Warning: Spoilers for Season 8 episode 1 ahead
In the recently aired first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow (finally) finds out his true lineage, after living his entire life under the shame and judgment of being a bastard. He is not the son of Ned Stark and a mistress, but rather, the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Not only is he not the bastard son of Ned Stark, but he is not a bastard at all, having been conceived within wedlock following a secret marriage between Rhaegar and Lyanna.
Show watchers have known, in confirmation, of this secret since the conclusion of Bran's trips to the past to witness the Tower of Joy sequence, back in season 6. Fans have also known that Jon was not Rhaegar's bastard, either, since last season. But before these events were played out on screen, A Song of Ice and Fire readers were already theorizing that Jon could be a "secret" Targaryen. One of the first hints of this is a thread in a discussion forum from back in 2006, five years before Game of Thrones made its HBO debut - some of the first rumblings of R+L=J. Those early book readers found clues within George RR Martin's series that led them down this path, but show-only fans had plenty of breadcrumbs to pick up on, as well. Here are some of the biggest hints that the television show gave us that Jon Snow was a Targaryen.
10 The Name: Jon Snow
We know now that the name Jon Snow was given to him by Ned Stark, who is actually his uncle. The name that Jon's true parents chose for him was Aegon Targaryen. We know that the surname "Snow" is a default for bastards conceived in the north, but why did Ned pick the first name Jon? The answer may have been our first clue.
When breaking down the sons of Ned Stark, their name choices all appear significant. Robb is named after Robert Baratheon, Bran after Brandon Stark, Rickon after Rickard Stark. That means his sons were named after his best friend, brother, and father. A theory that has gained significant traction since pointed out by Reddit user /u/duh_metrius back in 2017, is that Jon was named after Jon Arryn. As a refresher, Ned and Robert served as wards to Jon Arryn during their teenage years, and Jon Arryn treated Ned as if he was his own son, even though he was not. Sound familiar?
9 "My Blood"
Back in season one, before Ned and Jon say what will ultimately be their final farewells, Ned says a couple of really important things to Jon. One of those is a "promise" that the next time they meet, Ned will tell Jon about his mother. The other is a nice little easter egg for us to spot on re-watches, as we shame ourselves for not picking up on it then.
"You may not have my name, but you have my blood," Ned tells Jon. Why the vague wording here? If Ned were the actual father of Jon, he surely would have said "...but you are my son."
8 Wood Carved Easter Egg
In episode four of season one, Jon is at Castle Black discussing how anonymous his mother is in his mind.
"I never met my mother," Jon says. "My father wouldn’t even tell me her name. I don’t know if she’s living or dead. I don’t know if she’s a noblewoman, or a fisherman’s wife, or a whore."
Behind him is a wooden beam, that looks like it has two letters distinctly carved into it: R and L. R+L=J. It was right there before our eyes.
7 Oberyn Martell's Words To Tyrion Lannister
Season four presented us with a new character in the show, Oberyn Martell, whose sister, Elia, was married to the late Rhaegar Targaryen. Up to this point, the only narrative that we had been presented with was that Rhaegar left Elia, and took Lyanna against her will. Even though he is Elia's brother, Oberyn gives us our first taste that this story may not be as we have heard.
"Another wedding - my sister Elia and Rhaegar Targaryen, the last dragon," Oberyn said to Tyrion Lannister. "My sister loved him...and beautiful, noble Rhaegar Targaryen left her for another woman."
It is fleeting, but this description of Oberyn's sounds much more like an affair than an abduction.
6 Littlefinger Knew Something
In season five, Petyr Baelish and Sansa Stark had an interesting conversation with each other in the Crypt of Winterfell, right in front of Lyanna Stark's grave. Petyr told Sansa of what he witnessed from Rhaegar at the tourney at Harrenhaal.
"...[Rhaegar] rode right past his wife, Elia Martell, and all the smiles died," Baelish divulged. "He rode past his wife and lay a crown of winter roses in Lyanna's lap, blue with frost. How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?"
When Sansa quipped back at him with what she believed to be true, that Rhaegar took her aunt Lyanna against her will, Baelish gave the sliest of smirks, insinuating that he knew this not to be true.
Both the remarks of Oberyn and Littlefinger do not necessarily show that they knew of Jon's lineage, per se, but they were definitely signs for us to pick up the scent.
5 Stannis Baratheon's Doubts
In the same episode of Littlefinger and Sansa's exchange, Stannis Baratheon has a pivotal one of his own, with his wife Selyse.
The two are discussing each other's opinions on Jon Snow, who had just become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Selyse senses that Stannis has grown to feel fond respect for Jon, and attempts to discredit him as merely an illegitimate bastard. When she says this, Stannis retorts with, "perhaps, but that wasn't Ned Stark's way."
4 Maester Aemon's Words To Samwell Tarly
Just one episode later, in episode five of the fifth season, Maester Aemon has some conveniently timed words of "prophecy."
When speaking with Samwell Tarly about a letter they received about Daenerys Targaryen, Maester Aemon, her uncle, says "A Targaryen alone in the world. It's a terrible thing."
Immediately after these words leave Maester Aemon's mouth, Jon Snow walks though the doorway, a tool of cinematic foreshadowing.
3 Blood Stain
After the assassination of Jon Snow by the coward Alliser Thorne, Jon's body is left in the snow for some time. When his body is moved at the beginning of season six, a large puddle of blood-soaked snow is left behind. Glancing down at the ground, Davos Seaworth pauses, eyes fixated on the blood, and holds them there for some time. Why the longing stare? Some theorists took aim at the shape the blood seemed to make to explain it: a dragon.
2 The Kingsguard At The Tower Of Joy
Season six brings us our first glimpses at history, as Bran and the three-eyed raven use their sight to peer back to the happenings at the Tower of Joy. Before the ultimate reveal of baby Jon being delivered by Lyanna in the tower later in the season, there were plenty of hints to let us know what was soon to come.
"Our prince wanted us here." - Arthur Dayne
Perhaps the biggest tip was the fact that the Targaryen Kingsguard were even there, at all. Most notable of which, Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning and greatest swordsman of Westeros. With a literal war for the kingdom going down, Rhaegar would have only stationed these two Kingsguard elsewhere for something extremely important; guarding his new wife and son.
1 Jon's First Interactions With A Dragon
In season seven, episode three, Jon has his first real-life experience with a dragon. Technically, at this point we have had the big reveal at the end of season six, but as far as we know the only thing that changed was his last name: from Snow to Sand (Sand is the last name given to bastards of Dorne). When walking up the steps of Dragonstone, Jon asserts to Tyrion that he is not a Stark, and immediately Drogon swoops by over their heads, causing Jon to duck out of the way.
Later on in season seven, Jon has an intimate moment with Drogon, where the dragon of Daenerys looks into Jon's eyes, and allows him to rub his hand against his head. Both of this were nice subtleties to show us that Jon was more than Snow and Sand, but a Targaryen.