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History of Thrones: The Tower of Joy and the Most Important GAME OF THRONES Theory

UPDATE: After 20 years of speculation (going back to the release of the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in 1996,) we have confirmation of the long held theory that Jon Snow is not the bastard son of Ned Stark, but rather the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.

So now that we know Jon’s true parentage we can turn our attention to another important question: is Jon Snow “the prince that was promised?”

There are lots of questions surrounding the prophecy itself, like how old it is (1,000 years old? 5,000?), where it comes from, and whether or not it refers to the same prophecy about Azor Ahai (as Melisandre seems to think).

But we’re going to focus on just what we know about that specific prophecy for now and whether it seemingly applies to Lyanna’s secret son. (We’ll save the arguments in favor of the other chief candidate, Daenerys, for another day.)

The prince that was promised is a hero that will save the world from darkness.

Rhaegar was the crown prince, making his sons princes too. Jon could be considered as such even though he’s a bastard (the Lords of the North just named Jon king despite his bastard last name all the same), but if Rhaegar and Lyanna married in secret (yes, Rhaegar was already married, but Aegon the Conqueror had two sister-wives, so that doesn’t mean that much) he’d be a Targaryen prince without any of the bastard questions.

Also, if the prophecy is true, the prince must already be of an age to help fight the darkness, as the Night King and the White Walker army are currently heading towards The Wall to defeat the living. Jon Snow, as you might remember, is the only person that has truly taken steps to stop them, which is the whole point of the prince being born.

The prince is of the blood of the dragon. (Once prophesied that the child would be born from the line of Aerys II and Rhaella.)

Rhaegar was the son of Aerys II (The Mad King) and Rhaella, meaning Jon would be of their line too, and be the blood of the dragon.

Born amidst smoke.

This is the hardest part of the prophecy to fit into Jon’s case. There did not seem to be any good candidates at the Tower of Joy that would make sense for smoke, but prophecies aren’t supposed to be easy or obvious anyway.

Born amidst salt.

This could be the tears of both Lyanna and Ned. (Or mine while I watched that scene.)

Born beneath a bleeding star.

It’s often thought that this refers to something like a comet in the sky, but for Jon’s case there might have been a very subtle giveaway during the episode. Ned killed Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, with Dayne’s own legendary Dawn. Dawn is believed to have been forged from the metal of a fallen star.

After Ned killed the great knight, he ran up the steps to his sister still carrying the sword Dawn. It was covered in blood when he placed it at the foot of Lyanna’s bed.

A bleeding star.

The return of dragons (unclear aspect of the prophecy).

Jon didn’t bring back dragons, but he is living at the same time when they did return to the world.

Also, If Rhaegar’s son Viserys was not truly a dragon as Daenerys said (“crown for king”), then Jon’s birth could potentially be viewed as the return (after only a few weeks) of the dragons, though that’s a stretch.

The dark eye falls upon the prince (unknown if related to the prince that was promised).

Little is known about this element of the prophecy (or if it truly applies to it at all), but could it refer to the fact that if Robert truly knew about Jon’s birth he would have been killed? Might that be the dark eye of the prophecy, the shadow Jon lived under, be about the reason he needed to be hidden at all?

The prince’s song will be “a song of ice and fire.”

A child born from a Stark mother (ice) and a Targaryen father (fire) could not fit this description any better. This is the single strongest piece of evidence for Jon’s case.

So Jon has a very good argument for being the prince that was promised–even if he doesn’t know it–but not 100% convincing. Unless of course the prophecy wasn’t referring to his birth at the Tower of Joy at all, but instead has to do with his rebirth at Castle Black…

Because even when Game of Thrones answers one giant question, it raises another one for us to obsess over.


When it comes to the history of HBO‘s Game of Thrones and George RR Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series, some fans are wise old maesters and others are know-nothing Jon Snow types. To prepare for season six we’re looking at some of the most important moments in the long, complex, and often controversial history of Westeros—and what they might tell us about events yet to come. So whether you’re as versed in the past as Maester Luwin or as clueless as Gilly in a castle for the first time, we’re calling your banner to join us on this march to the new season. Either way, be warned: there are major, major spoilers for the series in this post.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

The Tower of Joy

The single most important event for the everything that has occurred in Game of Thrones might have taken place at the Tower of Joy. That is not hyperbole.

Before we get to “why” though let’s take a closer look at the “what.”

There is a surprising lack of background on the Tower of Joy in regards to when it was built, by whom, and for what purpose. But the round tower was given its name by Rhaegar Targaryen and was situated in the northern part of Dorne’s Red Mountains. For the part of its history that concerns us we only need to know that it was used by the Targaryen royal family during the reign of the Mad King, Aerys II.

And oh man, does it concern us.

Following the sack of King’s Landing, the death of Aerys II at the hands of Jamie Lannister, and the ascension of Robert Baratheon to the Iron Throne, Ned Stark and six of his sworn men traveled to the Tower of Joy to rescue Ned’s sister, Lyanna Stark.

Robert’s Rebellion all started because of the “abduction” of Lyanna Stark at the hands of Rhaegar. Lyanna had been betrothed to Robert, and following her “kidnapping” (yes, I’m using quotation marks for a reason we will get to soon enough), her eldest brother, Brandon, headed to King’s Landing and demanded to face Rhaegar. He and his companions were then arrested by Aerys II for treason, their fathers summoned, and all but one of them were killed—including Brandon and his father Rickard Stark—in a brutal fashion.

Aerys then demanded the heads of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark from their ward, Jon Arryn, who refused. Westeros was then engulfed by a rebellion that resulted in the end of the nearly 300 year reign of the Targaryen dynasty.

Lyanna Stark was not in King’s Landing during its sack by Tywin Lannister though: she was off at the Tower of Joy being guarded by three Kingsguard. That’s where Ned and his men went, one of the final acts to end the war.

These are the men that took up arms on that day in 283 A.C.

Protecting Lyanna were:

  • Lord Commander Gerold Hightower, The White Bull
  • Ser Oswell Whent
  • Ser Arthur Dayne

Accompanying Ned were:

  • Howland Reed (Jojen and Meera’s father, who one day would send them to swear fealty to King Robb)
  • Lord William Dustin
  • Ethan Glover (the only one of the Brandon Stark group not to be executed)
  • Martyn Cassell
  • Theo Wull
  • Mark Ryswell

While in the dungeons of the Red Keep, Ned had a fever dream about what happened that day, and while we can’t completely trust memories in those conditions, they are generally accepted to give us a good idea of what transpired.

(Ned’s entire fever dream is insightful and powerful, and that includes an exchange between Ned and Ser Arthur Dayne, a legendary knight of Westeros considered one of the greatest ever. Dayne was given both the title “Sword of the Morning” and Dawn, the sword of House Dayne believed to be forged from the metal found in a fallen star. Dawn and the title were only bestowed three times in House Dayne’s entire history.)

“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.

“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”

A Game of Thrones, chapter 39

At the end of their battle, only Ned and Howland Reed were left alive (it took seven men to defeat the three knights, and even then they barely succeeded). Ned said Arthur Dayne would have killed him if it had not been for Howland Reed. Afterwards, Ned tore down the tower and built cairns for the eight dead men at the spot, and returned Dawn to House Dayne personally.

Lyanna Stark herself died in the Tower of Joy that day.

Of course this begs the question: why in the world—during a massive uprising—would three (arguably the three best) members of the Kingsguard be away from the Crown Prince and the King himself? Why would they be protecting Lyanna Stark and not Rhaegar’s actual wife, Elia Martell, and their children, all of whom ended up being brutally slaughtered in King’s Landing?

Why would you entrust the greatest knights in all of Westeros to protect a small tower with a captive, but not your own family?

Get ready, cause this is where we transition from history to amazing theories.


We also know from Ned’s fever dreams in the dungeons that he spoke with his sister that day, finding her in a pool of blood before she died, but not before she made Ned promise something to her, a promise he took with him to his grave.

“Promise me, Ned.”

What could that promise have been?

First, it seems obvious Lyanna Stark was never taken captive by Rhaegar, but rather willingly went off with him. Starting with the tournament of Harrenhall in 281 A.C., where the tournament champion (Rhaegar) made Lyanna (and not his wife Elia Martell) the queen of love and beauty, the two began a romance together, with her eventually running off with him. Lyanna was already skeptical of her arranged marriage to Robert, not trusting him to stay loyal to her bed because Robert already had at least one bastard-born daughter. Plus, Rhaegar was the beloved, beautiful heir to the Iron Throne.

(Littlefinger alluded to this very idea about Lyanna not being abducted on the show to Sansa, when they were in the crypts below Winterfell.)

However, that’s not the only reason Rhaegar wanted her protected. And this is the single biggest—and probably most widely believed—theory of the entire story.

Lyanna was pregnant with Rhaegar’s child. A boy, born of fire and ice, that Ned promised to hide from the world in order to keep him safe. A boy that would come to be known as the bastard son of Ned Stark—Jon Snow.

The theory goes that the blood Ned found his sister soaked in was the result of the childbirth that ultimately killed her. Rhaegar was protecting both the woman he loved and his unborn child, and that’s why the three Kingsguard were there. Lyanna knew that no son of Rhaegar Targaryen would be allowed to live, which is why she made Ned promise to keep him hidden.

(Yeah, Ned Stark, the most honorable man in Westeros, was so honorable that he allowed his reputation to be stained by claiming a bastard—a lie he even hid from his wife Catelyn. That’s how strong his vow to his dying sister was, just in case you thought Ned Stark wasn’t the best person ever.)

Sometimes you see “R + L = J” (Rhaegar+ Lyanna = Jon Snow). This is where that comes from and why so many people believe in it so strongly.

There is more “evidence” though, but it comes from another theory. It pertains to the notion of the three heads of the dragon. Daenereys Targaryen is obviously one head, and she also killed her mother during childbirth, a link with her potential secret nephew, Jon Snow. But there is a theory of another possible, secret Targaryen child, one who also killed his mother during childbirth. You know who that is right? I hope you aren’t coming up short in your guess. But we’ll save that one for another day.

This is why the Tower of Joy might hold the key to everything, and why your friend that read the books got emotional when the new trailer for season 6 seemed to show flashbacks to the battle.

Tower-of-joy-screengrabThis clip from the HBO trailer for season 6 of Game of Thrones is thought to show Ned (note the clothes on the leader) and his companions arriving at the Tower of Joy.

Arthur-DayneAnother scene from the trailer might be young Ned fighting a knight at the Tower of Joy (note the Targaryen breastplate). Could this be Arthur Dayne? And did both of these shots make me tear up? Yes, yes they did.

While Howland Reed and Howland Reed alone knows the truth of what took place inside that tower (and considering the allegiance and sacrifices he and his family have always shown House Stark, we shouldn’t expect him to give it up Ned’s secret), Bran might be able to use his ability to see throughout the past to learn it himself. Either way it certainly seems like we are going to see that fateful day, and maybe learn once and for all if this great theory is true.

The Tower of Joy, a small, insignificant little building, might just be where the Prince that was Promised was born, the one that will save the realm of the living from the realm of the dead. Forget Stannis being Azor Ahai reborn, it could be Jon Snow, who as the son of a Stark and Targaryen would be the living embodiment of Ice and Fire.

Now we just need him to not be so damn dead himself.

What do you think happened in the Tower of Joy? What does that mean for season six of Game of Thrones? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

HT: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Featured Image: “Dawn vs Ice” by Javier Bahamonde/deviantART

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