Rethinking Rhaegar: Hero or Villain?


Rhaegar Targaryen: the man, the myth, the legend. He is one of the most mysterious characters in A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, but one who has a huge impact on the story before it even begins. In the official history Rhaegar abducted and raped Lyanna Stark – holding her captive at the Tower of Joy and igniting Robert’s Rebellion – which put an end to the Targaryen dynasty. However, a careful reading of the books paints another picture of Rhaegar; one at odds with this version of the story.

It all began at the Tourney of Harrenhal, when Rhaegar jousted his way to victory and proceeded to crown Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty. Later, it is said he fell upon her in the Riverlands and carried her off…but why? Did he see her at the tourney and fall hopelessly in love, or determine that she was essential to fulfilling a prophecy? Did she return his affection and run off with him willingly? She seemed less than enthusiastic about her betrothal to Robert Baratheon, but would she be so rash?

Rhaegar is a polarizing figure, and there are numerous interpretations of his actions. Some believe he and Lyanna were in love and ran off together. Another theory is that he was obsessed with the prophecy of the Prince that was Promised and did everything in his power to ensure it came true. Most people assume Rhaegar was politically ignorant and either didn’t think about the consequences of his actions, or didn’t care. This seems at odds with the information we have Rhaegar from those who knew him – that of an intelligent, capable man who excelled at everything to which he put his mind.

After reading the existing theories and piecing together information from the books (the main series as well as The World of Ice and Fire) – along with the information we are given about Rhaegar’s and Lyanna’s personalities – I present an alternative analysis about what really occurred at Harrenhal, why Rhaegar took Lyanna, and what happened in the aftermath. There is still much we don’t know, but I have attempted to cover the bases as thoroughly as possible.

The following contains facts as well as speculation; if you want more in-depth analysis with references from the written material, please check out the four-part series The Harrenhal Conspiracy as well as Rescue at the Crossroads. I drew heavily from both theories (which are well worth your time) and added my own thoughts and conclusions.

The Tourney at Harrenhal


“Rhaegar had put his hand on Jaime’s shoulder. “When this battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but…well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return.” – A Feast for Crows, Chapter 8 (Jaime I)

By the time of the Harrenhal tourney in the Year of the False Spring, opposition was growing against King Aerys due to his increasing paranoia and cruelty. Rhaegar (concerned about his father’s ability to rule) planned to call a Great Council to possibly force Aerys’ abdication. Meanwhile, the lords of the great houses (notably Stark, Tully, Arryn, and Baratheon) were attempting to strengthen their power and influence by forming alliances through marriages and fostering each other’s children.

The Harrenhal Tourney appears to have been arranged to gather together as many of the lords as possible – promising a lavish spectacle and generous prizes that Lord Whent (the host) could not afford. Likely the secret benefactor was Rhaegar, possibly with help from Tywin Lannister. Tywin had already resigned as Hand of the King due to his anger at Aerys for marrying Rhaegar to Elia Martell instead of Cersei, and for naming Tywin’s heir Jaime to the Kingsguard.

Unfortunately for Rhaegar, Aerys decided to attend the tourney despite not having left the Red Keep in four years (ever since he had been held captive during the Defiance of Duskendale). Aerys was becoming suspicious of Rhaegar’s intentions, believing (correctly) that Rhaegar was plotting to take the throne. This threw a wrench in Rhaegar’s plan, but he may have gone ahead with a council anyway if he thought he had enough support.

A Plot to Dethrone the Mad King


“Prince Rhaegar’s support came from the younger men at court, including Lord Jon Connington, Ser Myles Mooton of Maidenpool, and Ser Richard Lonmouth. The Dornishmen who had come to court with the Princess Elia were in the prince’s confidence as well, particularly Prince Lewyn Martell, Elia’s uncle and a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard. But the most formidable of all Rhaegar’s friends and allies in King’s Landing was surely Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning”. – The World of Ice and Fire, The Year of the False Spring

Rhaegar knew he had the backing of Dorne (House Martell), some of the Crownlands and Stormlands houses, a few men of the court, at least three of the Kingsguard (Dayne, Whent, and Martell), and the love of the smallfolk. He presumably counted on House Lannister as well, given the bad blood between Aerys and Tywin. Support for Aerys came chiefly from his small council, who had great influence and the ability to use the king’s madness to their benefit. What Rhaegar needed to know was where the other great houses stood (Stark, Tully, Arryn, and Baratheon). If he could count on them to support his ascension, he would have the leverage he needed to oust his father from the throne.

It’s possible Rhaegar and Arthur Dayne enlisted the help of Arthur’s sister Ashara to gather the intel they needed. At the opening feast, she was noted to have danced with a “white sword” (probably Arthur giving her information and instructions), a “red snake” (Oberyn Martell, with assurances of Dorne’s support), the “lord of griffins” (Jon Connington, telling her which court members Rhaegar could count on), and lastly the “quiet wolf” (Ned Stark). The “wild wolf” (Brandon Stark) had spoken with Ashara, asking her to dance with Ned, who was too shy to approach her himself – but could he have told her something more?

Perhaps Brandon told her that the Stark/Tully/Arryn/Baratheon alliance would throw their support to Rhaegar; maybe even sealing the deal with a promise of marriage – Ned (who was not yet betrothed and needed a suitable match) to Ashara. This would give Rhaegar enough confidence in his victory to call a council. I believe he arranged for himself to win the tourney and crown his wife Elia as the Queen of Love and Beauty as a signal that the council would convene as planned. After all, two of Rhaegar’s opponents (Brandon and Arthur) were involved in the conspiracy, and the others (Yohn Royce and Barristan Selmy) could have been given orders to take the fall.

The Knight of the Laughing Tree

From "The Great Tourney at Harrenhal", an animated short narrated by Ellie Kendrick in character as Meera Reed, as part of the "Histories & Lore" feature in the Season 6 Blu-ray

“The mystery knight was short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces. The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 24 (Bran II)

So why didn’t the council happen? One of the key pieces of information about the tourney comes from A Storm of Swords, when Meera Reed recounts a tale she heard from her father Howland, about the Knight of the Laughing Tree. This mystery knight defeated three squires who had been bullying a crannogman (presumably Howland) before Lyanna put a stop to it and befriended him. While we don’t know for certain, the most widely accepted theory is that the knight was Lyanna in disguise. If so, this is a vital part of the Rhaegar and Lyanna relationship.

King Aerys, in his paranoia, believed the mystery knight was an enemy and a traitor – he thought the tree was laughing at him. He ordered Rhaegar to discover the knight’s identity, which almost certainly led him to Lyanna. She already seemed infatuated with him (like every other woman in Westeros); “the dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle” at the opening feast. I think Rhaegar found Lyanna intriguing and admired her spirit, bravery, and selflessness in defending Howland. They probably developed a mutual attraction and respect, and Rhaegar promised to keep her secret.

How did this impact Rhaegar’s plan? It’s very possible that Lyanna had discovered the true motive behind the Stark/Tully/Arryn/Baratheon alliance – to force a council to be called and to switch their allegiance from Rhaegar to Robert Baratheon. After all, Robert was in the line of succession via his Targaryen grandmother, and his ascension would be a boon to those houses – they stood to wield much more power and influence than they would under Rhaegar. If she told this to Rhaegar, he would have had no choice but to postpone the council to avoid defeat. Not only would he have wanted his line to continue; he may have seen shades of Aegon IV in Robert: a lecherous, unworthy king who would ultimately tear the realm apart.

Why would Lyanna betray her family? Maybe she didn’t want to be queen (she certainly wasn’t overjoyed about marrying Robert anyway). Maybe she felt it was the right thing to do. Maybe she cared enough for Rhaegar that she didn’t want to see him overthrown. We already know of her resemblance to Arya, but she seemed to have Sansa’s romantic tendencies as well. Whatever the reason, it gives another layer to Rhaegar crowning Lyanna – acknowledging her bravery as the mystery knight, thanking her for divulging the truth, and signaling that there would be no council after all. No wonder “all the smiles died” – their scheming had been stopped in its tracks.

An Abduction, or a Rescue? 

707 - Dorne - Rhaegar, Lyanna 1

“Someone told. Someone always tells.” – A Feast for Crows, Chapter 21 (The Queenmaker)

After the tourney, Rhaegar returned to Dragonstone with the pregnant Elia to prepare for their son’s impending arrival, and King Aerys returned to King’s Landing. Aerys had initially thought Jaime Lannister was the mystery knight at Harrenhal; that he had defied Aerys who had ordered him back to King’s Landing after taking his Kingsguard vows. Upon his return to the Red Keep, doubtless Aerys was informed that Jaime had been there for the duration of the tourney. It’s not likely Aerys would have forgotten his anger over the mystery knight, so either someone eventually found out the truth or he deduced it on his own. Either way, it’s very possible Aerys ordered Lyanna’s arrest as a traitor to the crown.

Around the time of her “abduction” Lyanna was in the Riverlands for the wedding of Brandon Stark and Catelyn Tully. Her father Rickard was on his way from Winterfell, and Brandon was on his way from Riverrun to meet up with his father’s party. Rhaegar had left Dragonstone and was also journeying to the Riverlands with six companions. Could he have discovered his father’s plan to arrest Lyanna? If so, he would have felt obligated to help her, knowing the fate that would have been in store for her. He would have also rightly assumed the execution of a Lord Paramount’s daughter would start a war, and he would have wanted to avoid that at all costs.

If there was a confrontation, it’s reasonable to think it happened at the Inn at the Crossroads. The inn has served as the site of many momentous events throughout the course of the books, and this would certainly be one of them. A conflict between Targaryen soldiers and Lyanna’s and Rhaegar’s parties could have been misinterpreted (or deliberately reported) as an abduction. It’s also possible that Littlefinger was in the area, returning to the Vale from Riverrun after his duel with Brandon. Knowing Brandon’s rashness (and harboring resentment for the wounds he took from him), could Littlefinger have arranged for Brandon to be told about the “kidnapping” before he could hear the truth?

The Rebellion


“Brandon had been twenty when he died, strangled by order of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen only a few short days before he was to wed Catelyn Tully of Riverrun. His father had been forced to watch him die. He was the true heir, the eldest, born to rule.” – A Game of Thrones, Chapter 4 (Eddard I)

Brandon rushed to King’s Landing with his men and demanded for Rhaegar to “come out and die.” Of course, Rhaegar wasn’t there, but Aerys imprisoned them all for plotting to murder the prince and summoned their fathers to the capital. Rickard Stark arrived with 200 men, all of whom were executed by the Mad King – who perhaps wasn’t as mad as he is made out to be. After all, he had Varys whispering in his ear and informing him of actual plots to dethrone him.

The lone survivor was Brandon Stark’s squire, Ethan Glover. Could he have been spared because he divulged the plot to put Robert on the throne? Aerys wrote to Jon Arryn demanding the heads of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon. Presumably Aerys wanted Ned to answer for the “treason” of his brother and father, but why Robert? If Aerys knew of the plot to crown him it makes perfect sense. Of course, Jon Arryn refused to give up his wards (and the potential claimant to the throne), which sparked the rebellion and led to the downfall of the dragon kings.


Robert Aramayo as Young Ned Stark and Aisling Franciosi as Lyanna Stark. Credit: Helen Sloan/ HBO

“Prince Rhaegar loved his Lady Lyanna, and thousands died for it.” – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 67 (The Kingbreaker)

What of Rhaegar and Lyanna? After he rescued her from his father’s men, Rhaegar needed to get her someplace safe – eventually taking her to the Tower of Joy. If Rhaegar didn’t abduct her or run off with her out of love, how would Jon have been conceived? It’s possible that Rhaegar tried to get word to Lyanna’s family to keep war from breaking out, but it arrived too late, or not at all. Once Lyanna learned the news of her father’s and brother’s deaths, she would have been devastated. She may have turned to her rescuer for comfort, and perhaps it led to something more.

Rhaegar would have found it difficult to reject a grieving girl, and perhaps the admiration he already felt for her grew into love. I don’t think he planned for it, or that he used her to fulfill a prophecy – in fact he already thought his son Aegon VI was the promised prince. It could be a similar situation to Robb Stark and Jeyne Westerling; she gave herself to Robb when he was recovering from a battlefield injury, and he married her so as not to dishonor her. Yes, Rhaegar was already married, but the Targaryens had practiced polygamy in the past. Perhaps he thought that once the rebellion was defeated and Aerys was deposed, he would have the power and ability to make the realm accept a second marriage.

On the other hand (and following the show’s lead), maybe an annulment was the answer. This has historical precedence with the example of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Louis VII of France, who dissolved his marriage to Eleanor but ensured the legitimacy of her children. We know that by this point another pregnancy would likely mean death for Elia, and Rhaegar (who seemed fond of Elia if nothing else) would undoubtedly not have wanted to endanger her life. A union and a child with a Stark could also be used to ensure the loyalty of the North and the Riverlands, swaying them from their plot to crown Robert.

Since King Aerys didn’t seem to have viewed Rhaegar absconding with Lyanna as an act of treason, Rhaegar could have sent word that he was holding her as a hostage in a secret location. Rhaegar believed he would be victorious and that he could take care of his father once the war was over. He may have also been in contact with the Ghost of High Heart (who foresaw that the Prince That Was Promised would come from the line of Aerys and Rhaella, among other things), as they both had a connection to Summerhall and could have encountered each other there.

It’s possible the Ghost of High Heart saw a vision of a dragon winning a great battle on the Trident which convinced Rhaegar of his certain victory, when instead her vision could have been of the White Walkers’ defeat (Daenerys dreams of fighting an enemy “armored all in ice” at the Trident in the books). Rhaegar was likely also communicating with Tywin Lannister to win his support and felt certain Tywin would come to his aid; however, Tywin stayed his hand to ensure he only backed the winning side. Unfortunately Tywin’s decision likely led to Rhaegar’s death, and the rest is history.

Given Rhaegar’s penchant for prophecy, it’s logical to assume his fixation on Lyanna was primarily to ensure the birth of the Prince That Was Promised. However, prophecy in A Song of Ice and Fire is almost never straightforward or certain. Many times people try to avert prophecy and end up causing it instead, or they purposely try to fulfill it and make it happen in an unanticipated way. As far as we know, Rhaegar never lost his assumption that his firstborn son – Aegon VI – was the promised prince, and what happened with Lyanna was incidental to the prophecy. Jon Snow was the unintended outcome of Rhaegar’s misguided beliefs and will ultimately be the hero Rhaegar had expected all along.

Rhaegar wasn’t a villain, and he wasn’t a hero – he seemed to be an honorable but flawed man who probably did the best he could given his circumstances. Much like many other complex characters in the series, he tried to be the hero of his own story. Whether or not he succeeded ultimately depends on your perspective. Rhaegar lost the throne and his life, but perhaps his son will save the realm.


  1. Aha, interesting-

    It’s a no from me, bud. Just because something is plausible doesn’t mean it’s correct. Too many stretches and continuity errors on the characters tbh.

    This also entirely glosses over Elia Martell, and how her character and poltical implications would play out in this theory.

  2. I greatly enjoyed the essay and its conclusion about Rhaegar: he just tried to be the hero of his story.
    Nevertheless, I believe his affair with Lyanna was a love story. Unfortunately, they tend to end tragically.

  3. Very interesting analysis – but what about Rhaegar’s belief that “the dragon must have three heads?” Paired with Elia’s inability to bear another child after Aegon, the general assumption seems to be that he believed he had to seek another woman to bear his third child, and that Lyanna was the woman he chose. Of course we only “know” that he held that belief from a vision that Daenerys had in the House of the Undying. Perhaps the vision was misleading, or perhaps Rhaegar meant something else by it.

  4. Gwidhiel,

    I believe he thought he needed another child, I’m just not sure he sought Lyanna out purposely. Prophecies are usually pretty vague and people in the story get them wrong all the time. I think it’s odd that Rhaegar is assumed to have been able to figure out exactly what needed to happen.

  5. Ladyofdragonstobe,

    Considering we don’t have a ton of tangible evidence to go on, most discussions of Rhaegar will involve “leaps of faith” so to speak. I just tried to take the available facts – plus what we know of Rhaegar from POVs and GRRM’s writing style – and create a realistic look at what might have happened. George loves his complex, grey heroes so I believe Rhaegar was neither some tragic romantic figure nor a prophecy obsessed nutcase. He was just a smart, well meaning, flawed human.

  6. Shy Lady Dragon,

    I left out Elia because there is so little to go on. We know they were fond of one another, and that Elia seemed kind – and Rhaegar noble and honorable. I think their relationship was complicated and I’m not quick to assume Rhaegar was callous of Elia’s feelings and well-being.

  7. Vanessa,

    I don’t assume he was. I think Elia was kind, a good wife and mother – her brother, Oberyn, certainly believed her to be – and there must have been some affection as it grows, in time, on both sides in “well” arranged marriages.
    I find very plausible that Rhaegar and Lyanna fell in love and shared a lot of passion. He might have thought that love and passion were a gift (from the gods?) to fulfill the prophecy.

  8. My own tinfoil theory is that Elia was having serious complications with bearing children. So Elia, Rhaegar, Arthur, & Ashara all agreed that Ashara would serve as a surrogate. I wouldn’t be shocked if baby Aegon was actually Ashara’s baby by Rhaegar & it was Elia that had the stillborn girl. The plan was for Rhaegar to crown Ashara as the Queen of Love and Beauty and she would eventually become his 2nd wife.

    Aerys caught wind of the plan and raped Ashara to hurt both Rhaegar & Arthur (the 2 biggest conspirators). That was her dishonor. She would get pregnant from this rape and return to Starfall until Ned shows up after the Rebellion. Part of me thinks Ashara is Septa Lemore & Young Griff is her son with Aerys.

    As for whether Rhaegar is a hero or villain, I definitely think he’s a hero. He became obsessed with prophecy but we see he needed to be. The 2nd Long Night and the War for the Dawn is coming. Jon is the Song of Ice & Fire who will play a big key in saving mankind. From what we’ve been told of him, there’s no way he would abduct Lyanna. I think the love was real & mutual.

    The person in the books who we should be questioning is Varys. He says he’s a Targ loyalist but he told Aerys about the Harrenhal Tourney, thus he’s the true cause of everything going haywire. Now he wants to put Young Griff on the throne. Seems like he put the realm through hell unnecessarily when he should have been helping Rhaegar get the throne. Unless…?

    Unless Varys & Young Griff are both Blackfyres then my Ashara as Septa Lemore takes a hit. In that scenario Varys wanted the Rebellion to help destabilize the Realm under Robert & get it ready for Young Blackfyre Griff to swoop in and take over.

    My biggest mystery is House Dayne & what role they play. Supposedly Ned killed Arthur & broke Ashara’s heart, yet House Dayne’s heir is named after Ned… That makes no sense. There’s definitely something more going on there. Are Arthur & Ashara really dead? Are they Mance, Qhorin, Septa Lemore, or Quaithe in disguise?

    Did Ashara hook up & get pregnant by Ned, at the Tourney, who then got forced to marry Cat in place of Brandon? Is there a Ned/Ashara kid out there? Is that kid Ned Dayne? I know he’s too young but what if he was conceived during the Greyjoy Rebellion? Do the timelines match up? Anyway, I think Rhaegar was noble and will be ultimately seen as heroic when the story concludes.

  9. Aegon the IceDragon,

    I have heard the Septa Lemore = Ashara theory and I think it might be true; the new and interesting part, concerning Young Griff, would be an interesting starting point for complications. And a real Ned Stark bastard, also Ashara’s son? I would be curious what happens next.

  10. Thank you Vanessa for the great analysis and conjectures. I think the potential of Rhaegar being this great man and leader, but flawed is exactly the point. I also firmly believe that he tasked someone to tell his family and the Stark family with the truth about him and Lyanna, but as often is the case, he placed his trust in the wrong person. I can see Tywin or Littlefinger fulfilling this role.

    Also, my own tinfoil theory is that someone was exacerbating Aerys’s madness by poisoning him with basilisk blood as hinted in ADwD. For what purpose? Maybe to create a little chaos. But overall, it seems different parties already had things in motion while Rhaegar was simultaneously planning a Great Council. And enacting the Great Council is something I hope to see in season 8.

  11. Vanessa,

    Very well put. I would also disagree with Ladyofdragonstobe’s comment “Too many stretches and continuity errors on the characters”, that is a stretch in itself. Because – as you said – there is not much to go on in the first place. (So how could she know what is a stretch with the characters?)

    I just recently heard the theory, that Rhaegar only was trying to rescue Lyanna from his father, on Radio Westeros (which ladygwynhyfvar or Lady Gwyn is a co-host of) and I find it plausible at the least.

    And at no point I got the impression that you thought you were absolutely correct. You even said: “I present an alternative analysis”. And “There is still much we don’t know”, “The following contains facts as well as speculation“.

    But I think there is a point in going back and pondering a little on Elia, even though there is not much we do know. Though maybe that is an analysis someone else wants to bury themselves in. 🙂

  12. Dark Sister,

    I’ve always wondered if Bloodraven tried warning Aerys about the others via the Weir-net. He tried to tell him to “burn them all” as in the Others/White Walkers & wights. Unfortunately, Aerys was already half mad & he took the message as burn everybody who crossed him including all of King’s Landing when the sack was imminent. Because of this Bloodraven may be reluctant to try and influence events again.

    But Bran will learn that though you can’t affect the past so easily, he will be able to affect the present. I can see him directing Jon, Arya, Sansa, & even Dany through the Weir-net. I really hope we get Winds because though Bran may not have many personal chapters, I think it’s gonna be fun seeing him subtly affecting things from the background of POV chapters like he’s been doing with Theon.

  13. Rhaegar was the worst, and I really hope that GRRM(or the showrunners, if they ever film the spinoff of RR) don’t make him a hero.

    So many terrible things that happened are his fault. And justifying that with “But he believed in this or that prophecies!” doesn’t excuse anything. I mean make that a real world comparison… Lots of killings/wars/massacres these days are made by people who believe in prophecies (religion), does that make them heroes? Of course not. It makes them monsters.

    If you start a war that got 10s of thousands of people killed, I don’t care what your reasons are, you’re not a hero.

    And I don’t care whether his story was a “love story” either. That’s not how it works in Westeros. She was betrothed to another. Lots of people don’t like Robert Baratheon (especially Rhaegar’s fans, for obvious reasons) but to picture this better, imagine it happening to a character you love instead. Say, Eddard Stark.

    What if Euron Greyjoy and Catelyn Stark had a love affair and believed in a prophecy, and they fled together to the Iron Island, eventually starting a war that got 10k northmen/ironmen killed? No one would call Euron a hero, everyone would call Catelyn a bitch, and people would take Eddard’s side.

    So what’s the difference?

  14. aiad,

    Did you read the article? I actually don’t believe he ran off with Lyanna for a prophecy or for love. I don’t even think the war was really his fault – there is a lot of blame to go around.

  15. An excellent and thought provoking article! Lyanna and Rhaegar always make for an interesting discussion and form one of my favorite topics. Rhaegar can be a bit of a marmite character for some people – they either love or despise him – but I definitely agree that George prefers his characters to be grey. They are human – flawed, imperfect and liable to choose heart over head.


    I think their relationship was complicated and I’m not quick to assume Rhaegar was callous of Elia’s feelings and well-being.

    I have always felt that Elia and Rhaegar had a caring friendship, but were never in love with each other. I can see Rhaegar wanting to protect her and the children – it was Aerys rather than Rhaegar that commanded their presence in King’s Landing during the Rebellion, as a means of securing Dorne’s spears.

    I am hopeful there is more to discover about Rhaegar in season 8 and the forthcoming novels.

  16. so it’s a pity that the love story of Lyanna and Rhaegar is over … but in spite of this, it’s still an amazing story that is fascinating and wants to learn more and more!

  17. Even if Rhaeger did not run off for prophecy or love, bedding her did not reflect well on him. He had a wife and children and she was engaged. If he was comforting her, he may have taken advantage of her vulnerability when there were large power and maturity differentials between them. For me, it may be better to think he ran away with her for love or prophecy.

    My tinfoil – Rhaeger is Azor Ahai. Jon is Lightbringer. His job is to get the fire dragons north to fight Night King.

  18. I really enjoyed this.

    Feels more in the spirit of the story with a high degree of political intrigue and grey motives on both sides.

    Also really makes sense for the character of Rhaegar. That he would be such a politically naive character or so prophecy obsessed just seems too extreme for how GRRM writes.

    Hopefully the show sheds some light on all this next year.

  19. Mango,

    You could be right, although George gives us plenty of indications that Lyanna was smart, strong, and willful. She doesn’t seem the type to be manipulated or victimized. In fact, if you take the examples of Robb/Jeyne and Jon/Ygritte as loose parallels to Rhaegar/Lyanna (doomed relationships that shouldn’t have happened but did due to circumstance), in both cases the women instigated the first sexual encounter. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case here as well, especially when Jon is feeling guilty after he finally gives in to Ygritte and thinks, “Was this how it was for my father? Was he as weak as I am, when he dishonored himself in my mother’s bed?”

    That said, you’re correct that at Rhaegar’s age he definitely should have known better.

  20. House Monty,

    Thank you! I would love to get more of the backstory on the show, but unfortunately I don’t see how they will have time with the shortened season.

  21. Thank you, Vanessa, for a really interesting read. Well thought-out speculation, some of it supported by actual text from the books (and show events), unlike some of the more tinfoily ones among the fandom.

    I especially like the angle that Rhaegar was feeling out potential allies in dealing with his mad father (maybe some regency arrangement like George III/the Prince Regent in the UK). It gives more meaning to the list of Ashara Dayne’s dancing partners in Meera’s story. (Poor Barri was so out of the loop. Nobody can doubt his honesty and honour but he wasn’t – isn’t, because he’s still alive in the books – very astute politically.)

    I like the idea that the Rickard Stark/Hoster Tully/Jon Arryn/Robert Baratheon (“STAB”) alliance was looking to go along with Rhaegar to get rid of the Mad King, only to get rid of Rhaegar later and install Robert as king. It’s not really supported by the text but it’s an interesting and attractive idea.

    As is the Queen of Love and Beauty garland being used as a sign for Rhaegar’s original co-conspirators (Dayne, Whent, Martell, maybe others). Not giving it to Elia, as expected by all and sundry, was a sign to Rhaegar’s party: “Abort, abort!” That Lyanna was the recipient was totally irrelevant to Rhaegar’s original co-conspirators… But not to the STAB-alliance conspirators.

    Maybe Rhaegar could’ve given the garland to some other lady present, like the Whent daughter the tourney was ostensibly in honour of, but maybe he wanted to acknowledge Lyanna’s “chivalry” in standing up for the weak, oblivious of, or not caring about the political implications.

    I like the idea that the “kidnapping” was a rescue because Rhaegar knew his father wanted Lyanna arrested and knew what that entailed (burning). Again, no textual evidence that Aerys II knew Lyanna was the Knight of the Laughing Tree (hell, even we readers don’t know it, it’s just the most commonly accepted theory!) or that he wanted to arrest/harm Lyanna. But it’s not out of the realms of possibility to assume, so this speculation is as good as any.

    I’m not a fan of fan theories that eeeevil Littlefinger is behind every plot and conspiracy but there’s something attractive in this idea that the teenaged Littlefinger had a hand in sending Brandon to KL to his and his father’s doom.

    Think of it this way: young Petyr from the little sheep pellet Finger, on the lowest rung of nobility, is madly in love with his Lord Protector foster father’s eldest daughter. It all ends in humiliation in the hands of Brandon Stark, her Lord Protector heir betrothed. He’s sent away from Riverrun to the Fingers as soon as he’s recovered enough from his wounds… OK, this is pure speculation. Along the way, he stops at an inn where Lyanna (and her retinue?) and Rhaegar and his retinue also happen to converge. Quite a coincidence, but this is fiction.

    So, Rhaegar explains the situation to Lyanna, that she’s in mortal danger from the Mad King, and offers to take her to safety. Lyanna is scared, conflicted… But sees Hoster Tully’s young ward, a friend of her brother’s betrothed. Brandon is expected imminently, as is her father. Lyanna decides to take up Rhaegar’s offer (she might be a bit infatuated with him, too. She was a 14-15 yr old romatic girl) and leave word with little Petyr. “I’m Lady Lyanna Stark. You know my brother Brandon’s bethroted Catelyn Tully. Tell my brother, tell my father, that Prince Rhaegar is taking me to safety because the King means to arrest me and do I know not what with me.”

    Lyanna didn’t know Petyr harboured huge resentment towards her family and Brandon in particular. She trusted the wrong person with the crucial message. Petyr twists the story, Brandon goes racing to King’s Landing and the rest is history.

    Now, I don’t think Petyr was machinating to cause Robert’s Rebellion for some nefarious reasons. He just gave wrong information out of resentment and spite. But as Robert’s Rebellion unfolded, he realised how much power a puny low-nobility nobody could have if he controlled information and misinformation and disinformation. So Littlefinger as we know him was born.

  22. talvikorppi:
    I like the idea that the Rickard Stark/Hoster Tully/Jon Arryn/Robert Baratheon (“STAB”) alliance was looking to go along with Rhaegar to get rid of the Mad King, only to get rid of Rhaegar later and install Robert as king. It’s not really supported by the text but it’s an interesting and attractive idea.

    It’s not overtly supported by the text, but I do think there are hints. One that stands out to me is Ned telling Cat that his brother Brandon “was born to be a King’s Hand and father to queens. I never asked for this cup to pass to me.” Now he could have just been assuming that the situation would have played out the same way had Brandon lived – but maybe it’s a clue that part of the arrangement in supporting Robert’s claim in a Great Council was to name Brandon Hand and betroth his future daughters to Robert’s sons.

    Maybe Rhaegar could’ve given the garland to some other lady present, like the Whent daughter the tourney was ostensibly in honour of, but maybe he wanted to acknowledge Lyanna’s “chivalry” in standing up for the weak, oblivious of, or not caring about the political implications.

    I definitely think that was part of Rhaegar’s decision to crown her.

    I like the idea that the “kidnapping” was a rescue because Rhaegar knew his father wanted Lyanna arrested and knew what that entailed (burning). Again, no textual evidence that Aerys II knew Lyanna was the Knight of the Laughing Tree (hell, even we readers don’t know it, it’s just the most commonly accepted theory!) or that he wanted to arrest/harm Lyanna. But it’s not out of the realms of possibility to assume, so this speculation is as good as any.

    We don’t know that Aerys wanted to arrest or harm Lyanna, but he was definitely out to get the KotLT. We know from The World of Ice and Fire that Aerys “became convinced that the tree on the mystery knight’s shield was laughing at him” and “commanded his own knights to defeat the Knight of the Laughing Tree when the jousts resumed the next morning, so that he might be unmasked and his perfidy exposed for all to see.” Aerys was “wroth” and commanded Rhaegar to find “this traitor who will not show his face.” Had the mystery knight been found, I’m certain Aerys had a terrible fate in store.

    Now, I don’t think Petyr was machinating to cause Robert’s Rebellion for some nefarious reasons. He just gave wrong information out of resentment and spite. But as Robert’s Rebellion unfolded, he realised how much power a puny low-nobility nobody could have if he controlled information and misinformation and disinformation. So Littlefinger as we know him was born.

    I agree completely that Petyr didn’t realize the effect his lie would have (assuming this is what actually took blame), but that seeing the results turned him into the manipulative schemer we now know and despise.

  23. I’m going to speak up for Elia, because when looking at Rhaegar, she is far too easily dismissed. People say that their marriage was arranged and Elia might have been ok with Rhaegar’s actions, and leave it at that.

    I find it extremely improbable that Elia would in any way be fine with Rhaegar’s treatment of her. And on the contrary to others, I believe we know enough about the context and situation Elia was in to see why.

    As a Dornish women, Elia is already faced with racism within the court, as evidenced by Aerys’ attitude towards Rhaenys. This threatens both her her and her children’s position. By crowning Lyanna instead of Elia, far from showing the realm that he holds Elia; and Dorne who she represents as its Princess, in high regard he pays them both a grave insult. And so the Realm, the schemers and courtiers, are going to look at Elia and think that she matters little to Rhaegar. This places her in danger.

    Furthermore, even if Rhaegar did crown Lyanna to reward as the KOTLT, he still fails in honouring Elia. Not only his she his wife, but she has already nearly died once bringing his child into the world, and was then stuck in bed rest for six months afterwards. Surely, such an ordeal also deserves honouring? And not being insulted before hundred. Instead, he shames her and Dorne in front of the whole realm.

    That is also why I do not accept Elia’s health excusing Rhaegar for running for with Lyanna. Elia has already done her duty to Rhaegar twice, she has given him an heir and did so with great risk to her life. If Rhaegar had to absolutely have a third child, he could have done so discretely.

    Elia did her duty to Rhaegar. Rhaegar didn’t. He didn’t honour her, respect her or her country, and he failed in protecting her also.

    By shaming Elia before the most powerful in the realm, Rhaegar has already put her in an extremely vulnerable position. By then insulting two of the realm’s most powerful Houses (the Starks and Baratheons) and then leaving his violently insane father to deal with the outcome, he places her in an even worse one. If he truly believed that running of with a betrothed Stark and leaving his mad dad to deal with the fallout wouldn’t bring a high risk of bloodshed, then he was the world’s biggest idiot. And it didn’t matter that Elia was on Dragonstone, because Aerys (who as I said, has already shown himself to be hostile to Elia) still got to her easily and if Rhaegar didn’t know that could happen then he fails at basic Geography as well. She was then used as a hostage for Dorne, and it was only after she was used as a hostage that Doran sent any support to the Targaryens because up until then Dorne was still angry about Elia had been treated. Which puts away that awful ‘Elia wouldn’t have minded because Dornish people don’t mind that stuff’ argument.

    And it’s unlikely Elia didn’t know about the Blackfyre rebellion where a half-Martell heir was threatened by his bastard brother, and wouldn’t be incredibly concerned by it. So no, she would not be ok with Rhaegar having a son with a highborn lady whose family could very well pose a threat to her children.

    So, in summary. Unless Elia was as thick as two short planks, she would not have been ok with Rhaegar’s actions and they would have hurt her deeply. They certainly put her in danger. It’s not about love or romance, it’s about politics and basic respect. Rhaegar weakened Elia’s position by insulting her and the country she represents, and he disrespects her by insulting her before the realm, throwing her difficult and near fatal birth back into her face and declaring her inferior to Lyanna.

    Now, whether Rhaegar meant to be such a dick to Elia is in question. He might just be a colossal idiot.

  24. whateverdgaf,

    You make some very valid points. I don’t think Rhaegar meant to be a dick, and I don’t think he’s an idiot. There has to be more than what we know, all of which is filtered through other characters’ viewpoints. I definitely don’t excuse Rhaegar’s actions regarding Elia, but I’m withholding judgment a little until we know more of the story.

  25. whateverdgaf,


    Excellent arguments.

    It is hard to make Rhaeger look good under any circumstances.

    I also wonder why he did not seem to make any contingency plans to protect his wife and kids if the rebels made it to KL. Even if his mad father kept Elia, I wonder why the children were not evacuated when Rhaella and her kids were evacuated. They just left them. He seems to have left no instructions but had enough forward plans to have Arthur Dayne and 3 others guarding Lyanna. (17 year old Jaime was assigned (and hostage) to Aeyrs and in a different location from Elia and the kids.) The prince surely could have spared even 1 of Lyanna’s guards and left him with the woman that had married him and bore him 2 children.

  26. Mango,

    Hmm… But once Elia and her children were in King’s Landing, they all were Aerys’s hostages, Rhaegar couldn’t really overrule his father’s, the king’s commands in KL. Jaime feels guilty and conflicted about it to this day, as evidenced by his weirwood dream.

    As to why Aerys didn’t evacuate the children to Dragonstone with Queen Rhaella and Viserys. The children are the important ones, without them Elia is only important to Dorne. The children are of royal Targaryen blood, so potential heirs to the throne. However, Aerys thought they “smelled Dornish” and seems to have preferred Viserys as a potential heir. So it probably made sense to the Mad King to risk the children’s lives as hostages in addition to Elia.

  27. talvikorppi,

    Yes, that makes sense given Aeyrs. However, Rhaeger seems so impotent, cannot even protect his children.

    We are speculating that he was planning an overthrow. Yet he could not even connive to ensure the safety of his kids. Given that his father’s oddities, then at least he could have left Arthur Dayne with them. Lyanna was in a secret location far away from the war.

    It also makes it extra bizarre that Jaime should feel any guilt. If Rhaeger could not help his kids..what could he have done? There was a short period after Aerys was dead, but how would he know Elia was in trouble? Or should even really care….Why would Rhaeger ghost (in Jaime’s dream) be yelling at him about Elia? Jaime should yell back , efff off, you could not save her yourself.

  28. Mango,

    Perhaps he did make contingency plans but they fell through or were ignored. Lyanna initially had Dayne and Whent with her – Hightower came later when Aerys sent him to get Rhaegar. But Rhaegar had 6 companions when he “fell upon” Lyanna, so what of the other 4? Who were they and where did they go?

    Richard Lonmouth, Myles Mooton, Lewyn Martell, and Jon Connington are good possibilities. Mooton and Connington ended up at the Battle of the Bells, Martell didn’t die until the Trident, and we don’t know what happened to Lonmouth. There’s a theory he’s in hiding as Len Lemoncloak – perhaps he or one of the others was sent to protect Elia or spirit her away and failed. It’s tough to say since we aren’t sure of all of their movements between Lyanna’s disappearance and the Tower of Joy.

  29. Vanessa,

    I’d argue that whatever plans you put in place, when you are creating such a politically dangerous situation with your wife and kids in the middle, any plans you make should be water tight as possible. Considering how many things went wrong, I don’t rate Rhaegar’s planning abilities.

  30. whateverdgaf,

    Regarding the initial incident with Lyanna, we have no idea how much time he had to plan for that. Afterwards I think he was just trying to put out fires until it got too out of hand. He couldn’t look like he was trying to oppose Aerys too much because if Aerys had turned on him he would have had no chance of defeating both him and Robert.

  31. Vanessa,

    My problem is that by the time he ended having sex with Lyanna he must have known he had placed Elia in a terrible position and I would have thought that his guilt over not protecting her and their children at the least would have helped him keep it in his pants. Instead he just deals Elia one blow after another. Humiliates her in front of the realm, seemingly disappears with another woman and leaves her in the clutches of his mad father during a political catastrophe, then has sex with an other woman whose noble birth places her and any of their children as direct rivals to Elia. One such a mistake may be forgivable, but all of these in succession in one of another speaks of some class A dickish behaviour.
    None of his actions in the run up or the fallout of his disappearance with Lyanna speaks of a man who truly has best interests at heart and is willing to make the effort to carry out his duty to Elia, unlike Elia who has already almost died giving him children.

  32. I have to admit, I don’t see much reason to think Rhaegar must have been a good and wise man. Those who paint him as such in the text, Barristan (a man who for a good portion of his life equated honour with standing by as Aerys raped his wife and burned innocents when he could hve just stabbed him then and there as spared so much suffering) and Viserys, do so many years after his death. By this time people have grown disillusioned with life after Robert and remember Rhaegar’s beauty, charm and chivalry, and thus create an idealised version of him. Therefore, their testimonies on his character and personality have little standing with me. And without that, what reason do I have to think of Rhaegar as anything more than his actions paint him? I don’t see why I must think there is something more to him when those that claim he has have extremely dubious judgement on the matter.

  33. whateverdgaf,

    I just feel like something is missing. I’ve never like the idea that Rhaegar was a political idiot, or that he was obsessed with prophecy above all else, or that he fell madly in love with someone he met briefly once and said to hell with everything. It has to be more complex because that’s the kind of story GRRM writes.

    Our first impression of Rhaegar is from Robert – that he was an evil rapist. We slowly get more info to the contrary that he was actually noble and good, and that he loved Lyanna. My opinion is that the truth is more complicated than either. So yes, maybe Elia was totally out of the loop and Rhaegar majorly screwed up or flat out didn’t care about her. It’s possible. But like I said, there are so many holes, and we get even less insight into Elia than we do into Rhaegar and Lyanna. I just hope GRRM eventually fills the gaps so we find out exactly what happened.

  34. whateverdgaf:
    I have to admit, I don’t see much reason to think Rhaegar must have been a good and wise man. Those who paint him as such in the text, Barristan (a man who for a good portion of his life equated honour with standing by as Aerys raped his wife and burned innocents when he could hve just stabbed him then and there as spared so much suffering) and Viserys, do so many years after his death. By this time people have grown disillusioned with life after Robert and remember Rhaegar’s beauty, charm and chivalry, and thus create an idealised version of him. Therefore, their testimonies on his character and personality have little standing with me. And without that, what reason do I have to think of Rhaegar as anything more than his actions paint him? I don’t see why I must think there is something more to him when those that claim has have extremely dubious judgement on the matter.

    What about Ned? He doesn’t seem to hate him or think he’s a bad person. In fact, he compares him to Robert with Rhaegar coming out looking more honorable. Ned should have plenty of reasons to think ill of Rhaegar but he doesn’t.

    The Dornish should hate him too, but iirc they don’t seem to think about him much and hate the Lannisters instead for what happened during the sack. In fact, they are still Targ loyalists all these years later.

    Anyway, I don’t think I’ll change your mind given that there is no solid evidence to refute what you’re saying. I’m just keeping an open mind until we find out the whole story.

  35. Vanessa Cole,

    Ned’s opinion on Rhaegar is that he probably didn’t visit whore houses. And I admit I don’t think much of Ned’s version of honour much either. I place it in the same league of Barristan Selmy’s. For example, the way he loathes Jaime for killing Aerys and breaking his oath when Ned’s family swore fealty to Aerys which was an oath in itself, so I don’t see why Ned has the right to pick and choose which vows are sacred, which aren’t. There was also Ned forgiving Robert for condoning Elia and her children’s brutal murders just because he was sad about Lyanna’s death. Basically, I don’t hold Ned’s opinions in much esteem.
    I respect keeping an open mind, but the only basis I can find for any favourable interpretation of Rhaegar is the questionable judgement of questionable men. Whereas the evidence that Rhaegar was capable of either great stupidity or great cruelty is in great supply, and comes directly from his actions and his treatment of a person he should care for the most.

  36. Basically, even though there is a minute chance that there is a bunch of convoluted reasons why nothing is Rhaegar’s fault and he was actually wonderful after all, in all probability the evidence all indicates that in the very least, Rhaegar was just a bit shit.

  37. Rhaegar was flawed, like many GoT characters are. I think it’s the whole point that his actions have such grey overtone.

  38. Word especially on Ned. “Mr. Honour”…

    Indeed, in the show, the only evidence we have for how “honorable” Ned Stark was comes from, well, endless repetition of how “honorable” Ned Stark was from witnesses who are (a) ignorant, (b) unreliable, (c) have their own interest in fronting this idea, or (d) didn’t know him at all. (Varys, who suffers from none of those problems, simply thinks of Ned as a stubborn fool and gives up on him for that reason.)

    Part of this is that reputation can auto-reinforce. There’s a nice cliche about how once you have established a reputation as an early riser, you can sleep late every day, because each time, by definition, simply must be an exception to your standard behavior.

    My take on Rhaegar was simply that he often behaved impetuously, with his name, title, and rank giving him the privilege of surviving such follies — until he did something really foolish which angered too many powerful persons (who were already ripe for revolt).

    For example, Barristan recounts to Dany how Rhaegar liked to go out and sing in the streets of King’s Landing. That was an incredibly foolish thing for the heir to the Seven Kingdoms to do, especially more than once, even with the greatest swordsman in Westeros at his back. Yet Rhaegar merrily did this on at least several occasions, somehow making it home safe to the Red Keep each time. This may have reinforced his belief that he could keep getting away with such follies.

  39. I do agree that there was no way for Elia to be OK with the annulment of her marriage but what bothers me really is how this annulment could actually happen, especially in such a secrecy? Rhaegar would have required a very serious motive to convince the high septon to annul his marriage without consulting other interested parties from the Mad King to the Dornish princes. The high septon risked having tremendous problems because of this decision.

    IMO, the only reasonable explanation is that the annulment happened due to adultery. Yes, we tend to pity Elia as a victim and think of her very best, but who knows – she might have been very much like Cersei and her children could have been bastards, too. After all, Dornish women have been established as extremely frivolous and the Mad King (who wasn’t all that mad) though that Elia’s children “smell Dornish”, too. He could have ordered Varys to find the proof and Varys could have done that and shared this information with Rhaegar. That would explain both the annulment and its secrecy: Rhaegar and the high septon were avoiding publicity to protect Elia’s and her children’s lives, cause the Mad King would have undoubtedly killed them for high treason. I imagine, when Rhaegar left Elia he told her to pack and go back to Dorne (which she didn’t).

    The only thing that goes against this assumption is Oberyn’s statement that his sister loved Rhaegar, but Oberyn might not be the most reliable source of information: hardly Elia told him all her secrets. Moreover, had you asked Jaime about Cersei, he would have also told that his sister loved her husband (at least in the beginning) and that was Cersei’s version, too, although it hardly goes in line with the fact that she was having an affair with Jaime since her early youth.

  40. IB,

    The Faith has already shown itself to be highly corruptible. Rhaegar was the crown prince and future king and I don’t find it hard to believe that this would be enough for him to convince a High Septon that it is worth his while to agree to the annulment. We have proof in canon that High Septons have been corrupted and that Rhaegar was cruel to Elia. We have no proof that Elia in any way deserved it.

    There is nothing to indicate Elia cheated on Rhaegar. Aerys’s gross racism and Dorne’s lack of misogyny in regards to a woman’s sexuality does not count as evidence that Elia was in any way like Cersei or in any way to blame for Rhaegar’s disgusting treatment of her. She was described as good and dutiful and considering how she nearly died twice giving Rhaegar his children and doing her duty; one of whom looks just like Rhaegar, there is nothing in the text that suggests otherwise.

    Please don’t blame Elia for what Rhaegar did to her.

  41. Actually, even those who disliked Elia never suggested that Elia was adulterous. Jon C, Cersei and Viserys, all of whom resented Elia either out of jealousy or to excuse Rhaegar of his actions, can only say that she was uninteresting and too weak to keep Rhaegar with her instead of running off with Lyanna. Considering the racism faced by the Dornish, especially in regards to their sexual practises, surely those who wanted to blame Elia would have leapt onto the chance to say she must have been cheating. If there was the slightest possibility this was the case, if Elia even behaved in a way that slightly hinted at her not being faithful they would have seized it. The fact that all they could say about her is that she was weak and uninteresting speaks miles.

  42. I think Elia was kind and so loving, that might lead her to self-sacrifice. I imagine that, endangering her life to give birth to Rhaegar’s children, she was able to let her husband go with another woman so that he might be happy, even if it meant unhappiness for her.
    I know such a story IRL: a woman, aware of the fact that her husband fell in love with a younger, more beautiful woman agreed to their divorce, although it broke her heart. The wife could not have children and wanted her ex to be happy. It’s true that the husband was sincere about his feelings and wishes.
    If this could happen nowadays, why not in a novel?

  43. This isn’t just about Elia’s personal happiness and Rhaegar finding true love, in condoning Rhaegar’s behaviour she would be condoning placing herself and her children in jeaporady and weakening her children’s claim to her throne. Furthermore, Elia is a Princess of Dorne and its representative. When Rhaegar insults her, he insults her country.
    Elia might have accepted Rhaegar having a discrete affair with someone in private, but openly spurning her before the country for a noble woman with a powerful father is a whole other ballgame. Running off with said women, creating a major diplomatic incident and leaving herself and her children in the hands of his mad father even more so.

  44. Yes, it’s true that Elia, as a princess, was insulted by Rhaegar’s open preference and the future of her children became uncertain. I don’t think Rhaegar didn’t care for Elia’s children or that he sacrificed them. I can’t imagine what really happened there.

  45. whateverdgaf,

    I’m not blaiming Elia, I’m considering different possibilities.

    It’s true, that the high septons (or at least some of them) were shown to be corruptable but even in such case the annulment would have required at least a fabricated cause. Moreover, it was legit to assume that the Martells would defend Elia and the Mad King’s oppinion on this matter was hard to predict, so the high septon risked to run into serious trouble one way or another and he needed a serious push to issue the annulment be it evidences of Elia’s adultry or something else.

    However, it’s also true that Elia has never been a suspect to adultry, so there might have been something else. It’s worth to admit that Tywin Lannister was also interested in Rhaegar’s marriage annulment, cause he wanted to marry Cersei to him. Could he come up with some higly complex and sophisticated scheme to deal with Elia? IMO, that’s not beyond the real of possibilities, too.

    One way or another, everyone involved in this story acted completely out of character and common sencse. Rhaegar alleedly fell in love with Lyanna despite of being rather fond of Elia; Lyanna allegedly eloped with a man who alegedly treated his lawful wife and children as garbage despite of having a good share of empathy to the downtrodden. Elia herself allegedly accepted the annulment as a matter of fact. And the high septon allegedly issued the annulment out of the blue. So, there’s only one thing for sure: this puzzle is definitely missing details and until these details come into place, it would be better not to rush into judgements.

    I hope that the show will provide some clarity. Based on how disgusted Sam was about annulments per se, some explanations for Rhaegar’s actions should be provided.

  46. IB,

    I definitely agree it was possible that Elia was accused of adultery as an excuse for Rhaegar, but that just makes Rhaegar look worse. Whether he began the rumour or brought into it.. And no, Elia did not allegedly consent to having the annulment. There is nothing to indicate that she did and all facts point towards any person of good sense being incredibly unhappy with the situation. Re the High Septon, allowing himself to be bribed by the future king is not OOC. Not when the Faith of the Seven is established as corrupt.

    And as for Lyanna and Rhaegar acting OOC, well, Lyanna was also incredibly young and noted for having ‘wolf’s blood’. It not unbelievable that she simply acted recklessly and without thought. And Rhaegar has already insulted his wife before the realm, so for him to continue shaming her and disregarding her and her children is well within character. We are told that Rhaegar was kind, good and noble by biased and unreliable sources several years after his death, but his actual actions paint a very different picture. Instead of there being some hidden twist that magically absolves Rhaegar of all blame, it’s more within reason that Rhaegar was a charismatic and charming man who was actually capable of great thoughtlessness and or cruelty, but whose memory disillusioned men cling to.

  47. Well, it would be great to have more information. And it is good to consider the many options.

    Could we consider if Rhaeger was an inconsiderate irresponsible selfish unfaithful man that provided inadequately for the security of his children; publicly humiliated his wife; made dangerous political choices; and ran off his young woman who knew he was married and a father; impregnated her and then was killed by the other man she was promised to?

    Or consider if similarly to how his father became increasing mad over time, he may have been becoming mad as well?

    If we can wonder if it was Tywin or Littlefinger or Elia or something in the water. Maybe we can add these possibilities to the list as well await GRRM’s additional books.

    I am willing to do so…although my tinfoil is that he is also the Azor Ahai and father of the Lightbringer, Jon.

  48. Mango,

    Preach! That Rhaegar is in fact a reckless or cruel man is the most logical conclusion, what with the vast majority of his actions pointing towards this, and the only reasons to think otherwise are opinions of biased and unreliable men.

  49. whateverdgaf,

    Lyanna could be reckless doing the right thing, like protecting her father’s vassal; stealling other woman’s husband and a father from innocent children is not reckless – its selfish and immoral and not a Stark way.

    As for Rhaegar, if he was so selfish and cruel, why did he bothered about marrying Lyanna at all? This fact alone is a solid proof that he was committed to make things right, even if he failed.

    So, once again: let’s not indulge into rushed conclusions, until the final season airs.

  50. IB,

    Lyanna wanted to bear arms and fight, so defending her father’s vassal is hardly a sacrifice for her. When confronted with giving up her chance to escape from Robert and be with the man she thinks she loves, her recklessness and own desires may very well overwhelm her duty.

    As for Rhaegar, marrying Lyanna is hardly a particularly moral thing in itself. If he believed himself in love then he benefits from it as well. He only made things right with Lyanna, the woman he was in love with. Not anyone else.

    As for rushing to conclusions, I would say looking at Rhaegar and Lyanna’s canon actions and deciding it is highly likely they were both selfish and irresponsible is hardly a reach and has the most basis in canon.

    Now, maybe there is some hidden factor that magically absolves them of everything, but as things stands, everything points towards two very reckless and selfish people.

  51. whateverdgaf,

    You make too many stretches: from reckless to irresponsible, from irresponsible to selfish. However, there’s nothing implying that Rheagar or Lyanna were selfish. Foolish – yes, narrowminded and unable to understand all possible consequences of their actions – yes, but selfish – definitely not. Selfish people tend to stay out of trouble and more importantly they don’t fall in love: a short-lived lust is all they are capable of.

    But I guess I won’t persuade you to open your mind to incosnistences. Mayhaps, these incinsistences are the fault of GRRM and there is no way to fix them. However, I had the same feeling of a plothole regarding Jon Arryn’s murder until the truth was revealed in the 4th season out of the blue. The same can be said anout Jon’s true parentage reveal or Jaime’s character reveal. So, GOT has a record of irritating the viewers with minor inconsistences and then rewarding them with a big payoff and I tend to have trust in it.

  52. IB,

    I fail to see how Rhaegar and Lyanna could not have foreseen the high probability for danger their actions would lead to. The importance of family loyalty and marriage alliances in Westeros is evident, and they would have both known this. Just as they must have known that their actions would shame and insult three major houses, how could they not? And at least one of these houses would in all probability have taken offense at such treatment, when they were insulted so greatly before the realm.

    Bad enough, but then the dangerously insane Aerys was left to deal with the political fallout. The potential for bloodshed is so clear and so great that I cannot see how Rhaegar and Lyanna could not have behaved the way they did without being either incredibly stupid or incredibly selfish.

    And being in love, or believing oneself to be in love, does not rule out selfishness. A selfish person may be in ‘love’ and then place that ‘love’ over the well-being over everyone except the person they claim to love. Just as it seems Rhaegar and Lyanna did.

    And I fail to see where these inconsistencies come from. Lyanna was already described as wild and reckless, and the sole act of kindness we know of came at little loss to herself. Far from giving something up that she dearly wanted for Reed’s sake, she took part in a joust she would have loved doing anyway.

    As for Rhaegar, being charming and preferable to a mad king doesn’t rule out selfishness or idiocy either. Shaming Elia after nearly dying giving birth to Rhaenys (which I have already established Elia would never be ok with, as it is a great insult to herself and her country and places her standing at court in danger) speaks of an ability to either be very selfish or very thoughtless. The opinions of Rhaegar that might bring some opposition to this view on him come from very dubious and biased sources that speak more of his charisma than any actual selflessness or wisdom.

    TLDR; Selfishness doesn’t rule out being in love, the dangers caused by their actions are clear and obvious and should have been to them, and the text does not provide ample reason to suggest either Rhaegar or Lyanna were actually wonderful people who should not held accountable for the disastrous impact of their actions. Except for in Book Lyanna’s case, maybe her youth (which just makes Rhaegr look worse.)

  53. Selfish people tend to stay out of trouble…

    Not when they have inherited unearned power and privilege and get surrounded by yes-men who egg them on in foolish actions. (See Selmy’s implicit encouragement of Rhaegar’s foolishly playing bard in the dangerous streets of King’s Landing.)

    …more importantly they don’t fall in love: a short-lived lust is all they are capable of.

    That explains Rhaegar’s behavior towards both Elia and Lyanna pretty well. He was the Prince Who Was Privileged, and he thoughtlessly abused his power and his privilege to cause a great deal of hurt and pain to everyone around him.

    “In analysing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial.”
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson

  54. A big key to deciding on if Rhaegar was a complete jerk or more noble is what do you consider the “true” reason for the Rebellion? Was it the fact that Rhaegar & Lyanna ran off together? Or was it the fact that Aerys killed Rickard & Brandon & demanded Robert & Ned to be executed as well???

    Let’s say that Aerys wasn’t mad & Brandon wasn’t a loose cannon: would the realm have rallied behind Robert and went to war because Lyanna married the Heir to the Throne over him? I think not. Would Rickard have accepted it? I think so.

    Unfortunately, I think circumstances (unknown to us at the moment) doomed them. Did Littlefinger or Varys lie & spread the word that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna? Was House Stark, Arryn, & Baratheon planning a coup anyway & just used “the kidnapping” as justification?

    The scenario listed where Littlefinger spread the rumor to Brandon is very intriguing. What if he saw Rhaegar & Lyanna meeting up around the Riverlands or even Riverrun? Or even saw them run off together? Very plausible.

    The other is Varys. I can definitely see him having a monologue in one of the next books (similar to his one with Kevan & especially if he’s a Blackfyre) where he reveals it was secretly him behind the Rebellion. He told Aerys of the Harrenhal Tourney because he knew that the Realm would be stronger under Rhaegar than it would under Aerys or Robert & be tougher for the next Blackfyre Rebellion to overthrow?

    So he blew up Rhaegar’s takeover plans. And then spread the lie that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna. His “little birds” definitely could have informed him of what was going on. He may have even whispered to Aerys to kill Rickard & Brandon. Regardless, I can see scenarios where Varys or Littlefinger we’re ultim the cause of Robert’s Rebellion. More so than Rhaegar, Lyanna, Aerys, or Robert himself.

  55. whateverdgaf,

    It’s true that Rhaegar’s and Lyanna’s actions led to unwanted consequences, but one should consider what were the wanted ones.

    First of all, the whole story around crowning Lyanna Queen of Love and Beauty: there’s a broad consensus that Rhaegar simply wanted to honor the Knight of the Laughing Tree. He wasn’t in love with Lyanna at that moment yet; he could have explained his actions to Elia; and the whole incident would have been forgotten, if not for the further development. After all, it was just a simple courtesy and Rhaegar might have even hoped to please the Starks (unfortunately, the Staks were already predisposed against him and took it for an insult).

    Now, marriage. I bet that it was political move, as much as a love match. Lyanna must have known something about her father’s plans to take out the Targarians and put Robert on the throne with her as his queen. However, she considered Robert to be irresponsible and therefore it’s not a streatch to assume that she didn’t expected him to be a good king. In her mind, Rhaegar was definitely a better choice for the realm (and she could have been right about that). So, she eloped and married Rhaegar expecting that this move will make her family to reconsider its allegences and once again she could have been right: the Starks wanted their daugter on the throne and they wanted the Man King out; if Rhaegar could promote them both an easy way, why should they object? The whole Stark-Arryn-Tully alliance had every reason to switch to Rhaegar’s side and even the Baratheons could be persuaded to join or at least keep neutrality: after all, Robert was Ned’s best friend and he valued that friendship very much.

    And such motivation behind the elopment is much more in line with Lyanna’s reckless but empathic and protective personality, than a purely selfish desire to satisfy her love interests you imply. She wanted to save the realm from the bloodshed, she wanted to help a man she deemed to be a good king – it’s just that the plan didn’t work.

  56. Interesting article. Clearly GRRM wrote Rhaegar to be mysterious and to have several layers so that the reader doesn’t really know if the narrative is correct or not, presumably to clarify this in the final books (as the show is now doing).

    With so little known about him it’s hard to form a solid opinion. In my mind I’d like to think he’s a ‘good’ guy like Jon Snow however more likely he’s more a conflicted ‘grey’ character like Dany, with good intentions but his desires conflict within him to the extent he’s not a flawless person.

    As Jon’s lineage comes to public knowledge I’d be fairly confident we will find out more but logically speaking I don’t expect this to be clear and decisive in the final season of the final book (if it’s ever written).

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