One of the most defining aspects of the Game of Thrones story is the six-season-long mystery of Jon Snow’s true parentage. But just because Season 6 finally answered the question, that plot point is hardly finished. Questions remain about the circumstances of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen’s union and how this will impact Jon’s role in the wars to come.
Before the show confirmed the fact that Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen are Jon’s parents, it existed as theory colloquially known as R + L = J. And because it’s been floating around internet forums for years before the show even existed, there’s a world of additional information and theories about it. Here’s what you need to know about how this could shake up Season 7:
1. Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark Married in Secret
The story of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s relationship is a tangled one, colored by each character’s perception. Some say Rhaegar abducted Lyanna and raped her; others say she willingly ran off with him and the two were star-crossed lovers. At the time of their fateful encounter, Lyanna was betrothed to King Robert Baratheon, who worshiped the ground she walked on. On Rhaegar’s end of this partnership, he wasn’t just betrothed to someone else — he was married to Oberyn Martell’s sister Elia.
But some fans think when Rhaegar and Lyanna disappeared together, they married in secret. The evidence is that the books mention the Isle of Faces, which is filled with Weirwood trees. A Northern ceremony could have been performed there.
Why this is important: If they married, it means that Jon Snow is not Rhaegar’s bastard and therefore has a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne. It also gives the titular A Song of Ice and Fire a new meaning. Many fans assume that the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys, is the “Fire” and that the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch Jon is the “Ice.” But if Rhaegar Targaryen was the “Fire” who married the Northern Lyanna Stark as the “Ice,” then Jon Snow himself is the Song.
2. Lyanna Stark Was the Knight of the Laughing Tree
If Rhaegar and Lyanna ran away together out of love, there’s still the question of how they met. Before the events of the show and even before the fateful Tourney at Harrenhal in which Rhaegar crowned Lyanna the Queen of Love and Beauty and instigated a war, there was a mysterious incident at the tourney. An unknown knight calling himself the Knight of the Laughing Tree appeared to defend the honor of Howland Reed, Ned Stark’s right-hand man in the Season 6 Tower of Joy flashbacks. The knight’s identity remains a mystery, but many believe it was Lyanna Stark. The Mad King sent Rhaegar after the knight to uncover his identity, but he supposedly didn’t find anything save for his shield. However, if Bran has another flashback in Season 7, the show could reveal that he did indeed catch up to Lyanna, and this meeting sparked the ensuing war and chaos.
Why this is important: If the show reveals that Lyanna really was the Knight of the Laughing Tree who defended Howland Reed, it gives the mysterious crannogmen more incentive to help Jon Snow, assuming he finally shows up onscreen in the present day.
3. Rhaegar’s Harp Is More Than Just a Harp
Rhaegar Targaryen is remembered for his flowing silver hair, his simultaneous skills in battle and poetry, and his notorious harp skills. Because his harp is mentioned so often — along with its unique silver strings — some fans theorize that there’s more to the instrument than simply signifying his status as the Manic Pixie Dream Prince of Westeros. Could it be Lightbringer?
As a brief refresher, Azor Ahai was a legendary hero with a sword called Lightbringer. He saved the world from darkness thousands of years before the events of the show. In a prophecy known as “The Prince that Was Promised,” he’s supposed to be reborn to save the world once more. Because Sam and Gilly are reading about Azor Ahai in their Season 7 photo, this will play a role in the upcoming Season. Because they have both been reborn, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are the most likely contenders to be the Prince That Was Promised.
Why this is important: If Season 7 reveals that Rhaegar’s harp is indeed Lightbringer, that means Azor Ahai must be Jon or Daenerys, and it changes the meaning of A Song of Ice and Fire.
4. Rhaegar’s Harp is Secretly Buried at Winterfell
Even if Rhaegar’s harp is just a harp, there’s another theory floating around that it might be buried in the Winterfell crypts. The logic is that Lyanna is the only woman with her own statue, which means it could be more than just a statue. Further, when she said “promise me, Ned” on her deathbed, she could have been asking him to promise to preserve Jon’s birthright.
Why this is important: The audience and Bran now know about Jon’s parents, but Jon remains ignorant. Discovering Rhaegar’s famous harp in the crypts would be a hell of a reveal. It would also affirm his birthright in a more definitive way than Bran telling him, “I saw it in a magic dream so just trust me, it’s true.”
Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres July 16, 2017 on HBO.