R+L=J and what it might mean for the world of Game of Thrones

Helen Sloan/HBO

Who doesn’t love a good fan theory? From the somewhat plausible like Rey being Luke’s daughter, to the downright bizarre such as Harriet Jones being a Dalek back in Tennant era Doctor who, we eat them up. There is one fan theory that has been almost universally accepted by the hardcore fans of the world of Westeros, simply known as “R+L=J”. It’s worth remembering that while the TV show has only been around for 6 years, the books that the show originates have been around for a lot longer, the first being released in 1996. That’s given fans 20 years to pour over the pages and mull over every tiny detail of George RR Martin’s magnum opus.

Considering the TV show has now officially overtaken the books, much to the chagrin of Martin’s biggest admirers, this is a long time for avid followers to go without a conclusion to the stories of their favourite characters. With the popularity of the internet on the rise during the 20 years since the first book’s release, the R+L=J fan theory has spread around fandom like the Wildfyre currently hidden beneath the streets of Kings Landing. Never has a simple equation meant so much for the characters of a medieval fantasy world, but what does it mean? It’s worth noting that to fully explain every detail of this theory, and every event and character that it effects, would take an article almost as long as Wun Wun’s unspeakables. So consider this a quick zip through the history of Westeros, more in line with the direct train clearly taken by Littlefinger this season.

The theory calls into question the true parentage of everyone’s favourite bastard, Jon Snow. Fresh from his victory at the battle of Winterfell, it could be that we are about to finally learn the truth that Eddard Stark promised him right back in the very first season. It is currently believed by the people of Westeros that when currently headless Ned Stark rode off to fight in Robert’s rebellion against the Targaryen empire, he returned from the war with a bastard son in his arms, Jon Snow. The R+L=J theory however, tells a very different story. A story which changes the very meaning of the rebellion itself, and would send shockwaves rippling down the Game of Thrones timeline faster than Bran Stark when he is hooked up to the 3-eyed Raven’s fibre optic psychic downloads.

The official story of Robert’s rebellion begins about 18 years before the series begins, with a grand tournament at the ancient castle of Harrenhall, where fan favourite Arya spent most of season 2. The tournament was attended by lots of familiar characters, included Eddard Stark, his brother Benjen and the mad king himself, Aerys Targaryen. Also present was Eddard’s often mentioned sister, Lyanna Stark, who was Robert’s betrothed. Aerys’ son, Rhaegar, older brother of the mother of dragons herself, was competing at the tournament, and was ultimately successful. Upon his victory, it was his duty to name the new “Queen of love and beauty”, an honour usually given to the most beautiful woman present. Rhaegar, at this point, was married to Oberyn “Squashed by a Mountain” Martell’s sister, Elia. He shocked everyone present however, when he presented the honour to Eddard’s sister Lyanna. In the books Ned recalls it as “The moment the smiles died”. Some time later Lyanna was abducted by Rhaegar, leading to a chain of events that sparked Robert and Eddard marching off to war. Fans are convinced however, that Rhaeger did not actually abduct Lyanna, and that she may actually have joined Rhaegar of her own free will.

This brings us to a now classic scene from the most recent season of Game of Thrones. Taking place in one of Bran’s visions, at the end of Robert’s rebellion. Eddard and a group of other men, including the yet unseen in the present Howland Reed, arrive at the Tower of Joy in Southern Westeros looking for his apparently kidnapped sister Lyanna. After a duel with Ser Arthur Dayne, the sword of the morning, Ned and Howland emerge the only survivors. As we see Eddard approach the tower, we are wrenched from the scene, along with Bran, by the 3- eyed Raven.


Here is the exciting part. It has been confirmed that we will be revisiting the Tower of Joy in this weekend’s episode of Game of Thrones. Fans around the world are convinced that this scene will finally reveal the fact that Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s bastard, but the possibly legitimate son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. It is a fact, long established in the books, that in her final moments Lyanna made Eddard promise her something, are we about to discover that the promise was to keep Jon safe? It is also a fact that Ned Stark is constantly referred to as one of the most honourable men in Westeros, are we to believe a man who’s honour ultimately lead to the downfall of his house would father a bastard son?

What does this mean for the world of Westeros? Maester Aemon once told Jon Snow that a Targaryen alone in the world was a terrible thing, is it possible that Danaerys is no actually alone, and that she may well have a nephew who could suddenly have a huge claim to the Iron Throne? Danaerys was once told that “the dragon has three heads”, could Jon (Targaryen) Snow potentially sit atop one of those Dragons in a future series?

The world crafted by George RR Martin’s mind is incredibly rich and full of hidden wonders. His talent for world building is akin to a modern day Tolkien. The clues however, are there if we look hard enough for them. After years of waiting, is Sunday finally the day one of the most popular fan theories is confirmed…

Check back here on Monday for the shocking reveal that R+L=J wasn’t true. Kidding… Maybe.