The False Dragon — Does Brandon+Ashara Equal Anything?
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R+L=J, the idea that Jon is the son of Rheagar and Lyanna, is one of the oldest A Song of Ice & Fire theories out there. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s the stonehenge of speculations. The dinosaur of AsoIaF discussions. The Pacman of postulates. But why would Martin include it in his story? Is there more to it?
Unearthing the Dinosaur
Maybe, before we dive in deeper, we should start with an obvious question: Is there any reason to believe it’s even true? Well, in the show it certainly is. In fact it has been confirmed both through unofficial channels, specifically a leaked family tree, and official channels (including the episodes themselves). But does that mean it’s the same in the books?
In the books two very different narratives are put forward from the start. The ever-reliable master storyteller Viserys told Daenerys that Rheagar and Lyanna ran off together, while gruff stormlord Robert Baratheon thinks it was more of a grab n’ rape. Ned Stark, as in the show, is quite the honourable chap who seems unlikely to cheat on someone. Lyanna was found on a “bed of blood” which seems to fit the scene of a birth, yet there’s never any mention of a baby. She told Ned to promise her something, yet we don’t know what. And if there’s anyone the honourable Ned Stark might lie for, it’s his family. That’s what he does before his execution, after all.
We don’t know who Jon’s mother actually is and Ned reacts very negatively when people try to pry it out of him, something which fits if it reminds him of the death of his sister and could result in Robert killing the child. Robert was also reportedly relieved, and even got into an argument with Ned Stark, about the Lannisters killing the Targaryen heirs of Prince Rheagar when they took King’s Landing. An argument Ned was on the “don’t kill children” side of. All put together, many people think this is very good evidence for Jon being the son of Rheagar and Lyanna.
Preston Doing His Best Asteroid Impression
Nevertheless prominent “A Song of Ice & Fire” Youtuber Preston Jacobs does not seem to think so.
In his three part video series “Tower, Tower, Joy, Joy” he explains at length how he instead believes R+L=D (Daenerys) and how Jon is the child of Brandon and Ashara instead. If you want to know the details of that, I recommend you watch his video series on it, but the main reason I bring it up is because this made me wonder. Why Martin would include such a twist?
What does it matter if Jon is the child of Brandon and Ashara except add more complexity to an already complex political situation? Why would it matter if Daenerys is the child of Rheagar and Lyanna? Wouldn’t that just give her an even better, albeit still contested, claim to the throne (if they were married)?
At best such a theory means that Daenerys becomes a bastard and that Jon either stays a bastard or becomes heir to Starfall. The first pretty earth-shaking, the second… not so much. And these revelations don’t mirror each other either. And as Preston himself points out, Jon and Dany are parallel characters. And what questions do they bring up? Should a bastard sit the throne? Should… Jon get Starfall? Not really much fertile ground for exploring.
But you know how there could be a big twist in both of their character arcs? How they could mirror each other perfectly? How a twist could be thematically impactful? R+L=J combined with B+A=D.
Why Jonaerys Starkgaryen?
Jon Snow has thought of himself as a bastard all of his life. As someone who would never have anything handed to him. Who had no lands or rights but to be scoffed at. Who had no title but bastard. And this has made him, over the course of the books, quite the go-getter. This attitude, this knowledge, propelled him into a situation where he had to make his own way. If he ever wanted to lead, he would have to prove his merit. He would have to rise through the ranks himself. I think this is a key element to what Martin might consider makes a good king.
As Varys opines in the final chapter of “A Dance with Dragons” a king who’s grown up knowing he’ll be king sees it as his birth right. As simply an inherent part of themselves. They rule only because they were born in the right family, not because they had to work for it. Jon on the other hand, has had to work for it. Has had to sacrifice for it. First Ygritte and then his own life. Jon has learned the lessons and done the legwork. He understands what it’s like at the bottom and he understands what it’s like at the top. Him suddenly being revealed as a claimant to the throne, provided Rheagar and Lyanna were married on the Isle of Faces, would be intriguing in this regard, because he might well be the most suited claimant out there.
In addition it would emphasize once again that succession is messy, a strong theme throughout the “A Song of Ice & Fire” books. Because Rheagar was still married to Elia Martell at the time. Can someone from a polygamous marriage inherit the throne? Is such a marriage even official? Some will likely say yes, some will likely say no. And does it even matter?
What’s the Square Root of B+A=D?
So what does this mean for Dany? Well, if R+L=J and B+A=D are correct, then the sudden realization of Jon that he has a birthright would be a strong contrast to Dany’s sudden loss of it.
Dany often talks about her birthright. About how she was meant to rule the seven kingdoms. Her entire personality for many books has formed around it. Around the idea of learning to rule and then coming home to claim her rightful throne. But why does she even want this? The answer is simple: Viserys.
Dany’s brother affected her in many ways. He taught her about dragons. He gave her her first taste of cruelty. He protected her. He sold her like a slave to a Dothraki horselord to rape. But perhaps most importantly of all, he inundated her with the idea that Westeros was their home. That a Targaryen aught to sit the throne again. That Targaryens were made to rule. That they have a duty to rule. Now obviously, big narcissist that he is, he was talking about himself, but it seems to me that this is a message that really stuck with Dany. Because throughout the rest of the series we see Dany chase this dream. But is that what she really wants? I, like many others, don’t think so. That was Viserys’ dream. What she’s always wanted instead is home. The house with the red door.
So, I think it’s fairly clear what a B+A=D revelation would accomplish here. The revelation that Dany never had a claim to the throne would shake everything up completely. It would undermine the entirety of the identity she’s built up over the last few books (something Jaime goes through as well with the loss of his sword hand). The idea that she should sit the iron throne because it is her birthright would be bowled over. She’d have to question it. Question her right to rule (a very important question within Martin’s work). Have to question whether she even wants it. Or maybe, now that she has no claim hanging over her anymore, whether she’d prefer to return to the house with the red door instead.
Maybe Daenerys won’t end up on the Iron Throne as a victorious queen. Maybe she’ll realize that this right to rule has been nothing but a burden. Maybe she’ll end up running barefoot through the gardens in Dorne. Smelling the scent of lemons and having dinner in the house with the red door. And maybe, that’s a much happier ending for her.
Or maybe she’ll resist it. Be unable to accept losing what she’s been aiming for, fighting for, all those years. Refuse to accept that she has no right to rule. And try to grasp on to power by whatever means she can, silencing any who oppose her or dare to suggest she cannot rule. Maybe she’ll become a tyrant.
Show Your Work!
What evidence is there of this? We know that Brandon was quite the charming ladies man. We also know, courtesy of Barristan, that someone “dishonoured” Ashara at the Harrenhal tourney and wonders if he’d unhorsed Rheagar and crowned Ashara queen whether she would have looked to him “…instead of Stark.” A line which is, quite deliberately, left vague. And since Ned seems the obvious choice, Brandon seems most likely. And it is entirely plausible that they could’ve had a rendez-vous that day.
It would also explain, in part, why Ned is so averse to killing Daenerys. He’s never been a fan of children, as was well-established, but he even almost abandons Robert to his fate for it. Thinks about her all the time. If she was the child of his brother and his former love, it’s no surprise that he would do this.
It might also explain Ashara’s suicide. As we know, Ashara Dayne killed herself. The reason for this is not explicitely given, though several characters have different theories on it. That it was because of her brother’s death, that it was because Ned broke her heart. But maybe, instead of any of those things, it was because she was forced to give up her child. The last remaining part she had of the man (Brandon) she loved.
On top of this I, like many people, have theorized that this house with the red door is most likely in Dorne. This is mostly due to the fact that Daenerys specifically mentions a lemon tree. Something that people in the story specifically point out isn’t found in Braavos, where she believes the house with the red door can be found, during a delightful conversation in the “Winds of Winter” chapter Mercy:
“Seven hells, this place is damp,” she heard her guard complain. “I’m chilled to the bones. Where are the bloody orange trees? I always heard there were orange trees in the Free Cities. Lemons and limes. Pomegranates. Hot peppers, warm nights, girls with bare bellies. Where are the bare-bellied girls, I ask you?”
“Down in Lys, and Myr, and Old Volantis,” the other guard replied. He was an older man, big-bellied and grizzled. “I went to Lys with Lord Tywin once, when he was Hand to Aerys. Braavos is north of King’s Landing, fool. Can’t you read a bloody map?”
So no lemon trees in Braavos (probably). But you know where there are a great many lemon trees? Dorne. Where Starfall is. Dorne, where Ashara lived. If Dany was Ashara’s child then it would make perfect sense for her to remain in Dorne for a period before finally being shipped off to live with Viserys.
But Mah TArgERyENs!
“But she’s so Targaryen! Can’t you see all her Targaryenness?!” You might say, because you are the living embodiment of the galaxy brain meme. Well yes… and also no.
Daenerys does seem to be a Targaryen on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper… that’s not actually that certain. “But she has the purple eyes and the blonde hair! Surely no other family has members with purple eyes and blonde hair!” Actually one family in Westeros does. And oh look, it’s the Daynes. Ashara Dayne herself is described as having beautifully purple eyes. In fact, Barristan specifically remarks he sees Ashara’s eyes in Dany’s.
“Ser Barristan could still recall Ashara’s smile, the sound of her laughter. He had only to close his eyes to see her, with her long dark hair tumbling about her shoulders and those haunting purple eyes. Daenerys has the same eyes. Sometimes when the queen looked at him, he felt as if he were looking at Ashara’s daughter…” — ADwD, The Kingbreaker.
What was that?
“…as if he were looking at Ashara’s daughter…”
One more time.
Hmn, I wonder what that might mean. Well, jolly ya’ll I can’t figure that one out. That’s some o’ them city folk’s cryptic shit. Now let me go brush ma teeth with disinfectant and hop on over to visit ma cousin waife.
On top of that there is actually an example of a Dayne with pale blonde hair similar to Daenerys’ in the story as well: Edric Dayne. He’s the son of Ashara’s older brother and he just so happens to have pale blonde hair and purple eyes like someone else we might know.
So no, her physical features do not mean she has to be a Targaryen.
“Then what’s with the dragons and stuff? She hatched and rode dragons! That is such a Targaryen move!” But hold on my galaxy-brained friend, that’s actually not as clear as it might seem.
Is dragon hatching in the way that she did it even a Targaryen thing? She used a ritual which there is no record of any Targaryen ever using during their 300-ish year long reign over Westeros. And before her no Targaryen in a hundred years had been able to hatch a dragon at all. How can you say something is a “Targaryen thing” when no Targaryen for a hundred years has been able to do it and people who aren’t Targaryens have been able to do it too? Would you say tails are a human thing despite the fact that our species hasn’t had a tail for a million years and thousands of other species have tails? In fact, the other Valyrians seem to do it on the regular, what with all the huge dragon armies flying about. Unless you want to argue the Targaryens were very, busy boys.
And we don’t actually know very much about how dragon riding works or what it takes to be a dragon rider. In fact, it is purposely kept more than a little vague by our author (for some reason *suspicious eyes*). And there are several routes by which Daenerys could’ve obtained this ability.
There has been plenty of Targaryen intermarriage with Dornish nobles. Most famously the one that brought Dorne into the fold: the marriage of Daeron II and a Dornish princess. Cassella Vaith was a mistress of Aegon VI and Maekar even married a Dayne. It doesn’t take being 100% Targaryen in order to be a dragon rider, even though it may help. Many Targaryens throughout the years have married outside of their bloodline. And it’s not inconcievable that Targaryen genes run through house Dayne. But that might not even be necessary.
Because the Daynes are kind of a mystery. They’ve been around for fucking ever, being one of the oldest houses in the kingdoms and so are known as a proud First Men house. At least, this is presumed. We know that, despite some of them having pale blonde hair and purple eyes, that they are not of Valyrian descent according to the Mr. Slaughter-Your-Favourite-Character-With-A-Smile himself, George R.R. Martin. But there is no way the confirm their First Men status. They could instead be the descendents of the same people the Valyrians descended from.
There are a lot of odd, decidely un-first-men-ey things about them, after all. They have purple eyes like Valyrians. They have their own special sword, Dawn, that isn’t Valyrian steel and yet seems strinkingly much like Valyrian steel. Not that far from their seat of Starfall, at the base of the Hightower of Old Town, there is a big honking fortress constructed of the same black stone the Valyrian roads and walls of Volantis are made of. And we know that the Valyrian’s required dragon fire to make these things. So are the Daynes first men? Or are they rather descendents of the same ethnic group the Valyrians descend from? Mayhaps even the ethnic group they derive their lovely dragon powers from.
Although if Preston Jacob’s other theory, that dragon-riding and warging involve a similar telepathic power, is true then it’s quite likely Daenerys could’ve simply gotten this telepathic power from Brandon Stark.
It’s also worth mentioning that it might not take a magical connection at all to ride a dragon. Nettles managed to ride a dragon despite not being Targaryen in any way. Simply somewhat “taming” it through food. Daenerys has been feeding these dragons since they were babies. It’s quite possible this is true for her as well. Although considering some of the hints at a magical connection (albeit ambiguous ones) it does seem more likely.
“And what about Daenerys’ Targ-rage and bluster?!” You ask, grasping desperately a straws. Well, she lived with Viserys for over a decade. You think she couldn’t pick that up from the man? He didn’t exactly hide it. That’s why he got his golden shower.
And finally, from a writing perspective it would make a great deal of sense of George R.R. Martin to set things up this way. It’s classic misdirection. It seems obvious on the surface that Daenerys is Targaryen. She has all the superficial makings of a Targaryen and everyone in the story assumes that she is one, even people who haven’t ever met her. Yet in the background there are all sorts of little clues, and hints, and stray lines that suggest she may not be. Perhaps you’ll recognise this from some other person who has superficial traits typical of one family, whom everyone assumes is of that family but who is secretly set up through little clues, and hints, and stray li- IT’S JON TARGARYEN!
But most importantly, unlike Preston’s “R+L=D and B+A=J” theory, this little bit of Westerosi algebra is the only one which offers both a big, yet foreshadowed, twist in the lives of both characters and means delving into the deepest questions of “A Song of Ice & Fire” about what makes someone a good king and what gives one the right to rule.
I’m probably wrong about half of thi- Actually fuck that, I’m completely right and you all know it!
If you want to read more articles about fascinating theories on “A Song of Ice & Fire” and “Game of Thrones” which I will surely write in the future subscribe to Analytical Madness here on Medium or follow us on Twitter. Or if you’d rather watch the articles in video essay form, subscribe to our Youtube channel.
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This article was originally published on the 11th of June 2019 on analyticalmadness.com.
Copyright: The image of Lyanna and Rheagar as well as the image of Jon Snow used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show “Game of Thrones.” The picture of the Hightower of Oldtown is a screenshot from the video on Oldtown from the Game of Thrones DVD extras. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. “Game of Thrones” is created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, belongs to HBO and was inspired by the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. The family tree was created and published by HBO. The image “ House with the Red Door” is by Jairo Victor from DeviantArt. This work is copyrighted but the copyright holder has granted permission to Analytical Madness to use it in this article. This permission does not extend to third parties.