Game of Thrones finally gave book readers something they've been waiting nearly a decade to see: Ned Stark's fabled battle at the Tower of Joy.
The third episode of the HBO show's sixth season saw Bran Stark and the Three-Eyed Raven journeying into the past to witness a major moment in Westerosi history -- Ned's fight with legendary knight Ser Arthur Dayne at the Tower of Joy in the Red Mountains, the location of Lyanna Stark's mysterious death. Fans have been waiting to see Ned's crusade against the Targaryen Kingsguard play out on-screen since the show's first season, in the hope that it would confirm one particularly fervent fan theory that has long been considered canon by book readers. That, dear readers, is R+L=J.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of why the Tower of Joy sequence is such a BFG ("Big Fucking Deal"), here's a message from our bear:
Last week's episode of Game of Thrones introduced Lyanna Stark, a character who's been referenced quite a bit over the past six seasons. From what we know, Ned's younger sister Lyanna was kidnapped by Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and died not long after. Lyanna's abduction triggered Robert's Rebellion, a yearlong war led by her betrothed Robert Baratheon to get her back -- and to make the Targaryens pay for what they did.
The war had significant ramifications for Westeros. The bloodshed left House Targaryen all but decimated (or so they thought), and Robert of House Baratheon claimed the Iron Throne for himself, taking Cersei Lannister as his bride. We know how it all ended, but one piece of the puzzle has always been missing -- until now.
Toward the end of the war, Ned Stark, now Lord of Winterfell after the deaths of his father and older brother Brandon at the hands of King Aerys II Targaryen, along with six of his companions (including Meera's father, Howland Reed), stormed Rhaegar's Tower of Joy in Dorne where, under the dragon prince's orders, Lyanna was being guarded by three knights of the Kingsguard.
As the events played out in Episode 3, titled "Oathbreaker," one long-standing question was finally answered: Howland Reed delivered the fatal blow that killed Ser Arthur Dayne, not Ned. As for the other, more pertinent question of Lyanna Stark's dying wish, that was left TBD. (Booooo, Three-Eyed Raven.) But we did hear a woman, presumably Lyanna, cry out from the tower, so something not-so-fun is happening up there.
In George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, we learned that Lyanna died soon after Ned’s arrival, in a room that smelled of "blood and roses." Upon her death she made her brother give a promise, the content of which remains unknown. Some fans believe that Jon Snow was born mere moments after this epic battle (that imagery hints that Lyanna died in a bed of blood), the secret son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark -- and the subject of Lyanna's dying wish.
After all, Ned did come back from the war with a newborn baby in hand, and while he told his wife Catelyn that the child was his own bastard, fans have always had a hard time believing that a man as honorable as Ned Stark would cheat on his wife, especially during a rebellion to save his sister. Instead, fans of A Song of Ice and Fire believe that it was all a ruse to protect his late sister's honor and her infant son from his Targaryen destiny.
So last night's Tower of Joy scene wasn't just a glimpse into the past; it was a nod to the future. If R+L=J is in fact true -- as it stands now, it's still just a theory -- Jon Snow isn’t just the bastard son of Winterfell; he's a dragon-taming Targaryen, the son of the dragon prince and the winter rose. This puts Jon "I Know Nothing" Snow at the center of the ice and fire Venn diagram.
Of course, we'll have to endure several more weeks of torture before we get the answer we've been desperately waiting for because the Three-Eyed Raven is a total dick. It is known.