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A Theory: The possibly game-changing secret beneath the Winterfell Crypts


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Note: This was originally a post I made to the asoiaf subreddit, located here http://www.reddit.com/r/asoiaf/comments/1py3ee/spoilers_all_i_know_the_gamechanging_secret_in/. I received a good deal of positive feedback including a few private messages suggesting I post it here. Hence I'm following their advise and posting the theory here.

Note: I've had a few people mildy upset after reading this on Reddit, because they felt it was so sure it was more of a future spoiler than a theory. You've been warned.
--- original post ---
Last Revised Nov 9th, 2013
NOTE: This revision incorporates numerous clarifications based on comment feedback. The exact original text of this post can be found at http://goo.gl/JI4ovL

The Theory

Rhaegar's unique silver-stringed harp is in Lyanna's tomb.

"Will you make a song for him?" the woman asked.

"He has a song," the man replied. "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire."
— ACOK, Daenerys IV

The quote is about Aegon and it's between Elia and Rhaegar. Recall what Marwyn says, "Prophecy is like a treacherous woman". Rhaegar may have been wrong about Aegon; or more likely he believes that one, all or any of the three 'heads of the dragon' are/is the prince that was promised.

Thematically it's more sensible if Jon Snow is the prince that was promised and especially when you consider his parentage. Simply combine the Stark and Targaryen words. This isn't exactly a novel concept, many ASOIAF fans have thought the same.

The Importance of Legitimacy

I was deeply conflicted when I first read ADWD. I've been a longtime believer in the R+L=J theory, so I have a personal bias. I struggled with this bias over Aegon/Young Griff, but intellectually I knew I couldn't answer the question of who is actually legitimate.

It then occurred to me that the more practical question is how to prove said legitimacy. This poses a challenge to both Aegon and Jon. Looking at them closely:

It's not enough to just show up looking like a Targaryen or declaring yourself one; you need legitimacy, you need proof. The lords of Westeros already doubt his legitimacy so he must prove it or subjugate them all. At some point winning bannermen via a legitimate claim will be more valuable than conflict. It doesn't help that he's backed by the Golden Company either. It is telling that he and his advisors all know this, which is why he is initially bent on securing Daenerys's hand in marriage; so he has her blood and her dragons to establish him.

He's supposedly dead. Keep in mind, if the notion of establishing some connection between Jon and Rhaegar is important to the story irrespective of his living status, then this theory is still useful. No one aside from Howland Reed has knowledge of Jon's heritage, so he has no self-driven need to find something like this harp. But for those of us who would like to see him revealed as a bastard- or trueborn Targaryen, Azor Ahai or the prince that was promised, he must also prove it to himself and/or others.

So obviously we then ask "What would significantly bolster a claim of Targaryen ancestry?" My thoughts immediately ran to the Valyrian swords Dark Sister and Blackfyre. Unfortunately both are associated with bastard lines of Targaryens, each attainted with histories that would actually detract from a pretenders' legitimacy, even if I think Bloodraven is a badass. Both have also gone unseen for a number of years and there could be serious logistical questions regarding whether they've stayed in families of true or bastard Targaryen blood.

But this thought process is revealing; we readers inherently know that if any kind of proof exists; it will be something both

1. Well-known to the high lords and ladies of the realm
2. Universally recognized as a symbol of the true Targaryen lineage

We can also exploit some knowledge of factors that exist outside of the books themselves. In the fifth book of a seven book series, it would be sophomoric to introduce a new piece of evidence to the story merely for the sake of answering the riddle of legitimacy. It would be seen by readers as a cop-out. GRRM has already stated that he wants to avoid writing such an ending to the series because he was unhappy with the ending of Lost. Additionally, knowing GRRM, the evidence is likely something lurking beneath our very noses. The kind of thing we'll kick ourselves over when you look back.

So while I was brainstorming every possible Targaryen artifact, tome and treasure I had a sudden tangential thought, Rhaegar never wanted to be a fighter, he only did it to meet Lyanna. He would have much rather continued playing his harp. That idea may not be true and it's not important to this theory; only the fact that the harp jumped into my mind. That's when the epiphany hit me like an anvil. It's that damn harp.

A Reluctant Agreement to a Tricky Promise

I can't deductively prove that harp is in Lyanna's tomb. What I did was speculate the circumstances that led to it's being there with a high degree of confidence. I then considered this theory against alternatives using the notions of 'least complicated' and 'most relevant to the narrative' to arrive at the conclusion that this is more likely that any alternatives. It is a puzzle piece that solves more of the puzzle than any other possibility.

The circumstances regarding how the harp ends up in Lyanna's tomb:

  • Rhaegar left it at the Tower of Joy
    Rhaegar loved to play his harp. It's something everyone familiar with him says. He elopes with Lyanna for almost a year before returning to King's Landing and then to his doom at the Trident. It's unlikely that Rhaegar would leave his harp behind while 'retreating' to the Tower of Joy.

    After the outbreak of Robert's Rebellion, it appears he waited until it was clear that Lyanna was with child. Assuming he planned on returning, it is likely he would not carry things to war that he didn't plan on using or would be coming back to. Taking it to war or to King's Landing also puts it at risk of being destroyed should he lose. He also may have left it as a symbol for Lyanna of his affection and promise to return.

    At the very least, there has been no mention of it at any time during or after Robert's Rebellion, implying it vanished somewhere.

    Rhaegar may have calculated the odds of his own demise. Leaving the harp also may have been a deliberate attempt to leave a trace of his lineage; P* This would be based on the fact that his harp is so unique, it's presence in the wrong place would suggest a relationship with Rhaegar.

    Now we all know what happened after that. The Battle of the Trident, the fight at the Tower of Joy. Promise Me, Ned; and a bed of blood. Or do we?

  • "Promise me, Ned" and Eddard's reluctance.
    Imagine someone saying to you "Promise me ,<yourname>". Imagine it being said multiple times. If you're like me, the most immediate thing that comes to mind is someone asking you to vow to do something you'd be otherwise reluctant to do or something they might not otherwise trust that you'll do; i.e., "Promise me you'll clean this mess up", means "I know you don't want to do it, but please do it."

    As existing theories point out, asking to be buried in the Winterfell crypts seems mundane for a dying wish (ironic after you read this theory). The real reason is shown below, but first we need context.

    Ned loves his family and as shown at his death is willing to lie when necessary to protect his kin. I have no doubt that even if Lyanna hadn't asked him, he would have taken Jon in. As many challenges as he would incur from adopting Jon, he would do it. But going back to what I said about the nature of asking promises of others, Lyanna most likely asked him to do something he was apprehensive about. What seems likely is that she is asking him to preserve Jon's heritage, which is something Ned would never want to do. Remember that Ned has endured the loss of his father, his brother, Jon's half-brother and half-sister and is witnessing the death of his sister. Any sane man would be understandably traumatized. He's seen too much death and war. With the apparent end of the Targaryen dynasty at hand, there seems to be no practical reason to ever telling Jon his ancestry. Such would only re-open wounds just starting to heal (at that time), tarnish Lyanna's image to the kingdom, and likely result in Jon's death both as a Targaryen and as a bastard pretender (consider that the nature of his parentage recalls the bastards of the Blackfyre Rebellion).

    There are several possible reasons why Lyanna could want Jon to know his bloodline:
    She also believes in the prophecy of the prince that was promised.
    She doesn't want him to live never knowing who his mother and father are.
    'It all can't have been for nothing'. She does this for the personal reasons of wanting to feel like her and Rhaegar's deaths weren't just for a vain cause.

    I surmise that either Ned would vocally argue that he would never tell Jon or that Lyanna just implicitly knows he doesn't want to.

  • Lyanna demands that Ned promise to bury her in Winterfell. With some personal effects (harp included).

    It stands to reason that if Lyanna really felt that there must be some final way for Jon to find out, or that some evidence (even dubious) her liaison with Rhaegar was mutual should be preserved, Lyanna would have to demand a promise from Ned. A promise that he could keep, that didn't seem to put too many people at risk. While asking to be buried in the crypts in Winterfell is unusual because no women are buried there, it's a far cry less hazardous than telling Jon who his parents are. It's further plausible that if there was any evidence of their relationship, she could have easily convinced him that hiding it in her tomb would be the best way to conceal it.

    This creates a beautiful synergy between the original, straight-forward interpretations of 'Promise me, Ned' readers first have, and the more intuitive interpretations put forth by the R+L=J theorists.

The Importance of Tomb Selection

Setting aside speculations about the promise Lyanna asked of Ned, there are several intriguing factors surrounding the crypts in the context of her burial there and the possible contents within her tomb. She may have known that these factors might eventually attract attention to her tomb.

  • There are no other female tombs.
    The sole exception in a population set as large as 'all the lords of Winterfell back to the time of Bran the Builder', being the only female tomb is an extreme outlier. It draws attention to itself on that basis alone.

  • Only the male tombs have swords across their laps, intended to conceal their spirits within.
    The importance of this is entirely speculative; but it could be implied that the absence of the sword for Lyanna implies that her tomb does not contain her spirit and is possibly less ominous, opening it if necessary is less abominable as opening others.

  • What better place to hide secret Targaryen relics than in a tomb you know Robert will never defile?
    Talk about hiding in plain sight. If there were any Targaryen relics of importance at the Tower of Joy that should be hidden in order to clear Lyanna of any 'wrong-doing' in her dalliance with Rhaegar, hiding them in a place where Robert would never think or dare to look is brilliant.

The big question that remains is "How does Jon or anyone know to look in the tomb?"

Jon Snow has had frequent ominous dreams of a mysterious destiny that awaits him in the crypts. Bran and Rickon dreamed of Eddard trying to talk to them about Jon in the crypts, and Eddard regretted things he never told to Jon while in the black cells. As for how Jon might learn, consider the possibility that Jon may have a Bran-like dream or vision while he is dead/warged. If you remember that dream of his in the Winterfell crypts —the one he can never finish because he always wakes up? Well, in this dead/warged state he can't wake up and is forced to finish the dream. This dream gives him the knowledge he needs.

The Relevance of the Harp

What is the significance of the harp? Is it just a random object thrown in the story and being mistakenly attributed too much importance in this post? What would other people in Westeros think of it? Does it tie into an character development, larger plots or even into the larger themes of the series?

  • The harp has been mentioned in four of the five books currently in print.
    Almost every time the subject of Rhaegar is discussed at any length the harp is mentioned. Particularly when characters are reflecting on their experiences with him. The only exception I can think of is Jaime's remembered talk with him before Rhaegar departed for the Trident.

  • It's unique silver strings are mentioned every time.
    And I do mean every time.

  • It seems to have a unique sound.
    When people recall his playing, they often recall that his songs or the instrument itself create a melancholy tune.

  • His harp would have been widely known.
    Not only are there many times where Rhaegar is explicitly remembered to have played his harp, it is implied that Rhaegar played at many tournaments and other gatherings in general and that he played it a lot on his sojourns to Summerhall. This suggests that it has been exposed to a wide variety of people.

  • Major players already introduced have prominent knowledge of the harp.
    Cersei, Jorah Mormont, Daenerys, Ser Barristan and most importantly Jon Connington are all characters who recall seeing the harp. With Connington's looming death anything that suggests there may be another of Rhaegar's line might sow the seeds of doubt in him.

  • The emergence of the harp may help establish legitimacy for Jon if that becomes important.
    The harp alone can't prove anything. I do think it's more useful than a bridal cloak or a document alone, since it has the distinction of being something a lot of people saw during Rhaegar's life; other items can be disputed. The harp in combination with other objects however, and especially if the opening of the tomb is witnesses by people of note, could substantiate his bloodline and perhaps his inheritance. Coupled with Jon Snow's eventually legitimization as a Stark ( :D) this will give him the entire North.

  • 'Waking a dragon from stone'
    If Jon or someone retrieves this evidence from the tomb, it seems likely that it may amount to the completion of the prophecy regarding waking dragons out of stone. This could imply that Jon is Azor Ahai, or instead the person who retrieves the harp.

A Parting Thought...
Finally, out of all the passages in the books related to harps, only one is in the abstract, and is *rather* eye-catching in light of this theory:

"A harp can be as dangerous as a sword, in the right hands." - Littlefinger

Every word drips, pregnant with meaning; true to GRRM's style.
| Mic drop

---end original post---

Addendum: Relevant Passages and a Favorite Comment

Here are two passages from the books about Jon's dreams that I think help highlight the narrative appropriateness of this theory:

"The castle is always empty." He had never told anyone of the dream, and he did not understand why he was telling Sam now, yet somehow it felt good to talk of it. "Even the ravens are gone from the rookery, and the stables are full of bones. That always scares me. I start to run then, throwing open doors, climbing the tower three steps at a time, screaming for someone, for anyone. And then I find myself in front of the door to the crypts. It's black inside, and I can see the steps spiraling down. Somehow I know I have to go down there, but I don't want to. I'm afraid of what might be waiting for me. The old Kings of Winter are down there, sitting on their thrones with stone wolves at their feet and iron swords across their laps, but it's not them I'm afraid of. I scream that I'm not a Stark, that this isn't my place, but it's no good, I have to go anyway, so I start down, feeling the walls as I descend, with no torch to light the way. It gets darker and darker, until I want to scream." He stopped, frowning, embarrassed. "That's when I always wake."


Last night he had dreamt the Winterfell dream again. He was wandering the empty castle, searching for his father, descending into the crypts. Only this time the dream had gone further than before. In the dark he’d heard the scrape of stone on stone. When he turned he saw that the vaults were opening, one after the other. As the dead kings came stumbling from their cold black graves, Jon had woken in pitchdark, his heart hammering.

Finally, If you *really* want to hammer your brain, consider this comment from a redditor (my personal favorite from the original reddit post):

You know what else this post made me see? Jon is literally promised. "Promise me, Ned." If she's talking about Jon, and he's truly rhaegars son, he is literally a prince promised.

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I like the whole tomb bit and its something im pretty heavily leaning on. (The Jon sees the tomb and "finishes the dream" part) But the harp seems tenuous. Its not a bad theory but i kinda like the Torrhen's Crown one better. /shrug

both could be in there.

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Well, I like it. I do think there's something on Lyanna's tomb that proves Jon's lineage, and the harp is a good guess.

But...as you said, by itself it doesn't really prove anything. At best it proves that Rhaegar loved Lyanna or something like that, but not that they had a son, and much less that he is legitimate.

I mean, King's Landing was sacked, Stannis took Dragonstone. There's probably Targ litter all over Westeros. There could be some merchant somewhere in Essos wearing Rhaella's crown after Viserys sold it.

It's a good theory and I certainly hadn't considered it, but there's gotta be something more solid in that crypt to really prove Jon's claim

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Double whammy style? Ok...im down.

yeah the more artifacts the better i guess - I like the crown idea, and the harp being so unique fits as well.

How this all links directly to Jon I don't know, but the words Howland and Reed might be relevant.

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Cool thread, but you know what I'd like to see as evidence of Jon's claim? Controlling a dragon. Better than a harp. :cool4:

There's definitely suggestions that something is hidden in the crypt, but to me this could be a sign that Jon's mother Lyanna is buried there rather than physical "proof".

My question is why would Ned keep the evidence? I think The Ned wanted Jon to be safe but to never make a claim for the throne. Ned doesn't want to tell him the truth until AFTER Jon joins the Night Watch and swears off inheriting anything.

This post by Aetta convinced me that when Ned said "Now it ends" he meant that he would not allow his nephew to be the heir to the Targaryan dynasty, after all, he was pledged to Robert.


I know you suggest that the promise Ned made was that he had to tell Jon one day. I think its more likely that the promise was to raise Jon as his own in Winterfell, because otherwise why did the fear go out of Lyanna's eyes when he agreed? I think its more likely the fear was about her new born son being raised by someone who would look after him than about the prophecy.

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There are some real problems with the harp. Most harps would have been large, wooden instruments that would not have weathered almost two decades in the dank Winterfell crypts very well.

There's also the question of how any object in Lyanna's tomb would have been transported to Winterfell without the knowledge of anyone but Ned and his group of friends. Ned was already traveling with a lot of important objects, a horse, bones, and a sword among them. There probably wasn't manpower or space to transport a large object.

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I like the whole tomb bit and its something im pretty heavily leaning on. (The Jon sees the tomb and "finishes the dream" part) But the harp seems tenuous. Its not a bad theory but i kinda like the Torrhen's Crown one better. /shrug

If there's going to be something there I vote the crown! Its like when the vile Little Finger is describing to Sansa his plan to marry her to Harry the Heir. He says something like, he'll put her in a cloak with a direwolf on it, the symbol of her house, and people will know she's the heir to Winterfell. Symbols matter, crown = king.

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There are some real problems with the harp. Most harps would have been large, wooden instruments that would not have weathered almost two decades in the dank Winterfell crypts very well.

There's also the question of how any object in Lyanna's tomb would have been transported to Winterfell without the knowledge of anyone but Ned and his group of friends. Ned was already traveling with a lot of important objects, a horse, bones, and a sword among them. There probably wasn't manpower or space to transport a large object.

It was a small harp. In the House of the Undying, Rhaegar is shown to pick it up, carry it to a window and begin plucking a tune.

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While I like the fact that whatever is in the crypts for Jon to find is something that's been right under our noses the whole time, there needs to be at least one thing that definitively proves, flat out, that Jon is a Targ, IMO. I, personally, see either a Targ wedding cloak or a dragon egg. The harp could be 1 one of the items that's down there. Since someone up-thread suggested more than one item, I'm starting to think it's the harp, a dragon egg/wedding cloak, and Torrhen's crown all together. Each item is small and could be easily brought back north, depending on the size of the harp. Plus, the people in-verse would find out that Rhaegar loved Lyanna and didn't kidnap her(harp), married her(egg/cloak), and planned to, possibly, give the North back their independence(Torrhen's crown). (That last sentence is borderline crackpot, but whatever.)

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yeah the more artifacts the better i guess - I like the crown idea, and the harp being so unique fits as well.

How this all links directly to Jon I don't know, but the words Howland and Reed might be relevant.

Theres Targ litter everywhere thats related to Rhaegar. The Elder Brother mentioned how all of Rhaegar's rubies washed up on the Quiet Isle...save one. Now i dont think one of Rhaegar's rubies is chillin' in Winterfell (cuz that makes no sense), im just sayin' theres a lot of Rhaegar to go around.

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If we're talking about how Jon might be legitimized as a Stark, then I would recommend checking out my other Reddit theory, about the location of Robb's letter (http://www.reddit.com/r/asoiaf/comments/1pexqs/spoilers_all_i_know_where_robbs_letter_is/)

And like I mentioned, the Harp has the advantage of having been seen almost everywhere in Rhaegar's life. A wedding cloak (even authentic) could be disputed, the marriage argued as coerced, etc. The idea was that the harp in combination with something like a cloak PLUS witnesses is where the authority and authenticity lay.

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@Shireen, Actually no, I envision (and frequently argue on Reddit) that Ned never wanted to tell Jon. I really like the comment about "Now it ends", although it's hard to say how much faith we can have in that dialogue.

Welcome to the forums. :cheers: This is a nice theory. I really like the line from LF.

You say you argue on reddit that Ned never wanted to tell Jon, so I wonder what is your response to the point of Ned wanting to send Jon a letter when he was in the black cells?

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