'Game of Thrones': What the Finale's Jon Snow Twist Means for the Future

Game of Thrones Season 6 Finale 8 - H Publicity 2016
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season six, episode 10 of HBO's Game of Thrones.]

"Promise me, Ned."

Those three words represent one of the most pored-over sentences in the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin's novel series on which Game of Thrones is based … and now, viewers know why.

The final episode of season six, "The Winds of Winter," confirmed for everyone what eagle-eyed book readers have known for years: Jon Snow is not Eddard Stark's son. Instead, Eddard's sister Lyanna is Jon's true mother. How about that for a plot twist?

In the second episode of the series, when Jon and Ned part ways for the final time, the Lord of Winterfell promises that when he next meets his "son," he'll tell him all about his mother. Of course, that's before Ned loses his head, when most hope of resolving the great mystery behind Jon's parentage goes out the window swifter than Bran Stark.

But over the two full decades since Martin published A Game of Thrones in 1996, fans have theorized about Jon's mother, with many agreeing the role belongs to Lyanna — and there's an equal level of certainty that Jon's father is actually Rhaegar Targaryen, the prince of the Seven Kingdoms, son of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen and brother of the future Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Stormborn.

While Rhaegar's role as Jon's father was not confirmed during "The Winds of Winter," it was heavily implied. In her final moments, Lyanna whispers into Ned's ear: "If Robert finds out, he'll kill him. You know he will."

Lyanna is referring to her fiance and future king Robert Baratheon. He started the rebellion against House Targaryen after Lyanna was "kidnapped," and famously loathed the entire bloodline due to the incident. Since her baby is half Targaryen, Lyanna fears what would happen to her son if discovered by the Baratheon regime — hence why she asks for Ned's "promise," that he'll raise the child as his own.

Perhaps there's still some discrepancy over which Targaryen is the father. Most fans agree that it's Rhaegar, but the Mad King isn't entirely ruled out either; that could explain the presence of the Targaryen soldiers guarding the Tower of Joy, though it's a much less pleasant scenario to consider than the forbidden love story between Rhaegar and Lyanna. (Also, it would mean Jon and Dany are half-siblings; not the best news for fans hoping for an eventual love story for the White Wolf and Mother of Dragons, but then again, romance between siblings isn't exactly unprecedented in Westeros.)

Indeed, Jon's status as Lyanna's son isn't even explicitly stated on the show — but the cut away from the baby boy at the Tower of Joy to Jon Snow standing in the hall of Winterfell speaks enough volumes that it should be considered confirmed. Now the question is what happens if the news comes out? The new King in the North was already Ned Stark's illegitimate son at best, and now we know he's only his nephew. Will this news turn the tide against Lord Snow, perhaps in favor of Sansa Stark?

Then again, what does Jon's legitimacy as a Stark matter, if his true father is a Targaryen? Forget the North. It's possible that Jon boasts the best claim to becoming the King of Westeros.

But these are questions and possibilities worth pondering another time. For now, rest easy knowing that the long-cherished R+L=J theory is (more or less) confirmed — and that Jon Snow is indeed the prince who was promised, quite literally, thanks to Ned keeping his word.

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