All of the Hints at Jon Snow’s True Origins in Seasons 1 to 7 of Game of Thrones Explained
Game of Thrones has always been filled with impressive and often vague, but clever, moments of foreshadowing, be that through easter eggs, the framing of a scene, or even dialogue. Many of these hints revolve around Jon Snow and the mystery surrounding his birth. From the first episode onwards there are a number of clues, suggesting at a deeper meaning to Jon Snow’s origins. Some are obvious, whereas others are much more subtle and complex, but they almost always hint at there being a lot more to the story than the people of Westeros, including Jon himself, realise.
The many hints eventually lead to the game-changing finales of both Season Six, and Seven, where we first discover that Jon is actually the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and then later realise that not only is he their child, but as he was born after their secret marriage, he is a legitimate Targaryen, and as Rhaegar’s last surviving child, is the true heir to the Iron Throne.
These revelations are obviously huge for the show and massively contrast with the commonly accepted story that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, and Ned Stark returned from Robert’s Rebellion with his own bastard, but most importantly the reveal sets up a lot of new questions as to how Jon (whose real name is Aegon Targaryen) and his newly discovered birth status will play into his future. Here is our list of all of the hints and references to Jon Snow’s real identity from the first seven seasons of the show.
Game of Thrones’ first season has some of the biggest hints at Jon’s true identity of the entire show. There are clear suggestions throughout that Jon may not actually be Ned’s bastard after all, and even more in-depth nods to theories such as R + L = J (which has argued that Rhaegar and Lyanna are Jon’s parents for years, long before the show began).
Starting off in Season One Episode One, ‘Winter is Coming’, after we’ve met most of the Starks and Jon’s bastard status is established, the Stark men discover a dead Direwolf and it’s now parentless cubs. Jon Snow himself points out that there are five, one for each of the Stark children. Only after this do they discover a sixth cub, a bright white and very different looking cub, who is pointed out by Theon Greyjoy to be the runt of the litter and fittingly Jon’s (who up until that point wasn’t expecting to get one, emphasising the fact that he isn’t considered a real Stark).
There is a lot to this small sequence, both in its dialogue and visually. Firstly Jon notes that he “isn’t a Stark”, primarily referring to being a bastard but arguably foreshadowing that he is really a Targaryen. Secondly, Jon’s Wolf, Ghost, is white, which at first looks to be another factor that further outlines his difference from the other Wolves and with it Jon’s difference from the other Stark children (and of course the ‘Snow’ connection). But when looking at Jon as a Targaryen, it also lends itself to the fact that as a family Targaryen’s typically have bright white hair.
The scene has a little extra poignancy when we look at the actual animals; the Direwolf is pointed out as being too far South, as they are rarely seen South of The Wall, and was killed by a Stag, (who also died). This is very clearly (and very cleverly) foreshadowing the notion of Ned (a Wolf) going down to King’s Landing (in the South) at the request of King Robert Baratheon (the Stag – with Stags being the sigil of House Baratheon), and both of them dying by the end of the first season.
Later on in the first episode, when Robert arrives at Winterfell, he immediately heads to the family crypt to pay his respects to his lost love Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister, who at this point we hear was kidnapped and raped by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, an event which led to Robert’s Rebellion and subsequent claim to the crown). The conversation he has with Ned is again simple enough on the face of it but hints at a deeper meaning overall.
After Ned points out that Lyanna is his sister and that she belongs in Winterfell, Robert responds by explaining that he believes she belonged with him and that in his dreams he kills ‘him’ (Rhaegar Targaryen) every night. Ned claims that all of the Targaryen’s are dead and that “it’s done”, to which Robert forebodingly replies “not all of them”. He, of course, is referring to both Viserys and Daenerys (Rhaegar’s siblings) who were at that point living in hiding across the Narrow Sea. But this can also be taken as a nod to Jon’s birth, and Robert’s hatred for all things Targaryen, which serves as an extra explanation as to why Ned would have kept Jon’s true heritage a secret from everyone.
In the final scene that Ned and Jon share (in Episode Two, ‘The Kingsroad’) we get a true sense of how little Jon knows about his mother. He asks Ned if she knows about him leaving for The Wall and if she would even care. Ned responds with one of the biggest R + L = J hints, and before promising Jon that he will tell him all about his mother when they next see each other, explains that although Jon doesn’t have his name, he shares his blood. As with all hints at Jon’s real parents, this could be an off the cuff explanation of Jon being a bastard, but following Seasons Six and Seven, we know this to be a direct reference to Jon not being Ned’s son, but his nephew instead.
The second episode of the first season continues on the thread of Jon’s mother in another conversation between Ned and Robert. Robert questions Ned on his bastard’s mother, who without missing a beat Ned claims is named Wylla and refuses to give up any more details. Robert jokes with Ned that she must have been some woman to seduce the honourable Ned Stark from his wife; further enforcing the idea that Ned wasn’t the type to conceived a bastard, away at war or not.
In Episode Four, ‘Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things’, Jon explains to Samwell Tarly that he has thus far avoided sex in an effort to prevent siring a bastard like himself, but as the conversation finishes up there is an ‘R’ (or admittedly it could be a ‘P’… but it’s definitely an ‘R’) and ‘L’ carved into a wall behind Jon. This could have been a nod to the theory of R + L = J rather than anything else, but, as we’ve come to learn, almost nothing is unintended in Game of Thrones.
Episode Five, ‘The Wolf and the Lion’, has some small hints at Jon’s parents, mainly through the actions of Ned; namely when he resigns as the Hand of the King after Robert makes it clear he is set on assassinating Daenerys Targaryen. Ned makes it clear he doesn’t agree with the assassination of a child, but the idea of assassinating someone simply as they are a Targaryen was perhaps hitting a nerve for Ned, given the effort he’s gone to, to protect his half Targaryen nephew.
Another hint in Episode Five sees Cersei Lannister ask Robert “what harm can Lyanna Stark’s ghost do to either of us?” – foreshadowing the idea that Jon, the son of Lyanna, is the true heir to the Iron Throne.
The last big hint in the first season is again mainly in Ned’s actions; in Episode Seven, ‘You Win or You Die’, when Ned learns of the ‘Baratheon’ children’s true parentage (to Jamie and Cersei, rather than Robert and Cersei) he decides to warn Cersei before revealing the news to Robert. This gives us yet another hint at not only Ned’s character but also his feeling towards protecting families (and children). It might not seem especially important when talking about the Jon Snows’ parents, or the R + L = J theory, but when you look at what Ned is trying to do for Cersei, it is easy enough to see how much further he would go to protect someone he loves from a similarly angry and vengeful King Robert.
In reality Seasons Two, Three, and Four were all relatively light on any mention of Jon’s parents as the story was still branching out its many other threads (and of course Ned was no longer present), but there were a few subtle nods here and there. Of the first few seasons Season Two is definitely the lightest on any hints at Jon’s true parentage, with the closest we get being a discussion of Ned Stark’s honour, and devotion to his family, and by extension what he’d do for them, reinforcing how far he’d go to for his sister Lyanna (and how unlikely it is that he’d have a bastard).
Season Three is again relatively light on any real hints at Jon’s parents, but there a few scenes that hint at the chain of events we’ve been told so far maybe doesn’t quite add up. Episode Two, ‘Dark Wings, Dark Words’ holds less of a hint, but instead something to note; As Catelyn explains her guilt over not being able to love Jon she mentions his brown eyes (that she assumes are of Jon’s mother), as a key difference between Jon and the rest of the Starks.
In Episode Three, ‘Walk of Punishment’, we start to get a more accurate or at least a very different view of Rhaegar Targaryen, one that doesn’t quite line up with Robert Baratheon’s version of the Targaryen Prince. Ser Barristan Selmy explains to Daenerys Targaryen that whilst her father truly was the Mad King, her older brother was the finest man he had ever met (with Ser Barristan being one of the more honourable and respected Game of Thrones characters himself). He goes on to claim that at the Trident (the final battle of Robert’s Rebellion, where Robert killed Rhaegar) the Targaryen army fought and died for Rhaeger as they loved and respected him. Here we begin to get a sense that maybe Rhaegar wasn’t at all the type of person who would kidnap and rape Lyanna Stark, and definitely not the monster that Robert made out.
Before the hints (and soon to be full-blown revelations) are ramped up significantly in Season Five, the fourth season only gives us one small reference, which again is more information on the relationship between Rhaegar and Lyanna, further contradicting Robert’s set of events.
In the first episode, ‘Two Swords’, Oberyn Martell discusses how much he hates The Mountain for killing his sister, Elia, with Tyrion Lannister. Elia Martell was Rhaegar Targaryen’s first wife and the mother of his first two children. Oberyn also makes it clear that he wasn’t particularly fond of Rhaegar, who he saw as having left Elia for another woman. The other woman isn’t named, but it seems clear enough that Oberyn views the scenario as Rhaegar specifically leaving his sister for another woman, rather than simply disgracing her by kidnapping and raping Lyanna Stark.
Starting in Episode Four, ‘Sons of the Harpy’, Stannis Baratheon (Robert’s younger brother) makes it clear that he isn’t convinced Ned Stark would have sired a bastard in a scene where his wife Selyse looks to Jon and dismisses him as “a bastard by some Tavern wench”, to which Stannis replies “perhaps, but that wasn’t Ned Stark’s way”. Stannis goes on to claim it would be foolish to ever doubt Ned Stark’s honour or honesty.
In the same episode, the Red Priestess Melisandre claims that she can sense the ‘power’ in Jon. She goes on to suggest that their ‘union’ could create something very powerful, that could “make light” or “cast shadows”. She heavily implies this would be similar to the ritual she performed with Stannis, which basically meant them having sex, after which a shadow demon baby thing was born, which then hunted down and killed Stannis’ brother Renly Baratheon. The important part to note here is that Melisandre claimed the ritual with Stannis worked as he has “King’s Blood”, by suggesting she senses a similar power in Jon she implies that Jon also has “King’s Blood”.
Also in Episode Four, with Sansa now back at Winterfell (but unfortunately being forced to marry Ramsay Bolton), Littlefinger takes the opportunity to recount the events of the Tourney at Harrenhal. Littlefinger explains to Sansa how impressive and good looking Rhaegar was, and that after winning the Tourney he was given a crown made of flowers, ‘The Crown of Winter Roses’. Everyone at the Tourney expected Rhaegar to give the crown to his wife, Elia Martell, but as he passed Elia the entire crowd fell silent. Littlefinger notes that he had never seen so many people switch from excitement to sheer silence. Rhaegar then approached Lyanna Stark and gave her the crown and with it, the title of ‘Queen of Love and Beauty’. Sansa retorts, explaining that Rhaegar later kidnapped and raped her aunt Lyanna, but a look on Littlefinger’s face seems to hint he is less than convinced this was the case.
This is not only the biggest hint so far at some sort of actual relationship between Rhaegar and Lyanna, but one that can (as many of the events relating to R + L = J) be taken in one of two ways. Most people in the Seven Kingdoms would see this as the beginning of, or at least first public showing of Rhaegar’s unreciprocated infatuation with Lyanna. But for others, it could be seen as a public showing of his, perhaps mutual, affection of Lyanna. Giving her the Crown and proclaiming her the ‘Queen of Love and Beauty’ is presumably more of a symbolic, loving, act than anything else, and an act that is in fitting with all of the other accounts of Rhaegar’s character we’ve had so far (minus Robert’s) as a charming, kind, and loving person (unless you look at it from Elia’s point of view, in which case Rhaegar comes off as a bit of a dick…)
Later in Episode Four, we get a similar scene to Ser Barristan and Danearys’ conversation in Season Three, where Ser Barristan continues to outline Rhaegar as a good person (and further refute the idea that he could kidnap and rape Lyanna). Ser Barristan recalls how much Rhaegar loved to sing, and despised killing, despite being very good at it. He explains that Rhaegar used to dress up as a minstrel and walk among the people, making them laugh and smile with his songs. This combined with what we already know of Rhaegar, and Littlefinger’s story on the Tourney of Harrenhal all begins to add up to a very different set of events from what we’ve been led to believe.
With the hints at R + L = J nearing an outright revelation, Episode Five, ‘Kill the Boy’, has another huge clue, but this one is a little more subtle. At The wall, as Sam and Maester Aemon discuss Danearys, Aemon says ‘a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing’, which from his point of view is referring to Danearys (or of course himself), but Game of Thrones’ subtle, or not so subtle, hints come in to play here, as literally the second after Aemon’s finishes his line the shot switches focus on the doorway, where Jon is now standing, as he, for a long time has been ‘a Targaryen alone in the world’.
But maybe the biggest ‘is it, or isn’t it’ hint of the entire show comes in the closing scene of Season Five (and the moment where the show pretty much catches up with the book series) where Jon Snow is killed. As the blood leaves his body and slowly encroaches over the snow many people have argued that the pattern of the blood trail turns from that of a Wolf, into a Dragon. If true, this would symbolise not only Jon’s true parentage but also where he is headed, with the revelation of his actual father (and birthright) now closer than ever; he is turning from a Stark (the Wolf) into a Targaryen (the Dragon).
The sixth season of Game of Thrones marked the show fully coming into its own after it surpassed George R.R Martin’s novels, and although it’s apparently heading in the same general direction the showrunners made it clear certain events would be totally unique to the show.
The third episode, ‘Oathbreaker’, showed viewers the beginning of the ‘Tower of Joy’ scene, a hugely important glimpse into the past via Bran’s training with the Three-Eyed Raven. The first part of the scene is relatively brief, but more is revealed over the course of the season.
In the flashback, we see a young Ned Stark accompanied by a group of other soldiers, including Howland Reed, as they arrive at the Tower of Joy. There they are quickly confronted by two members of the Kingsguard, one of which is Ser Arthur Dayne, the greatest swordsman in Westeros. After Ned questions why the Kingsguard would be here rather than fighting (and dying) for their King and Prince Rhaegar at the Battle of the Trident, they explain that they are under Rhaegar’s orders to protect the Tower. Ned states that they are there for Lyanna and a battle ensues, from which only Ned and Reed survive. Ned then makes his way into the tower. When he reaches the top he finds Lyanna in a bed surrounded by blood and roses.
In the tenth episode, The Winds of Winter, after Jon once again reminds us that he “isn’t a Stark” we see the end of Bran’s vision and the reveal that Lyanna makes Ned promise to her that he will protect her newborn son. It then becomes clear that her death was due to complications in childbirth. She explains to Ned that he has to protect the baby from Robert who would kill the child if he knew his true identity. Although it was pretty obvious here that Rhaegar is the baby’s father it wasn’t explicitly confirmed and we also don’t hear the baby’s real name. If what we’d seen so far wasn’t enough of a hint that Jon was never Ned Stark’s bastard, the shot switches from a close up of the baby as he is given to Ned to a similarly framed shot of Jon Snow – the baby’s eyes almost transform into Jon’s as the music further emphasises the revelation in a hugely dramatic moment.
The seventh, penultimate, season of Game of Thrones contained both the shows longest and shortest episodes as well as even more revelations on Jon’s parents. Despite the audience now knowing that Jon’s mother was Lyanna, that he wasn’t Ned’s bastard, and that Rhaegar was probably his father, no living character in the show was aware of any of this other than Bran Stark (and maybe Littlefinger).
In another more subtle hint in the crypt at Winterfell, Littlefinger and Jon discuss Catelyn Stark’s lack of fondness for Jon, and from Littlefinger’s point of view how she underestimated him – with Littlefinger attempting to work his silver-tongued charms on Jon, to no avail. During the conversation Lyanna Stark’s crypt is perfectly lit and framed behind them both.
Going from a relatively subtle hint, to one of the least subtle; As Jon arrives at Dragonstone in Episode Three, ‘The Queens Justice’, he traverses the many steps with Ser Davos, Tyrion and Missandei, he yet again says “I’m not a Stark”, this is immediately followed by Drogon (Daenerys’ favourite Dragon) flying over the top of them; emphasising that he isn’t a Stark he is, in fact, a Targaryen, and a Dragon rather than a Wolf (or perhaps better put, a combination of the two).
Upon meeting each other Daenerys says to Jon that she is the last Targaryen, her saying that to literally any other character would be a simple statement, but for her to say it to Jon specifically is yet another tease of the revelations to come. With the more subtler hints coming thick and fast, we have Jon explain that despite being good at killing, he doesn’t enjoy it at all, which as we already know is much like his father Rhaegar.
In Episode 5, ‘Eastwatch’ as Daenerys lands with Drogon right in front of Jon he pets the Dragon, at first looking scared but settling as the Dragon seems to like Jon (or at least doesn’t kill him). Up until this point we’ve only seen Daenerys (and at one brief point Tyrion) touch the Dragons, with control and influence over Dragons being an inherently Targaryen trait.
And then, from the last character you’d expect to be revealing previously unknown information about Jon Snow’s parents, we get a giant reveal from none other than Gilly. When reading Sam’s transcripts of old Maestar books and journals Gilly asks Sam what an annulment means. After Sam explains he asks why, and Gilly reveals that a Prince “Ragger” had his marriage annulled and that the Maeaster who annulled his marriage then remarried the Prince during a secret ceremony, somewhere in Dorne.
This was huge news, not only did it further confirm the R + L = J which at this point everyone took for granted, but hints at the idea that Jon may not be a bastard at all and instead if Rhaegar (‘Ragger’) was married to Lyanna that Jon would be a legitimately born Prince (and heir to the Iron Throne, the Seven Kingdoms and just about everything else…).
With the season fully embracing its fan service, Episode Six ‘Beyond The Wall’, we see a group of our favourite Game of Thrones characters including the Hound, Gendry, and Jon himself head North of The Wall. The team is out to capture a White Walker and take it South, to prove to the now Queen Cersei that the White Walker threat is real. When he meets Jon, Beric notes how Jon doesn’t look like Ned.
The season’s final episode has a few more subtle hints before it gets the big reveal in the final moments. Firstly Jon discusses with Daenerys how maybe her family won’t end with her (refuting the idea she can’t get pregnant but foreshadowing that he is her nephew). And then in a conversation with Theon, Jon explains that Ned is a part of them both, that Theon is both a Stark and a Greyjoy and that he doesn’t have to pick between the two families, again mirroring his own heritage.
And lastly, the final scene delivers the indisputable confirmation of not only R + L = J but also Jon’s birth status AND his real name. The reveals come in a conversation between Bran and Sam (who has now left the Citadel to find and help Jon). Despite Bran now being the all knowing and all seeing Three-Eyed Raven, it seems that he has to know what he is looking for in order to find it (rather simply just knowing absolutely everything straight away). And so at first Bran simply thinks Jon should know that he is, in fact, the bastard son of Lyanna and Rhaegar (not Ned) and that he should instead be named Jon Sand, as he was borne in Dorne, not in the North.
Sam, however, adds in the information on Rhaegar’s annulment, and Bran then uses his ‘Greensight’ to look into the past. There he sees that Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love, were married, that “Robert’s rebellion was built on a lie”, and that Jon really is the true born heir to the throne; Aegon Targaryen.
Throughout the show, Jon Snow’s true parentage has been hinted at in both obvious and subtle ways, but one of the more interesting parts is the thematic arc Jon has undergone. As a character Jon has literally spent most of his time uniting people, first the Nights Watch, then the Wildings (with the Watch), next the North, then the North with Daenerys, and most recently pretty much everyone against the White Walkers (or at least almost everyone). This arc mirrors his own conception and birth, which on the outside sparked a war, but in reality, was all about uniting two people who secretly loved each other. With the revelations at the end of Season Seven, there will surely be some huge complications in Season 8, but with only six episodes left for Game of Thrones, there won’t be much time to explain many more major plot twists, as the threat of the White Walkers comes into fruition.