**Edit in progress.**
Almost everyone is familiar with the Rosetta Stone. It was the key that unlocked ancient Egypt's hieroglyphs. In a similar fashion, the blue winter roses in ASoIaF help to unravel the mystery of Jon Snow's past, while also possibly providing some hints about his future.
The biggest misconception about the winter roses, imo, is that they symbolize (only) Lyanna Stark. There is some truth here, but she is only a part of the equation. I wouldn't go so far as to say the notion that 'Lyanna = blue roses' is a red herring. But, because the flowers are always presented in AGoT as relating to her, I do believe GRRM was intentionally leading the audience down a dimly lit path, so to speak.
Ned thinks about, remembers, or dreams of Lyanna in combination with winter roses on a handful of occasions. Yet it is not until his final chapter (XV) that we learn the origin of his sister's roses. Robert had been jesting with Jon and old Lord Hunter as the prince circled the field after unhorsing Ser Barristan in the final tilt to claim the champion’s crown. 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.
This reveal means that Lyanna's roses are inherently tied to Rhaegar, since he is the one who gave them to her in the first place.
Does this mean that the flowers symbolize Rhaegar? No. Not by himself, anyway. Though, like Lyanna, he is a part of the equation.
Before getting started, it's worth noting what blue roses tend to mean in the real world. For example: "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 colouring also represents royal blood [which Jon receives from his father] so it can represent splendour 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.
Here is the rest:
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)
The Song O' the Winter Rose; Bael, Rhaegar, Mance, R+L=J:
Lastly, there is the Bael the Bard story. If Jon is supposed to be the blue winter rose, how does he fit in there? Quite well, actually. Rather than quoting the whole thing I'll repeat the analysis I've previously given, because it's pretty simple: the story is about a Stark daughter who gives birth to a son. Does that sound like anyone we know? There's more to it, actually.
- Bael is the King-beyond-the-Wall ~ Rhaegar is the crown prince
- Bael styles himself as a bard ~ Rhaegar is a well known harpist
- Bael steals the Stark girl ~ Rhaegar 'steals' Lyanna
- Bael leaves a winter rose in place of the Stark girl ~ Rhaegar gives Lyanna a crown of winter roses
- The Stark girl gives birth to a son ~ Lyanna gives birth to Jon
- The Stark girl eventually dies ~ Lyanna dies in the ToJ
Did I forget anything? Well, you get the idea.
I think the BtB story is meant to tell us that Jon's Stark lineage derives from his mother, not his father as we have been led to believe. Whether you feel as strongly about the Jon-BWR connections as I do or not, we can agree that Jon is at least associated with the winter rose. And the rose features prominently in this story which, as I said above, has a Stark daughter giving birth to a son.
This is, of course, the BtB story as it pertains to R+L=J. There are almost certainly other events that are foreshadowed by that tale.
If my conclusions are more or less correct, how will GRRM reveal this to the audience? In my opinion, the most clear-cut method of conveying this information is to have Jon eventually adopt the blue rose as his sigil. Since sigils are often used to represent the characters to whom they belong, Jon's use of the blue rose would establish an undeniable link between the two, both real (in-universe) and symbolic (for the benefit of the readers).
- Jon does take the blue rose as his sigil or personal device, and:
- GRRM does link his characters with their sigils as specified above,
it seems like my thesis ought to be correct in principle, if not in detail.
Thanks for reading.
Edited by J. Stargaryen, 12 July 2014 - 08:30 AM.