Rhaegar Targaryen died around 15 years before the main story in ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and ‘Game of Thrones’, but his actions directly affected the plot. There is a complicated relationship between him, Elia Martell, and Lyanna Stark, which started Robert’s Rebellion. He might be the most important character in the saga in general. Let’s find out why.
THE HEIR TO THE IRON THRONE
Season six of ‘Game of Thrones’ finally confirmed a huge theory regarding Jon Snow’s lineage as he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Season seven revealed that they got married, which means that Jon was never a bastard, contrary to what everyone else believed. His actions led to Robert’s Rebellion and the fall of the Mad King.
King Aerys II ruled the Seven Kingdoms years before the main story of the show began. His firstborn son, Rhaegar, was married to Elia Martell. Viserys came later and Daenerys was just a baby when Aerys’ fell. Elia Martell was the sister of Oberyn and Doran Martell from Dorne. She gave Rhaegar two kids, Rhaenys and Aegon.
However, after the Tourney at Harrenhal, Rhaegar crowned Lyanna Stark instead of his wife as his “Queen of Love and Beauty”. However, Lyanna was promised to Robert Baratheon at the time. Therefore, the Martells and the Baratheons were upset at the prince’s actions. The following year, Rhaegar ran off with Lyanna, and everyone said she had been kidnapped.
So, Robert started a war over his lost love. King Aerys II was killed by Jaime Lannister, whose family had decided to join forces with the Baratheons. He was nicknamed the Kingslayer after that. Daenerys and Viserys had to flee to Essos, but Elia and her children were brutally killed by Ser Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain.
Lyanna died giving birth to Jon Snow, while Rhaegar died fighting against Robert. For the first time in hundreds of years, the Targaryens were no longer in control of Westeros. Robert Baratheon was named king, and fifteen years later, the story picks up. However, the events are still a bit muddy as no one really understands what happened between Rhaegar and Lyanna.
LYANNA AND RHAEGAR
Robert always says that Rhaegar took her for himself and hurt her. However, in season seven, the truth came out. Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love and got married in a secret ceremony after a Maester had dissolved his marriage to Elia Martell. As Bran said, “Rhaegar didn’t kidnap my aunt or rape her. He loved her. And she loved him.”
The books suggest that they met after Lyanna disguised herself as a knight for the Harrenhal tournament, and Rhaegar found her. After they ran off and got married, they both perished tragically. It might seem like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ kind of love story, but there is a lot more to it. Rhaegar left his wife and children for Lyanna.
The Targaryen dynasty was destroyed because of his actions. He also died for it. However, the reasons could lie in the faith of Westeros, prophecies, and the games of politics. In any case, Rhaegar knew that taking Lyanna was a huge risk. Even if everyone knew that she was in love with the prince, it still would have been a huge issue.
Instead of claiming that the rebellion was to avenge his promised bride, Robert could have started the war out of jealousy. In fact, some might argue that Robert knew all along and just came up with that story. In any case, Lyanna was not allowed to choose who she would marry. She was already promised to Ned’s friend.
House Baratheon and House Stark wanted to solidify their bonds with a marriage, but Rhaegar prevented that. Moreover, he insulted the country of Dorne by running off on his wife and kids. Therefore, three major Houses in Westeros were naturally angry at the Targaryen prince. This is never smart, but the political climate at the time was not peaceful.
THE DOWNFALL OF THE MAD KING
So, things escalated quickly, mainly because the King had been crazy for some time. “The Mad King" could be savagely cruel, as seen most plainly when he burned those he perceived to be his enemies. He was fixated on Dragonfire. He was not liked by anyone and the powerful families in Westeros wanted him out. He even fought with Tywin Lannister, who said that Rhaegar would be a better king.
In the meantime, the Baratheons, the Starks, the Arryns, and the Tullys had allied themselves. They needed Lyanna and Robert’s marriage to make things official, but it never happened. It was said that Rhaegar had a plan to displace his father and that the Tourney at Harrenhal was just a ploy for him to discuss the future with the different Houses of the continent.
So, Rhaegar was not a fool, and he was playing a great political match against his own father. He was being careful and hoped to do it without much violence. However, he decided to scrap all his plans after meeting Lyanna and crowns her, shocking all the families who should have been his secret allies. The Starks went to King’s Landing to complain about it to the King.
Aerys II killed Ned’s father and brother and told Jon Arryn to kill his former wards, Robert and Ned. But, things get confusing at that point. It does not seem to be about Rhaegar and Lyanna anymore. Their affair might have been the catalyst, but the war was bound to happen sooner or later because everyone wanted to dethrone the King.
It is important to understand Rhaegar to truly know why he escaped with Lyanna. From everything the books have said about him, he was good at most things. Ser Barristan said, “He did everything well…That was his nature.” He also said, “The Prince of Dragonstone was a most puissant warrior.” The King’s guard never stopped praising Rhaegar.
Jorah Mormont called him “The Last Dragon”, and even Cersei had a childhood crush on Rhaegar. Additionally, the prince was loved by the common people. However, Ser Barristan also mentioned, “It was said that no one really knew Prince Rhaegar, truly.” He was apparently very melancholy and waiting for some big disaster to happen.
He also had “a sense of doom”, which referred to his birth at Summerhall, a Targaryen palace in the South. His grandfather, Aegon V, had taken the family there to celebrate Rhaegar’s birth, but he also tried a fire ritual to hatch dragon eggs. Unfortunately, things were awry, and the fire killed Aegon and many family members.
Rhaella Targaryen gave birth to Rhaegar during the consuming flames. “He was born in grief… and that shadow hung over him all his days.” But, destiny also followed the young prince. The Targaryens were always known as conquerors, but their actions are normally guided by prophecies. They came to Westeros in the first place because Daenys the Dreamer saw that Valyria would be destroyed.
Rhaegar also exists because of a prophecy as their parents only got married because a witch said that the "Prince Who Was Promise" would come to their line. The Prince Who Was Promise, or Azor Ahai, is supposed to be the hero that saves the world from the dark, which strongly implies that he will face the White Walkers.
However, like most prophecies, there are several interpretations. Melisandre said that Stannis was Azor Ahai, and others believe that Daenerys could be it. Rhaegar was a big fan of this prediction, and it shaped most of his life. As a kid, he was a bookworm, and he was never very interested in other people. This changed after he read about the Prince Who Was Promised.
Rhaegar believed he was Azor Ahai. Therefore, he told the master-at-arms, Ser William Darry at the time, that he needed a sword. He even told his great-grand-uncle Maester Aemon about it, and Aemon agreed because of the part of the forecast that says, “Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt.”
The smoke came from the fire at Summerhall, while the salt would be the tears of mourning. Furthermore, the Prince Who Was Promised was also described as a warrior of fire who would lead the fight against the dark, and so, Rhaegar had to train. A prophecy influenced most of his life, but later on, he changed his mind.
Maester Aemon said Rhaegar came to believe that he was not Azor Ahai, but rather his child with Elia, Aegon. This is because the prophecy also stated that he would be born “beneath a bleeding star”, which was believed to be the comet that appeared the night Aegon was born. This matches a dream that Daenerys had in book two.
She saw Rhaegar, Elia, and their son, Aegon. Rhaegar says, “He is the prince that was promised…there must be one more. The dragon has three heads.” The part about the three-headed dragon is a bit unclear, but it could refer to the Targaryen symbol, which comes from the three family members that lead the conquest 300 years ago, Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya.
They coincide with the name of Rhaegar and Elia’s kids, Aegon and Rhaenys; so, perhaps Rhaegar wanted another child to name Visenya. However, Elia was always sick and after Aegon, she could not have more children. This means that the prince needed another woman to have his child, and therefore, he chose Lyanna Stark.
While love could have been a part of his decision, it is also very likely that he just needed Lyanna to have his third child to complete the three heads of the dragon. Unfortunately, Lyanna had a boy and not a girl to name Visenya, but Rhaegar could have changed his mind, thinking that Jon, and not Aegon, was Azor Ahai.
The Prince Who Was Promised is linked to “A Song of Ice and Fire”, which is the title of the saga. Lyanna Stark of Winterfell is associated with ice, while Rhaegar is fire thanks to his dragon blood. Therefore, their son would be “of ice and fire”, and “song” sounds an awful lot like “son”. There are a lot of hints that point to Jon Snow as Azor Ahai.
Melisandre once said, “I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R’hllor shows me only snow.” Moreover, there was smoke and tears when Jon was killed as well as bloody stars. Additionally, Ned promised his sister that he would care for Jon, and so, he was literally “promised”. Jon seems to have more qualities that fit the prophecy of Azor Ahai than Rhaegar or his half-brother, Aegon.
Lyanna could have realized this in the end and decided to name him Aegon for that reason. Hence, everything Rhaegar did was to bring the Prince Who Was Promised to the world. But, he was right in doing so? There might have been a better way to go about trying to fulfill a prophecy. He did not need to abandon his wife and children to the mercy of the Mountain.
He also started a fight that killed many people in Westeros and ruined the Targaryen family. Having a child with Lyanna might not have been the answer. Maybe, he just wanted to be reckless for once and forget about the political games. Perhaps, he saw Lyanna, who was just fifteen at the time and thought to escape with a pretty girl.
THE THEORY THAT MIGHT EXPLAIN ALL THIS MADNESS
He took her to Dorne to an estate called The Tower of Joy and shacked up with her. This is like a pretty selfish thing to do. But there is a theory which explains Rhaegar’s actions, and it has to do with Azor Ahai’s sword, Lightbringer. Book two describes how it was made. The hero tried three times to complete it.
The first version broke after he tempered it in water, and the second was destroyed after being toughened by stabbing the heart of a lion. However, the final version was tempered by piercing the heart of his wife. Her strength was transferred to Lightbringer and that is how the sword finally made it. This story could be an analogy for Rhaegar’s life.
He first believed himself to be Azor Ahai, but he died in the waters of the river Trident. Secondly, his son with Elia, Aegon, could have been the Promised, but he died at the hands of “the Lion" of Lannister’s brave men. Finally, he used his “sword” to conceive a child with Lyanna, who died giving birth to him. Thus, there is water, a lion, and a beloved woman.
Accordingly, Jon Snow or Aegon Targaryen is “the sword in the darkness” and “the light that brings the dawn”. But, if Jon is Lightbringer, the hero of the story is Rhaegar, who died even before the story began. Moreover, everything that happened was necessary. Everyone who died had to die for the prophecy to be completed.
Maybe, Rhaegar knew that he was going to die, and that is why he always walked with a sense of doom. He might have seen everything through dreams just like some of his Targaryen ancestors. As a result, he always carried around sadness and even guilt. His story might be the real song of ice and fire.
But that is only one theory, and there is a lot that it remains unclear about his time and politics back then. Let us know what you think of this theory. If you liked this article, share it with your friends who love discussing the book’s ancient history. See you next time!
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