What The ‘Tower Of Joy’ Scene Means To Game Of Thrones

What The ‘Tower Of Joy’ Scene Means To Game Of Thrones
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One scene on the latest episode of Game of Thrones might require some explanation for people who haven’t read the books. Let’s talk it through.


For many years now, A Song of Ice and Fire fans have subscribed to a theory that fits so perfectly, it’d might as well be canon. Although the books have not yet confirmed the theory, the HBO show — which at this point has outpaced the books — is sending out strong signals that it’s true. Now, thanks to Bran’s psychedelic trips to the past, we’re starting to see all the puzzle pieces fall into place. Lyanna + Rhaegar = Jon Snow.

Let’s zoom out a bit. Way before the current events of Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon (the fat king from season one) was betrothed to Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister. At the time, the Targaryens were still in charge, and Aerys (AKA The Mad King) ruled the realm. His son Rhaegar was married to the Dornish princess Elia Martell.

One day, after winning a grand tournament in Harrenhall, Rhaegar screwed everything up. Westeros tradition would call for him to ride to his wife and select her as “the queen of love and beauty“, but instead, he gave the honour to Lyanna, placing a crown of blue roses in her lap. SCANDAL.

A year later, as the story goes, Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, triggering a great war that would later be called Robert’s Rebellion. In short, Robert and Ned teamed up to fight the Targaryens, gradually winning over the rest of the realm as the tides of war started to favour them. It helped, of course, that Aerys Targaryen was a despised, insane ruler with a penchant for indiscriminately burning things. The war culminated with Robert killing Rhaegar on the Trident, a three-forked river in the middle of Westeros.

As Robert was fighting on the Trident, Ned Stark had business elsewhere. He and six others, including his best friend Howland Reed, rode to a place called the Tower of Joy, a nondescript tower in the Dornish mountains. There they found three members of the Kingsguard: Gerold Hightower, Arthur Dayne and Oswell Whent. (In the show there were only two: sucks for Gerold.)

The books only revealed bits and pieces of this fight, which Bran saw in full last night on HBO. It was a brutal battle — Arthur Dayne was one of the greatest swordsmen in Westeros history — and at the end, only Ned and Howland survived. Ned went into the tower, where he found, well… CLIFFHANGER!

Although Game of Thrones is dragging out the resolution, presumably so it’s first revealed to Jon rather than Bran, many of us already know what Ned discovered in the tower: Lyanna Stark, dying on a bed of blue roses. Theory is, she’d just given birth to a baby boy that she’d conceived with Rhaegar. “Promise me, Ned,” Lyanna had said, asking him to adopt the baby as his own son. Ned would give him a bastard’s name: Jon Snow.

This “R+L=J” theory has been floating around for decades now, and the evidence is overwhelming. For one, there’s the fact that three of the seven Kingsguard were standing in front of this tower rather than battling with Rhaegar on the Trident or protecting Aerys in King’s Landing. It makes no sense that the Kingsguard would be guarding Lyanna Stark, even if Rhaegar had asked them really nicely… unless they were also guarding his son, who would have a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne if the rest of the family died.

Some other dot-connecting:

  • The book series’ title, A Song of Ice and Fire, refers to a line uttered by Rhaegar while describing his son, Aegon. “He is the prince that was promised,” Rhaegar declared, “and his is the song of ice and fire.” That first part might sound familiar: Melisandre called Jon the “prince that was promised” in last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. Turns out Rhaegar had the wrong son. It’s Jon who was born of ice (Lyanna Stark) and fire (Rhaegar Targaryen).
  • There’s a great line in A Clash of Kings, as Dany is seeing visions at the House of the Undying, that hints strongly at this. Dany sees: “A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness.” In the books, Lyanna is strongly associated with blue flowers. Jon Snow, of course, is at the Wall.
  • Jon’s age matches up, as does the timing. Belief at Winterfell was that Ned slept with someone named Wylla down south during the war and Jon popped out along the way, but Ned has always been obsessed with his honour. At the time, he was just married to Catelyn — why would he betray her and sleep with someone else? And why would he bring that bastard back to Winterfell, potentially tearing apart his marriage in the process, if there wasn’t a very good reason? Like, say, needing to protect the bastard son of Rhaegar and Lyanna from Robert Baratheon, who would kill Jon immediately if he knew that the boy had Targaryen blood. (Both the show and the books reveal that Robert hates Targaryens more than anything in the world.)

Both the show and books hint strongly that Rhaegar didn’t actually kidnap or rape Lyanna, despite what some of the characters believe. Lyanna never really loved Robert — “Robert will never keep to one bed,” she told Ned in a flashback that’s revealed in the first book — and stories hint that she had instead fallen for the dragon prince, who is portrayed as handsome and gallant.

Outside of Robert, everyone who met Rhaegar has nothing but kind things to say about him — see, for example, the scene in season five of the HBO show where Barristan Selmy tells Daenerys stories of her brother singing in the streets. In the books, Barristan also explains that Rhaegar was obsessed with books, and that the prince read something as a child that changed him — a prophecy, perhaps. In flashbacks and teases, Rhaegar is depicted as smart and kind, yet haunted by tragedy. (A place called Summerhall is frequently mentioned, and it appears that tragic events took place there, but we don’t yet know what they were.)

What’s most interesting about Jon’s parentage is how it sets up his inevitable showdown with Daenerys. Turns out she’s not the only living Targaryen! (There may be a third, if the books are to be believed, but the show has yet to explore that plot point.) Will Jon and Daenerys fall in love, then unite to fight the White Walkers in a grand battle between fire and ice? Will the two Targaryens battle to the death? Or will Game of Thrones subvert our expectations in a more interesting way? Here’s hoping they totally screw with us and Dany just dies in a storm on the way to Westeros.


  • The lying on a bed of flowers bit – is that in the book? I must have totally missed that…

    • Me too, I always thought it was just Ned found her in a bed of blood (which also hints towards death during childbirth really)

      • Some of this article is wrong, Ned was present in the battle of the trident

        He says to Arthur Dayne “I looked for you on the trident, but you were nowhere to be found”…

        just a few things also they should’ve pointed out the fact the Lyannas promise is probably associated with Ned claiming Jon as his own because Robert Baratheon hated all things targaryen and Lyanna probably didn’t want Jon to die if the truth got out, given that Jon is the rightful heir to the iron throne according to these R+L=J

        and not to be pedantic but this article says L+R=J just doesn’t read right

  • Wow, the Jon and Daenerys plot lines are not something I foresaw converging (based on the show, anyway). They’ve been pretty much at the polarising ends of the plot, such that seeing them together in the same scene would be like watching a crossover special.

  • OK, spoilers because Schreier is being Schreier:

    His first dot point is talking about ‘baby Aegon’ yes? I’m confused as he’s being overly smug in dropping his knowledge later on in the article about the ‘third Targaryen’ – baby Aegon all grown up and not dead. You don’t look all that clever telling me you know something I don’t and then telling me anyway.

    I *had* thought this Lord of the Light/R’hollr stuff was brought on by Melisandre and her alone – or did the Targaryens worship that religion too? That entire dynasty? Or am I simply reading too much into a throwaway line from Rhaegar that until last night was just a line in the books (albeit one that sounds exactly like the prophecy)?

    • To the spoiler bit: yes, Dany sees Rhaegar saying that (at Aegon’s birth) in her vision back in Qarth.

      For the rest, not sure. IIRC the red priests come from Volantis which is right near Valyria so it’s possible.

    • The prophecy of Azor Ahai spoken of by Melisandre (and other followers of the Lord of Light), and the prophecy of “The Prince That Was Promised” that Rhaegar read about, are hinted in the books (and believed by most readers) to be one and the same.

      Basically different interpretations that have changed over the centuries.

      It is also generally told/believed that the first Prince That Was Promised (the prophecy is that this person will come again/be reborn), was the one who led fight to throw back The Others (the White Walkers in the HBO show) when they first came down thousands of years before.

  • I found out last night that my wife has been under the impression for the last 5 years that Jon Snow is Robert’s illegitimate son and Ned was hiding his existence from Robert. She suddenly (round about the Tower of Joy scene) started saying that it’s not making sense to her anymore, and after a little discussion, I ran through the Rhaegar hypothesis.


  • The author of the article is incorrect about one major detail. The kingsguard would not have been protecting a bastard, they were protecting an heir – Rhaegar and Lyanna were married. This was not uncommon for Targaryens to have multiple wives throughout history. Jon is technically Jon Targaryen and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. What was also forgotten was that the prophecy mentions a 3 headed dragon – Dany and Jon are 2, who is the third.

  • Arthur Dayne: “I’m borking your sister Ned, calm down, don’t lose your head”.

    😉 😉 😉

  • im all but convinced of R+L=J now.

    my wife and i are 100% that you cant hear a childs cry as ned walks to the stairs just before bran calls out to him.

  • I was thinking the drawn out flashbacks were a way of getting the TV series to tread water until the next book is completed.

  • I feel like weighing in here by adding some further details.
    Throughout the books and season 1 Ned Stark has always said that Jon is his blood and not my son. In season 5 both Littlefinger and Stannis the Mannis (RIP) both hinted at the R + L = J hypothesis.

    The big unconfirmed spoiler is that Lyanna actually had two children, Jon and Meera Reed. If you look at both depictions in the show Jon and Meera both have dark long wavy hair and are of similar age. Another hint of this is that Howland Reed is the only other survivor of the encounter with the Kingsguard.

  • The book “The World of Ice and Fire” mentions what happened at Summerhall. Beautiful illustrations to boot!

  • For a long time, my partner and I thought Melissandre and Ned produced John. But I think the theory this article reports is pretty much rock solid.

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