A harp in the tomb,
a child in the womb;
a dragon in a stone egg.
I have a strong theory about a possibly ‘game-changing’ secret in the Winterfell crypts:
Rhaegar’s unique silver-stringed harp is in Lyanna’s tomb.
Note: /r/asoiaf followers will recognize this as an extremely revised version of my ‘Rhaegar’s Harp’ theory from 2013. I’m reposting it to my blog for posterity and to make it easier for newer readers to find. Switching to wordpress also allows me to expand on areas that reddit’s self-post character limit prevented me from exploring.
“Will you make a song for him?” the woman asked.
“He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”
— DAENERYS IV, A CLASH OF KINGS
This quote is about Aegon and it’s between Elia and Rhaegar. Recall what Marwyn says, “Prophecy is like a treacherous woman”. Rhaegar may have been wrong about Aegon; or more likely he believes that one, all or any of the three ‘heads of the dragon’ are/is the prince that was promised.
Thematically it’s more sensible if Jon Snow is the prince that was promised and especially when you consider his parentage. Simply combine the Stark and Targaryen words. Also note that if you currently believe that Jon’s parents are indeed Rhaegar and Lyanna, then Jon is possibly a ‘promised prince’, based on Ned’s recollections about Lyanna’s final words: “Promise me, Ned”.
* * *
THE ISSUE OF LEGITIMACY
I was deeply conflicted when I first read A Dance with Dragons.
I’ve been a longtime believer in the “R+L=J” theory, so I knew I had a personal bias: that Jon must be a central protagonist and a true ‘secret Targaryen’, that this Aegon VI (“Young Griff”) was merely a pretender. I struggled with this bias against Aegon VI for some time, with no real answers in sight. Intellectually I knew I couldn’t answer the question of who is actually legitimate.
* * *
It then occurred to me that there was a more practical method of addressing the issue, the formation of a question that renders the mystery with possible answers: “How does a person prove legitimacy?”
This poses a challenge to both Aegon and Jon. Looking at them closely:
It’s not enough to just show up looking like a Targaryen or declaring yourself one; you need legitimacy, you need proof. The lords of Westeros already doubt his legitimacy so he must prove it or subjugate them all. At some point winning bannermen via a legitimate claim will be more valuable than conflict. It doesn’t help that he’s backed by the Golden Company either. It is telling that he and his advisors all know this, which is why he is initially bent on securing Daenerys’s hand in marriage; so he has her blood and her dragons to establish him.
He’s supposedly dead. Keep in mind, if the notion of establishing some connection between Jon and Rhaegar is important to the story irrespective of his living status, then this theory is still useful. No one aside from Howland Reed has knowledge of Jon’s heritage, so he has no self-driven need to find something like this harp. But for those of us who would like to see him revealed as a bastard- or trueborn Targaryen, Azor Ahai or the prince that was promised, he must also prove it to himself and/or others.
The logical next step is to then ask : “What would significantly bolster a claim of Targaryen ancestry?”
Note that there are no living, universally acknowledged Targaryen (aside from Daenerys) that could vouchsafe a person’s authenticity. This is also true of anyone who claims not to be a Targaryen, yet still have extensive knowledge of a candidate’s legitimacy. Thus there are no living people who could genuinely and lawfully declare a person a true Targaryen, on the basis of their word alone. This would be true of Jon Connington just as much as it is of Stannis and Howland Reed.
Simply put, the nobles of Westeros have no intrinsic reason to assume a candidate is legitimate on the basis of words alone.
* * *
The Need for Evidence
Consequently, the lords of Westeros will need objective, physical evidence of legitimacy before they can seriously consider a proclaimed Targaryen’s authenticity.
But what kind of evidence would cause this sort of contemplation?
Unfortunately both swords are associated with bastard Targaryen lineages, each tainted with histories that would actually detract from any claim of legitimacy.
Both have also gone unseen for a number of years, thus there could be serious logistical questions regarding whether they’ve stayed in families of true or bastard Targaryen blood: there is no reliable “chain of custody” to suggest that a current bearer has any true relationship to the Targaryen dynasty.
So it seems that the idea that the Targaryen blades could demonstrate legitimacy is shaky at best. But the exploration of the idea was not without benefit: we come to a valuable realization.
We readers inherently know that if any kind of proof exists; it will be something that is:
- Well-known to the high lords and ladies of the realm,
- Universally recognized as a symbol of the true Targaryen lineage,
- Possesses a strong chain of custody,
- And somehow demonstrates a claimant’s heredity.
* * *
Using Meta-textual Information
We can also exploit some knowledge of factors that exist outside of the books themselves.
In the fifth book of a seven book series, it would be somewhat sophomoric to introduce a new piece of evidence to the story merely for the sake of answering the riddle of legitimacy. It would likely be seen by readers as a cop-out, a device invented to solve a corner that Martin had written himself into.
Martin has already stated that he wants to avoid writing such an ending to the series because he was unhappy with the ending of Lost. Additionally, knowing Martin’s preference for implementing surreptitious indications of future events, the evidence is likely something lurking beneath our very noses. The kind of thing we’ll kick ourselves over when you look back.
* * *
A Eureka! Moment
So there I was, brainstorming every possible Targaryen artifact, tome and treasure I could think of. At some point I was off on a tangent, ruminating on the following passages:
“As a young boy, the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early that men said Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle whilst he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father’s knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been, only that the boy suddenly appeared early one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, ‘I will require sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.’”
— DAENERYS I, A STORM OF SWORDS
“Prince Rhaegar’s prowess was unquestioned, but he seldom entered the lists. He never loved the song of swords the way that Robert did, or Jaime Lannister. It was something he had to do, a task the world had set him. He did it well, for he did everything well. That was his nature. But he took no joy in it. Men said that he loved his harp much better than his lance.”
— DAENERYS IV, A STORM OF SWORDS
Dany did not want to hear about Rhaegar being unhorsed. “But what tourneys did my brother win?”
“Your Grace.” The old man hesitated. “He won the greatest tourney of them all.”
— DAENERYS IV, A STORM OF SWORDS
“Yes. And yet Summerhall was the place the prince loved best. He would go there from time to time, with only his harp for company. Even the knights of the Kingsguard did not attend him there. He liked to sleep in the ruined hall, beneath the moon and stars, and whenever he came back he would bring a song. When you heard him play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved.”
— DAENERYS IV, A STORM OF SWORDS
What emerges is that it seems like Rhaegar was intent on winning the Tourney at Harrenhal for whatever reason, but otherwise was much less interested in chivalry and combat in other matters. As a matter of fact, its strongly shown that Rhaegar was much more interested in playing his harp and reading ancient scrolls.
Suddenly I had a wild thought!
What if Rhaegar never wanted to be a fighter, but only did it to meet Lyanna. And therefore, aside from that tourney, he would have much rather continued playing his harp!?
That idea may not be true and it’s not really important to this essay’s theory. What matters is that the harp jumped into my mind.
That’s when the epiphany hit me like an anvil:
It’s that damn harp.
The idea quickly formed: Rhaegar’s harp would be central to establishing authenticity. It almost immediately meets all of the requirements I established above, to a more precise and objective standard than any competing suggestion.
* * *
The Strength of a Harp
So just how does Rhaegar’s harp meet the three requirements I laid out in the previous section?
- How do we know that it is well-known throughout Westeros?
- How could it’s authenticity be confirmed, as a sign of true Targaryen heritage?
- How do we verify that it has a strong chain of custody, indicating that it has not fallen into the hands of a unscrupulous pretender?
- How does an object like the harp actually prove blood heritage?
Recognition: A Well-known Instrument
First and foremost, there are many prominent characters who give specific recollections or observations concerning Rhaegar’s harp:
“When you heard him play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved.”
— DAENERYS IV, A STORM OF SWORDS
Dany could not let it go. “His is the song of ice and fire, my brother said. I’m certain it was my brother. Not Viserys, Rhaegar. He had a harp with silver strings.”
Ser Jorah’s frown deepened until his eyebrows came together. “Prince Rhaegar played such a harp,” he conceded. “You saw him?”
— DAENERYS IV, A CLASH OF KINGS
By night the prince played his silver harp and made her weep. When she had been presented to him, Cersei had almost drowned in the depths of his sad purple eyes.
— CERSEI V, A FEAST FOR CROWS
At the welcoming feast, the prince had taken up his silver-stringed harp and played for them. A song of love and doom, Jon Connington recalled, and every woman in the hall was weeping when he put down the harp.
— THE GRIFFIN REBORN, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Every single character specifically mentioned the unique characteristic of Rhaegar’s harp: it’s silver strings (Cersei refers to the instrument as a ‘silver harp’ in its entirety).
This is not counting the obvious innumerable others who saw the harp at any of Rhaegar’s many performances.
Given all of this emphasis, it seems entirely reasonable to conclude that Rhaegar’s harp could be readily recognized by several (perhaps many) characters in Westeros.
Rhaegar’s harp is readily recognized for its unique feature: its silver strings.
Many specific characters have seen and distinctly recall this feature.
There are many, many other unnamed characters who have seen the harp as well.
Thus we meet our first requirement, the harp is indeed well-known throughout Westeros.
* * *
Authenticity: The Sign of A Targaryen Prince
The second criteria is verifying that the harp is indeed a sign of Targaryen ancestry.
The biggest problem here is an obvious one: Possessing the harp (or any similar relic) does not automatically establish Targaryen ancestry. A grave-robber cannot proclaim himself the descendant of a pharoah simply because he looted an Egyptian tomb.
This creates an obvious problem for the harp theory (or any other Targaryen relic-ancestry theory). Resolving this issue requires two things to happen:
- Verification that the relic in question is truly the one associated with the Targaryens and not a facsimile.
- Establishing the chain of custody showing that the relic hasn’t gone into a limbo wherein it could be in the possession of those not possessing the ‘right’ to own it.
It’s fair to say that there are a number of Targaryen artifacts that might, upon close inspection, be recognized as authentic: the Valyrian swords, Targaryen crowns and so forth. However, most of them have been absent from history for decades, which means that there are fewer and fewer people left alive to vouchsafe their authenticity.
Similarly, other theories about the existence objects that confer are also similarly hampered by the inability to establish authenticity. The popular idea that a Targaryen bridal cloak might exist, indicating a legitimate union between Rhaegar and Lyanna, is vulnerable to the extremely basic questions of “Who really made it?” and “Why have I never seen that before?”. A subsequent point is that whatever object or evidence exists should also be difficult to forge or replicate.
Essentially, what you need is an object that could be recognized as authentic by multiple, living individuals. It would also be of greatest value if those individuals represented multiple, differing sets of interests. Much like an alibi or a set of witnesses to a crime, you don’t want to gather your facts from unilaterally biased sources: people are much more likely to support authenticity if they feel the claim of such is truthful and objective.
As I noted in the previous section, Rhaegar’s harp certainly qualifies as an object that we know has been seen by many people who still live (many of them relatively young). It also has been expressly mentioned by several disparate, conflicting characters. This reinforces the notion that such characters would know the authentic harp is true, even if their public position is otherwise. It also helps that readers have consistently been given a relatively distinct description of the harp, thus readers are also in a position to appreciate a proclaimed harp’s validity.
So you can see that Rhaegar’s harp has the unique status of being a relic almost certainly: affiliated with Targaryens, recognizable as authentic by many living lords and ladies and readers, of which many are from different allegiances.
* * *
Ownership: A Chain of Custody
Even if a consensus of characters believe that the harp is authentic, it does not inherently prove anything. If a relic does not prove bloodline, what would? Why then would a relic be valuable?
In order to establish any faith that ownership of the harp implies heritage, we must first show that the harp has not been in a position where an unscrupulous pretender might repossess it. We must show that it traversed from Rhaegar to its new owner via some method which had no exposure or risk of tampering.
In addition, the possession or receipt of the harp by any claimant has to be witnessed. Specifically it has to be witnessed by individuals whose authority and honor are beyond reproach.
What this means for the harp is that, wherever it may be (if it still exists), its retrieval must be documented or observed by multiple prominent lords of Westeros. It must also be shown that the harp has been in place where we can trust that it has not been tampered with or abused by false claimants. Thus, given the absence of a documented or true Targaryen owner, the best place for the harp would be in a vault or tomb of some kind. One that could be reasonably determined as not being tampered with.
Given that the harp has gone unseen for years, it’s chain of custody is best established if it had been kept securely in a vault or other trusted equivalent.
If indeed the harp is located in a vault, tomb or other manner of physically secure safekeeping; it’s deposition and withdrawal legally witnessed by a quorum of lords, then we can be reasonably sure the harp’s history is not tainted.
* * *
Heritage: Establishing a Blood Connection
Even if a character believes that the harp is real and it has a strong chain of custody, it doesn’t mean that whoever retrieves it is automatically conferred Targaryen heritage.
This would be true of any object intended to establish a person’s legitimacy.
Thus your object must comply to either of the following:
- It must be capable of directly specifying a indisputably recognized successor, or
- There needs to be something further that does.
There are no indications throughout the books that the harp itself might point to any successor. This could be said of any such evidence, whether it be a cloak or a sword or a crown.
This of course means that there must be something else that does confer blood ancestry. The harp then acts as leverage, increasing the claim’s validity and hopefully establishing what could reasonably be called a ‘preponderance of evidence’.
While the harp’s discovery may give others pause and consideration, it does not by itself establish blood relations. Some other piece of evidence must be used.
However, the harp can dramatically aid the legitimacy of that evidence.
I discuss this possibility further in a later section of this essay. For now, let us set aside the issue.
* * *
An Instrument Left Behind
Now I’d like to share the tale of how Rhaegar’s harp ends up in Lyanna’s tomb.
First, I recognize that I can’t deductively prove that harp is in Lyanna’s tomb. Instead, I have speculated as to the circumstances which led to it’s being there, with a high degree of confidence in the resulting answer. I then considered this theory against alternatives using the notions of ‘least complicated’ and ‘most relevant to the narrative’ to arrive at the conclusion that this is more likely that any alternatives. It is a puzzle piece that solves more of the puzzle than any other possibility.
The circumstances and motives regarding how the harp ends up in Lyanna’s tomb are best described as a sequence of events:
First, Rhaegar left the harp at the Tower of Joy
Rhaegar loved to play his harp. It’s something everyone familiar with him says. He elopes with Lyanna for almost a year before returning to King’s Landing and then to his doom at the Trident. It’s unlikely that Rhaegar would leave his harp behind while ‘retreating’ to the Tower of Joy.
After the outbreak of Robert’s Rebellion, it appears he waited until it was clear that Lyanna was with child. Assuming he planned on returning, it is likely he would not carry things to war that he didn’t plan on using or would be coming back to. Taking it to war or to King’s Landing also puts it at risk of being destroyed should he lose. He also may have left it as a symbol for Lyanna of his affection and promise to return.
At the very least, there has been no mention of it at any time during or after Robert’s Rebellion, implying it vanished somewhere. Given that the harp has always been mentioned as being in Rhaegar’s possession, it stands to reason that he was in control of the harp’s disposition. While it’s true that the harp could have simply been destroyed at the Trident, one would figure that Rhaegar would have acted to prevent the harp from even being near the battle, and if the harp was kept in Rhaegar’s encampment, why is there no mention of how it was disposed of?
Additionally, Rhaegar may have calculated the odds of his own demise. It’s interesting to note from the citations above that Rhaegar was not interested in tournaments and was even defeated in them. Perhaps he truly only practiced at combat as it related to those secrets he discovered in his scrolls. Given that he most prominently won at Harrenhal, it seems reasonable that he only participated in it insofar as it suited whatever prophecies he discovered.
This would perhaps suggest that Rhaegar knew Robert might defeat him, both on the basis of having been defeated in championships before, and/or the fact that perhaps Rhaegar’s prophecies indicated that his win at Harrenhal was what mattered, not his victory on the Trident. Given that Rhaegar shows no such fatalism in his final conversation with Jaime, I’m inclined to believe that Rhaegar was himself uncertain of the battle’s climactic outcome and would have prepared thusly.
The harp is itself also a powerful tool. Leaving it behind may also have been a deliberate attempt to leave a device which could somehow be used at a later date by those who survived him. This would be particularly true if Rhaegar thought the harp could be used to establish his consent or his affirmation of some sort of controversial event or agenda. This would seem particularly likely if was convinced that said event or agenda was fundamental to those prophecies to which he was so beholden.
Given the extremely persuasive arguments that Jon Snow is the offspring of Rhaegar and Lyanna, one begins to suspect that Rhaegar may have left the harp behind as some component of a scheme to establish Jon’s heredity or legitimacy.
This would be based on the fact that his harp is so unique, it’s presence in the wrong place would suggest a connection with Rhaegar. If Lyanna –supposedly kidnapped by Rhaegar– had emerged with a newborn child, and evidence including the harp; it would have been a compelling argument.
However, that did not happen. Lyanna died at the tower of joy. No child or harp or claim emerged.
Instead, we know what really happened: the Battle of the Trident, the fight at the tower of joy. Promise Me, Ned; and a bed of blood.
Or do we?
* * *
Lyanna’s Deathbed Demand
“Promise me, Ned.”
Imagine someone saying to you “Promise me ,<yourname>”. Imagine it being said multiple times.
If you’re like me, the most immediate thing that comes to mind is someone asking you to do something you’d be otherwise reluctant to do or something they might not otherwise trust that you’ll do.
For example, “Promise me you’ll clean this mess up” typically means “I know you don’t want to do it, but please do clean this mess up.”
This leads to a fairly obvious set of observations:
People don’t demand that a person promise to do something they’d do naturally.
Precisely the opposite, they demand a person’s promise to do something uncomfortable, risky, inconvenient or injurious.
Thus, Ned’s promise to Lyanna most likely involved something that wasn’t easy for him.
As other theories point out, asking to be buried in the Winterfell crypts seems mundane to be a mundane and wasteful wish to make on your deathbed (a point that will appear ironic after you read this theory). Keep in mind two points that undermine this idea:
- The Stark family has been buried in the Winterfell crypts for generations, to include relatives such as brothers and sisters.
They were almost at the end now, and Bran felt a sadness creeping over him. “And there’s my grandfather, Lord Rickard, who was beheaded by Mad King Aerys. His daughter Lyanna and his son Brandon are in the tombs beside him. Not me, another Brandon, my father’s brother. They’re not supposed to have statues, that’s only for the lords and the kings, but my father loved them so much he had them done.”
— BRAN VII, A GAME OF THRONES
- Only the Lords of Winterfell and the previous Kings of Winter have statues.
It’s hard to imagine that Lyanna’s promise consisted of asking Ned for a statue in her honor. As I mentioned, that is a seemingly mundane, oafish wish. And truthfully one that Ned would really have little difficulty keeping.
Therefore it seems entirely plausible, logical even, that Ned’s promise to Lyanna involved something other than her statue. Certainly something of a magnitude more uncomfortable for Ned. And that is what helps drive the subsequent speculations.
More than anything, Ned hates to see children put to death.
Ned loves his family dearly, willing to bear severe punishment and dishonor when necessary to protect his children. But this goes even beyond his flesh and blood: notice how strongly he fights against Robert’s demand that a pregnant Daenerys be put to death, and how he risks everything and confronts Cersei about her incest, all because he wants to avoid harm to her children.
I have no doubt that even if Lyanna hadn’t asked him, Ned would have taken Jon in. As many challenges as he would incur from adopting Jon, he would do it.
Ned’s promise to Lyanna did not involve raising Jon, since Ned would do that anyhow.
But going back to what I said about the nature of asking promises of others, Lyanna most likely asked him to do something he was apprehensive about. What seems likely is that she is asking him to preserve Jon’s heritage, to be one day shared with Jon or others, something Ned would never want to do.
More than anything, Ned’s promise involved something that would endanger a child.
The most relevant child would be Lyanna’s prospective offspring.
The task that would put Lyanna’s child in the greatest danger would be establishing his heritage. Particularly if that child was legitimate.
Remember that Ned already endured the loss of his father, his brother, possibly Jon’s half-brother and half-sister and is witnessing the death of his sister. Any sane man would be understandably traumatized. He’s seen too much of death and war, too many dead children.
With the apparent end of the Targaryen dynasty at hand, there would be no practical reason to ever tell Jon of his ancestry. Doing so would only re-open wounds just starting to heal (at that time), tarnish Lyanna’s image to the kingdom, and likely result in Jon’s death both as a Targaryen and possibly as a bastard pretender (consider that the nature of his parentage recalls the bastards of the Blackfyre Rebellion). At the very least, Robert’s lust for Targaryen blood would demand Jon’s death.
There are several possible reasons why Lyanna could want Jon to know his bloodline:
- Perhaps she also believed in the prophecy of the prince that was promised. After all, given “Promise me, Ned”, isn’t Jon an obvious ‘promised prince’?
- She doesn’t want Jon to live never knowing who his mother and father are. Perhaps she, knowing her death is imminent, regrets being unable to raise him as a mother should.
- She does this for out of vanity and regret for herself, for the personal reason that Jon’s parents did not die for a foolhardy reason, and that at least someone should know the mutuality of their relationship.
I surmise that either Ned would vocally argue that he would never tell Jon or that Lyanna just implicitly knows he doesn’t want to. I’m inclined to believe the former, that Ned would counter Lyanna’s request by talking about the deaths of Aegon and Rhaenys. Perhaps then Lyanna simply demanded his promise or thereafter tricked him in some fashion.
* * *
An Attempt to Keep a Secret Promise To Reveal a Secret
Whether or not you believe that Lyanna outright demanded that Ned one day tell Jon about his heritage or alternatively tricked him, it seems clear that Lyanna wanted Jon to find out somehow.
Now of course Ned could one day tell Jon, but to what end?
Ned’s famous subservience to honor dictates that if he told Jon that he might have a legitimate claim to the throne, then Jon must needs act on it and subsequently Ned would likely have to support it. So then the obvious question is, how would Ned prove to others that Jon indeed was legitimate?
Alternatively, if Lyanna was trying to trick Ned into keeping evidence of Jon’s heritage, how could she do so?
Despite being different in action, the answer to both of these hypothetical scenarios is the same:
Ned would retain an object or objects that would confirm Jon’s heritage. Objects that met all of the requirements I laid out earlier in this essay.
This is notably an element of his promise to her that he could keep.
Under this idea, Ned would have gathered such evidence from the tower of joy, to be retained safely for future use.
The hazard here is that the discovery of such artifacts, if validated, once again immediately put Jon in danger.
Ned could have concluded (or Lyanna if she was forced to trick him) that the crypts of Winterfell would make the best place to conceal such artifacts. What’s especially potent here is that the idea burying such evidence in Lyanna’s tomb is not only well-calculated and protected from Robert, it resonates with thematic relevance. A harp in the tomb, much like a child in a womb, like a dragon in a stone egg.
When to tell Jon?
As is strongly implied in A Game of Thrones, Ned shows great remorse at the lost opportunity to speak to Jon.
The thought of Jon filled Ned with a sense of shame, and a sorrow too deep for words. If only he could see the boy again, sit and talk with him …
— EDDARD XI, A GAME OF THRONES
It would appear that Ned wanted to at least tell Jon something, something he never did and something he feels great shame for failing to accomplish.
As noted above, Ned knew that revealing Jon’s secret would have immense consequences. One can see why he delayed it perpetually. Perhaps the reason Ned feels such regret at the time of this excerpt is because Jon has presumably joined the Night’s Watch, forfeiting any claims he may have had. Perhaps Ned felt Jon was finally ‘safe’ from his own heritage.
This theory invokes a beautiful duality between the original, straight-forward interpretations of ‘Promise me, Ned’ readers first have, and the more intuitive interpretations put forth in the ‘classical’ R + L = J theories.
* * *
There are a number of interesting observations and speculations that lend credence to the significance of both Lyanna’s tomb and the harp.
There are no other female statues in the Winterfell crypts.
The sole exception in a population set as large as ‘all the lords of Winterfell back to the time of Bran the Builder’, being the only female statue is an extreme outlier. It draws attention to itself on that basis alone.
* * *
Only the male statues have swords across their laps, intended to conceal their spirits within. Lyanna’s statue does not.*
The importance of this is entirely speculative; but it could be implied that the absence of the sword for Lyanna implies that her tomb does not contain her spirit and is possibly less ominous, opening it if necessary is less abominable as opening others.
There is a plethora of passages suggesting specifically that there are ghosts wandering Winterfell, of a ‘frozen hell’ in the crypts from which damned spirits wander in the mists that permeate the castle grounds.
It may all of course be metaphor and prose, but it’s a striking observation nonetheless.
Note: There is one notable exception to this observation. Per Bran’s previous quote, it would appear that the statue of Ned’s brother Brandon also lacks a sword.
* * *
What better place to hide secret Targaryen relics than in a tomb you know Robert will never defile?
Talk about hiding in plain sight!
If there were any Targaryen relics of importance at the tower of joy that should be hidden in order to clear Lyanna of any ‘wrong-doing’ in her dalliance with Rhaegar, hiding them in a place where Robert would never think or dare to look is brilliant.
* * *
How would Jon or anyone know to look in the tomb?
There are a number of possibilities here –each of varying degrees of plausibility:
- Jon Snow learns of the tomb’s contents while dreaming or in an altered state.
- A character who knows about Jon’s heritage and the tomb might emerge to attest to the contents of Lyanna’s tomb.
- The tomb is somehow opened for other reasons and the evidence spontaneously discovered.
Of these three, I find the first and second to be the most compelling:
Via a Dream
Jon Snow has had frequent ominous dreams of a mysterious destiny that awaits him in the crypts. Bran and Rickon dreamed of Eddard trying to talk to them about Jon in the crypts, and Eddard regretted things he never told to Jon while in the black cells.
As for how Jon might learn, consider the possibility that Jon may have a Bran-like dream or vision while he is dead or near-death after A Dance with Dragons. Do you remember Jon’s recurring dream of the Winterfell crypts —the one he can never finish because he always wakes up, where something terrifying awaits him down in the dark? Well, in his near-death state he is unable wake up and is forced to finish the dream. This dream gives him the knowledge he needs.
This is strongly reminiscent of Bran’s near-death experience where Bran was finally forced to ‘fly or die’.
Secondly, it’s well connected with the idea of spirits in Winterfell, in a ‘frozen hell’ and the idea that perhaps Jon learns of the tomb’s contents via such a visitation.
It’s also tremendously congruent with Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, particularly the point where the hero enters the underworld, to eventually return to the land of the living armed with secret knowledge.
Via a Champion
Alternatively, if a character emerged to vouch for the tomb’s contents, you are first faced with the challenge of sacrilege: who is going to want to actually open the tomb?
For what it’s worth, the additional question is obviously “Who?”. To which I answer with the obvious Howland Reed. I also sometimes consider that Arthur Dayne may still be alive, but that is a lesser idea. It is rooted in the specious argument that Howland subdued Arthur simply by talking to him, and that Arthur survives in some fashion.
The harp has been mentioned in four of the five books currently in print.
This means that the harp has not only been established fairly well, but that readers have been regularly reminded of its presence and appearance. Compared to any alternative means of revelation, it bears the strongest familiarity to the reader. As often as the phrase is misused, the harp is potentially a very real ‘Chekhov’s Gun’. The other possibilities are –as noted– weakly established (or not at all), and much more likely to be rejected as a valid resolution of this enduring mystery.
Almost every time the subject of Rhaegar is discussed at any length the harp is mentioned. Particularly when characters are reflecting on their experiences with him. The only exception I can think of is Jaime’s remembered talk with him before Rhaegar departed for the Trident.
It’s important to remember that the majority of people reading A Song of Ice and Fire are not fanatically aware of subtle historical details. Bringing up a device that is for all purposes known only to aficionados will be terribly disorienting to casual readers, and perhaps cheapen any related ‘reveals’.
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It’s unique silver strings are mentioned every time.
And I do mean every time.
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As mentioned earlier in the essay, the harp by itself does not definitely prove that a person has Targaryen blood. Something else must be added.
Even if the harp is verified as authentic and it’s history safely established, it does not effectively prove that Jon (or anyone else) actually has Targaryen blood, that he is the issue of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s union.
A document declaring Jon’s legitimacy and signed by respected witnesses must also be present.
The function of the harp is therefore to apply palpable thematic and objective emphasis to such a declaration. It is a lever that aids in lifting a load, so to speak.
The only conceivable way to prove blood is to have it vouchsafed by one’s parents and their confidants. As such, I speculate that document was drafted declaring Jon as Rhaegar’s biological son.
A Bastard or Not?
This letter may or may not have declared Jon as being trueborn –the product of a secret marriage. I find that idea interesting but perhaps unnecessary.
Jon does not need to be trueborn to satisfy Martin’s admission that Jon will eventually know who his parents are, therefore Rhaegar may have just declared Jon to be his bastard son.
As for the witnesses, I suspect that it would include Rhaegar obviously and his three kingsguard: Arthur Dayne, Oswell Whent and Gerold Hightower. Additionally it could have included Ned Stark and Howland Reed, added after the fight at the tower. A document containing the affirmations of the most heroic of Aerys’s kingsguard and Ned Stark strongly coincides with my observation that the validity of such momentous documents greatly benefit when witnessed by notably disparate parties.
These affirmations were likely indicated with signatures and with seals. Seals in particular have been given great significance in recent books, implying a superior sense of authenticity when compared to a signature alone. Examples:
- The ribbon that Davos carries in A Dance with Dragons, bearing three different seals and intended to lend authenticity and authority to Davos’s words.
- Robb’s letter proclaiming Jon as his heir and a legitimate Stark, with multiple lordly witnesses affixing their seals to validate the letter’s authority.
- The wedding invitations ostensibly sent by Ramsay Snow, signed and sealed by various northern lords to indicate the letter’s authenticity.
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A Legitimate Bastard?
There is a third idea, that Rhaegar did not announce Jon as his biological ‘baseborn’ son, or as a trueborn son of a secret marriage.
Instead, Rhaegar may have announced Jon as a ‘legitimized bastard’. Of course, only the king can legitimize bastards. Thus this means that Rhaegar would have had to usurp the throne to do such a thing. Is this possible or plausible or suggested in the text?
Yes indeed it is.
- By Jaime Lannister’s account, Varys warned Aerys that Rhaegar was conspiring against him. Perhaps the eunuch was more correct than readers initially thought.
- Rhaegar himself admits to Jaime that he wants to call a Great Council, a conference whose principal function has always been to elect a new king (thus dethroning Aerys in the process).
- It may also help explain why the three kingsguard were at the tower of joy instead of with Aerys or at the Trident, they were protecting one of the “new king’s” princes.
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So are there any indications suggesting that Rhaegar might have written such a document?
I believe so.
First, the books have well established that a king may in fact legitimize bastards. We see it happen when Tommen legitimizes Ramsay Snow and when Robb presumably declares Jon Snow as legitimate and the heir to Winterfell. It’s also well established historically, under the story of Aegon the Unworthy and his bastard children that he legitimized on his deathbed. An act which had tremendous significance on the history Westeros.
An interesting observation here is that the Blackfyre Rebellion was also significantly influenced by Aegon IV’s act of bequeathing a Targaryen relic –the Targaryen sword Blackfyre– to his bastard son Daemon; a striking mirror of this theory’s core elements.
The latter books further established the concept that some methods exist for usurping a throne by declaration of a ruler’s inability or invalidity. First we see the Great Council of 233AL that raised Aegon V to the throne. Although technically unrelated, we also see the process by which an ironborn king can be dethroned as well, via the tale of Torgon Greyiron and Urragon Goodbrother. In addition there is always the simple act of contesting a rule using political and/or military clout.
Knowing that Rhaegar wanted to call a great council after presumably winning the war against Robert, and how Aerys handled Rickard and Brandon Stark, we can suss out that Rhaegar was well-aware of how Aerys would handle any such demand for a council. It would all but require Rhaegar to approach his father with sufficient political/military backing that Aerys was coerced into consent.
Assuming that Rhaegar was aware of all of the risks entailed in such a course of action, a writ declaring himself the true king and bearing the seals of witnesses would be a strong way to preserve his intended plan of dethroning the Mad King.
This idea is no different than the ribbon with three seals that Davos bears from Stannis, or Robb’s declaration of Jon’s legitimacy, witnessed by several northern lords.
It would be at this time that Rhaegar could further legitimize Jon as his legitimate offspring.
Thus, my speculations regarding a document legitimizing Jon all are based on events and and other documents that we’ve actually witnessed in the books. The idea bears merit on the basis that such documents have been well-established, having both contemporary and historical counterparts.
Finally, out of all the passages in the books related to harps, there are only two which are abstract in nature, and are rather eye-catching in light of this theory:
In his soft hands he held a twelve-stringed woodharp more deadly than a longsword.
— TYRION IV, A STORM OF SWORDS
“A harp can be as dangerous as a sword, in the right hands.”
— SANSA VI, A STORM OF SWORDS