are known to still have Valyrian features. A further complication of the theory even suggests that Serra is related to Varys (who also originally hailed from Lys) and that they are both descendants of either the Blackfyres or Aerion Brightflame, the Targaryen prince who was exiled to Lys for a number of years and whom Martin claims may well have left a few by-blows behind when he returned to Westeros to drink his cup of wildfire (SSC).
Perhaps the chief reasons to believe that Aegon is not truly Aegon is the fact that there have been two separate visions suggesting that there are “false dragons” present in the tale: Daenerys’s vision from the Undying (“Daughter of Death”) and Moqorro’s vision as reported to Tyrion (“Dragons Old and Young”). The chief evidence used against the theory that Young Griff is not, in fact, Aegon, relates to Varys’s explicit rejection of the dying Kevan’s claim that Aegon was dead. Our own counter to that is that Varys reveals, in the very same conversation, a belief that someone can be shaped to a purpose—in Aegon’s case, to be a king. But this logically goes further: that someone can be shaped to believe that they are something that they are not. That is, when he rejects Aegon being dead, what Varys may well mean is that for his purposes, Young Griff is Aegon—he has directed his last seventeen years or so to shaping the boy to be Aegon Targaryen.
Syrio’s fate is completely unknown. However, speculation has run between his having been killed, his having been imprisoned, and his having been merely a disguise of a Faceless Man who was thrown into the black cells, changed into Jaqen H’ghar, and is now at large in Westeros. A Feast for Crows appears to put an end to this latter theory, as Jaqen H’ghar was apparently already in the black cells before Syrio’s confrontation with Meryn Trant.
In 2005, GRRM pointed out that Syrio seems to have been left in a hopeless situation when he was last seen, and suggested readers should "draw your own conclusions" based on this (SSM), which seems to imply that Syrio Forel was in fact killed. More recent reports (but, it should be said, unconfirmed) indicate GRRM does not understand why he gets asked the question repeatedly, pointing out that Syrio is not immortal; if accurate, this seems to more heavily imply that Syrio Forel is dead.
Besides the fact that we know that Davos is a returning POV in AFfC, Stannis’s use of the present tense when he says, "Lord Seaworth is a man of humble birth…" (III: 867) shows that Davos is alive. He is probably at Eastwatch, with the fleet and the royal household.
Alester Florent, who was condemned as a traitor, is almost certainly the man who was consigned to the flames (III: 856).
While in A Feast for Crows it’s stated that he is beheaded by Lord Manderly at the behest of Queen Cersei. Some believed that this must be some sort of trick on Lord Manderly’s part, which turned out to be the case in A Dance with Dragons.
Yes and no. At the end of ASoS, it was clear that she was resurrected (III: 924). It was widely assumed that this was done by Thoros of Myr, until AFfC was released, which made it clear that it was in fact Lord Beric Dondarrion, breathing his magical fire into Catelyn’s body and putting an end to his own life in the process (IV: 640). ASoS also marks her final appearance as a POV character in the series.
A more important question is whether the Catelyn we see in the epilogue of ASoS is the same as the one in the preceeding novels. GRRM himself partially addressed this point (KLQ) by stating that his view of resurrection was different than, say, Tolkien’s. While it’s very unlikely that Catelyn is now an "evil flesh-eating zombie", it does suggest that she may be a vastly different person than who she once was. Her desire for vengeance for herself and her family, and her sheer ruthlessness in pursuit of those whom she feels have contributed to this (as revealed in AFfC), certainly supports this.
The common perspective on this is that Gregor Clegane is still "alive", in some sense. Qyburn’s use of Gregor for his experiments (touching on magic and necromancy specifically), which appear to be quite gruesome and murderous given the individuals given over to him who are killed as part of this experiment, suggests that he has been able to keep Gregor’s body functioning. Certainly, the "champion" that Qyburn alludes to (IV: 479, 656), for whom an extremely large and heavy suit of armor has been commissioned, would seem to fit Ser Gregor. If this turns out to be the case, it will remain to be seen whether Gregor—or whatever has been made of him—is still capable of independent thought and action.
Introduced into A Dance with Dragons is the silent “Ser Robert Strong”, recommended by Qyburn and placed in the Kingsguard after Cersei urged it on Ser Kevan. This is, clearly, Ser Gregor… or what remains of him. It’s noted that he does not speak (allegedly because he has sworn a vow of silence), does not seem to eat, use the privy, or even sleep, suggesting that whatever Qyburn has done has left Gregor as something inhuman and perhaps not even truly alive, as Kevan speculates.
In general, it’s not believed that Sandor Clegane is dead, despite the testimony of Elder Brother and others. The reason for this is quite simple: the gravedigger.
When Brienne visits the Quiet Isle, she notes that the novices of the order are not only sworn to silence, but wear woolen scarves that hide their faces. While walking up the path to see Elder Brother, she notices a novice digging in the lichyard who’s described as even larger than her and lame (IV: 463). When Dog goes up to him, he drops his spade and scratches the dog’s ear (IV: 464). Later, during a meal, the novice is described moving with a half-lurching gait (IV: 467). Finally, when Brienne discusses Sandor Clegane with the Elder Brother, she dejectedly remarks that Sandor Clegane is dead, to which he responds, "He is at rest." (IV: 470) Later, he says, "the Hound is Dead".
GRRM has previously stated that Sandor Clegane is taller than Brienne (SSM). As last seen in ASoS, he had taken a wound to his hip that became dangerously infected, recovery from which could very likely leave his movement in that leg impaired. And as he told Sansa in ACoK, he was fond of dogs (II: 211). These details all fit the large, limping, dog-loving novice. Combined with Elder Brother’s very specific phrasing—that Sandor Clegane is "at rest" but that "the Hound" is dead—it’s been understood that Elder Brother is hiding the truth without outright lying. The novice who is trying to find peace on the Quiet Isle is Sandor, who has put aside the rage and hatred that made him the Hound, "killing" that part of his persona.
Opinion is somewhat mixed about this, although the belief that she will survive her encounter with "Lady Stoneheart" seems more common. The key matter is just what the word she shouts is. There are those who think she merely shouts the name Jaime out a last time before dying, but another word presents itself in the text: "sword" This is one of the two choices that Brienne is given, the noose (death) or the sword (promising to kill Jaime Lannister). Why would Brienne do this, despite her feelings towards Jaime? Just before she shouts, she looks to Ser Hyle and Podrick as they’re hanging and dying, and it’s only after this that she shouts. Those who believe that the word is "sword", or some variation on it, take this to be the reason as to why she does it: if it were her life alone, she might have accepted death, but she cannot let her companions die. The final descriptive sentence before the shout, "nothing had ever hurt so much," may well refer to the mental anguish at choosing the lives of herself and her companions over that of Jaime Lannister.
The Jaime chapter in A Dance with Dragons seems to settle matters, with Brienne appearing to lead Jaime away from his companions and disappear with him. However, it’s been proposed that Brienne did indeed hang, only to have Thoros or Lady Stoneheart somehow resurrect her. While we do not believe this is the case, that cannot be definitively confirmed or denied with the evidence at hand.
At the end of A Dance with Dragons, Jon Snow is set upon by disaffected members of the Night’s Watch—led by Bowen Marsh—who believed he was leading the Watch to ruin:
Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers. “Why?”
“For the Watch.” Wick slashed at him again. This time Jon caught his wrist and bent his arm back until he dropped the dagger. The gangling steward backed away, his hands upraised as if to say, Not me, it was not me.
Men were screaming. Jon reached for Longclaw, but his fingers had grown stiff and clumsy. Somehow he could not seem to get the sword free of its scabbard.
Then Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks. “For the Watch.” He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger stayed where he had buried it.
Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free.
In the cold night air the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold . . .
For many, this is inconclusive: he might only be very injured. However, our own view is that Jon Snow has died at the end of the scene. So, in short, yes, we believe he’s dead.
But we do not believe this is a permanent state. The series has already revealed several characters who have been resurrected from death. Two, Beric Dondarrion and Catelyn Stark, returned to life through the apparent intercession of R’hllor, or at least Thoros of Myr’s fire magic (directly, and repeatedly, in Beric’s case; indirectly, through Beric, in Catelyn’s case). With Melisandre of Asshai’s proximity to events, it does not seem impossible that she, too, might achieve a similar affect. However, we believe Jon’s case will be complicated by the fact that he is a warg. His last uttered word—the name of Ghost—seems too open to the possibility that Jon (described as a powerful skinchanger by Varamyr Sixskins [V: 12]) reached out to the direwolf at the moment of death. As the Varamyr prologue reveals, skinchangers can live a “second life” when they die, pushing their minds into one of their beasts, and something like this might explain why Orell’s eagle retained such a hatred for Jon, because Orell was still in the eagle’s mind when he was killed.
The complication may be that even if Jon’s body is revived, his spirit may be within Ghost, leaving his body a shell. It may be coincidence that one can foresee a situation where a revenant Jon Snow is as much a vegetable as Khal Drogo, but there may be something quite purposeful about this parallel. The question would then lie in how Jon Snow’s spirit might be restored to his revived body… and that, we suspect, is a problem for the last greenseer or, perhaps, Bran Stark.
The question of Jon Snow’s parentage is a complex one. In this article, we propose to tackle it by laying out what facts we know of his birth and its timing in relation to the war and then surveying the potential parents in terms of where they were likely to be at the time of his conception. We will then focus on the possible pairings to see which are the likeliest. This article will make heavy reference to the FAQ entry on Robert’s Rebellion:
We know from this e-mail that Jon’s birth is 8-9 months prior to Daenerys’s, and that Daenerys is born almost precisely 9 months after the death of Rhaegar and the Sack of King’s Landing (I: 25). This would place Jon’s birth within one month, give or take, of the Sack. As we know the war lasts “close” to a year which is often just referred to as a “year” (I: 96, 233), suggesting 10-11 months is likelier than 9 months. Given this, his conception seems to have been between 1-3 months into the war. Interestingly, this contradicts suggestions from Catelyn and Ned that Jon was concieved some time after Robb’s conception (in itself an event taking place several months into the war), so either GRRM is mistaken or he has accidentally clarified a piece of information which was intended to be obfuscated in the series (I: 54, 92). Our own view is that the latter is the case, as GRRM is rather precise about the relative birthdates in a way that seems too absolute to be a random error.
Finally, considering the genetics of the series and Jon’s very Stark-like features—grey eyes, brown hair, long face—it seems safe to suppose that any viable theory must include a minimum of one Stark in the equation, or one person whose features are similar to a Stark’s. A common point of reference in some discussions has been the tournament at Harrenhal, which seems to have happened a minimum of several months prior to the war, and for purposes of the discussion is unimportant beyond noting that due to the timing Jon Snow could not have been concieved there.
Examining the locations of potential mothers and fathers in light of the above may be helpful.
Wylla: Now a servant of House Dayne, and possibly such even at the time of the war, the general belief is that she must have been in the company of Lady Ashara Dayne to be Jon’s mother. If this is the case, the question is where Lady Ashara could have been approximately 1-3 months into the war. What we might say is that they do not appear to have been in King’s Landing, at least, at this time due to the fact that it would certainly be a noticeable discrepancy with the publicly-accepted notion that the child is Eddard Stark’s. For this to be plausible, the women must have been in some less known location which Eddard Stark could plausibly have reached roughly around the time of the child’s conception. It is also possible that Wylla did not enter the service of House Dayne until some time during or even after the war, which would make her location much more difficult to pin down. Wylla’s appearance is unknown.
Ashara Dayne: As above, we seem to be able to safely say they were not at King’s Landing, at least, for the belief that Ashara Dayne is Jon Snow’s mother to be generally considered plausible. Moreover, one can infer from previous remarks from GRRM that Ashara Dayne was not a companion of Elia’s in the last year of her marriage, at minimum (SSM), which would coincide with the war. Ashara Dayne is described as very beautiful, with dark hair and violet eyes.
Lyanna Stark: Lyanna’s location in all this is fairly well-known: with Rhaegar. We know Rhaegar, at least, was not in King’s Landing (II: 582) at the apparent start of the war and it seems probable that Lyanna was not there either. It’s later said that Rhaegar “returned from the south” towards the end of the war (III: 418), and certainly that is Lyanna’s final location (I: 354-355).
Benjen Stark: Benjen spent the war in Winterfell (SSM).
Robert Baratheon: Robert appears to have been with Eddard in the Vale when the war began (I: 21), and then went from the Vale to Storm’s End—probably by sea—which would have taken time. Certainly, two months into the war he was either on his way to Storm’s End or in its vicinity, and by four months into the war he was likely fighting his way across the Seven Kingdoms towards the riverlands. It should also be noted that Robert clearly believes Jon is Eddard Stark’s bastard son.
Howland Reed: Howland Reed’s precise location is unknown. In all likelihood he was at the Neck in the first months of the war, and then would have come down with Lord Eddard’s forces. One possibility, however, has been that he was one of the ones who first reported Rhaegar’s alleged crime against House Stark, suggesting he was in Lyanna’s vicinity at the time. Howland Reed’s appearance is unknown, although his children have brown hair and green eyes.
Arthur Dayne: While Dayne’s precise location is not explicitly noted except at the very end of the war, when he was at the tower of joy (I: 354-355), it seems probable that as Prince Rhaegar’s closest friend and companion that he likely accompanied Rhaegar from the start of the war until Rhaegar departed for King’s Landing and the Trident. This would mean he spent the entire time with Lyanna. He appears to have been violet eyed, apparently a standard Dayne trait (not, according to Martin, due to any particular Valyrian lineage), but whether he was dark haired (like Ashara) or dark (like Edric) we do not know.
Aerys Targaryen: Clearly, King Aerys spent all of his time in King’s Landing during the war.
Eddard Stark: Eddard appears to have been with Robert in the Vale when the war began (I: 21), and then went from the Vale to the North—probably by sea—and from there on to Winterfell, which would have taken time. In all likelihood, Lord Stark did not come down south of the Neck again until several months into the war. By the fourth or fifth month of the war, he and his forces were likely in the riverlands.
Rhaegar Targaryen: Until he is recalled “from the south” (III: 418) it is widely supposed that Rhaegar was always with Lyanna Stark at this time.
What can we make of this?
Benjen Stark: Besides being quite young, his being located in Winterfell throughout the war makes it practically impossible for him to be Jon Snow’s father, especially in relation to Lyanna whose location was obviously with Rhaegar at the time of Jon’s conception.
Robert Baratheon: Not Jon’s father. He could not be Jon’s father by Ashara Dayne, for one thing, due to the appearances of the prospective parents not fitting the Stark look at all (considering Jon’s eye color). He could not be Jon’s father by Wylla, because the name means nothing more to him than the alleged woman who fathered Eddard Stark’s bastard—it seems he probably never even met her, which makes sense since Eddard and Robert were likely moving to their respective domains and therefore were apart if Wylla is the mother. Robert and Lyanna is the only possibility here, and this requires Robert to somehow come into intimate contact with Lyanna within 3 months of the beginning of the war. This very clearly did not happen. Finally, Robert Baratheon’s black hair is a famously dominant trait, with Varys claiming that all of Robert’s bastards that he knew of by a number of different mothers came out with it (II: 178), which makes it even more unlikely that he could be Jon Snow’s father.
Howland Reed: If Wylla is the mother, it raises the question of just why all the secrecy, as well as why Eddard would claim the child as his own and as being of his own blood. If Ashara Dayne is the mother, it seems somewhat less likely that Jon Snow could come out so clearly Stark in appearance, although not impossible if Howland Reed shares those features. However, again, it does raise the question of why Eddard claimed the child as his own and as being of his own blood. Dorne seems relatively open to pre-marital relations and resulting bastardy, at least when compared to the Seven Kingdoms, so it seems it’s unlikely as an attempt to protect Lady Ashara’s honor. Finally, Howland Reed does not really seem possible as the father by Lyanna, as she was with Rhaegar and he almost certainly was not any further south than the Trident at the time of the conception. Since he would not have been in contact with Lyanna at the time of Jon Snow’s apparent conception, he is ruled out.
Arthur Dayne: Like Rhaegar, it’s not impossible for Ser Arthur to have fathered the child on Wylla or Lyanna. That said, his place as a Kingsguard—one who was considered one of the finest knights in the realm—and Eddard’s admiration seem to rule him out. There is also the question of why Eddard would claim the child as his own instead of revealing the truth.
Aerys Targaryen: Ashara Dayne is impossible, due to both having features quite different from the Starks, as well as the highly unlikely chance that she was in King’s Landing at this time. The same can be said about Wylla, unless Wylla was not in the service of the Daynes at this time, but then the whole question of just why Eddard Stark would claim her child as his own blood seems very curious; presumably it would be to protect the child from Robert’s hatred of Targaryens, but why passing the child off as his blood is a more natural and better choice than passing him off as some loyal soldier’s or something such makes this seem very doubtful. Aerys with Lyanna is the only one that could certainly work genetically, although this would require her to be in King’s Landing at around the time of conception, which does not seem to be the case. If she was with Rhaegar, she was not there when Brandon and his father were killed at what was essentially the start of the war, and she was not there by the last few months of the war. Could Rhaegar have brought her to King’s Landing at some point between the start of the war and the conception? It seems improbable, given that the area of the first three months of the war eventually featured Robert and his forces in the stormlands on the move, making such journeys hazardous.
Eddard Stark: Unless Wylla or Ashara Dayne were either in the Vale or the North in the first three months of the war, they cannot be Jon Snow’s mother. That said, given that these two are considered plausible in the book, it seems they cannot be ruled out until we have more information on their locations. We do know that it has been put about that Wylla is the mother of Jon Snow, a fact that Eddard has implied and which she has apparently claimed while in Starfall (I: 92. III: 494), and certainly there is no great reason to doubt that she was at least at some point Jon Snow’s wetnurse. This has implications for other candidates: they have to have had contact with Wylla at the same time that Eddard was alleged to have done so and we can therefore rule out Robert, Ser Arthur, and Aerys since they were not in the same locations as Eddard 1-3 months into the war. One problem with Eddard being the father by Wylla is that the lies that have haunted Eddard since the war’s end (I: 96) do not make a great deal of sense—other than perhaps allowing others to say that Rhaegar raped Lyanna if he knew that this was untrue, he would not seem to have to tell any particular lies. If Wylla is willing to share this sordid story with people at Starfall, it seems mindboggling that Eddard Stark would make a secret of it to the point of making it an issue that troubles his marriage to his wife (I: 55).
Jon being Eddard’s son by Ashara Dayne runs into the same timeline problems, as she would have to have concieved the child 1-3 months into the war during which time Eddard Stark appears to have been in the Vale and the North.
Finally, there is Lyanna. Clearly, she was with Rhaegar at this time and could never have come into contact with her brother in that timeframe. Of course, Eddard is also improbable for a host of personal reasons, such as his apparent distaste for the incestuous union of Jaime and Cersei Lannister, his never thinking anything remotely like it, and so on.
Rhaegar Targaryen: Given the detail mentioned above, if Wylla or Ashara are considered plausible mothers based on Eddard Stark’s movements, then Rhaegar Targaryen would likely have to have been in the North or the Vale at the time for him to have fathered a child on either of them, a clear impossibility. Even if we suppose that the confusion of the war has made their locations uncertain, they would then certainly have to have been in the south (i.e., in the vicinity of Dorne) for this to work. This is reasonable enough, given that Ashara is Dornish, but Ashara and Rhaegar can probably be ruled out for genetic reasons. Wylla and Rhaegar could not be ruled out similarly, however, but it does raise the question of Eddard’s claim to Jon. Finally, Rhaegar and Lyanna works best, because we have very strong evidence that he was actually with her in the entire timeframe of Jon Snow’s conception, while at best there is supposition for all other candidates and in some cases significant periods of improbability.
Given the above, we believe the strongest candidates from the above timeline-focused analysis are Rhaegar and Lyanna, Eddard and Ashara, and Eddard and Wylla in order of plausibility (most to least). Robert Baratheon seems entirely ruled out of all the potential combinations, while Howland requires great amounts of supposition to explain certain details. Aerys Targaryen with Lyanna is very distantly possible, but there is no supporting evidence. There’s also the speculative argument that since Jon Snow received a direwolf with Eddard Stark’s children, that this at least proves one of his parents must be a Stark, which lends weight to ruling out or significantly discounting all those combinations of parents which do not include at least one Stark.
Of the three options mentioned above, it is widely held that Rhaegar and Lyanna are by far the likeliest. Besides the evidence above regarding the timeline, the fact that Lyanna would provide Jon the necessary genetics to come out with the Stark look, and the obvious reasons for why Eddard would claim Jon as being his own blood on such an occasion, there is some other speculative evidence in support of it. One piece of possible evidence that has had a strong impression is Daenerys’s vision of a blue rose growing in the side of the wall (II: 515-516). As noted in the Prophecies section, this single reference appears to draw a direct connection between the story of Bael the Bard and the winter rose (in which a Stark daughter is stolen from the family, only to give the House a son by her lover), Lyanna Stark (who is associated with the blue winter roses and with Rhaegar), and Jon Snow (who is on the Wall). While it may simply be hinting at Jon’s presence on the Wall, given the significance of the blue rose that we learn of in A Clash of Kings, we find it a promising piece of evidence.
There’s also the cause of Lyanna’s death. The smell of blood and the fever that Ned recalls (I: 35-36) can certainly be read as the aftermath of childbirth and ensuing fatal illness. This is certainly suggestive that Lyanna could have had a child. It has been proposed that Lyanna was actually killed by one of the Kingsguard, or perhaps even by her own hand, but both seem to speak against the fever Ned remembers and the former, at least, seems sharply at odds of Eddard’s continuing admiration of Aerys’s Kingsguard.
Finally, there are other small hints which are certainly open to interpretation but which all share plausible interpretations pointing to Jon’s parents being Rhaegar and Lyanna, such as the juxtaposition of Lyanna’s pleading with Sansa’s in relation to the way Robert Baratheon responded to the deaths of the Targaryen children (I: 67), the presence of the Kingsguard which suggests they could have been protecting a possible heir to the throne (I: 354-355), Ned not listing Jon Snow among his children when thinking of what he would do to defend them (I: 406), and the fact that the Targaryens practiced bigamy which strengthens the possibility that a child by Rhaegar and Lyanna would be a legitimate heir to the throne (SSM). No other combination of persons really has the density of circumstantial evidence pointing towards it. While alone no single piece can provide a certain answer, the weight of them does make it seem very plausible.
Common objections to the “Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon” theory and brief responses to them:
“It’s obvious”: There is extensive anecdotal evidence—in the form of individuals new to the fandom expressing surprise when first introduced to the theory, because they themselves did not “connect the dots”—that this is not true. Moreover, some alternative theories—that Ned and Ashara or Ned and Wylla are Jon’s parents—are clearly far more “obvious”, since they are the ones explicitly put forward in the series. If obviousness is a factor that matters, then we can rule those combinations out.
“It’s cliche”: The response to this is that the basic idea is certainly cliche, but how it plays out is a complete mystery. If Martin turns it on his head by revealing that, yes, Jon is the “rightful heir” but that Jon is not going to become ruler (through death, politics, or choice), that adds another layer of complication and complexity to the story without playing out in a cliche manner. Jon could even end up ruling the Seven Kingdoms and it could be approached in a manner that rises above the underlying cliche. In the end, we simply do not know. What we do know is that the author often subverts fantasy tropes and cliches.
“It makes Daenerys unimportant”: The dragon has three heads, and has been something we’ve known since A Clash of Kings. Clearly, she is one of the heads of the dragon. If anything “intrudes” on this, it’s by design, and probably what it really means is that the story is going to be more complex than just, “Daenerys is the great heroine who matters above and beyond everyone else.”
“It romanticizes Rhaegar and Lyanna”: It can certainly lend itself to it. The author has pretty much played with notions of romantic tragedy from the start, with the beautiful image of the winter roses as a link between Lyanna and Rhaegar. That said, even if Lyanna is not Jon’s mother, the fact is that clearly Rhaegar and Lyanna had some sort of relationship which did indeed lead to a horrible tragedy. Why it played out as it did, we don’t know. We do have good reason to know why Rhaegar believed what he was doing was necessary, but certainly we can question the sanity of plunging a kingdom into war over some notion that you’ve deciphered a prophecy in which you (through your children) play a central role. But then, we’ve been told more than once about the loose relationship the Targaryens have with sanity.
One thing that most fans who have discussed this issue seem united on is that Stannis is not the PtwP, despite Melisandre’s claims or beliefs. Maester Aemon, like Salladhor Saan, cast doubts on the authenticity of Stannis’s Lightbringer (II: 115. III: 886). While the rest of her prophecy (II: 110. III: 289) bears a superficial resemblance to Stannis’s own circumstances, other candidates have greater support among the fan community.
Jon or Aegon (if alive) are seen as likely possibilities due to Rhaegar’s statement that a son of his was the promised prince (see Prophecies). However, the details of the prophecy do not seem to support this. While Jon’s confrontation with the wight in the Old Bear’s chambers (I: 473-474) did involve fire around the time that the comet was first noted, there’s no salt. Aegon, being a complete cypher, is even more unclear although one can assume that if it’s Aegon, he certainly cannot be Samwell or Edric Dayne, whom the prophecy does not match whatsoever.
The next most popular theory is that it’s Daenerys, which has gained strong support following Maester Aemon’s revelations (IV: 520). The smoke and salt may be a reference to the funeral pyre and the salt of her tears, or it may refer to the fact that she was born on Dragonstone. Daenerys also seems to notices the comet for the first time as she lights the pyre. Rhaegar’s belief that one of his children was the prince who was promised may thus be in error on his part. Following this theory, it’s believed that Lightbringer for this reborn Azor Ahai may in fact be her dragons. One argument against this was that she is a princess, not a prince, but "prince" can have a gender-neutral usage ("the princes of Europe") even in English, and in any case Maester Aemon makes it plain that the original Valayrian word may have had indeterminate gender because of the fact that dragons change between male and female.
The last of the reasonable candidates is Ser Davos Seaworth, whose plunge into the fiery Blackwater (II: 610) while the comet still hung in the sky could possibly fulfill the prophecy. This is, however, the only thing about him that fits, and so it’s not a popular theory.
GRRM has confirmed that it was Varys and Illyrio (SSC).
Jaqen H’ghar is certainly a Faceless Man of Braavos, the most mysterious and costliest of assassins (I: 297). Whether Jaqen is merely another of his many guises or his true identity is an open question. Given the speculation that a Faceless Man assassinated Balon Greyjoy (see Prophecies), it is tempting to believe that Jaqen himself carried out this deed. However, given his appearance in Oldtown at the start of A Feast for Crows, the timeline may make this prohibitvely unlikely (see 6.2.9. Who is the alchemist in Oldtown?).
Why he was in the black cells is an open mystery. It seems unlikely that this was all part of his plan, so it seems likely that something went wrong. One possibility is that he was in fact Syrio, who rather than being killed was imprisoned (see 6.1.3. Is Syrio Dead?).
While there is a woman named Tansy in the text—the proprietress of the Peach (III: 330, 331)—it seems very unlikely that she was the person Lord Hoster was referring too. For one thing, his cries were rather anguished, and for another is that a revelation that he slept with her seems to have no bearing to speak of on the story (the one possibility is that she had a child by him, a bastard who might stand as heir—but it would be strange for this to never have been brought up.)
Far likelier is Catelyn’s interpretation (III: 31) that Lord Hoster was recalling the time when Lysa was unwittingly given an abortificant, in large part using tansy (III: 913), to get rid of a child she was carrying. This child was Littlefinger’s, as Lysa indicated that. It should be noted that some think that Lysa’s recollection and claims cannot be trusted at all, given her hysteria and inability to separate fact from fancy (see her sincere beliefs that the Lannisters wanted to do harm to her and her son, based on her lies that they were behind Jon Arryn’s murder).