Like the well known Rosetta Stone, ASoIaF's blue winter roses help to decipher what otherwise might have been a mystery. In this case, Jon Snow's true identity as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
Before we get to the analysis, there are a couple of issues I want to address. The first being what I consider to be the biggest misunderstanding about the blue roses, and the second on where I think they might be most useful in arguing R+L=J.
1) Probably the most common misconception regarding Lyanna's blue roses is that they symbolize (only) her. While that connection is the most obvious, I think there is more to it. In fact, I believe the obviousness of this connection is an intentional misdirection, wherein GRRM used a kind of cognitive bias against the reader.
In AGoT the flowers only appear in Ned's POVs, and only when he thinks about his sister. This fact conditions us to connect the flowers to her and, in many cases, only her. It's a clever (re: tricky) way to obscure their true meaning. That way, by the time we read Ned's final chapter, and find out that Rhaegar gave Lyanna the crown of winter roses at Harrenhal, we have already (mis)learned that the flowers symbolize Lyanna. Which makes it easy to ignore the actual significance and symbolism of that particular reveal. Lyanna's roses were given to her by Rhaegar Targaryen. Which leads to the next point.
2) Every now and then a debate will arise regarding the certainty of Jon's paternity, whilst conceding the maternity; i.e., ?+L=J. The answer to which is: trace Lyanna's blue roses back to their origin. Chronologically, their first appearance was the QoLaB's crowning at the Harrenhal tourney in 281AC. This turns out to be the key piece of information needed to understand Ned's recurring thoughts and dreams, about his sister and her blue roses. It provides the context: Lyanna's roses were given to her by Rhaegar Targaryen.
(A quick note regarding real world blue rose symbolism. "The meaning of the blue rose is about mystery [as in; who is Jon Snow's mother?] or attaining the impossible. The blue rose is also used as a symbol of love at first sight [R+L?]. The blue coloring also represents royal blood [which Jon receives from his father] so it can represent splendor and regal majesty.")
“I was with her when she died,” Ned reminded the king. “She wanted to come home, to rest beside Brandon and Father.” He could hear her still at times. Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black. After that he remembered nothing. They had found him still holding her body, silent with grief. The little crannogman, Howland Reed, had taken her hand from his. Ned could recall none of it. “I bring her flowers when I can,” he said. “Lyanna was... fond of flowers.”
- Eddard I
As they came together in a rush of steel and shadow, he could hear Lyanna screaming. “Eddard!” she called. A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death.
Her eyes burned, green fire in the dusk, like the lioness that was her sigil. “The night of our wedding feast, the first time we shared a bed, he called me by your sister’s name. He was on top of me, in me, stinking of wine, and he whispered Lyanna. “
Ned Stark thought of pale blue roses, and for a moment he wanted to weep. “I do not know which of you I pity most.”
He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him pass with eyes of ice, and the direwolves at their feet turned their great stone heads and snarled. Last of all, he came to the tomb where his father slept, with Brandon and Lyanna beside him. “Promise me, Ned, “ Lyanna’s statue whispered. She wore a garland of pale blue roses, and her eyes wept blood.
Let's revisit The Moment When All the Smiles Died, from Eddard XV, because there is an addendum which belongs here, I think.
Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.
Ned Stark reached out his hand to grasp the flowery crown, but beneath the pale blue petals the thorns lay hidden. He felt them clawing at his skin, sharp and cruel, saw the slow trickle of blood run down his fingers, and woke, trembling, in the dark.
Promise me, Ned, his sister had whispered from her bed of blood. She had loved the scent of winter roses.
But there were others with faces he had never known in life, faces he had seen only in stone. The slim, sad girl who wore a crown of pale blue roses and a white gown spattered with gore could only be Lyanna.
- Theon XI
A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness.
-Daenerys IV (HotU)
“A dead man in the prow of a ship, a blue rose, a banquet of blood… what does any of it mean, Khaleesi? A mummer’s dragon, you said. What is a mummer’s dragon, pray?”
- Daenerys V
Aside from affirming that the blue flower in the HotU was in fact a blue rose, the latter quote serves little other purpose, as far as I can tell, and is presented without additional comment.
“Not kind,” said Cersei, “merely truthful. Taena tells me that you are called the Blue Bard.”
“I am, Your Grace.” The singer’s boots were supple blue calfskin, his breeches fine blue wool. The tunic he wore was pale blue silk slashed with shiny blue satin. He had even gone so far as to dye his hair blue, in the Tyroshi fashion. Long and curly, it fell to his shoulders and smelled as if it had been washed in rosewater. From blue roses, no doubt. At least his teeth are white. They were good teeth, not the least bit crooked.
- Cersei IX
The Song O' the Winter Rose; Bael, Rhaegar, Mance, R+L=J:
While Bael's song is largely viewed as a parallel for R+L=J, and rightly so in my opinion, some believe that Mance is Rhaegar in disguise, mostly based on the parallels between the two in ASoS, Jon I. This despite a number of issues, not the least of which is GRRM stating that "Rhaegar was cremated, as is traditional for fallen Targaryens." - Link. But I believe a more elegant explanation exists.
Taking the Mance-Rhaegar parallels in ASoS for granted, as I mostly agree with them, we have to explain why, In ADwD, Mance's story suddenly starts to resemble Bael the Bard's. Simply put, I believe GRRM is reinforcing the link between Rhaegar and Bael, through Mance's character. A link that already existed thanks to the similarities between the R+L=J story and the song o' the winter rose. (Both feature singers who stole Stark daughters and gave them sons. Bael even has the Targaryen-like "ae" letter combination in his name, etc.) So, while the Rhaegar-Mance connections do exist in my opinion, it's not because they're the same person. Rhaegar fought valiantly, nobly and honorably, and he died at the Trident.
This is, of course, the BtB story as it pertains to R+L=J. There are parts of the story connected to that tale; e.g., Baelish and Sansa.
Thanks for reading.
Edited by J. Stargaryen, 17 February 2015 - 06:39 AM.