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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).
According to Meera, the Knight of the Laughing Tree was, "short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces" (III: 283). This limits the possibilities some what, as any one of average or greater height can be immediately ruled out. The mish-mash nature of the armor is not necessarily a clue; it might well indicate that the Knight was someone who had not expected to enter the tournament and thus had to scrounge armor, but it could be someone who purposefully scrounged armor to hide his identity.
Of the candidates, almost all of them are either known to be small or to be quite young. Eddard Stark has been considered, but he was 18 at Harrenhal and seems to have been of average height, which rules him out. The laughing weirwood on the Knight’s shield also seems unlike Ned, though it may be an attempt to throw off suspicion. Howland Reed has strong proponents, despite the clear references to the fact that he knew little of jousting, much less of riding horses. Those who support him as the Knight suggest that the green men of the Isle of Faces may have assisted him magically. In a similar vein, it’s been suggested that the Knight was in fact a green man, which cannot be refuted for lack of evidence.
Another candidate who has been put forward is Benjen Stark. We know he was present and that he was certainly young enough to be the right size. He also would have had training from an early age in horsemanship and jousting. The mish-mash armor would fit him as well, as he scrounged for pieces of equipment which was likely all too large for him. However, given Benjen’s storyline in the series and the way Jojen emphasized how it was strange that Eddard Stark never told this tale to his children (III: 279. 284), it seems difficult to imagine that this fits. In a similar vein, a young Sandor Clegane has been mentioned. Besides the same objection as with Benjen, it’s unclear that a young Sandor would have been small enough to be "short of stature". It would also be unlikely for him to settle on an image of a weirwood.
The final, and most popular, possibility is Lyanna Stark herself. She had already acted to defend Howland Reed (III: 281) with a notable fierceness. It’s been noted that she was a very skilled horsewoman (III: 193, V: 547), and previously Ned noted that she might have carried a sword if Lord Rickard had allowed it (I: 186). ASoS is also the novel where riding at rings—which was certainly done in preparation for learning how to joust—is a common pastime for young squires (III: 493). Put together, it has been suggested that Lyanna Stark was allowed to sharpen her horsemanship abilities by riding at rings, giving her at least preliminary training for jousting, which is more than Howland Reed ever had. The scrounged armor needs no explanation, though here some suggest that she had her brother Benjen assist her—primarily due to the notion that Benjen may have joined the Watch in part to escape his feelings of guilt over what transpired afterwards. While Lyanna-as-the-KoLT would require a great deal of luck to defeat three knights (even though their level of skill is unknown), it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
The main reason this theory is popular is that it would help to explain what is believed to have happened with Rhaegar. It’s explicitly stated that he was ordered by the king to find the Knight. Rhaegar may have done so, but admiring her courage and honor he kept her secret. This would also be an exceptionally good reason for why he crowned her the Queen of Love and Beauty as he did.
There are three main theories. One popular is that he is some random individual, possibly a member of the Night’s Watch who disappeared in a ranging. The fact that he calls Samwell “brother” (III: 536) seems to support the general idea, at least, that Coldhands was a member of the Watch. However, many find the unknown nature of this brother of the Watch to be a major strike against the theory. Another theory is that he might actually be the "last hero" (I: 203), which has interesting implications but many find too esoteric.
The most popular theory is that he is in fact Benjen Stark. It’s believed that he is now an agent for the children of the forest. Coldhands’ appearance—black hands like the wights that the Others make (III: 536)— may indicate that he was in fact turned into a wight by the Others, but that the children intervened and wrested him away from the control of Others. The chief strikes against this are that Samwell’s thoughts after leaving Bran with Coldhands do not suggest that Bran recognized his uncle, Leaf suggests to Bran that Coldhands died "long ago" (V: 175), and there is a description of his eyes being black in color (V: 69). This may be explained by the fact that he could look quite different from how he looked when alive, although the change in eyecolor to black (rather than, say, the icy blue of the wights, is inexplicable). This may instead give weight to the idea that he is in fact the last hero, or perhaps someone as yet unknown, whose identity may not even have any particular importance.
She is Jeyne Poole, friend to Sansa and daughter of Winterfell’s deceased steward (I: 58). After Littlefinger took her into his custody, her fate was unknown (I: 456). There was some concern that, given his ownership in brothels, that she was destined to become a prostitute. However, it seems Littlefinger was more devious, as he realized that with Arya Stark missing having a young girl roughly of an age with her and familiar with Winterfell and he North could prove useful. This appears to be confirmed by Cersei’s remarks where she states, "that she was actually some stewards whelp tricked up by Littlefinger." (IV: 248) A Dance with Dragons fully confirms this, and reveals that Littlefinger’s taking her into his custody did in fact include her being sexually victimized so as to better “please” her husband-to-be (V: 499).
Compare this description of the alchemist, "A young mans face, ordinary, with full cheeks and the shadow of a beard. A scar showed faintly on his right cheek. He had a hooked nose, and a mat of dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears," (IV: 15) with this one: "Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls." (II: 505)
It seems clear that the "alchemist" is Jaqen H’ghar (see 6.2.3 Who is Jaqen H’ghar) in his latest guise. After killing Pate, it seems obvious that he then takes on Pate’s form as we see at the end of the novel (IV: 684) to carry out whatever his purpose is in the Citadel.
Alleras is described as slight, but with surprising strength in his thing arms since he’s able to use his costly goldenheart longbow. His father is Dornish and he was raised in Dorne, as he speaks with a Dornish drawl, but his mother is a Summer Islander. (IV: 6) From her, Alleras has dark skin and dark hair described as a, "a cap of tight black curls that came to a widows peak above his big black eyes." (IV: 5, 678)
Finally, the name "Alleras" when spelled backwards is, "Sarella", the name of one of Prince Oberyn’s bastard daughters. The natural conclusion, then, is that Sarella has disguised herself as Alleras so that she could study at Oldtown. This is supported by Nymeria Sand’s remark that Obara, "hates that city as much as our little sister loves it," and then Doran’s remark to Areo Hotah when he asks if Sarella should be arrested with her half-sisters: "“Unless she returns to Dorne, thereҒs naught I can do about Sarella save pray that she shows more sense than her sisters. Leave her to her . . . game." (IV: 45)
First introduced in A Game of Thrones, the three-eyed crow has been a mysterious figure who opened Bran’s “third eye” to magic, and began him on a path that has led him from Winterfell to the lands beyond the Wall. When we are finally introduced to him, the first and most surprising thing we learn about him is the fact that he is not a child of the forest. Instead, this “pale lord in ebony finery” is a man, ancient and wizened, more a corpse than a live. Bound to a great weirwood, its roots having worked its way into and even through his body, he has waited for many years for Bran—or someone like Bran—to come, to save the world of men from the coming threat.
For those who’ve not read the Dunk & Egg stories, the answer as to who this may be may be mystifying. He reveals that he was once a brother of the Watch, that he had a brother he loved and one he despised, and—most importantly—that his name was Brynden, and that Bran’s great-uncle Brynden Tully may well have been named for him. Putting this all together, there’s a hint in A Feast for Crows as to who this is—a companion to Maester Aemon, when he first came to Wall, recently freed from the dungeons by King Aegon V the Unlikely to be able to take the black, and eventually rising to become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch:
Brynden Rivers, known as Bloodraven, one of the Great Bastards of King Aegon IV the Unworthy. Born an albino and with a large red birthmark on his cheek that was immediately compared to the raven of his mother’s house of Blackwood, he grew to become one of the most feared figures in the Seven Kingdoms, helping to bring down the first Blackfyre Rebellion (and allegedly personally killing his brother, Daemon Blackfyre, as well as his sons), supposedly practicing sorcery, and becoming a feared master of spies who became Hand of the King and was said to command “a thousand eyes and one” (referring to his having only a single eye, having lost the other on the Redgrass Field to his half-brother Bittersteel. Many of the details of this splendid figure—Martin’s nod, in some ways, to Elric of Melnibone—have appeared in the “Dunk and Egg” novels, set almost a hundred years prior to the novels when Brynden was approaching the height of his power and influence, but Martin also provided some key details in a letter to Amok.
The story of how he came to leave his post as Lord Commander and find his way to the secret cavern of the children of the forest is one that hasn’t yet been told.
Bran’s visions appear to be going backwards in chronology, from more recent images to older ones, as the tree grows smaller and younger with each successive vision that Bran sees. In order:
Ser Barristan describes an infatuation of Rhaella’s from her youth, a knight of the stormlands:
It seems clear that this landed knight from the stormlands, a jouster skilled enough to win a tourney with a princess in attendance, who put away his lance and became very pious, is none other than Ser Bonifer Hasty, called Bonifer the Good. Jaime reflects in A Feast for Crows that:
It has been occasionally proposed that there is reason to doubt Tyrion Lannister’s paternity. Items such as his extremely pale blond hair, which stands in contrast to the golden blond of his family, have been made note of, as has Tyrion’s fascination with dragons. Some also note that his statement in A Storm of Swords suggests Tywin has doubts as to Tyrion’s paternity: “Men’s laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colors, since I cannot prove that you are not mine.” Finally, the prophecy of the dragon having “three heads” has been taken to mean that Tyrion is one of the three heads, and so a future dragon rider, necessitating his having Targaryen blood.
A Dance with Dragons does provide a thread of support for the theory that Tyrion is not Tywin’s. Barristan Selmy reports the following to Daenerys:
“Prince Aerys . . . as a youth, he was taken with a certain lady of Casterly Rock, a cousin of Tywin Lannister. When she and Tywin wed, your father drank too much wine at the wedding feast and was heard to say that it was a great pity that the lord’s right to the first night had been abolished. A drunken jape, no more, but Tywin Lannister was not a man to forget such words, or the . . . the liberties your father took during the bedding.”
The common speculation is that Aerys Targaryen raped or seduced Joanna Lannister at some point, leading to Tyrion’s birth and Joanna’s death, and this at least provides proof that Aerys was interested in Joanna. However, the objections are obvious. Why did Tywin continue to serve as Aerys’s Hand if he suspected this? So far as Tywin or anyone else ever indicates, his departure from the role of Hand and his fateful break from Aerys were the result of long-building tensions thanks to the king’s madness and his stealing away of Ser Jaime to serve in the Kingsguard. For that matter, why did he persist in trying to wed his daughter to Aerys’s heir, if he had cause to hate Aerys so much?
The response to this might be that Tywin suspects Tyrion’s paternity but does not have Aerys (or, perhaps, anyone) in mind as the culprit, or perhaps that he learned about this fact only long after the fact. The latter seems a weak counter, as it hand-waves the details and simply leaves a nebulous possibility that can’t be rejected but really has no evidence for it. The former, however, seems a better objection—though again, unprovable, especially now as Tywin is dead.
On a metatextual level, it seems as if there’s much greater force to having Tyrion in fact be Tywin’s son—and thereby maintain his status as a kinslayer, among other things—than to reveal that in fact he is a secret Targaryen bastard, especially as it seems the narrative has already provided not one, but two, secret Targaryen offspring (see the FAQ entries on Jon Snow and Young Griff).
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