Game of Thrones - Kit Harington as Jon Snow

Early in the first season of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark promises to tell his illegitimate son Jon Snow about his mother the next time they meet. Unfortunately, foolish honorable Ned gets his head chopped off before he ever meets Jon again. Four seasons later, Jon (and the entire GOT fandom) is still waiting to find out the true identity of his mother.

But last night’s episode may finally have offered the key to the mystery. While “Sons of the Harpy” doesn’t confirm the mystery woman’s identity outright, it’s full of clues pointing toward the validity of one very popular fan theory. Let’s discuss what the episode suggested about the Jon Snow mother mystery after the jump. (Note: Game of Thrones spoilers follow.)

What is R+L=J?

By far the most popular theory in the Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire fandom, R+L=J stands for “Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon.” In other words, it posits that Jon isn’t Ned’s son at all, but the result of a passionate romance between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.

Rhaegar, remember, is Daenerys and Viserys’ older brother, who was supposed to be the next king of the Seven Kingdoms. And Lyanna is Ned Stark’s dead sister, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. As the story goes, Rhaegar abducted Lyanna for unknown reasons, the Baratheons and Starks protested, the Targaryens fought back, and all-out war broke out. In the end, both Rhaegar and Lyanna wound up dead, and Robert Baratheon took the Iron Throne.

Clue #1: Sansa in the crypt with Littlefinger

The most prominent hint for R+L=J in last night’s episode “Sons of the Harpy” comes in the conversation in the crypt between Sansa Stark and Littlefinger. He recalls how Rhaegar chose to honor Lyanna after winning a famous tournament, over his own wife Elia Martell (sister of Oberyn and Doran) and despite Lyanna’s betrothal to Robert Baratheon.

Sansa responds, “Yes. He chose her. And then he kidnapped her and raped her.” But Littlefinger’s impassive face suggests he might know something about those events that she doesn’t.

Clue #2: Daenerys in Meereen with Barristan Selmy

In the version of the story that Sansa knows, Rhaegar is the villain. But Daenerys gets a very different perspective when she talks to Barristan Selmy later in the episode. The former Kingsguard knight regales her with tales of Rhaegar singing songs among the commoners, donating the money he earned to people or charities in need. “Rhaegar never liked killing. He loved singing,” Selmy recalls.

“Musician” and “rapist” aren’t mutually exclusive occupations. Still, it’s interesting to note that the version of Rhaegar that Daenerys (who was too young to really know her brother) hears about sounds like a much kinder, gentler soul than the one Sansa Stark has heard about.

Clue #3: Stannis at the Wall with Selyse

A shorter reference to pre-Rebellion history comes in a conversation between Stannis Baratheon and his wife Selyse. She dismisses Jon as “a bastard by some tavern slut,” and Stannis responds, “Perhaps, but that wasn’t Ned Stark’s way.”

One of the reasons Jon’s parentage is such a mystery — both within the fandom and among the people of Westeros — is that fathering a bastard child is so out of character for his supposed father Ned. Maybe Ned slipped up once and Jon was the consequence. Or maybe Ned never slipped up, and Jon isn’t really his kid.

Clue #4: Melisandre at the Wall with Jon

Finally, there’s that strange scene between Jon and Melisandre. The Red Priestess seems awfully interested in Jon, and we all know how she feels about royalty. Indeed, she reiterates her interest in royal blood in this very episode, stating that Shireen is important to the Lord of Light because King Stannis’ “blood runs through her veins.”

One scene later, she’s trying to seduce Jon, purring, “In our joining, there’s power. Power to make life, power to make light, power to cast shadows” — shadows like the one she made with Stannis, perhaps. If Jon is Rhaegar’s son, he certainly has royal blood. And Melisandre has a tendency to know things she shouldn’t (like Ygritte’s signature line), so perhaps she senses something in him.

What does R+L=J mean for Game of Thrones?

If R+L=J is true, Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. He arguably has an even stronger claim than Daenerys, since he’s Rhaegar’s sole remaining male heir. Certainly he has a stronger claim than the current king, Tommen, who isn’t even related by blood to Robert Baratheon. This being Game of Thrones, though, there’s no telling how things will play out once the truth drops.

It’s worth pointing out that both showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have repeatedly stated that they got George R.R. Martin’s blessing to do the show by correctly guessing who Jon Snow’s mother was. Furthermore, they’ve confirmed that they already know the ending of Martin’s saga, and so far the show seems to be going in the same general direction. Assuming this theory is true, we would expect it to crop up at some point in the show — and in last night’s episode, it finally did.

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