A Song of Relationship Algebra – Does Brandon+Ashara Equal Anything?


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

The nail in Preston's coffin.

HBO’s family tree showing Jon as the son of Rheagar and Lyanna.

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.

Joyous Joy of Joys, I get to link to Senpai Preston.

You can watch Preston’s video right here.

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.

How romantic... A little less so when you know she'll be dead within the year.

Rheagar and Lyanna are married on the Isle of Faces.

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.

Breaks your heart, don't it?

The House with the Red Door by Jairo Victor.

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.

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 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!

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Copyright: The image of Lyanna and Rheagar used in this article is a screenshot taken from the episodes of the show “Game of Thrones.” 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.

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