Two weeks ago, we learned Jon’s last name. Not Snow, not Stark, not Sand: Targaryen. With Gilly’s cursory discovery that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were married, Jon’s heritage was legitimized. Not only is he not a bastard, but he’s the true heir to the Iron Throne. In fact, his list of titles could rival Dany’s by now:
Jon Snow Aegon of House Targaryen; sixth of his name; the Bastard of Winterfell; the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch; the White Wolf; the King in the North; the Resurrected; the Rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms, the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men; Protector of the Realm; the Prince That was Promised; the Song of Ice and Fire.
Whew! This week, we learned Jon’s first name, and now someone on the show finally knows of his lineage, too. Even though Sam hand-waved Gilly’s discovery two weeks ago, he was able to put his head together with Bran’s and discover that, yes, Jon is a legitimate Targ. The implications of this are huge (just look at that list of titles!) but there is one big problem: It doesn’t seem like Jon would care.
Finding out that Ned, whom Jon has conveniently mentioned at every possible opportunity this season, isn’t his father will be shocking. And finding out he just boned his aunt isn’t going to be an easy pill to swallow — though, considering this is Game of Thrones, maybe it won’t matter. And it probably means he’ll end up as our third and final dragon rider (Rhaegal is named after his father, after all), but Jon isn’t about to take the Iron Throne. As he made clear in this episode, he won’t make a vow he can’t keep, and he’s already bent the knee to Dany.
It’s an important reveal for Jon’s character — I’m already giddy for his Winterfell homecoming next season, during which he should not only find out his parentage but also be reunited with Arya — but it doesn’t change the fundamental arc of the story. Still, the showrunners saw fit to drag this twist out over several seasons. Last year, it took eight episodes for Bran to understand the great significance of seeing his father at the Tower of Joy. This season, the show decided to tease the audience with Gilly’s discovery, only to withhold the true reveal for the finale, all while sprinkling references to Ned and callbacks to Season 1 in nearly every episode of Season 7.
Book readers, astute show watchers, and anyone who has been on the Thrones fan forum in the last few years already knew that Jon was a Targaryen, or at least suspected that he had the blood of the dragon in him, and the show has treated it like it’s the ultimate twist, but, again, it actually changes nothing. The White Walkers don’t care who Jon’s dad is, Dany isn’t going to hand him Westeros (nor will Cersei, for that matter), and Jon isn’t going to change his mission to destroy the army of the dead. The name reveal is a big answer to a big question, but more importantly, it leads directly into another one: Is this all we’re going to get from Bran?
In his original outline for A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin identified five characters who would make it to the end of the series, writing that he was “telling the life stories of these five characters.” It’s easy to guess the first four: Daenerys, Jon, Arya, and Tyrion. The fifth one, though, has always felt out of place: Bran Stark.
Bran skipped all of Season 5, and since becoming the Three-Eyed Raven in Season 6, he has spent his time in Westeros ingesting more of that psychedelic weirwood bark and telling anyone within earshot that he’s “the Three-Eyed Raven now.” Besides the Jon reveal, he’s done two important things this season: First, he saw the Night King heading toward Eastwatch. Then he ratted out Littlefinger to his sisters.
These acts are of debatable importance. Everyone already knew the Night King’s army was on the march — why wouldn’t it be? Littlefinger needed to die, but Arya and Sansa were one conversation from figuring out what he was doing anyway. Even Lord Baelish can weave only so many lies before he gets caught in his own web.
What’s Bran’s next move? He’s able to see all of human history and all current events as well — that makes him the single character most in touch with the fantasy elements of this story. Is the show going to use him only like a part-time Night King Doppler, part-time Westerosi Wikipedia substitute? It’s been frustrating to watch him so slowly realize the meaning of the Tower of Joy scene when we already knew it and when there are such bigger questions that he could be exploring.
Martin has gone on the record many times to say that he will provide an explanation for why the seasons in Westeros are of such irregular lengths before the story ends (if he ever finishes it). It isn’t the axial tilt of whatever planet Westeros is on. As Martin says, “It’s going to be a fantasy explanation. It’s not going to be a science-fiction explanation.”
All of this may have something to do with the Long Night, a time some 8,000 years ago when the Others descended on Westeros. That’s when they were beaten back by Azor Ahai, about whom we’ve heard so much this season. Sometime after that, the citizens of Westeros — possibly led by a hero named, no kidding, Bran the Builder — built the Wall. But we don’t really know who built the Wall, or with what magic it was enchanted (not that it matters as much now).
These questions — why the seasons are messed up, what happened during the Long Night, who was Azor Ahai, who built the Wall — are fascinating. Sadly, with just six episodes left, it doesn’t seem likely that Thrones will even come near them. It took the show two seasons to answer a question fans that figured out in 1998. This series doesn’t seem to appear to have time to answer any questions bigger than Jon Snow’s parentage, which makes Bran’s place on the show a question in itself.