A Song of Twists and Fate: the Little Moments that Changed Everything

707 - Dorne - Rhaegar, Lyanna 1

In Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, we are accustomed with seeing enormous, flashy moments that drastically change the plot. Miracle dragons hatching from stone eggs, huge landslides from surprise attacks led by dead men, violent dinners, murderous weddings. However, these events are often the payoff for a meticulous and well-thought-out series of smaller but vital moments that lead logically to the headline moments. Today we’ll talk about a few more of these stepping stones that lead into the twist and turns we love.

Arguably the most important single event in the story is when Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark run away from their marriages together. Their actions start a war that topples the Targaryen dynasty and leads to a top-down reforming of the traditional power structures in Westeros, as well as the deaths of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, and an untold amount of suffering. The two first met at the Tourney at Harrenhal and their paths converging there is built on coincidence and oddity. Long before that moment and even before his marriage to Elia Martell, the coincidences begin stacking up.

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The first, and my favorite, is the story of Elia and her brother Oberyn Martell’s travels around Westeros looking for marriage alliances.

“Do you recall the tale I told you of our first meeting, Imp?” Prince Oberyn asked, as the Bastard of Godsgrace knelt before him to fasten his greaves. “It was not for your tail alone that my sister and I came to Casterly Rock. We were on a quest of sorts. A quest that took us to Starfall, the Arbor, Oldtown, the Shield Islands, Crakehall, and finally Casterly Rock . . . but our true destination was marriage. Doran was betrothed to Lady Mellario of Norvos, so he had been left behind as castellan of Sunspear. My sister and I were yet unpromised.

– A Storm of Swords, Tyrion X

The most promising suitor Elia met was the young, handsome, and of splendid repute heir to Oldtown, Baelor “Brightsmile” Hightower. After his introduction to Oberyn and Elia, Baelor received a very different nickname.

The only one who was even halfway presentable was young Baelor Hightower. A pretty lad, and my sister was half in love with him until he had the misfortune to fart once in our presence. I promptly named him Baelor Breakwind, and after that Elia couldn’t look at him without laughing.  – ASOS, Tyrion X

A fart derailed a union between Elia and Baelor and sent the two on their way. As Tyrion remarks to himself:

Had Elia wed him in place of Rhaegar Targaryen, she might be in Oldtown with her children growing tall around her. He wondered how many lives had been snuffed out by that fart.  – ASOS, Tyrion X

Imagine how much would’ve changed if young Baelor had held it in. Elia, from her reaction to him, may have ended up marrying and living in Oldtown for the rest of her life. Without Elia, Rhaegar marries someone else and could be less motivated to run with Lyanna. Also, Aerys has nothing to hold over Dorne and any rebellion against Aerys’ madness is probably far more successful. Aerys held Elia and her children hostages for the good behavior of Prince Llewyn Martell and the spears of Dorne. Without their support, the royal army likely folds against Robert and Ned’s forces. And even if Baelor wasn’t Elia and Oberyn’s first choice, he would’ve been an acceptable back up plan for the Martells’ first choice: Casterly Rock.

In their youth, the Princess of Dorne and Joanna Lannister were ladies in waiting to Queen Rhaella Targaryen, forging a close-knit friendship. After they left Rhaella’s service and began having their own children,  the friends tried like many do to get their children to marry and make their friends part of their family. The princess of Dorne had her two unmarried children, Oberyn and Elia. Joanna had two unmarried children, Jaime and Cersei. The marriage pacts for a joining of the Rock and Sunspear seemed ready-made. And we are told explicitly by Oberyn that was the plan :

Just so. It was my belief that the mothers had cooked up this plot between them. Squire Squishlips and his ilk and the various pimply young maidens who’d been paraded before me were the almonds before the feast, meant only to whet our appetites. The main course was to be served at Casterly Rock.”

“Cersei and Jaime.”

“Such a clever dwarf. Elia and I were older, to be sure. Your brother and sister could not have been more than eight or nine. Still, a difference of five or six years is little enough. And there was an empty cabin on our ship, a very nice cabin, such as might be kept for a person of high birth. As if it were intended that we take someone back to Sunspear. A young page, perhaps. Or a companion for Elia. Your lady mother meant to betroth Jaime to my sister, or Cersei to me. Perhaps both.”  – A Storm of Swords, Tyrion X

However, during the Martell siblings’ travels to Casterly Rock, Joanna Lannister unexpectedly dies and Lord Tywin has no intention on following through on the plan. Tywin has only one acceptable match in mind for his daughter Cersei: the crown prince Rhaegar.

When she was just a little girl, her father had promised her that she would marry Rhaegar. She could not have been more than six or seven. “Never speak of it, child,” he had told her, smiling his secret smile that only Cersei ever saw. “Not until His Grace agrees to the betrothal. It must remain our secret for now.” – A Feast for Crows, Cersei V

Again, one of these small footnotes in history that will be lost to time when people tell the tale of Rhaegar and his lady Lyanna. Joanna Lannister’s death blew up the carefully laid plans for the children of two old friends joining their houses and instead leads into the eventual marriage between Elia and Rhaegar. As with Baelor’s unfortunate rip, the death of Joanna continued the chain of events that lead towards the eventual doomed marriage of Rhaegar and Elia.

This didn’t just happen on Rhaegar’s side of R+L=J either. Lyanna has her own turning points in the narrative. Ned and Robert were best friends in a similar situation as Joanna and the Princess of Dorne, being raised in a lordly court. Robert and Ned hatched a scheme that they could finally become brothers if Robert married Ned’s little sister, a proposal that Lord Rickard Stark accepted against the wishes of his daughter.

“Robert will never keep to one bed,” Lyanna had told him at Winterfell, on the night long ago when their father had promised her hand to the young Lord of Storm’s End. “I hear he has gotten a child on some girl in the Vale.” Ned had held the babe in his arms; he could scarcely deny her, nor would he lie to his sister, but he had assured her that what Robert did before their betrothal was of no matter, that he was a good man and true who would love her with all his heart. Lyanna had only smiled. “Love is sweet, dearest Ned, but it cannot change a man’s nature.” – A Game of Thrones, Eddard IX

Had Ned spoken up for Lyanna, or if Rickard had consulted Lyanna on what she really thought of the impulsive stranger she was now betrothed to, her eventual flight could have been averted. Lyanna didn’t just run away with Rhaegar in love, she ran from the unhappy future Robert was offering. This situation falls squarely on Ned’s shoulders as he ignored all the warning signs for Robert and Lyanna’s betrothal because he was so excited that Robert would be joining his pack.

Screenshot from Season 6 Histories & Lore, "The Great Tourney at Harrenhal"

From Game of Thrones Season 6 Histories & Lore, “The Great Tourney at Harrenhal”

Another moment that history pivoted on was, of all people, the crannogman Howland Reed. Howland spent a year on the Isle of Faces next to Harrenhal communing with the Old Gods, and finally emerged for the great tourney held at the fortress. It was at this tournament Rhaegar and Lyanna met for the first time; however most forget that the chain of events that lead to their meeting started with the young Reed.

“Sometimes the knights are the monsters, Bran. The little crannogman was walking across the field, enjoying the warm spring day and harming none, when he was set upon by three squires. They were none older than fifteen, yet even so they were bigger than him, all three. This was their world, as they saw it, and he had no right to be there. They snatched away his spear and knocked him to the ground, cursing him for a frogeater.”

“None offered a name, but he marked their faces well so he could revenge himself upon them later. They shoved him down every time he tried to rise, and kicked him when he curled up on the ground. But then they heard a roar. ‘That’s my father’s man you’re kicking,’ howled the she-wolf.” A Storm of Swords, Bran II

To get revenge for Howland, it is widely thought Lyanna dressed up as the Knight of the Laughing Tree and entered the lists. This mystery knight aroused Mad King Aerys’ suspicions and he ordered his son to investigate. Rhaegar did as he was bid and discovered that beneath the armor was not Jaime Lannister, an enemy, or an ambitious squire but the she-wolf Lyanna Stark. None of that happens if Howland doesn’t walk in front of those three specific squires, a coincidence that makes some fans wonder if he did it intentionally. He specifically needed to be beaten up by squires in front of Lyanna Stark or else she never sees it happen and goes on with the Tourney and her life.

A last R+L=J turning point is Brandon Stark the Wild Wolf. After Rhaegar and Lyanna ran away together, a minor scandal turned into a war when somehow her brother Brandon is informed that Lyanna has been kidnapped.

“He was on his way to Riverrun when . . .” Strange, how telling it still made her throat grow tight, after all these years. “. . . when he heard about Lyanna, and went to King’s Landing instead. It was a rash thing to do.” She remembered how her own father had raged when the news had been brought to Riverrun. The gallant fool, was what he called Brandon.

Jaime poured the last half cup of wine. “He rode into the Red Keep with a few companions, shouting for Prince Rhaegar to come out and die. But Rhaegar wasn’t there. Aerys sent his guards to arrest them all for plotting his son’s murder. The others were lords’ sons too, it seems to me.” – A Clash of Kings, Catelyn VII

By threatening the crown prince’s life in front of his unstable and violent father, Brandon lit the fire that made the whole realm burn. King Aerys executed all of Brandon’s companions, save one, who were heirs and sons of highlords across Westeros. Later he tortured and executed Brandon and his father Rickard. Aerys then called for the heads of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark, which was the last straw and caused the rebellion to rise against the crown. It’s a common misunderstanding that the mere act of Rhaegar and Lyanna eloping caused a war. Specifically, the conduct of Aerys in response to Brandon started the war.

It is unknown how Brandon arrived at the conclusion that Lyanna was kidnapped. Was he told by somebody it was a kidnapping? Did a messenger get the message wrong? Did Brandon just assume it was a kidnapping? Whatever caused this misunderstanding in Brandon caused the war that followed. The realm may never forget how the Wild Wolf charged into the Red Keep yelling for blood, but they will forget what set him off on his rage.

Jon Snow Ygritte season 2

To turn away from R+L=J for a moment, let’s look at the eponymous J himself, Jon Snow. If Jon’s life continues on its epic trajectory, his many deeds will be recorded and analyzed for generations to come. But there’s one moment that won’t be recorded, yet had an enormous impact on his life. That is the moment when he holds his sword against the wildling Ygritte.

Jon lowered his sword. “Go,” he muttered.

Ygritte stared.

“Now,” he said, “before my wits return. Go.”

– A Clash of Kings, Jon VI

In this moment, Jon accepts the humanity of his enemy and lets his future love escape. Had he not done so, there is no one that can speak up for him when Rattleshirt’s hunting party catches Jon and Qhorin Halfhand. No one that will vouch for Jon in front of Mance and Tormund. Without Ygritte, Jon is another Waymar Royce- just another cocky lordling slain beyond the Wall.

And even if he survived, his romance with Ygritte is a primary motivator for his character. He carries her like a torch inside him, the fire to his ice. A Jon that has never known love and lost it is not the Lord Commander we know. He’d still be a boy playing at the grown-up game. The loss of his love matured and hardened his heart to do what Maester Aemon tells Jon he must do,

Kill the boy and let the man be born.

– A Dance with Dragons, Jon II

History, in real life and the fantasy world, is often told in terms of massive battles and huge moments. With the American Civil War, people can rattle off the names of battles and large turning points, and yet, like with Game of Thrones, the small moments are often forgotten. For instance, Special Order 191 was a set of orders from General Robert E. Lee detailing his upcoming strategy- and accidentally left behind in a Confederate camp. The Union got a hold of these orders and by chance, Brigadier General Alpheus Williams’ aide verified the orders as being legitimate because they were written by a former colleague whose penmanship he recognized from his former career as a paymaster. The Union acted on these orders and were finally able to find Lee’s army, leading to the bloody Battle of Antietam and the Confederates fleeing back into Virginia. This was an enormous turning point in the war that would’ve never happened if that set of orders wasn’t found, and if a general didn’t recognize the penmanship.

This event is such a clear turning point that it has been used to create alternate timelines and fiction of what happens if the orders aren’t discovered in television series, stories, comic books, and even video games. And yet, not many people know or are taught about it, much like these examples from ASOIAF. George R.R. Martin is a noted student and lover of history, and it’s unsurprising that he chose to insert these kinds of innocuous yet world-changing events into his narrative. And also given that his world is one of magic, prophecy, and limited time travel, it creates a question for us whether or not these events were manufactured or random.

The dominoes that fall, leading to war and devastation, are often unassuming in their time. Yet when seen from a longer view, they are great chains going backwards from flash points, fuses lit and sparking across time. Entire wars have been started or won on small individual decisions. Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are no different. Nothing just happens; there’s cause and effect in the places we least expect. As we watch the final season of the show and the books come to a close, we should continue looking for these kinds of pivotal moments. They are the building blocks that the moments we cheer and cry for are built on.


Special thanks to @MistahWoodhouse for his help in the creation of this article.

49 responses

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    1. Actually it was Littlefingers lies about Lyanna and Rhaegar that caused the war..He did it thinking that ”chaos is a ladder ”and that creating chaos everywere has its great benefits for him…but because the life laughs ironically with the peoples and their great ambitions sometimes … his weakest point was Sansa..and his creepy love for her caused his downfall…Egomania was always the biggest downfall even and for the most great mens in history..He had have a lot of that

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    2. Artemisia:
      Actually it was Littlefingers lies about Lyanna and Rhaegar that caused the war..He did it thinking that ”chaos is a ladder ”and that creating chaos everywere has its greatbenefits for him…but because the life laughs ironically with the peoples and their great ambitions sometimes …his weakest point was Sansa..and his creepy love for her caused his downfall…Egomania was always the biggest downfall even and for the mostgreatmens in history..He had have a lot of that

      That’s one of my favorite tinfoils that I would love to see him admit to one day. While this all was happening, LF was at his home in the fingers recovering from the near fatal wound he got in his duel with Brandon Stark. Maybe he sent letters and was scheming from the Vale, but it’s not on the page yet sadly.

      My other favorite is Bran or Bloodraven making sure Brandon got the wrong info so he goes off like he does. Makes a raven fail deliver a letter, changes the contents, etc.

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    3. JoeMagician: That’s one of my favorite tinfoils that I would love to see him admit to one day. While this all was happening, LF was at his home in the fingers recovering from the near fatal wound he got in his duel with Brandon Stark. Maybe he sent letters and was scheming from the Vale, but it’s not on the page yet sadly.

      My other favorite is Bran or Bloodraven making sure Brandon got the wrong info so he goes off like he does. Makes a raven fail deliver a letter, changes the contents, etc.

      Agree..LF was fucking in love with Catelyn then and Brandon was her husband at this time ..He it was fucking jealous about this….I feel somehow sorry for LF and i recognize that he was an intelligent and wicked man..too vigilante ..His desperate creepy love for Catelyn and Sansa was his nemesis

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    4. History, in real life and the fantasy world, is often told in terms of massive battles and huge moments. With the American Civil War, people can rattle off the names of battles and large turning points, and yet, like with Game of Thrones, the small moments are often forgotten. For instance, Special Order 191 was a set of orders from General Robert E. Lee detailing his upcoming strategy- and accidentally left behind in a Confederate camp. The Union got a hold of these orders and by chance, Brigadier General Alpheus Williams verified the orders as being legitimate because they were written by a former colleague whose penmanship he recognized. The Union acted on these orders and were finally able to find Lee’s army, leading to the bloody Battle of Antietam and the Confederates fleeing back into Virginia. This was an enormous turning point in the war that would’ve never happened if that set of orders wasn’t found, and if a general didn’t recognize the penmanship.

      Wow, what a great story! I certainly did not know that. As you show with ASOIAF, it’s often the simplest, most human moments/errors that are the greatest catalysts. Nice article.

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    5. Yet another reason I’m hoping Howland Reed appears in Season 8. I know we now have an omniscient Bran, but I feel Howland can fill in a lot of gaps as well, especially in answering questions like any attempts Rhaegar and Lyanna potentially made to announce their elopement. I got the feeling that he knew a lot more and shared knowledge with his children that Ned never felt comfortable to share with his own (Ex. Meera telling the story about the Tourney to Bran and him knowing absolutely nothing about it). I always felt others knew more about the legend and gossip about the Tourney and subsequent events more than the Stark children. Whatever happens in Season 8, I hope it’s canon.

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    6. This is an excellent detailing of how events came to be! Indeed, it can be the littlest things that change the direction of events. It’s just too bad the Martell children were such superficial twits. One fart? Grow up, Oberyn. Not like Baelor was another Garth the Gross.

      “For instance, Special Order 191 was a set of orders from General Robert E. Lee detailing his upcoming strategy- and accidentally left behind in a Confederate camp.”
      If I recall correctly, these orders were wrapped around a couple cigars, and thereby fell out of the Confederate officer’s breast pocket. A United States soldier saw the cigars and picked up the packet, recognized the paper around them as something important, and took it to his CO. The rest, as they say, is history.

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    7. “Without Elia, Rhaegar marries someone else and could be less motivated to run with Lyanna”
      My understanding is that Rhaegar’s motivation was Elia’s inability to bear more children. He could have married someone else who didn’t even give him two children before he tried to make the three heads of the dragon with another.

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    8. JoeMagician,

      I really liked your article too!
      What really stood out for me? The Robert E. Lee papers. I had no idea that happened.

      Overall, I liked the way you explained how seemingly insignificant personal decisions involving one or two people (have) had grave, continuing reverberations for tens of thousands.

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    9. Isabelle: Wow, what a great story! I certainly did not know that. As you show with ASOIAF, it’s often the simplest, most human moments/errors that are the greatest catalysts. Nice article.

      It’s really amazing, I would suggest looking more into it. It’s so fascinating and bizarre that something as major as the American civil war probably changes drastically if that note is never found. That’s the one I knew off the top of my head, but there are other examples like Archduke Franz Ferninand being killed because his car stalled out in front of an assassin who had gone to a cafe to sulk after failing earlier setting off a chain of events leading to World War I.

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    10. FictionIsntReal:
      “Without Elia, Rhaegar marries someone else and could be less motivated to run with Lyanna”
      My understanding is that Rhaegar’s motivation was Elia’s inability to bear more children. He could have married someone else who didn’t even give him two children before he tried to make the three heads of the dragon with another.

      It’s certainly possible the same thing happens with another woman. However we know these chain of events definitely lead to the Rebellion so any change in that is a way for history to branch in another direction.

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    11. zandru:
      This is an excellent detailing of how events came to be! Indeed, it can be the littlest things that change the direction of events. It’s just too bad the Martell children were such superficial twits. One fart? Grow up, Oberyn. Not like Baelor was another Garth the Gross.

      “For instance, Special Order 191 was a set of orders from General Robert E. Lee detailing his upcoming strategy- and accidentally left behind in a Confederate camp.”
      If I recall correctly, these orders were wrapped around a couple cigars, and thereby fell out of the Confederate officer’s breast pocket. A United States soldier saw the cigars and picked up the packet, recognized the paper around them as something important, and took it to his CO. The rest, as they say, is history.

      That’s correct! It is also thought that the cigars were the primary reason for picking the orders up. It got passed all the way through the chain of command, none of them sure it was legitimate until the handwriting was recognized as belonging to Lee’s assistant adjutant general R.H. Chilton.

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    12. Excellent article! I didn’t recognize several of the examples you showed when I read the books, but now I might do some more exploring.

      Much of my childhood reading led me to consider alternative endings built around a minor plot point, so the idea isn’t new to me. One of my favorite genres is ‘fractured fairytales’. I still do it and at times will scream out at the author, how could she have written it this way! (don’t get me started on Shakespear)

      There is a really big example in ASOIAF – that probably trumps all the others. If LF had died of his wounds, there would have been no letter to Catelyn since John Arryn would still be alive, no royal visit,, no offer from Robert to Ned to be the Hand, no fumbling Ned trying to play The Game, no Jaime to push Bran out of the tower so no three eyed raven, etc etc…..So basically we have a totally different story. I really loved what Martin did here (for the most part) so while its fun to speculate, Id just assume read it as its written.

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    13. Artemisia,

      My guess the same as yours. I also think Little Finger lied in order to prevent Brandon reach Riverrun to attend his wedding with Cat. So Little Finger tricked him to change Brandon’s routine and lead Brandon (Perhaps House Stark together he aimed for) to his doom as well as the beginning war of Westeros.

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    14. Artemisia: Agree..LF was fucking in love with Catelyn then and Brandon was her husband at this time ..He it was fucking jealous about this….I feel somehow sorry for LF and i recognize that he was an intelligent and wicked man..too vigilante ..His desperate creepylove for Catelyn and Sansa was his nemesis

      That’s a great theory and one I had never thought of, so many of these little twists which set the story hurtling on it’s trajectory. I wonder if we will find others this time next year when we get S8.

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    15. Yun:
      Artemisia,

      My guess the same as yours. I also think Little Finger lied in order to prevent Brandon reach Riverrun to attend his wedding with Cat. So Little Finger tricked him to change Brandon’s routine and lead Brandon (Perhaps House Stark together he aimed for) to his doom as well as the beginning war of Westeros.

      Yes..maybe had been that you say

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    16. Jon Snowed: That’s a great theory and one I had never thought of, so many of these little twists which set the story hurtling on it’s trajectory.I wonder if we will find others this time next year when we get S8.

      I think Bran will see some extra things and he will give the answers to us and to the heroes of the story

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    17. JoeMagician,

      By chance, have you ever seen the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”? It’s about how a seemingly innocuous tweak of an event from twenty years in the past “changed everything” in the future. I thought of this episode when I saw the words in the title of your article (“…Twists and Fate: the Little Moments that Changed Everything”), and read your observations pertaining to GoT and the Civil War.

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    18. JoeMagician: While this all was happening, LF was at his home in the fingers recovering from the near fatal wound he got in his duel with Brandon Stark.

      Well, Littlefinger was basically just a little kid at the time – around 15. He’d never even been to King’s Landing, far as we know, much less having an understanding of the palace intrigues going on there. Who would have listened to a little hick kid from the sticks who had theories about what the Crown Prince was doing? And how would Petyr even have known? That particular tinfoil conflates the young Petyr with the monster he’s become as his position and power have increased.

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    19. ash: (don’t get me started on Shakespear)

      I’d love to see “Romeo & Juliet” written for the era of cell phones. Would it even be possible?? It’s surprising how many plots depend upon people not being able to communicate over distances. Once that’s gone, then what?

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    20. Artemisia,

      Littlefinger was a kid at the time, and nowhere near the events of Lyanna’s abduction. He wouldn’t have been able to communicate with Brandon. Moreover, everyone thought Lyanna was abducted; it wasn’t some miscommunication peculiar to Brandon.

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    21. zandru: Well, Littlefinger was basically just a little kid at the time – around 15. He’d never even been to King’s Landing, far as we know, much less having an understanding of the palace intrigues going on there. Who would have listened to a little hick kid from the sticks who had theories about what the Crown Prince was doing? And how would Petyr even have known? That particular tinfoil conflates the young Petyr with the monster he’s become as his position and power have increased.

      I lean towards it all being a tragic misunderstanding at the moment. Seems to be what best fits the evidence

      But if they go in the direction of retconning/ revealing a manipulator as the source of the lie my bet would be on Tywin since he had a huge motive to take down Aerys.

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    22. Sean C.:
      Artemisia,

      Littlefinger was a kid at the time, and nowhere near the events of Lyanna’s abduction.He wouldn’t have been able to communicate with Brandon.Moreover, everyone thought Lyanna was abducted; it wasn’t some miscommunication peculiar to Brandon.

      Except Ned doesn’t hold a grudge and when Rickard Stark went south after Brandon was arrested he didn’t go with an army. He showed up expecting to be able to clear up the situation with words which implies he disagreed with Brandon’s assessment. It’s basically Brandon and Robert that truly believe it was the kidnapping from the people who were involved at the time. And then afterwards Robert is king so most people adopt the story he tells about Lyanna because don’t piss off the monarch.

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    23. Ten Bears:
      JoeMagician,

      By chance, have you ever seen the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”? It’s about how a seemingly innocuous tweak of an event from twenty years in the past “changed everything” in the future. I thought of this episode when I saw the words in the title of your article (“…Twists and Fate: the Little Moments that Changed Everything”), and read your observations pertaining to GoT and the Civil War.

      Ten Bears:
      JoeMagician,

      By chance, have you ever seen the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”? It’s about how a seemingly innocuous tweak of an event from twenty years in the past “changed everything” in the future. I thought of this episode when I saw the words in the title of your article (“…Twists and Fate: the Little Moments that Changed Everything”), and read your observations pertaining to GoT and the Civil War.

      I haven’t see that on but I have seen the episode with Q and Picard where they explore a similar topic. What happens if x changes in Picard’s life and history. It’s a very fun and thought provoking exercise, especially when these are laid out so often by George.

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    24. JoeMagician,

      Ned learns what really happened after the fact. That says nothing about what he thought at the time.

      It’s not really clear where Rickard was when he heard about the abduction, since people were already on their way to Riverrun for Brandon’s wedding, but expecting to defuse the situation diplomatically rather than immediately starting a war doesn’t mean he doesn’t think Lyanna was abducted, since the Crown is much more powerful and had his son prisoner.

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    25. JoeMagician: Woooo! Was there any part that stood out for you?

      Really liked how it was presented and especially how the quotes from the book were folded into the article to drive the point home.

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    26. Sean C.,

      I absolutely agree about Littlefinger not being involved, if you look at timelines it wouldn’t make sense; but do you think Varys could have had something to do with it? Do we know if Varys was around at the time, I can’t remember from the books but I do remember that he is a much more malevolent character in the books than he is in the programme, well in MHO anyway and could this come back to bite him next series.

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    27. Carole H,

      Varys was around: he served as the Mad King’s master of wispers and he had something to do with the death of the Starks. In Ep 5 he mentioned that he found the traitors who were burned afterwards. There may be something in this theory indeed.

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    28. Sean C.:
      JoeMagician,

      Ned learns what really happened after the fact.That says nothing about what he thought at the time.

      It’s not really clear where Rickard was when he heard about the abduction, since people were already on their way to Riverrun for Brandon’s wedding, but expecting to defuse the situation diplomatically rather than immediately starting a war doesn’t mean he doesn’t think Lyanna was abducted, since the Crown is much more powerful and had his son prisoner.

      He already knew that aerys was crazy and executes people like it’s nothing. Not stopping to raise an army or call his banners behind him either indicates he is very dumb and trusting or he thought it was an easily solved misunderstanding in my mind. Ned also has an order of death on his head regardless of Lyanna, he’s fighting that war no matter what to protect his own life and the rest of his family. Especially keeping in mind what aerys did after Duskendale.

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    29. Fascinating read, JoeMagician, particularly the real-world example from the American Civil War. My mind often tends to wander in these directions, in addition to the examples you’ve laid out I’ve always wondered what Bran’s path would have been if he hadn’t climbed the tower that fateful day. Would he still have been recruited to be the next 3EC? Would he have gone to Kings Landing with his siblings? Would Cat have had any reason to leave Winterfell, arrest Tyrion, etc.?

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    30. zandru: I’d love to see “Romeo & Juliet” written for the era of cell phones. Would it even be possible?? It’s surprising how many plots depend upon people not being able to communicate over distances. Once that’s gone, then what?

      I know, right? That along with photography to minimize the mistaken identity troup (sp) would change many stories – not something I relish but fun to think about. Certainly the whole discussion about whether Lyanna contacted her family or not would be moot.

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    31. Zaphod:
      Almost like Dylan: “Simple Twist of Fate”Google it

      Heh, didn’t catch that when I first reat the title. Yes. Now I can’t get the song out of my head, but that is not a bad thing.

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    32. Wonderful article! So glad that you pointed these “little” things out. I think a lot of people misunderstand which event finally triggered the war. It is explained well here. Love the book quotes! And the great tidbit about General Lee’s papers being found and recognized by someone. It’s such an important part of the Civil War and was tied into the article perfectly. Great points on Jon, also.

      As to Littlefinger being the manipulater of Lyanna’s situation, I have considered it before but that was all. Peytr was so young and hanging on death’s door. He wasn’t the master manipulator at that time. I believe these events are what really made him what he is now. He had a long recovery to think about it.
      I will definitely share this to those who think that “Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie.” 😉 Thanks for the well thought out article!

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    33. JoeMagician: Makes a raven fail deliver a letter, changes the contents, etc.

      The contents did not need to be changed. Rickard would have refused to believe that his daughter would do something so dishonorable as to elope with a married man (divorced or not!) when she was engaged to another. Yes, Lyanna was willful: but the ability of a father to refuse to accept that his children will really defy him is something that cannot be underestimated. So, Rickard would have did what Catelyn did, albeit incorrectly: he would have decided that it was Lyanna writing Rhaegar’s words.

      As for Varys being involved, there is zero indication that he knows exactly what happened. Many GoT fans believe that Varys had spies everywhere, but that simply could not be: he would have them at the major cities and fortresses, but not out-of-the-way places like the Tower of Joy. And, of course, war very rapidly broke out: and communications in war time would have been even worse AND this would have been a much less pressing matter than trying to figure out which houses were going to side with the crown, and how to gain information to encourage houses to either side with the Crown or at least just stay out of the war.

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    34. None of that happens if Howland doesn’t walk in front of those three specific squires, a coincidence that makes some fans wonder if he did it intentionally. He specifically needed to be beaten up by squires in front of Lyanna Stark or else she never sees it happen and goes on with the Tourney and her life.

      Wait, that doesn’t make sense. Howland Reed would have had absolutely zero way to predict how Lyanna could react to this, and there is zero reason to think that he even knew that she was there. And nobody could have guessed that it would have unleashed a chain of events that (as almost certainly happened) led Rhaegar to be the one to unmask her.

      Moreover, from everything we’ve seen and read in the books, a Crannogman getting bullied by three Westerosi squires is about a surprising as a black man getting bullied by three white guys in a small southern town. Northerners in general are considered backwards by most Westerosi, and the Crannogmen are considered to be freaks who eat frogs and poison people out-of-the-blue!

      (Now, Martin obviously needed something: but, really, there were any number of mechanisms that he could have used for “When Rhaegar Met Lyanna”: indeed, it would be interesting to learn if this was his first idea!)

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    35. Artemisia,

      My favorite theory is that Benjen was in on the eloping plot, but when confronted chickened out and told his father that Lyanna was nabbed, to get out of trouble. Once things spiralled out of control, he felt guilty and ran away to the wall as penance.

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    36. Danny Hershtal: Once things spiralled out of control, he felt guilty and ran away to the wall as penance.

      And what was supposed to be the evidence for this?

      I often complain about people using the word “theory” for “conjecture” or “hypothesis”: a theory is something that is thought to be true (gravity, evolution, plate tectonics) and that generates hypotheses. (Alternatively, theory is a “truth” that people follow when creating things: Bach composed following baroque theory; Martin writes following Faulkner’s theory.)

      However, this is not even a conjecture: it seems like just pure imagination. Now, there are cases where stories wind up with twists that are so arbitrary as this: but there are so many possible arbitrary twists that Martin could invent that there is no point in guessing what he’d do. Moreover, all of the available evidence so far indicates that GRRM wrote this with a basic background plot in mind, and that he therefore has written things because those things were supposed to have happened. Hence, we were able to infer R+L=J. There should at least be a few things that make us go “Oh, that’s why Benjen said X and did Y!”

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    37. Wimsey: of

      There is reason to think it may have been intentional as Howland spent a year on the Isle of Faces communing with the Green Men and the Old Gods who have the gift of future sight. It’s by no means certain, however it is a possibility that is fun to think about. How much of this world is choice and how much is dictated by the COTF, Bloodraven, and future Bran? Nobody knows 🙂

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    38. JoeMagician: There is reason to think it may have been intentional as Howland spent a year on the Isle of Faces communing with the Green Men and the Old Gods who have the gift of future sight. It’s by no means certain, however it is a possibility that is fun to think about. How much of this world is choice and how much is dictated by the COTF, Bloodraven, and future Bran? Nobody knows 🙂

      Martin cites Faulkner as his role-model not Tolkien! The stories revolve around people working out whether unpalatable choice A or unpalatable choice B is worse. That can’t be done if there isn’t free will involved. Tolkien’s “this meeting is no chance” episodes were Eru subtly directing things; however, Tolkien was a hyper-devout Catholic who despised modern notions of free-will and moral ambiguity. Martin is an agnostic disenchanted with religion and who sees moralities as naive and unable to encompass all scenarios. Unsurprisingly, the two men espouse fundamentally different theories of storytelling: so, why should we expect something Tolkienesque from Martin?

      There also is what we’ve seen/read. We’ve already seen that the ability of the Tree Gods (who are not actually gods) to actually influence events is extremely small: we never have seen a case where they can inform someone of so much information. Even R’hllor cannot do this, that god (also almost certainly not really a god) can actually provide glimpses of the future, but working out what they mean is as futile as guessing what will happen in a movie based on only the teaser trailer. (Or what will happen in Season 8 based on the short commercials that we’ll get! :-D) We don’t have evidence that the Old Gods can do even that well, never mind better. And, at this point: it really is too late to do that.

      At any rate, there are plenty of guns on the wall for us to make conjectures! And there is plenty of fun to be had in that! For example, and in a similar vein: the “what” of R’hllor is a major unfired gun. It’s not like the 7 or the Drowned God or all of the other gods (other than Old Gods and White Walkers) in that it is real. However, we’ve had two sets of gods undergo spasimotheosis (I just contrived that word): I’m betting on 3 for 3!

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