The following contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8.
We know what you’re thinking. Jon Snow’s parentage explained? Hasn’t Game of Thrones already explained Jon Snow’s parentage pretty thoroughly? Why yes, hypothetical rabble-rouser, yes it has. Twice actually!
Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 10 “The Winds of Winter” revealed that the R+L=J theorists have been correct all along. We find out via weirwood tree-induced flashback that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were the real parents of the presumed bastard who would come to be named Jon Snow.
Then in the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” Samwell Tarly makes the same discovery (with the help of the newly literate Gilly) while reading through some of the Citadel’s tomes. In reality Jon Snow was intended to be Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name, Lord Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Defender of the Realm, etc., etc. Samwell meets up with Bran and they compare notes about what they know of their newly identified king.
The real story of Rhaegar and Lyanna is quite different from the popularly accepted myth of Westeros. Robert Baratheon believed that Rhaegar kidnapped his bride-to-be and his subsequent Rebellion ended the Targaryen dynasty and set into motion the events of Game of Thrones. In reality, however, Lyanna was not abducted by Rhaeger but rather fell in love with him. Their forbidden romance (Rhaegar actually had a wife in Elia Martell and Lyanna was to be wed to Robert) set all of this off. There’s also the supernatural matter of Rhaegar getting way into prophecies and thinking that his heir had to stave off the end of the world…but that’s a topic for another time.
So while Jon Snow’s parentage has been thoroughly explained to the viewer, Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 1, “Winterfell” marks the first time that Jon Snow’s parentage is revealed to him.
After Samwell discovers that newly ascended Dragon Queen Daenerys Targaryen has torched both his father, Randyll and brother, Dickon, he exits his makeshift Citadel room in Winterfell and stumbles outside. That’s where he once again runs into the ol’ Three-Eyed Raven, himself, Bran Stark. Bran reiterates to Sam that someone has to tell Jon the truth of his parentage and it has to be Sam…Jon’s true brother in the Night’s Watch now that Bran has higher responsibilities.
Sam heads down into the Winterfell crypts where Jon is lighting a candle for who he thinks his real father is, Ned Stark. It’s as perfect a setting as any to discuss Jon’s real parentage. After exchanging some pleasantries (which includes the news of the Tarly incineration), Sam reveals the truth to Jon once and for all.
“I’m not talking about the King in the North, I’m talking about the King of the Bloody Seven Kingdoms,” Sam says, before adding “Your mother was Lyanna Stark. Your father…your real father was Rhaegar Targaryen. You’ve never been a bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne.”
Sam says it’s a lot to take in. And uh…yeah, it is. Not only is it a lot to take in but the implications of it are huge. Jon and Daenerys are both Targaryens and Jon, should he come to acknowledge and accept his real parentage, technically has a greater claim to the throne than his girlfriend/aunt. Jon is the grandson of the deposed king. Daenerys is merely the daughter of the king, technically closer in lineage but that’s not necessarily how lineage works. Rhaegar was Aerys II’s heir and little Aegon (Jon) was Rhaegar’s heir. Plus female monarchs are exceedingly rare in Westeros.
Still, on its face this wouldn’t seem to be that, that huge a deal. After all, Jon is famously averse to leadership positions…which is probably why he ends up being thrown into them so frequently. Not only that but he’s already bent the knee to Daenerys, who it bears repeating: is basically his girlfriend now.
The timing of Sam’s reveal to Jon isn’t a coincidence though. It comes right on the heels of finding out that Daenerys torched two of his family members for the crime of basically having pride. Sam can’t help but ask Jon “You gave up your crown to save your people, would she do the same?”
Whether Jon wants to or not now, that is something he has to consider. By nature of his blood, he may have no choice but to take up the crown once again – especially if Daenerys has inherited more of the Mad King’s temperment than it seems.