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Rethinking Rhaegar: Hero or Villain? | Watchers on the Wall



Rhaegar Targaryen: the man, the fable, the legend. He’s certainly one of the most mysterious characters in A Track of Ice and Hearth/Recreation of Thrones, however one who has a huge effect on the story earlier than it even begins. In the official historical past Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna Stark – holding her captive at the Tower of Pleasure and igniting Robert’s Insurrection – which put an finish to the Targaryen dynasty. Nevertheless, a cautious studying of the books paints one other image of Rhaegar; one at odds with this model of the story.

All of it started at the Tourney of Harrenhal, when Rhaegar jousted his strategy to victory and proceeded to crown Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Magnificence. Later, it’s stated he fell upon her in the Riverlands and carried her off…however why? Did he see her at the tourney and fall hopelessly in love, or decide that she was important to fulfilling a prophecy? Did she return his affection and run off with him willingly? She appeared lower than keen about her betrothal to Robert Baratheon, however would she be so rash?

Rhaegar is a polarizing determine, and there are quite a few interpretations of his actions. Some consider he and Lyanna have been in love and ran off collectively. One other concept is that he was obsessive about the prophecy of the Prince that was Promised and did all the things in his energy to make sure it got here true. Most individuals assume Rhaegar was politically ignorant and both didn’t take into consideration the penalties of his actions, or didn’t care. This appears at odds with the info we’ve Rhaegar from those that knew him – that of an clever, succesful man who excelled at all the things to which he put his thoughts.

After studying the present theories and piecing collectively info from the books (the major collection in addition to The World of Ice and Hearth) – together with the info we’re given about Rhaegar’s and Lyanna’s personalities – I current an alternate evaluation about what actually occurred at Harrenhal, why Rhaegar took Lyanna, and what occurred in the aftermath. There’s nonetheless a lot we don’t know, however I’ve tried to cowl the bases as completely as attainable.

The next accommodates information in addition to hypothesis; if you need extra in-depth evaluation with references from the written materials, please take a look at the four-part collection The Harrenhal Conspiracy in addition to Rescue at the Crossroads. I drew closely from each theories (that are properly value your time) and added my very own ideas and conclusions.

The Tourney at Harrenhal


“Rhaegar had put his hand on Jaime’s shoulder. “When this battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but…well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return.” – A Feast for Crows, Chapter eight (Jaime I)

By the time of the Harrenhal tourney in the Yr of the False Spring, opposition was rising towards King Aerys as a consequence of his growing paranoia and cruelty. Rhaegar (involved about his father’s capability to rule) deliberate to name a Nice Council to probably pressure Aerys’ abdication. In the meantime, the lords of the nice homes (notably Stark, Tully, Arryn, and Baratheon) have been trying to strengthen their energy and affect by forming alliances via marriages and fostering one another’s youngsters.

The Harrenhal Tourney seems to have been organized to collect collectively as lots of the lords as potential – promising a lavish spectacle and beneficiant prizes that Lord Whent (the host) couldn’t afford. Probably the secret benefactor was Rhaegar, probably with assist from Tywin Lannister. Tywin had already resigned as Hand of the King because of his anger at Aerys for marrying Rhaegar to Elia Martell as an alternative of Cersei, and for naming Tywin’s inheritor Jaime to the Kingsguard.

Sadly for Rhaegar, Aerys determined to attend the tourney regardless of not having left the Pink Maintain in 4 years (ever since he had been held captive throughout the Defiance of Duskendale). Aerys was turning into suspicious of Rhaegar’s intentions, believing (appropriately) that Rhaegar was plotting to take the throne. This threw a wrench in Rhaegar’s plan, however he might have gone forward with a council anyway if he thought he had sufficient help.

A Plot to Dethrone the Mad King


“Prince Rhaegar’s support came from the younger men at court, including Lord Jon Connington, Ser Myles Mooton of Maidenpool, and Ser Richard Lonmouth. The Dornishmen who had come to court with the Princess Elia were in the prince’s confidence as well, particularly Prince Lewyn Martell, Elia’s uncle and a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard. But the most formidable of all Rhaegar’s friends and allies in King’s Landing was surely Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning”. – The World of Ice and Hearth, The Yr of the False Spring

Rhaegar knew he had the backing of Dorne (Home Martell), a few of the Crownlands and Stormlands homes, a number of males of the courtroom, at the least three of the Kingsguard (Dayne, Whent, and Martell), and the love of the smallfolk. He presumably counted on Home Lannister as properly, given the dangerous blood between Aerys and Tywin. Help for Aerys got here mainly from his small council, who had nice affect and the capacity to make use of the king’s insanity to their profit. What Rhaegar wanted to know was the place the different nice homes stood (Stark, Tully, Arryn, and Baratheon). If he might rely on them to help his ascension, he would have the leverage he wanted to oust his father from the throne.

It’s attainable Rhaegar and Arthur Dayne enlisted the assist of Arthur’s sister Ashara to collect the intel they wanted. At the opening feast, she was famous to have danced with a “white sword” (in all probability Arthur giving her info and directions), a “red snake” (Oberyn Martell, with assurances of Dorne’s help), the “lord of griffins” (Jon Connington, telling her which courtroom members Rhaegar might rely on), and lastly the “quiet wolf” (Ned Stark). The “wild wolf” (Brandon Stark) had spoken with Ashara, asking her to bop with Ned, who was too shy to strategy her himself – however might he have advised her one thing extra?

Maybe Brandon advised her that the Stark/Tully/Arryn/Baratheon alliance would throw their help to Rhaegar; perhaps even sealing the cope with a promise of marriage – Ned (who was not but betrothed and wanted an appropriate match) to Ashara. This is able to give Rhaegar sufficient confidence in his victory to name a council. I consider he organized for himself to win the tourney and crown his spouse Elia as the Queen of Love and Magnificence as a sign that the council would convene as deliberate. In any case, two of Rhaegar’s opponents (Brandon and Arthur) have been concerned in the conspiracy, and the others (Yohn Royce and Barristan Selmy) might have been given orders to take the fall.

The Knight of the Laughing Tree

From "The Great Tourney at Harrenhal", an animated brief narrated by Ellie Kendrick in character as Meera Reed, as a part of the "Histories & Lore" function in the Season 6 Blu-ray

“The mystery knight was short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces. The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face.” – A Storm of Swords, Chapter 24 (Bran II)

So why didn’t the council occur? One in every of the key items of details about the tourney comes from A Storm of Swords, when Meera Reed recounts a story she heard from her father Howland, about the Knight of the Laughing Tree. This thriller knight defeated three squires who had been bullying a crannogman (presumably Howland) earlier than Lyanna put a cease to it and befriended him. Whereas we don’t know for sure, the most generally accepted concept is that the knight was Lyanna in disguise. In that case, this can be a very important a part of the Rhaegar and Lyanna relationship.

King Aerys, in his paranoia, believed the thriller knight was an enemy and a traitor – he thought the tree was laughing at him. He ordered Rhaegar to find the knight’s id, which just about definitely led him to Lyanna. She already appeared infatuated with him (like each different lady in Westeros); “the dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle” at the opening feast. I feel Rhaegar discovered Lyanna intriguing and admired her spirit, bravery, and selflessness in defending Howland. They in all probability developed a mutual attraction and respect, and Rhaegar promised to maintain her secret.

How did this influence Rhaegar’s plan? It’s very attainable that Lyanna had found the true motive behind the Stark/Tully/Arryn/Baratheon alliance – to drive a council to be referred to as and to modify their allegiance from Rhaegar to Robert Baratheon. In any case, Robert was in the line of succession by way of his Targaryen grandmother, and his ascension can be a boon to these homes – they stood to wield rather more energy and affect than they might beneath Rhaegar. If she advised this to Rhaegar, he would have had no selection however to postpone the council to keep away from defeat. Not solely would he have needed his line to proceed; he might have seen shades of Aegon IV in Robert: a lecherous, unworthy king who would finally tear the realm aside.

Why would Lyanna betray her household? Perhaps she didn’t need to be queen (she definitely wasn’t overjoyed about marrying Robert anyway). Perhaps she felt it was the proper factor to do. Perhaps she cared sufficient for Rhaegar that she didn’t need to see him overthrown. We already know of her resemblance to Arya, however she appeared to have Sansa’s romantic tendencies as properly. No matter the purpose, it provides one other layer to Rhaegar crowning Lyanna – acknowledging her bravery as the thriller knight, thanking her for divulging the fact, and signaling that there can be no council in any case. No marvel “all the smiles died” – their scheming had been stopped in its tracks.

An Abduction, or a Rescue? 

707 - Dorne - Rhaegar, Lyanna 1

“Someone told. Someone always tells.” – A Feast for Crows, Chapter 21 (The Queenmaker)

After the tourney, Rhaegar returned to Dragonstone with the pregnant Elia to organize for his or her son’s impending arrival, and King Aerys returned to King’s Touchdown. Aerys had initially thought Jaime Lannister was the thriller knight at Harrenhal; that he had defied Aerys who had ordered him again to King’s Touchdown after taking his Kingsguard vows. Upon his return to the Pink Hold, probably Aerys was knowledgeable that Jaime had been there for the period of the tourney. It’s unlikely Aerys would have forgotten his anger over the thriller knight, so both somebody ultimately came upon the fact or he deduced it on his personal. Both method, it’s very attainable Aerys ordered Lyanna’s arrest as a traitor to the crown.

Round the time of her “abduction” Lyanna was in the Riverlands for the wedding ceremony of Brandon Stark and Catelyn Tully. Her father Rickard was on his means from Winterfell, and Brandon was on his approach from Riverrun to satisfy up together with his father’s get together. Rhaegar had left Dragonstone and was additionally journeying to the Riverlands with six companions. Might he have found his father’s plan to arrest Lyanna? In that case, he would have felt obligated to assist her, figuring out the destiny that may have been in retailer for her. He would have additionally rightly assumed the execution of a Lord Paramount’s daughter would begin a warfare, and he would have needed to keep away from that in any respect prices.

If there was a confrontation, it’s affordable to assume it occurred at the Inn at the Crossroads. The inn has served as the website of many momentous occasions all through the course of the books, and this would definitely be one among them. A battle between Targaryen troopers and Lyanna’s and Rhaegar’s events might have been misinterpreted (or intentionally reported) as an abduction. It’s additionally potential that Littlefinger was in the space, returning to the Vale from Riverrun after his duel with Brandon. Understanding Brandon’s rashness (and harboring resentment for the wounds he took from him), might Littlefinger have organized for Brandon to be informed about the “kidnapping” earlier than he might hear the fact?

The Riot


“Brandon had been twenty when he died, strangled by order of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen only a few short days before he was to wed Catelyn Tully of Riverrun. His father had been forced to watch him die. He was the true heir, the eldest, born to rule.” – A Recreation of Thrones, Chapter four (Eddard I)

Brandon rushed to King’s Touchdown together with his males and demanded for Rhaegar to “come out and die.” In fact, Rhaegar wasn’t there, however Aerys imprisoned all of them for plotting to homicide the prince and summoned their fathers to the capital. Rickard Stark arrived with 200 males, all of whom have been executed by the Mad King – who maybe wasn’t as mad as he’s made out to be. In any case, he had Varys whispering in his ear and informing him of precise plots to dethrone him.

The lone survivor was Brandon Stark’s squire, Ethan Glover. Might he have been spared as a result of he divulged the plot to place Robert on the throne? Aerys wrote to Jon Arryn demanding the heads of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon. Presumably Aerys needed Ned to reply for the “treason” of his brother and father, however why Robert? If Aerys knew of the plot to crown him it makes good sense. In fact, Jon Arryn refused to surrender his wards (and the potential claimant to the throne), which sparked the rebel and led to the downfall of the dragon kings.


Robert Aramayo as Young Ned Stark and Aisling Franciosi as Lyanna Stark. Credit: Helen Sloan/ HBO

“Prince Rhaegar loved his Lady Lyanna, and thousands died for it.” – A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 67 (The Kingbreaker)

What of Rhaegar and Lyanna? After he rescued her from his father’s males, Rhaegar wanted to get her someplace protected – ultimately taking her to the Tower of Pleasure. If Rhaegar didn’t abduct her or run off together with her out of affection, how would Jon have been conceived? It’s attainable that Rhaegar tried to get phrase to Lyanna’s household to maintain struggle from breaking out, nevertheless it arrived too late, or under no circumstances. As soon as Lyanna discovered the information of her father’s and brother’s deaths, she would have been devastated. She might have turned to her rescuer for consolation, and maybe it led to one thing extra.

Rhaegar would have discovered it troublesome to reject a grieving woman, and maybe the admiration he already felt for her grew into love. I don’t assume he deliberate for it, or that he used her to satisfy a prophecy – actually he already thought his son Aegon VI was the promised prince. It might be an identical state of affairs to Robb Stark and Jeyne Westerling; she gave herself to Robb when he was recovering from a battlefield damage, and he married her in order to not dishonor her. Sure, Rhaegar was already married, however the Targaryens had practiced polygamy in the previous. Maybe he thought that when the insurrection was defeated and Aerys was deposed, he would have the energy and skill to make the realm settle for a second marriage.

On the different hand (and following the present’s lead), perhaps an annulment was the reply. This has historic priority with the instance of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Louis VII of France, who dissolved his marriage to Eleanor however ensured the legitimacy of her youngsters. We all know that by this level one other being pregnant would probably imply dying for Elia, and Rhaegar (who appeared keen on Elia if nothing else) would undoubtedly not have needed to hazard her life. A union and a toddler with a Stark may be used to make sure the loyalty of the North and the Riverlands, swaying them from their plot to crown Robert.

Since King Aerys didn’t appear to have seen Rhaegar absconding with Lyanna as an act of treason, Rhaegar might have despatched phrase that he was holding her as a hostage in a secret location. Rhaegar believed he can be victorious and that he might maintain his father as soon as the struggle was over. He might have additionally been in contact with the Ghost of Excessive Coronary heart (who foresaw that the Prince That Was Promised would come from the line of Aerys and Rhaella, amongst different issues), as they each had a connection to Summerhall and will have encountered one another there.

It’s attainable the Ghost of Excessive Coronary heart noticed a imaginative and prescient of a dragon profitable an excellent battle on the Trident which satisfied Rhaegar of his sure victory, when as an alternative her imaginative and prescient might have been of the White Walkers’ defeat (Daenerys goals of preventing an enemy “armored all in ice” at the Trident in the books). Rhaegar was probably additionally speaking with Tywin Lannister to win his help and felt sure Tywin would come to his help; nevertheless, Tywin stayed his hand to make sure he solely backed the profitable aspect. Sadly Tywin’s choice doubtless led to Rhaegar’s demise, and the relaxation is historical past.

Given Rhaegar’s penchant for prophecy, it’s logical to imagine his fixation on Lyanna was primarily to make sure the start of the Prince That Was Promised. Nevertheless, prophecy in A Music of Ice and Hearth is nearly by no means simple or sure. Many occasions individuals attempt to avert prophecy and find yourself inflicting it as an alternative, or they purposely attempt to fulfill it and make it occur in an unanticipated method. So far as we all know, Rhaegar by no means misplaced his assumption that his firstborn son – Aegon VI – was the promised prince, and what occurred with Lyanna was incidental to the prophecy. Jon Snow was the unintended end result of Rhaegar’s misguided beliefs and can finally be the hero Rhaegar had anticipated all alongside.

Rhaegar wasn’t a villain, and he wasn’t a hero – he appeared to be an honorable however flawed man who in all probability did the greatest he might given his circumstances. Very similar to many different complicated characters in the collection, he tried to be the hero of his personal story. Whether or not or not he succeeded finally relies upon on your perspective. Rhaegar misplaced the throne and his life, however maybe his son will save the realm.

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