Strap in, y’all. Because Gilly just casually dropped a bomb on Game of Thrones in “Eastwatch” that will completely upset Daenerys’ plans for Westeros domination. With a single line of dialogue about “an annulment performed in Dorne” HBO is inching closer to pulling the Band-Aid off the Jon Targaryen reveal.
WARNING: IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS, LEAVE NOW.
A quick recap: Last season, Brandon Stark discovered the truth about his bastard brother, Jon Snow. In a flashback, it was revealed that Jon is, in fact, the son of Lyanna Stark and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, confirming a long-held suspicion among readers of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Ned Stark had traveled all the way to Dorne to rescue his “kidnapped” sister from the Tower of Joy. Instead, he found her dying in childbirth. She made him promise to keep her infant son safe as Robert Baratheon was on a rampage, killing every child with even a drop of Targaryen blood. Rhaegar’s other children with his wife — Elia Martell — had already been murdered. A noble man, Ned took Lyanna’s secret to the grave, even as is eroded the trust in his marriage and gave Jon an inferiority complex he’s still digging out from under.
While the true parentage of Jon Snow has been determined, the state of his parents’ relationship was still murky. From the books, we know Rhaegar first set eyes on Lyanna Stark at the Tourney at Harrenhal in the year 281. There was a huge scandal when Rhaegar won the tourney and crowned Lyanna the “Queen of Love and Beauty” with a garland of blue roses in front of the entire realm instead of his wife. The date is important.
Elia Martell and Rhaegar Targaryen had wed in the year 280 after a short betrothal. Always in frail health due to being born a month prematurely, Elia nevertheless gave Rhaegar two children over the next three years: a daughter Rhaenys in late 280 and a son Aegon at the beginning of 282. The gap was only due to the fact Elia was bedridden for over half a year after Rhaenys. After Aegon was born, the Maester told the couple another pregnancy would kill Elia. Later that year, Rhaegar noticed Lyanna Stark. That affair would be the spark that sent the Seven Kingdoms into civil war, ending with Prince Rhaegar dead in the Trident and Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne.
Gilly’s discovery in the scrolls of Oldtown is the first indication that Lyanna and Rhaegar were doing more than enjoying a tryst: they were, in fact, married. But, if Westerosi annulments from the High Septon are as hard to come by as the one’s European nobility secured from the Pope, it indicates the Church knew more was in play than Rhaegar’s little dragon.
In the books, Dany sees a vision of Rhaegar when in the House of the Undying, in which her brother stares out a window and declares “there must be one more” to a woman in an elaborate bed. The woman, Elia, has just given birth to Aegon. So she was clearly aware that her husband believed the “dragon has three heads” and therefore Rhaegar must have another child. But we know the Maester forbade Elia to become pregnant again. So what’s a Targaryen to do? Find another wife.
The weird thing is how secretive it all was. Normally, annulments are not a cloak-and-dagger process, but one that is done with pomp and circumstance (and public humiliation for the spouse being set aside). Elia being barren would definitely fall under the “good” reasons for an annulment, yet Rhaegar did not publicly cast her off. It could be Rhaegar was sensitive to Rhaenys and Aegon’s place in line for the throne, but if Henry VIII taught us anything it’s that losing a wife doesn’t mean your kids have to be declared bastards. But the new baby, with a new mother, would be. And that doesn’t jive if your prophecy needs three legitimate Targaryen heirs and bigamy is frowned upon in your culture.
My guess? Elia was, if not “okay” with this plan, at least aware of it. After all, Rhaegar fled with Lyanna to Dorne, the home country of his wife. While never a love match, Rhaegar and Elia had a mutual respect. If the Targaryen heir had convinced his wife the prophecy was true, it’s possible she signed off on this whole thing. After all, the Dornish aren’t exactly prudes. We know Elia and (one) of her children were kept as hostages at King’s Landing by the Mad King during the Rebellion, but the histories are silent on her whereabouts before that. It’s entirely possible that Rhaegar’s public display of affection for Lyanna at Harrenhal was as much him asking Elia’s permission to begin courting Lyanna as it was openly declaring his infatuation with the Stark girl.
But what does the annulment and subsequent marriage mean? It means Jon Targaryen now has a better claim to the throne than his aunt. Unlike the Dornish, the people of Valyria were a patriarchy. Boys carried the royal line. Rhaegar was the son of the Mad King. With this new information, Jon is now the legitimate son of Rhaegar and the grandson of King Aerys II. Daenerys is only Rhaegar’s significantly younger sister. Jon’s legitimacy bumps her down the line of succession.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think Jon is about to throw his weight around and make his aunt bend the knee. In another time and place, they’d have been betrothed. Hell, they could still end up married by the time the series is done. But if the Lords of Westeros find out one of their own — Jon Snow — is a Targaryen with a better claim to the Iron Throne than a female invader from across the Narrow Sea? Not only that, but a Targaryen with a mix of Stark blood who is one generation removed from the Mad King’s lineage? One that Drogon now clearly respects and would hesitate to BBQ? Well then. Dany is going to be in trouble.