Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones’ season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf”
In the season 7 finale of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen have sex, after a few episodes of smoldering glances and tentative hand-holding. But just as they come together, there’s news brewing on the horizon that might tear them apart. Jon is the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, and he’s also Daenerys’ nephew. That has all kinds of political consequences.
Viewers who have been paying attention already saw this coming; Jon Snow’s parentage has been a fan theory for years, and the show confirmed it before any major characters connected the dots themselves. In the penultimate episode, Samwell Tarly’s partner, Gilly, stumbled across a record of Rhaegar Targaryen’s secret marriage to Lyanna Stark. Somehow, although this information was utterly unimportant to Sam at the time, he’s able to recall the details to Bran Stark, who’s now the Three-Eyed Raven.
Although Bran is all-seeing, he somehow didn’t get the memo on the annulment and remarriage. He thought Jon was Rhaegar’s bastard son, born in Dorne, and hence should have been named Jon Sand. While that name might sound amusing to viewers after seven seasons of “Jon Snow,” Sam immediately waves it off. He prompts Bran to use his omniscience to see Lyanna and Rhaegar tying the knot in a secret ceremony. He also hears Lyanna name her son Aegon Targaryen. No, not the Aegon Targaryen who was Rhaegar’s other son, and Jon’s half-brother — the Aegon who was murdered by Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane. In the Targaryen family line, it’s common enough to keep naming men Aegon, after Aegon the Conqueror, the first of the Targaryen kings of Westeros.
What would change if Sam and Bran made their knowledge public? Jon and Daenerys’ budding relationship might be smothered, depending on whether either is squeamish about incest. (Daenerys, who has learned Targaryen traditions, including the one where brother and sister usually marry, might be less adverse than Jon.) And their wedding isn’t just necessary for warm fuzzy romantic reasons: a marriage alliance between the Warden of the North and Queen Daenerys Targaryen would be powerful, and nearly unassailable.
Beyond the relationship between Jon and Dany, the reveal will cause political problems. If Jon is revealed as Aegon Targaryen, his standing as a Stark suddenly becomes shaky, and so does the backing of the Northern lords who consider him Ned Stark’s oldest male heir. Those lords made their grievances with House Targaryen clear all over again at the start of this season. Jon would have to face that disapproval if his real identity emerges. It’s possible the lords would still accept him, since he’s still a Stark descendant, and he’s proven his loyalties and his respect for Ned’s politics and policies. But old prejudices could certainly resurface — especially since he’s bent the knee to another Targaryen, without consulting the proud Northern lords. They’d just gotten used to having a king again, and now he’s the second coming of the King Who Knelt, which didn’t play well in the North the first time it happened.
Frankly, Jon Snow also doesn’t want to sit on the Iron Throne, while Dany has made it her life’s goal, in part because she thinks she’s the heir and it’s her absolute right. So the identity reveal would be cruel to both characters. Jon barely wanted to be the King in the North, and only took on the responsibility because he felt he had no choice. It’s likely that Sansa, Arya, and his bannermen would encourage him to take the Throne, though, given their faith in him. Meanwhile, Dany still owns two dragons, and could always strong-arm her way onto the throne if she really wants to — but knowing she doesn’t have the absolute moral right anymore will severely undercut her certainty.
The showrunners might ultimately glide past all these potential problems, however, given this season’s bent toward fan service. Although it would be slightly out of character, Daenerys might forgive Jon for cutting in front of her in the line of succession, and arrange a marriage alliance with Jon anyway, to secure her own precarious position. Perhaps the battle with the White Walkers will change Dany’s mind about the importance of her ascending the Iron Throne. She could ultimately see that Jon will be a fair and just king, and that there’s room for both of them to rule. Alternately, their advisors might urge him to keep his lineage under wraps for the good of the kingdom — but as we’ve just seen, Jon Snow doesn’t have that kind of dishonesty in him.
Besides, between the two of them, Jon has been portrayed as the better ruler. In recent episodes, Game of Thrones’ writers have painted Dany as a headstrong leader with a quick tendency toward violence. Even her advisers are worried about her similarities to Cersei and wondered how Dany can offer her people hope when she mainly brings dragon-power and warfare — or in her house words, “fire and blood.” Unlike Dany, Jon has the advantages of having grown up in Westeros, and having the right decisions come more easily to him. (At least if Theon’s summary of his action in this episode is to be believed.) His strong sense of honor, learned from Ned Stark, guides him through decisions, unlike Dany, who relies on an ambiguous moral code and a set of advisers who restrain her from her worst impulses. Jon is also known for his honor and trustworthiness, so much so that even his enemy Cersei believes he’ll be loyal to her if he pledges his word. Dany has no such credibility in Westeros, and earning that kind of trust could take her years. Maybe the show’s potential two-year hiatus will give her the time she needs to win loyalty across the map, but failing that, there may be an upside to Jon learning and revealing his lineage after all.