Secrets of Westeros: Who are Jon Snow’s Parents?

By Monique Jacobs on Jul 2, 2012 to Game of Thrones

Do you find yourself asking questions like, ‘Is my mother alive?’ and, ‘Does she know about me, where I am, where I’m going? Does she care?’ as you prepare to ride for a massive, frozen man-made structure up North?  No, because your name isn’t Jon Snow and you don’t live in the world of Westeros where whorehouses welcome you (your money) with open arms, where the invitation is accepted with such regularity, it’s equivalent to having a membership and where infidelity is the national pastime.

Bastards are spawned ad nauseum and there’s very little concern about whether or not mommy or daddy will be around to change the diapers.

With regards to everyone’s favourite bastard, however, people want answers.
Jon-Snow-jon-snow-25851985-500-282-300x169Who is Jon Snow’s mother?   This is one of the most frequently debated topics amongst book readers as well as non-book readers.

Is she a whore that Ned met while fighting alongside Robert Baratheon?   Is it The Lady Ashara Dayne, the sister of Ser Arthur Dayne who was killed by Ned during combat?

It’s Robert Baratheon’s remark, ‘’ She must have been a rare wench to make Lord Stark forget his honor” that I’m using to spark this debate.   Rare wench, indeed.  You could even use the word ‘fictional’ if you like.  Catelyn Stark notes that ‘Whoever Jon’s mother had been, Ned must have loved her fiercely, because nothing she said ‘would persuade him to send the boy away.’  Yes, Ned did, in fact, love Jon’s mother fiercely.  Contradiction at its best?  Not quite.  Please take a moment to appreciate the dramatic irony.

I all but fell out of my chair when I received the go-ahead to present the theory that has everyone’s knickers in an excited twist.    Before proceeding, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that all the events referred to in this article took place before the series starts.  Also, remember that George R.R. Martin has yet to divulge who Jon’s parents are.   He, alone, knows the answer to the delectable enigma that he’s created.  This is, at best, speculation.

Albeit cleverly supported speculation.

‘Lord Eddard Stark is my father.’   Jon says to Tyrion Lannister in episode one.  When pulling at the thread of this particular claim, the secret begins to unravel.  No, my dove, I’m afraid he isn’t.

But, even at the tender age of fourteen, Jon is described as bearing the most striking resemblance to the Starks than any of his half-siblings.  Catelyn observes that he ‘looked more like Ned than any of the trueborn sons she bore him.’ Curious.  Unless you entertain the widely popular belief that Ned is, in fact, Jon’s uncle and that his sister, Lyanna Stark, and Rhaegar Targaryen were Jon’s biological parents.   Just when you think Jon can’t possibly get any sexier/more interesting, gods old and new, the half-dragon card gets played.

Let’s try to uncover one of the realm’s best kept secrets, shall we?

Lord Eddard Stark is a man of indisputable honour and loyalty.  But, as the story is said to go, the noble Lord marries Catelyn Tully and she falls pregnant with his son, Robb.  The newly wed then has to embark upon Robert’s Rebellion and, during this time period, he casts aside his husbandly duty  – such a Ned thing to do – and beds another woman while the mother of his unborn child waits for him at Riverrun.  A year after his departure, he returns to Winterfell with an illegitimate bundle of joy.

Can we put this version of the event to eternal rest?   Immediately?   Those who have come to understand Ned know that he is governed by nothing short of sainthood.

Lord Stark’s unwaveringly noble disposition aside, what other evidence is there to support this theory?   I’m thrilled you asked because it took an hour to find the relevant book passages and episode scenes.

The first seed of suspicion should begin to grow in light of just how little information is provided about said affair in relation to how prominently the subject of who Jon’s mother’s is, features in the story.  The hearsay accounts are ambivalent and disparities exist when the identity of the woman comes into play.  The question arises far too often for it not to have a significant answer.   And amidst all the speculation, what’s Ned doing?  Why, he’s busy evading and deflecting questions while wearing a most aggrieved expression on his face of course.
robert-and-ned-high-dressNow, Robert Baratheon seems certain of Jon’s mother’s identity.  While lunching along the King’s Road and engaging in a bout of ‘Who bedded whom?’ nostalgia, he poses the question to Ned, “Yours was, Elena.  You told me once, your bastard’s mother.  Meryl?”  To which Ned reluctantly responds, “Wylla.”  Robert goes on to say, ‘’You never told me what she looked like.”  Ned’s answer signals the end of the discussion. “Nor will I.”  Well, there you have it, case closed.  It is known.  Is it?  If her identity is this uncomplicated, why won’t Ned share the information or even so much as her name with Jon?

Or clarify the matter with his wife who suspects that The Lady Ashara Dayne is Jon’s mother?  Oh dear.  Upon her return to Winterfell, she finds baby Jon and his wet nurse setting up home.   It’s understandable that a wife would have a few questions about the new addition to the family.  But Ned, who isn’t prone to displays of insensitivity, hurts Catelyn deeply by remaining tight-lipped.   After the whispers from the rumour mill reach her ears of the beautiful Lady Ashara, she musters the courage to ask Ned about her.  His response marks the first time that Catelyn is ever truly frightened of her husband.   ‘“Never ask me about Jon,” he said, cold as ice. “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know.”’

‘He is my blood’.  The phrasing is crucial.  Again, in episode two, Jon rides for the Night’s Watch and, before they part ways on the King’s road, Ned says, “The Starks have manned the Wall for thousands of years.   You may not have my name but you have my blood.‘  The folks of Westeros may refer to Jon as Ned’s bastard son, but does Ned ever use the word ‘son’?   The subtlety of the wording would be completely lost on anyone who isn’t asking the right questions.  Ned certainly can’t be accused of lying.  If Lyanna is Jon’s mother, Stark blood does indeed flow through his veins.  Ned’s is an act of omission.  It’s my feeling that he loathes fueling any lies but he’s not prepared to reveal the truth either.  His words and responses are selected with careful deliberation.

But why the need for secrecy?  The answer to this question hinges on the magnitude of Robert’s hatred towards the Targaryens and the promise that Ned made to Lyanna as a result of that hatred.

Ned’s transgression was said to have occurred during Robert’s Rebellion against the Targaryens, but we’re working from the basis that there was no affair.  Let’s proceed.

It was believed that Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped  Lyanna  – Robert’s betrothed –  and that he raped her numerous times.   Now, I’m using the words ‘kidnapped’ and ‘raped’ very loosely because it’s a belief that, I suspect, originated with Robert.

And Robert was biased.  His feelings towards Rhaegar soured the moment Rhaegar made his interest in Lyanna uncomfortably known at the Tourney at Harrenhal.  Rhaegar was declared the champion and ‘Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish Princess Elia Martell, to lay the Queen of Beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.’

Roughly a year later (to commemorate the event?) Rhaegar ‘kidnapped’ her (I would’ve suggested sending a card instead.)  This roused Robert’s fury.

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but Rhaegar Targaryen doesn’t fit the profile of ‘wicked rapist.’  Adored by the smallfolk, he was described as an intelligent, honourable, valiant man who often succumbed to melancholy.  He excelled at knighthood but he preferred to read books and play the harp.  He could sing ‘songs of such beauty they could reduce women to tears’ – a most dreadful fellow indeed.  Married to Elia Martell, he fathered two children with her.  His only crime may have been that he loved another woman.

Lyanna Stark was no delicate flower either.  She was blessed with unrivaled beauty, but she was described as a very headstrong, stubborn young girl (much like her niece, Arya).  Her feelings towards Robert were ambivalent.  She may have cared for him, but I couldn’t find any definitive evidence to suggest that she loved him as she should have.  If Lyanna was taken to King’s Landing, it’s because she went willingly.  If she had intimate relations with Rhaegar, they were consensual.  Rhaegar loved her and I believe she loved him in return.  These are possibilities that didn’t enter Robert’s mind.  In his eyes, Lyanna could do no wrong.  “You never knew Lyanna as I did, Robert.” Ned once remarked.

But Rhaegar’s life, the nature of his relationship with Lyanna, the prophecy and the metaphorical three-headed dragon are a 2900 word story for another time.

Ned’s father, Rickard and his brother, Brandon, rode to King’s Landing to reclaim Lyanna, but it was an unsuccessful mission.  You see, the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, had other plans – he decided to murder them instead.  Don’t worry, your Grace, Jaime Lannister’s got your back.

The murder of Ned’s father and brother is what triggered Robert’s Rebellion and, with the Mad King slayed, Robert eventually won the Iron Throne as well as the title of ‘Usurper’.

We’re (purposefully) provided with very few details, but it was also sometime during the campaign that Lyanna died.  Her death unleashed Robert’s full devastation, fury and hatred.  Ned had loved his sister ‘with all his heart.  Robert had loved her even more.’

Ned notes that ‘Robert’s hatred of the Targaryens was a madness in him.’  And it was a madness that drove a rift between the two of them for a period of time.  When Tywin Lannister presented the bodies of Rhaegar’s family to Robert , ‘Ned had named that murder; Robert called it war.’  Ned couldn’t advocate the murder of children but Robert’s reply was, “I see no babes.  Only dragonspawn.”

Robert sought his vengeance and he found it.  He killed Rhaegar at the Battle of the Trident but the victory was a hollow one.  He felt that even a thousand deaths would not have been good enough for the Targaryen Prince.  And, to him, Rhaegar was the victorious one because, in death, he still had Lyanna.  Robert’s unquenchable bitterness and hatred stretched out its hand to all of Rhaegar’s kin.  Viserys and Daenerys Targareyn – Rhaegar’s younger siblings – were smuggled out of Westeros and across the Narrow Sea in the nick of time.   His hatred was to be his companion for the rest of his life.  Only later, on his deathbed, did he have a change of heart and instruct Ned to revoke the order to have Daenerys killed.

Here’s where a very interesting point arises.  Whenever Robert reflects and rages, Ned offers a few pacifying words and waits for the tirade to end.   It begs the question, ‘Why is Eddard Stark so damn chilled?’ He doesn’t need to show his grief by killing babies, but if Rhaegar really did kidnap and rape Lyanna , the sister that he loved so much, shouldn’t his anger match at least a fraction of Robert’s?  Why does Ned seem to remember the young Prince in a way that suggests admiration, even sadness?

Ned, is there something you’re not telling Bobbie?

“Promise me, Ned.”   These are Lyanna’s final words.  He often recalls them and, coupled with the memory that they conjure, they torment him for the rest of his life. ‘He could hear her still at times. “Promise me,” she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses.  “Promise me, Ned.’’’ While the circumstances of her death may be vague, we know one thing for certain.  Ned was with her when she died.

There’s the admission that he can scarcely recall the moment when they found him, still clutching Lyanna’s body.  The book structures Ned’s memory in a manner that feels fragmented and incomplete.  It’s also written in such a way as to lead one to believe that what she’s asking of him is to be buried in the crypt at Winterfell, ‘to rest beside Brandon and Father.’  However the weight of the burden that’s placed on his shoulders isn’t in keeping with such a small request.  He describes honouring the promise as his curse. ‘Robert would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall, but Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promises he’d made Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he’d paid to keep them.’

Price?

‘I promise, Lya.  I promise.’  And he kept his promise.  He didn’t reveal that that Lyanna had fallen pregnant, that Jon was her son and that Rhaegar, not him, was his father.  This is a hefty claim, I know.

Let’s examine it.  Various passages describe it simply as a fever that took her life, but the ‘bed of blood’ reference could suggest that Lyanna died while giving birth to Jon.  Ned doesn’t mention a baby, but as I said, it feels as though we’re privy to a partial memory only.

The peace of mind that his word offers her is staggering.  ‘The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes.  Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black’

Sidenote:  Rose petals you say?  ‘Lyanna loved the scent of winter roses.’  Wasn’t it thoughtful of Rhaegar to present her with a crown of the flowers that she loved?  Very sweet.  I wish I had the time/space/patience to explore the importance of the symbology.

What was Lyanna so fearful of?  Simply put, she didn’t want her son to move to the top of Robert Baratheon’s hit list.

‘She belonged with me.  In my dreams, I kill him every night.’ Robert says.  ‘It’s done your grace. The Targaryens are gone’ is Ned’s response.

‘Not all of them.‘

But Robert is, of course, referring to Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen.  Perhaps Jon will be safe, even if his true identity is known.

‘I’ll kill every Targaryen I get my hands on.’ Perhaps not.

Allow me to be frank.  It’s possible that Robert and Lyanna consummated their betrothal, but it seems unlikely to me and, once again, there’s no real evidence to support the claim that they did.  Robert loved Lyanna, I think she’s the one thing he would’ve wanted to keep sacred.  I feel he would’ve waited to consummate the union after they were married.  This could further explain the intensity of his rage.  In his eyes, it could never have been anything other than ‘rape’.  Rhaegar had been the one to take Lyanna’s innocence.  Robert saw it as a vile, unforgivable act, the defiling of one that was so pure and beautiful to him.

If you want to argue that they did have an intimate relationship and that the child could have been Robert’s, why was Lyanna so afraid?  Robert fathered many bastards and let’s be honest, no one would list ‘observant’ as one of his strengths (Enter Cersei and her three golden haired offspring.)  She must have known, beyond a doubt, that Robert was not the father and that he would have drawn the same conclusion.  If Lyanna fell pregnant, whether by rape or consent, she must’ve believed that Robert would have known the child was Rhaegar’s.   And I don’t have the strength to spell out how Jon’s story would have ended.
Jon-and-Daenerys-jon-snow-29370480-500-500-300x300Ned lied to his best friend. He allowed his wife to believe that his honour had been compromised and that he had had an affair.  He withheld the identity of Jon’s biological parents from everyone, including Jon.  This was his burden, this was his sacrifice.  He did it in order to keep his word to Lyanna.  He did it to protect the son of the sister that he loved so much from Robert Baratheon’s vengeance.   What an honourable man.

George has to be commended for his writing prowess.  He chooses his words with care and deliberation.   One won’t find conclusive evidence to rule Ned out as Jon’s father.    Instead, Martin dances around subtleties, omissions and carefully worded phrases that leave room for debate and that will allow him to creatively steer the story in the direction that he sees fit.   He uses the characters to reflect on Ned’s alleged lapse of honour, and this foregrounds the idea.  But, when it’s juxtaposed with his actions and the constant sacrifices that he makes for the sake of honour, it forces us to ask the question, ‘Come again?’  The true brilliance is fully appreciated when focusing less on what is made explicit and paying attention, instead, to what is being said implicity.

If the Lyanna/Rhaegar theory is correct, it holds very big, exciting implications for the future of the realm.  In addition, writers often like to create symmetry.   In literary terms, if Jon is a Targaryen, this will form one of several potential literary harmonies that George has set up beautifully.

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146 Comments on "Secrets of Westeros: Who are Jon Snow’s Parents?"

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Looks like Grayce had it right sorry Seth and Denhunter you are both wrong, Jon is a Stark and Targaryen. It makes complete sense and ties everything together, who else to better lead man against an army of the undead but the King of the North and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, which just so happens to be Jon Snow. It’s perfect :)

Silly readers. Ned and his sister begat Jon Snow. He is one-hundred percent Stark. Pure northerner. No foolish conjecture about any love except the one they both had for each other, and that everyone knew about. Incest going on since Aegon the Conquerer. Remember that the Mad King wanted the Stark men dead. All of them. He lured two to Kings Landing where they were strangled and burned. He kidnapped Lyanna to lure Ned south. They figured Ser Gerold and Arthur Dayne would be enough to kill ten Ned Starks. But they didn’t account for ‘sister-love’. And incest lives on.… Read more »

The Starks’ hair are red and brown. Not black.

Robert is black of hair and all his offspring.

Very impressive and well written. However, there would be no significance in Jon being a Targaryen. He would not be the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, because he would be a bastard, nonetheless. Despite the many things that seem to “fit” in this theory, one must ask the question: “What difference would it make?” There is nothing significant or to be gained by Jon being a Targaryen. He is (1) pledged to the Night’s Watch, having forsaken all lands, titles, inheritances, etc.; (2) the Lord Commander of the same; (3) still a bastard—only that of two noble houses rather… Read more »

Yeah, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, Stark and Targaryen…. no significance whatsoever…….

Perhaps you need to think about it a little more, or read it again. Jon Snow being a Targeryn bastard would mean absolutely nothing. Period.

Right, because no bastards have risen to power nor have Lord Commanders foresaken their vows. How about undead? A Song of Ice and Fire is significant.

I just started reading the books and find it very interesting that in the beginning of the first book, how Tyrion Lannister is comparing himself to Jon and advising him prior to his decision to enter the Nights Watch. From what I know of the fever and blood and roses relating to Lyanna’s death and the common assumption that it was a result of childbirth and comparing it to Tyrion’s constant remindings that he murdered his mother when he was born, made this particular relationship stick out.. I believe Tyrion is probably the wisest of all characters. As I pay… Read more »

Wylla is the damn wet nurse, someone that looks after babies. Yes Jon doesn’t have silver hair, but if you look through the world of Westeros there’s plenty of bastards that don’t follow the exact hair colour; even some that aren’t which still don’t have the exact hair colour. It’s caused by the inter-mixing of various houses. It’s very plausible that Jon could be a Targ. I’ve read all the books and watched every episode at least half a dozen times each. This entire theory seems to fit better than anything other.

The Targaryen seed is weak, which is why they are so incestual. With Lyanna being the mother, her colourings would have passed to John, making him look like a Stark even if he is half dragon.

WHO IS WYLLA?
“YOURS WAS..er..ALEENA? NO. YOU TOLD ME ONCE. er…MERYL? YOUR BASTARDS’ MOTHER?” -ROBERT BARATHEON
and then Ned Stark replies, WYLLA. He even had that face that suggests that he did and regret such acts with such a woman

targaryens can be hurt by fire many have even died from it

I fully subscribe to the theory that Jon is the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar. However, I was watching the first series again not long ago and remember when Jon kills the White Walker he burns his hand on the lamp (which is drawn upon very overtly). With this in mind and what we see with Danny that fire can’t hurt a Targaryen. Just food for thought.

What Overlord said.

Viserys was a Targaryen.

i have always wondered..why would Ned bring home his bastard son..why not leave it to the mother..which would be more convenient..for everyone.. including the child!

He brought home his bastard because sister/lover was dead.

i have always wondered..why would Ned bring home his bastard son..why not leave it to the mother..which would be more convenient..for everyone.. including the child!

but how is it going to be revealed if the only people who knew about it were Ned and Lyanna

The Reed kids that are with Bran, their dad was with Ned when Lyanna died. And Jojen has the sight, Bran will as well. Plus, Lyanna was in a tower in Dorne when she died, so maybe the Oberyn Martell suspects… we was at the Turney when Lyanna/Rhaegar met.

but WHO IS WYLLA? Season 1 Episode 2 “Kingsroad” remember? Even Robert knew that wench and her “connection” to Ned. Please explain. I have started reading so right now most of my knowledge came from the TV series

Robert hated every single Targ that walked the earth. Would he have known that Jon was half Targaryen, he would have killed him – regardless of his relation to Ned

I haven’t ready the books. I thought Ned miht have made up the name Wylla, but I don’t know. You can look it up on this wiki: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Wylla

Edric Dayne claims he nursed Willa with Jon Snow, when they both were in Starfall.

yeah, but Oberyn doesn’t found ou before he died.

thanks for explaining!i haven’t read the books, so there is a lot i don’t know!

I haven’t read the books either actually, just speculating. The online wikis have the info on Lyanna/Rhaegar.

Also, his last name is snow, and accordingly in Westeros illegitimate children take the bastard name of where their mother is from. Since he is a Snow, this indicates his mothers from the north… Just some food for thought.

what if ned have sex with her sister,,and jon snow is their child…likw jamie lanister and her sister? back this times this hapens for the reason that royal families contimue the ” pure bloodline of the family name”

Ned was kinda busy fighting a war and he’s not Jaime Lannister either

No, he wasn’t. The war didn’t go on over a year. I also believe Snow is the Ned/Lyanna incest baby.

EVERYONE in the book, including Ned, states that he is Jon’s father. And he is the spitting image of Ned. And Ned ALWAYS calls him ‘son’.

Jon Snow is the King of the North. I think that Robb knew when he made him his heir.

I agree with your theory on Jon’s parentage. I believe Jon is the true heir to the Seven Kingdoms. When Daenerys was in the House of the Undying, she saw SNOW falling in the throne room…this could be symbolic for “Jon Snow”. On a side note I’m curious why didn’t they dye Sean Bean’s hair Black for his role as Eddard..his lighter colored hair does not fit the profile for the Starks?!?!

black hairs are baratheons
tullys are gingers
starks are brown
lannisters&tah(I’m not sure of the spelling:P) are gold/yellow
targaryens are silver, i think

You can’t just simply go by hair colour alone to determine a person’s lineage…

They actually have a book of those in the series. Remember in season 1 where Ned stark was determining the last actions of the former Hand of the king that eventually led to his death.

the snow in the throne room scene happened only in the tv show. in the books the house of the undying scene was very different from what happened the tv show. plus jon is a bastard, he is heir to nothing no matter who his parents are.

Unless, of course, he’s not. The Targs were known for sister wives (literally in most cases). The only reason Reaghar married was because he didn’t have a sister to wed (Remember Dany was born around the same time he died). He could have, easily, married Lyanna with, or without, the consent of his current wife which, again, is something the Targs were known for. If he did marry Lyanna (which makes sense because the Kingsguard is only suppose to serve those of Royal blood with claim to the throne. There were three guarding Lyanna) than Jon is Jon Targaryan, and… Read more »

The real heir to the throne is the first son of Reaghar , Aegon VI his first born son … Even if snow is his son his the heir to nothing …. Cause the firs born is still alive.

Pretty sure Godrick Borrell straight up told Davos Seaworth that Jon Snow’s mother was a fisherman’s daughter who smuggled Edard into Sisterton. I mean if that’s not true it’s not true but it’s actually there in black and white.

I would like to throw a wrench in the mix here, Jon does not have the silver hair that all Targaryens have. So I think it unlikely that his parents are Rheagar and lyanna.

You do know that genes are also passed down through the mother’s side, right? Men are not the only ones with “strong seeds”. Besides, it’s established in-universe that whenever the Targs married outside the family, the children would often inherit the looks of the non-Targaryen parent. For example, in the Dunk and Egg stories it’s revealed that Baelor Breakspear, the son of Daeron the Good, had dark hair and eyes like his Dornish mother. GRRM had also stated that Princes Rhaenys, Rhaegar and Elia’s daughter, had dark hair and generally looked more Dornish like her mother. In short, the “seed”… Read more »

There have been other Targaryens with dark hair. The main reason they always had silver hair and purple eyes is from inbreeding.

He couldn’t say it was his nephew because he thought his best friend Robert would kill him for being the bastard son or the son of rape by rhaegar or the mad king either way

Or he thought Robert would kill them BOTH because he has a baby with Robert’s beloved Lyanna.

Jon aegon and Danny are the three heads of the dragon jon takes the white and red eyed one, aegon the green and Danny the biggest jon is ice Danny is fire, aegon and jon are half brothers and Robb and Brandon and the rest were cousins Danny is his aunt

Fabulous! Kneesus I agree with you. I asked my partner, who is ahead of me in the books, what he thought of Jon Snow’s parentage and he was surprised I even brought it up.

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