At the end of Game of Thrones season seven, the collective wish of the fandom was granted and Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen got down and busy with each other. However, that moment of passion on the boat with a Kit moon was undercut by events in Winterfell: Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly discovered Jon Snow was neither a Snow nor a Jon, but actually Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, and the nephew of the woman with whom he was currently wrapped up in bed. What this tells us, from the very start of their relationship, is that Jon and Dany may be doomed as a couple.
It’s not the ‘Targaryen’ part that may stand in the way. Targaryens are well known to be incestuous, going back to Aegon the Conqueror, who married both his sisters. The Mad King Aerys and Queen Rhaella were brother and sister. Daenerys herself thought all her life she would be married to her elder brother Viserys until she was sold to Khal Drogo. Although the Andal Faith of the Seven had significant problems with this practice, the Targaryen monarchs Jaeherys I and Queen Alysanne hammered out a truce that allowed them to continue their ways in violation of the Faiths ban on incest. This was termed “Targaryen Exceptionalism” in the recent book Fire and Blood, basically that the Targaryens are so different normal rules don’t apply. Or more accurately, dragons are very capable of burning Oldtown to the ground and the Faith enjoyed living.
The main issue here is that, as soon as Jon and Dany get together, the writers of the show introduce a problem with their relationship. From a story perspective, what the show is telling us is that there will be no honeymoon for them. Their relationship will be one of Romeo and Juliette, star crossed lovers trying to stay together while the rest of the world is trying to tear them apart. The first hint of this was Tyrion frozen at their door with a look of deep concern on his face. But the writers haven’t stopped there.
“Winterfell”, the season eight premiere, opens with Jon and Dany riding up the Kingsroad to Winterfell with their two armies in what should be a moment of celebration for the Northerners. Cold death is marching down from the broken Wall, and two massive armies from the South with two full-grown dragons have arrived. And instead, the roads are lined with glaring, visibly unhappy people. Not a smiling face except for that little boy running through the crowd and climbing a tree to see better and, of course, Arya smiling at the dragons and her long lost crush Gendry. But no one is happy Jon and Dany are together, least of all the Northern lords.
Even before the whole realm learns that the crown prince of the Seven Kingdoms is alive and well, Jon has major problems in his own house. Giving up the crown the North gave him and submitting to another Targaryen has made House Glover abandon their cause and march home. Lord Yohn Royce, who commands the Knights of the Vale in Robin Arryn’s stead, is shooting daggers at Jon and everyone associated with Daenerys. Lyanna Mormont is openly speaking out against Jon’s abdication. The alliance he needs to defend Winterfell is telling him he should abandon her, or at least pick the crown he threw at Dany’s feet back up. What we are being told in very stark terms is that no one wants them together, or at least not without Jon being her equal.
Luckily, their triad of wise old guys in Varys, Tyrion, and Davos have a solution. As they look at the lovey-dovey couple from the ramparts, Davos suggests that they marry:
On the off chance we survive the Night King, what if the Seven kingdoms for once in their whole shit history were ruled by a just woman and honorable man?
This would go some way towards healing the wounded pride of the North. No one is quite sure what Jon is to Daenerys at the moment. Is he her Warden of the North? Her vassal? Her lover? Her fuckboi? A marriage between them would make Jon the Queen’s royal consort, securing that the North has a stake in the crown going forwards. This match would also make Jon’s “siblings” (cousins) a route towards power in the realm. Political marriages afterwards could smooth over the whole “gave up his crown” thing.
Unfortunately, as Varys says in the episode:
Respect is how the young keeps us at a distance, so we don’t remind them of an unpleasant truth… Nothing lasts.
Varys is unfortunately very wise in this observation. The most stable powerful couple in Targaryen history was King Jaeherys I and Queen Alysanne who ruled the realm as partners for decades. Yet, even within their marriage, problems raged over matters of succession and Jaeherys’ lack of respect for his daughters’ abilities and ambitions. The couple went through what are amusingly termed the “Quarrels”, which is a nice way of saying Alysanne was tired of his nonsense and twice packed up and left Jaeherys for two years at a time. Jon and Dany are in the honeymoon phase of their relationship, when everything is bright and exciting and new between them. The real issues that plagues every couple haven’t shown up yet, although it awaits them.
Jon and Dany face a much more pressing issue, though. Samwell Tarly informed Jon that he’s supposed to be Aegon VI of House Targaryen, the legal heir to the Iron Throne over Daenerys. Not only that, Samwell delivered this news by first telling Jon that Dany killed Sam’s father Randyll and brother Dickon Tarly by burning them alive. Sam is not just pushing Jon to take his claim seriously and rule over Dany, he’s making it a moral issue. Sam’s message is that Daenerys is a bad person, an unjust morally bankrupt ruler, someone that will do horrible things to the Seven Kingdoms if she takes control. And more than that, Sam is putting his friendship with Jon the line by making him choose between the loyalty he feels towards his best friend and fair rule he learned from Ned Stark against the love Jon finally feels again after his tragic loss of Ygritte.
This kind of persuasion has worked before in Westeros, particularly in the Targaryen family. They’ve had two full-scale civil wars known as the Dance of the Dragons and the Blackfyre Rebellions, and both started with conversations exactly like the one between Sam and Jon. The Dance was between the long-acknowledged heir to King Viserys I, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, and her half brother Prince Aegon. That Aegon, just like our current one, was not interested in the Iron Throne. Rhaenyra had been the heir for years, and while they never had a good relationship, Aegon was content to let her take the throne. Though accounts dispute the exact reasons for why Aegon changed his mind, the most plausible is that his mother Queen Alicent Hightower and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Criston Cole argued that, should Rhaenyra take the throne, she would certainly execute Aegon and his mother and brothers to secure her claim. They argued that Rhaenyra was an evil, hateful woman who cheated on her husband and would be a morally bankrupt queen. Sound familiar?
And then there’s Daemon Blackfyre. His father, Aegon the Unworthy, had Robert Baratheon levels of bastard children across the Seven Kingdoms and on his deathbed legitimized them all. His only acknowledged true-born son Daeron was always careful to be kind and generous to Daemon, and there was no real quarrel between the half-brothers. Daemon was given basically all he wanted including holdings, money, and the ability to build a castle. Yet, there was a snag. Daeron had taken Brynden Rivers, another bastard of Aegon (and, in the books, later the Three-Eyed Crow,) into his confidence, enraging Brynden’s chief rival and half-brother Aegor Rivers. Aegor, along with others like Quentyn Ball, pushed Daemon to take the Iron Throne from King Daeron for their own personal reasons. Again, like we’re seeing from Sam here, Daemon was pressured into pushing his claim not out of a just cause but because those whispering in the ears of power had their own problems with the King.
Two Targaryens, each with dragons and competing claims to the same seat of power, have been a problem before. And that is what the showrunners are telling us with the situations they have crafted and the conversations being held around Jon and Daenerys. All the world is against them already, and it’ll only get worse if the rest of the Lords find out who Jon is and push him to take power like happened to Aegon II and Daemon Blackfyre before him. And even if Jon, Samwell, and Bran keep their secret to themselves, there’s a very good chance in the coming episode that Jon will be found out.
When Jon got on Rhaegal’s back and flew around Winterfell, the aforementioned trio of Davos, Tyrion, and Varys all saw him. And between Varys and Tyrion you have two the most knowledgeable minds on the history of the Seven Kingdoms, Targaryens, and dragons in particular. In the past, Targaryens had many problems with bastards and pretenders trying to press their claims as the true Blood of the Dragon. A common way of deciding if they were legitimate or not was letting the dragons judge them. If the claimant could mount a dragon and not die horribly in the process, they were deemed true children of Valyria. This is something that Tyrion, who has read every book on dragons and dreamed of having his own since he was a child, will certainly notice and begin to wonder about. Varys as well. And perhaps even Davos. When he was learning to read Princess Shireen Baratheon would often tell him about the Dance of the Dragons where this very concept of dragon riding proving Targaryens was a key point.
As well, tensions are likely to only increase within Winterfell in the coming episode. Not only are the White Walkers bearing down on them, but as Sansa pointed out there’s not enough in the stores to feed the combined forces for very long. Jon may have given up his crown, but he hasn’t given up how much he cares about the Northerners. If they begin to starve, he’s likely to take their side over Daenery’s troops, especially with all the Northern Lords pushing him.
And that is all even before the two deal with the revelation that they are aunt and nephew. While this could perhaps not be as terrible a reality for Dany, it will certainly not be an easy thing for Jon personally. Also, Dany has changed a lot since she was under Viserys’ thumb, so she may not be as accepting as she once was. Beyond the incest, Jon’s whole identity and relationships with the family he grew up with are going to be thrown into chaos. He wasn’t raised with the idea that he might marry a close family member. Even among the Northerners, who have very isolated homes and castles, marriages between first cousins are rare. Ygritte showed in A Storm of Swords (Jon III) that even the wildlings and their society of very few rules abhor what Jon’s heart wants:
He’s of my village. You know nothing, Jon Snow. A true man steals a woman from afar, t’ strengthen the clan. Women who bed brothers or fathers or clan kin offend the gods, and are cursed with weak and sickly children. Even monsters.
These intertwining and tough questions about what Jon and Dany will do in the coming episodes are neither easy nor simple to parse. The best way to unite their forces would be a marriage, but it would have to be one built on deceit, as all would object due to them being close relatives, and one that could easily crumble if anyone, particularly someone like Bran or Sam, lets Jon’s true identity slip. Dany and her advisors may even consider Jon, who recently proved himself a dragonrider, a major threat to her reign. From what’s seen in the trailer of the two in front of Lyanna’s statue, it appears that Jon may tell Dany, too.
The significance of being in front of Jon’s true mother, Lyanna Stark, can’t be overstated either. This set up, of a doom romance that tore a kingdom apart, is exactly the same story of Jon’s parents Rhaegar and Lyanna. And the same for Jon’s cousin Robb Stark who married Talisa instead of the Frey bride he was promised to. And we know how that one ended at the Red Wedding. The theme of characters following their hearts rather than their heads is a major one in Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, and the consequences of that are often tragic and bloody. Can their budding romance survive history’s examples and every force pushing and pulling them? It seems to me about as likely as the White walkers turning around and marching home declaring their invasion a huge prank. But I’ve been surprised before.