'Game of Thrones' Finale: Everything to Know About Jon Snow's Secret Origin

Recapping the major reveals, and the ones still ahead, for the new King in the North.
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the sixth season finale of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Winds of Winter."]

"You know nothing, Jon Snow."

Ygritte's catchphrase carries new meaning now, given the game-changing reveal in Game of Thrones' sixth season finale. After spending his entire life believing himself to be Eddard Stark's bastard son, Jon's true heritage has been revealed — and he doesn't even know it yet.

Granted, the secret behind Jon's birth likely blindsided countless Thrones viewers, except for the ones who have explored the fan theories surrounding the newly minted King in the North. For those still in the dark, here's a primer of what we know.

Long before Game of Thrones, back when Eddard Stark was still a young man, a tournament took place at Harrenhal — the same decrepit castle featured heavily throughout season two, currently belonging to Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. Back then, Prince Rhaegar Tagaryen caused enormous controversy when he publicly gifted Lyanna Stark with a crown of blue roses and named her the queen of love and beauty. It was a curious choice on a number of levels, not the least of which was Lyanna's betrothal to Robert Baratheon, and Rhaegar's own marriage to Elia Martell of Dorne. But many fans turn toward a figure with apparent Northern ties called the Knight of the Laughing Tree, who caused a stir earlier during the tourney. The knight's identity was never revealed, though some believe Rhaegar discovered the warrior beneath the helmet — Lyanna herself — leading to a forbidden romance.

In any event, not too long after the tournament, Rhaegar abducted Lyanna, inciting Robert's Rebellion, a war that all but ended the Targaryen regime. Robert killed Rhaegar in battle, and Lyanna died at the Tower of Joy. At some point in that time, Ned Stark was said to have fathered a bastard son; he brought him back North and never spoke of the boy's mother, not even to his wife, Catelyn.

The season six finale destroys that story, revealing the truth: Jon Snow is not Ned's son at all. Instead, Jon is Lyanna's son, birthed into the world moments before his mother's death. What's more, Rhaegar is Jon's father; it's strongly suggested throughout the season (why else are the Targaryen knights guarding a pregnant Lyanna?), and an infographic featured on HBO's Making Game of Thrones site further confirms the detail:

In her final moments with Ned, Lyanna whispers to her brother. The viewer hears some of her final words, referencing what Robert would do if he learned about her son; as a famous Targaryen hater, Robert would swiftly put an end to the infant's life. But Lyanna's initial words go unheard. She mouths something that appears to be "Aerys," the name of the Mad King — a potentially horrifying development, if he was Jon's true father.

Instead, a new popular theory stemming from Reddit suggests Lyanna was revealing Jon's real name: Jaehaerys. It's the same name as two previous Targaryen kings, both of them with strong reputations as wise rulers. Indeed, Jaehaerys II Targaryen, who was Rhaegar's grandfather, is the one who learned that the fabled "prince that was promised," a figure destined to save the world from darkness, would be born of his line.

If the theory pans out, then Jon's true name is Jaehaerys III Targaryen, adding further depth to one of the A Song of Ice and Fire books' oft-repeated lines about the story's prophesied hero: "The dragon has three heads." (Looks like the third Jaehaerys was the charm.) As for the name "Jon," it likely comes from Ned, and owes origin to Jon Arryn, the Lord of the Vale who fostered Ned and Robert in their youth. 

What does all of this mean for Jon's future in the grand scheme of Game of Thrones? For one, it gives him a natural tie to Daenerys Targaryen, whenever these two souls meet. It also potentially gives him the best claim available for the Iron Throne, as Rhaegar's son. What's more, Jon's hot-and-cold history reinforces his role in the war against the White Walkers, as well as his dragon destiny, becoming the "song of ice and fire" at the heart of the tale. 

There are tremendous possibilities revolving around Jon's place in the greater game, but there's no question that he's one of the show's most important figures, if not the most important figure. "Promise me," Lyanna told her brother when delivering Jon into his arms. In the subsequent years, as Ned upheld his sacred vow, the prophecy was already fulfilled: Jon Snow (or potentially Jahaerys III Targaryen) is truly the prince who was promised.

Watch the video below for more Jon Snow and other highlights from the finale:

Follow THR's Game of Thrones coverage for more theories, interviews and news.

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