We've talked about the theory at length here, and if your friends are as obsessed with George R.R. Martin's books as many of us are, then you've probably heard it a few million times by now, too. The theory isn't so much a theory as it is cold, hard truth: Jon Snow isn't Ned Stark's son. He's actually a secret Targaryen, and he's going to be the song of ice and fire that saves everyone in Westeros from certain doom.
Okay, the whole savior thing might be pushing it (or maybe not!), but the bloodline thing? It is known. But as much as the books have made it clear about Jon's true lineage, the show has more or less shied away from all the clues about his secret past… until this past episode.
In "Sons of the Harpy," Sansa Stark and Littlefinger speak in the crypts of Winterfell about Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, the two figures at the heart of Robert's Rebellion, the war that crushed the Targaryen dynasty and set all the events of "Game of Thrones" into motion. They speak about Rhaegar naming Lyanna as the queen of love and beauty during the Tourney at Harrenhal, an honor he should have bestowed upon his wife Elia Martell. They speak of Rhaegar kidnapping and raping Lyanna, launching the war against the Baratheons and Starks. It's a grim portrait of the late Targaryen prince.
But Barristan Selmy paints a very different picture of Rhaegar. He describes the fallen prince as a gentle soul, telling Daenerys about the times Rhaegar left the Red Keep to sing through the streets of King's Landing, donating his earnings to performers, orphanages, and other assorted noble causes. Barristan is shocked that Dany's brother Viserys never spoke about Rhaegar's gentle nature, only his skills as a fighter.
We're presented with two incredibly different depictions of Rhaegar Targaryen. One man describes him as a monster, the other describes him as an artist. Whose version do you believe? Do you believe Littlefinger the liar, or Barristan the Bold? It's really not a question, is it?
Accepting Barristan's version as truth, then can we picture Rhaegar kidnapping and raping anyone? Isn't it much more likely that he and Lyanna ran away together, consensually, accidentally throwing the realm into chaos over their mutual adoration?
These are all accepted points of R+L=J, which posits that Rhaegar and Lyanna are Jon's true parents, making him the fusion of the fiery Targaryen and icy Stark bloodlines. The fact that the show's starting to delve into this history only strengthens the theory — and more than that, it increases the odds that the theory will be confirmed as soon as this current season.
Martin hasn't yet confirmed Jon's true parentage in the books, but the show has made some very bold leaps away from and ahead of the source material this season. Sansa Stark's Winterfell wedding is entirely new to the show, for example, altering a key story from the books in a significant way. Barristan the Bold remains alive by the end of "A Dance with Dragons," too, suggesting that he won't survive for very long when "Winds of Winter" picks up.
In other words, the show is doing things that the books are not, or have not done yet. Given the accelerated storytelling, and given the huge clues about Jon's real parents dropped in this most recent episode, it's very easy to see "Game of Thrones" solving R+L=J for viewers before Martin confirms it for readers.
Yes, as a book reader, I'm bummed at the prospect of the show beating the book to the punch on one of the most intriguing stories — but it hasn't happened yet. There's still time for the books to get to the R+L=J reveal first... assuming George writes like the wind!