'Game of Thrones': Does it really matter if Jon Snow is a royal?

'Game of Thrones': Does it really matter if Jon Snow is a royal?Entertainment

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I care whether Jon Snow is descended from kings. And it’s baffled me.

I’ve never paid much attention to modern-day English royalty. The position tends to be a lot of pomp without much power. Status is determined not by accomplishment — although that hand-wave takes skill — but by parentage.

Nothing personal, but the royals don’t seem any more inherently interesting than the family down the street — except the local folks don’t wear crowns. And if they did, that might mean they’re crazy, which would then make them more interesting.

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So, why do I want to know who Jon Snow’s parents are? Why does it matter whether he has a true claim to rule Westeros’ Seven Kingdoms — a fantasy take on medieval England — on Game of Thrones?

Maybe there’s some primal yearning to have an anointed above us. That might explain American political dynasties and Hollywood “royalty,” although the latter status isn’t as easily passed down to succeeding generations.

I started wondering about that in light of recent familial revelations on the HBO drama (season finale, Sunday, 9 ET/PT). Jon, long thought to be low-born as the bastard son of Winterfell lord Ned Stark, was shown to be the son of Ned’s sister, Lyanna, in last season’s finale. 

This season, the underestimated, admirable Gilly stumbled over marriage news that likely means Jon is the son of one-time Iron Throne heir Rhaegar Targaryen, which would put Jon in line to be the ruler of Westeros. (One wonders if author George R.R. Martin’s epic tale would have been obliterated if mad scientist Qyburn had developed a DNA test instead of a Frankenstein’s monster, The Mountain.)

For some reason, Jon’s pedigree seems to matter. Part of it is the allure of a Byzantine fantasy tale. Part of it is the magical power that attaches to lineage in Thrones. Daenerys Targaryen carries her family’s genetic connection to fire and dragons, allowing her the supernatural power to resurrect a supposedly extinct species and employ the magnificent winged giants as awe-inspiring weapons.

And Jon’s heritage is important in figuring out the available dating pool for a royal bachelor. It makes his hesitant flirtation with Aunt Dany — she’s Rhaegar’s sister — seem off-putting rather than sweet, although a blood connection hasn’t stopped others in Thrones or in actual historical monarchies from hooking up.   

Bran Stark, related to Jon one way or another, has special vision powers. What if Jon has that ability combined with a dragon bond, as appeared to be the case when he soothed one of Dany’s dragons by petting it on the snout? He could unite the ice of the Starks and the north with the fire of the Targaryens.

But Jon has accomplished so much, including leading the Night’s Watch and rising to King in the North, without the boost of royal credentials. Maybe that was the point. 

For all the folderol of who descended from whom and how many titles trail one’s name, the noblest and the basest Thrones characters cannot be categorized by dynastic heritage. 

Some of the worst or most craven characters — Cersei Lannister, Roose Bolton, Theon Greyjoy — rule or are connected to Westeros’ royal families. Daenerys’ dragon power reflects the importance of her heritage, but her occasional hints of cruelty raise the question of whether her dynastic connection to Mad King Aerys Targaryen may actually be a curse.

At the same time, some of Thrones‘ finest — Davos Seaworth of King’s Landing slum Flea Bottom and former slaves Missandei and Grey Worm — are about as far from Burke’s Peerage as you can get. Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos, pointed that out to me in an interview last year.

“Davos has more nobility in his middle finger than all of the Lannisters put together,” he said. “This guy has a loyalty and decency about him.”

So, in the end, perhaps Thrones is telling us that lineage isn’t necessarily destiny and that nobility is something you earn rather than inherit. Unless you’re brave Lady Lyanna Mormont. In her case, it may be both.  

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