The first season of Game of Thrones is over, and given the most recent events in the land of Westeros, I imagine that the minds of most viewers (who have not read the books) exploded approximately three times over the last two episodes. I want to talk about the show, but even more than that, I want to talk about the backstory in A Song of Ice and Fire, because there seems to be a variety of interpretations about Lyanna Stark and her relationships with Robert Baratheon and Rhaegar Targaryen. (Spoilers for the first book/first season follow.)
There is a popular theory among book fans that Jon Snow is not actually the son of Ned Stark, but the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Once I heard about this theory, I glommed onto it in a heartbeat because it seemed perfect. There’s not a lot of concrete evidence in the books thus far (so therefore I am not actually spoiling, readers – don’t worry), just a lot of symbolic, subtle hints, and holes in the backstory that have left people questioning. I love this theory and fully believe it to be true. It never made sense to me that Ned Stark, who always does what is honorable and “right” and follows the rules, would just randomly sleep with a woman that wasn’t his wife and then raise their child. Ned raising his dead sister’s son as his own to protect the kid from a Targaryen-hating king and allowing everyone to believe that he was a cheating hypocrite to ensure Jon’s safety is a much more Ned Stark thing to do.
I try to watch Game of Thrones with another book-fan friend of mine whenever our schedules coincide, and we had an interesting, friendly debate concerning this issue. She shares my opinion that Jon is probably the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, but we had completely different interpretations about the tone of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s relationship.
There are some facts that we know of: Lyanna Stark was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. Rhaegar Targaryen was married to Elia Martell and had two children with her. Rhaegar won a tourney and presented the prize for the “queen of love and beauty” to Lyanna instead of his wife (ruh roh!) Shortly after that, Rhaegar “stole” Lyanna away, and Robert began a war to get her back. Robert killed Rhaegar, but Lyanna died as well.
I put “stole” in quotation marks because this is where our interpretations differ.
My friend shares Robert’s view of the situation: Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna and forcibly raped her god knows how many times, and Robert went to war to save the woman he loved.
I have the opposite view: I think Robert is lying to himself about the real nature of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s relationship, Lyanna went along willingly with Rhaegar because they were in love.
It’s no wonder that we have opposite views of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s relationship, because we have completely different opinions of Robert. My friend loves Robert and considers him a tragic figure in the series, having lost the woman he loved and assuming a role he wasn’t suited for. I hate Robert, I have no sympathy for someone who actively fights for the role of a king when he doesn’t want the responsibility that comes along with the power, and I think he and Cersei are equally to blame for Joffrey turning into such a reprehensible little shit. (No, Joffrey is not Robert’s son, but Robert thinks he is and so does Joffrey, for that matter. I also blame Cersei for a LOT but I think her hatred of Robert is more than justified.)
Therefore, I take Robert’s interpretation of what happened to Lyanna with a huge MOUND of salt. I think it’s very telling that Robert is the only person who speaks badly of Rhaegar. Other characters who freely admit that Aerys and/or Viserys Targaryen are mad or cruel often speak well of Rhaegar. Ned Stark doesn’t seem to hate Rhaegar at all. He resents the Lannisters far more than he resents Rhaegar, and I think even Noble Ned would think some vile things about the man who raped his sister, his sister he loved so much that he erected a statue in her honor in the tombs of Winterfell even when the tombs were only supposed to be for the rulers of Winterfell.
Of course, this makes me wonder why Ned would participate in a rebellion to get his sister back if she went willingly, but I suppose he might have thought she was kidnapped until he found her on her deathbed and she explained it to him.
Then I started reconsidering my others arguments that Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love and saw, for the first time, how flawed those arguments were, and how my opinions of my own arguments have changed as my feminism has grown and evolved:
– “Rhaegar can’t be a rapist. He was described as being gentle, preferring books and music to fighting, and his heart was never really into being a knight.” Well, wouldn’t we live in a wonderful world if all rapists were as violent and easily noticeable as Gregor Clegane, the Mountain that Rides, who might as well have a, “Hi! I’m a Rapist!” tattoo on his head. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and not all rapists can be that easily identified.
– “The common people loved Rhaegar!” This is true. Cersei remembers that a crowd once cheered twice as loudly for her father as they did for King Aerys, but their cheers for Prince Rhaegar were almost deafening. Then again, the common people also hate Tyrion Lannister and think he’s a sneaky devil, and they hate Jaime Lannister for being a Kingslayer of the king they didn’t even like. The common people can be dumb.
– “But everyone loved Rhaegar!” It’s true that only Robert seems to hate Rhaegar. But again: reputations aren’t always true.
– “Lyanna was described as a wild girl similar in looks and personality to Arya Stark, and probably wouldn’t have been kidnapped easily. She had to have gone with him willingly.” It’s just as dangerous to imply that there is only one type of rape victim, as it is to imply that there is only one type of rapist. “Wild girls” can be kidnapped and raped, too.
– “Lyanna didn’t seem all that into Robert and knew he wouldn’t stop whoring around even when they were married.” I stand by this opinion. But it doesn’t make Rhaegar not a rapist.
– “Why would Lyanna want Ned to care for Jon if he was her son by a rapist?” Because sometimes mothers do that.
In other words, my argument kind of falls flat.
Still, I don’t think I’m wrong. The common people could be wrong that Rhaegar Targaryen went to war for a woman he loved, and he could have just kidnapped a woman he was obsessed with. As long as Robert is the only one who calls it a rape, though, I’m sticking by my opinion. I don’t trust Robert as a judge of character given how he blames his wife for everything wrong (such as the wolf situation with Joffrey, Sansa, and Arya. He gets mad at Cersei for making him kill Lady, but you’re the fucking KING, Robert! You can stop it if you want to!) I also think that Robert, deep down, knows that Lyanna didn’t love him. He tells Ned that Rhaegar still “won,” because even if he’s dead, he gets to be with Lyanna in the afterlife, and I wonder, “Why do you think the gods would force Lyanna to spend eternity with her rapist?”
I’m getting long-winded now, so I’ll come to the point: while I still suspect that I am right about Rhaegar/Lyanna, I think some of my arguments engaged in unintentional rape apologia and I will avoid doing that in the future.
But honestly, I really hope I’m right. One thing that A Song of Ice and Fire is missing is an epic love story. I don’t think I’m going to get an epic love story with the current living characters, unless George R.R. Martin makes my Jaime/Brienne wishes come true, or spends further time developing my much dirtier, much more wrong love for Sandor/Sansa. (I know. Don’t judge me.) I want Rhaegar and Lyanna to have had this doomed love that started a war. I want Jon Snow to be the result of a doomed love affair, not a product of rape. And most importantly, I want Lyanna to be one of the few women in this series not raped or threatened with rape because there’s too much damned rape in Westeros and beyond.
This may have been my longest post to date. I always get ranty when talking about the Martin books.