Of the many disappointments fans voiced after Game of Thrones ended, a prominent one called out the anticlimactic treatment of Jon's Targaryen heritage. Why did Jon being a Targaryen even matter if he never wound up becoming Dany's rival or even winning the Iron Throne? What had felt like a major twist that promised massive implications for nearly every character should it ever come out, wound up landing like slowly deflating hot air balloon. But a closer look reveals the opposite - Jon's Targaryen heritage played a crucial role in his finally finding a place within the Stark family.
When Jon didn't wind up on the Iron Throne (or any throne) and journeyed North of the Wall to spend the rest of life wandering around with Tormund Giantsbane, it left some fans justifiably perplexed that Jon's Targaryen nature didn't have too many lasting consequences. Considering how important an element lines of succession have been governing the Game of Thrones narrative since day one, it did ring a dully when the news about Jon's parentage didn't play a more important role in the series' endgame.
But that's just one way of looking at it, one heavily influenced by theory and perspective. If you take a closer look at Game of Thrones' ending and the fallout from the small handful of people who actually found out about Jon's Targaryen identity, the revelation has an enormous effect on everyone who hears it, most of all the secret prince himself.
Fans Were Upset Jon Snow's Targaryen Heritage Didn't Ultimately Matter
For eight seasons, Game of Thrones showed war and conflict revolve around important seats of power - Ned's discovery of Cersei and Jaime's affair literally gets him killed, but the bell he rang before he died ensured the succession wars that followed in the wake of Robert Baratheon's untimely murder. Knowing Jon to be in possession of such potentially explosive information undoubtedly raised the stakes and his perceived importance. Given the show's violent legacy, it seemed like the next obvious step in Jon's story was for him to weaponize his heritage and eventually stand against Dany.
But that doesn't really happen. Jon's claim to the throne was kept largely a secret, with "I don't want it" essentially becoming a catchphrase. He didn't turn his forces north and break their alliance, nor did he attempt to undermine Dany's quest to unseat Cersei. The Targaryen dynasty coughed to a sputtering halt rather than exploding back onto the stage in a blaze of dragonfire and glory.
However, Jon's heritage - an element of his storyline from the very first episode - was honored by Game of Thrones' ending, just not in the way fans probably expected. Jon finally proved he was a true Stark to the one person he had left to convince - himself.
Jon's Story Was Initially About Finding His Place in Westeros As a Bastard
Jon Snow struggled with his identity from the jump. While Ned had no real choice but to raise his nephew as a bastard and lie to literally everyone involved, he gifted Jon with a whole new set of challenges stemming from the subterfuge. In an effort to turn Jon into someone no one would suspect had a claim to the Iron Throne, he made Jon a pariah in his own family. Catelyn believed he represents her husband's infidelity as well as a threat to her children. Considering she witnessed Stannis murdering his own brother (kind of) after power tore the two apart, Catelyn's treatment of Jon remains cruel, but somewhat understandable. But all of that contributed to Jon's feelings of isolation and lack of belonging that eventually lead him to join the Night's Watch and make his way in the world without a family name to pave his way.
Much is made of Jon Snow's early days of the Night's Watch and the key relationships he forges. He makes a new family, and for a brief spell, actually seems like he's found his real pack. But as the show progressed, the Night's Watch nearly tore itself apart over the best way to handle the threat to the north and whether or not to make peace with the Wildlings in the face of the Night King's advance. Jon throws his hands up after he's literally murdered by his brothers in black and leaves his new family behind to return to his old one at Winterfell.
He reluctantly represents the ancient house along with Sansa as they curry favor and support from the Northern lords first to beat Ramsay and then to battle the Night King. But Sansa has to push him to take on another leadership role after his time as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and she also had to point out to him that his illegitimate status didn't matter to her or anyone else anymore. Jon has never wanted glory or a throne or power, he just wants to belong somewhere in an authentic way. Unfortunately, he had to lose a lot before he got there.
Jon's Love of Dany and the Targaryen Reveal Pulled Him Between Two Families
If Jon and Daenerys had been islands, they might've been able to create some kind of life together. But both of them represented huge political factions whose ideas and values conflicted greatly, so in hindsight, their relationship was aways a little vexed. And things only got worse when Jon took Dany home to meet his family and neither of his sisters took a shine to the Targaryen queen. When Jon finds out about his true bloodline, he's officially caught between two identities.
Sansa and Arya raise legitimate concerns about the wisdom of tying the Starks to Dany inextricably, especially given how long the North had fought for independence and the amount of northerners sacrificed in that pursuit. Even before Dany's display in King's Landing and her terrifying speech on the steps of the ruined Red Keep, Jon was torn between two families, given the obligations his pedigree thrust upon him. Tyrion attempted to reach him through Jon's commitment to duty, which, in turn, forced him to choose between his Targaryen and his Stark heritage - both sides probably influencing him to do something different.
The Game of Thrones Finale Proved Jon Snow is Truly Ned Stark's Son
When Jon visits Tyrion in his cell during the Game of Thrones finale, the two share a frank discussion in which Tyrion invokes Jon's sisters in an attempt to get the young man to see what Dany's capable of. Varys and Ned shared a similar scene in the first season when Varys visits a despairing Ned in the Black Cells in order to convince the elder Stark to proclaim Joffrey a true heir. Both Varys and Tyrion mention Arya and Sansa - when Ned says he's willing to suffer death rather than bow to the Lannisters, Varys wonders if his daughters would make the same choice. When Tyrion pleads with Jon, he wonders how long it'll take for Dany to turn her attention to the upstart north and eliminate those she perceived to be enemies, namely Sansa and Arya.
It's a safe assumption to say Jon probably decided to go through with the murder of his lover around the time he realized that Dany could and would kill his sisters if (or, rather, when) they decided to shirk her leadership. In this moment, he makes the same choice as his father - he makes a great sacrifice to protect his family and the innocent. He kills the woman he loves just as Ned admitted to false treason and destroyed his honorable reputation.
So, while not like everybody expected, Jon Snow's heritage did play a hugely important role in Game of Thrones final season because it's his Stark heritage that eventually pushes him to eliminate Dany despite their connection. He finally becomes a Stark in this tragic moment, and despite the fact that he doesn't go back to Winterfell to rule with Sansa, Jon Snow made his choice in the Throne Room - he's a Stark, not a Targaryen, and he protects his pack rather than simply burning any opposition that gets in his way.