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Ask the Maester s5e4: The Tale of Brave Ser Barristan and Obi-wan Kenobi, the Faith Militant, and Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen


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Everyone asked, “What’s the deal with Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen? IF R + L = Jon Snow, wouldn’t everyone know?”

Welcome, show watchers, to what many book readers consider to be the central mystery of the show. Here’s what I wrote about this topic last season:

In many ways, the marriage of Elia and Rhaegar is the seed from which the entire narrative structure sprouts. To recap: Elia Martell of Dorne married Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King and the crown prince of Westeros. She loved him and bore him two children, but … something happened, that something caused a separation, and that separation became a war. In the Season 4 premiere, Oberyn says, flat-out, that Rhaegar left Elia for another woman. Thinking back to Season 1, we know that Ned’s father and brother went south to King’s Landing to protest something involving Rhaegar and Ned’s sister Lyanna, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. The death of Ned’s father and brother at the hands of the Mad King sparked Robert’s rebellion, which ended with Robert as king and Elia and her babes murdered. Coincidently, Ned Stark, a.k.a. The Most Honorable Man in the Realm, returned from said war with a bastard child whose mother he refuses to speak of. It all comes back to Rhaegar and Elia.

OK, so, assuming this is true, why would no one know? Without getting too specific about things, after Rhaegar seized — kidnapped, absconded with, whatever — Lyanna Stark, she was not seen again. Rhaegar sent Lyanna to the remote Tower of Joy in the mountains of Dorne, where she was either protected or kept prisoner, depending on how you feel about this theory, by three of the most elite members of the Kingsguard. None of whom survived the war, by the way. Why would you use a handpicked coterie of Kingsguard to watch over a prisoner, albeit a noble prisoner? Great question.

Yechiel asks, “What is the common perception of Rhaegar? By all accounts we’ve heard he sucked, but Barristan keeps praising him absolutely unprovoked.”

With the exception of the Starks and the Baratheons, who had legit beef, he was as universally beloved a figure as you will find in this world. Handsome, intelligent, sensitive, with the soul of an artist, Rhaegar had all of the Targaryen charisma and mystique with none of that pesky incest-induced insanity. The people who followed him practically worshipped the ground he walked on. He would’ve made a great king, IMO.

On Lyanna:

On the Targaryen Restoration:

Who was Ser Barristan Selmy?

Ah, Ser Barristan the Bold. He was a legendary knight, faithful member of the Kingsguard, and, in his day, the greatest warrior in Westeros. Even in a season of major breaks with book lore, this one was an earthquake. Barristan Selmy had walked shoulder to shoulder with greatness, like an extremely martial and not dimwitted Westerosi Forrest Gump, for basically his entire life. The future Ser Barristan got his sobriquet “The Bold” at the age of 10, when he sneaked onto the lists of a tournament at Blackhaven (seat of House Dondarrion) wearing what was apparently the tiniest set of plate armor on the market and riding a borrowed horse. He even had the temerity to challenge Prince Duncan Targaryen to a joust. He lost.1 But Prince Duncan was impressed by the kid’s moxie and declared him a “bold boy.” At a tournament in King’s Landing, at the age of 16, Barristan was knighted by the hand of King Aegon V Targaryen (“Aegon the Unlikely,” as he is known to fake history), who was Maester Aemon’s younger brother. King Jaehaerys II Targaryen (Aegon V’s son) gave Barristan a white cloak, making him a member of the Kingsguard at the age of 23.

Throughout his life, Ser Barristan found himself, again and again, on the front lines of the realm’s notable conflicts. During the rebellion known as the War of the Ninepenny Kings, Barristan killed the bastard pretender Maelys I Blackfyre (known as Maelys the Monstrous, because he had a non-conscious conjoined-twin head jutting like a bulbous nightmare from his neck), effectively ending the conflict. Barristan was present at Lord Whent’s notorious tournament at Harrenhal during the year of the false spring, where Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen scandalized the realm by picking Lyanna Stark as the tournament’s queen of love and beauty instead of Elia Martell, who was Rhaegar’s wife. Barristan slew the bandit leader Simon Toyne — who was like the Westeros version of Robin Hood — of the Kingswood Brotherhood in single combat.

Ser Barristan’s finest moment as a knight of the Kingsguard came during the reign of the Mad King Aerys II, amid a rebellion known as the Defiance of Duskendale, a seemingly minor tax dispute that spiraled into a profoundly unwise uprising. The details are somewhat sketchy, but one story has it that Lord Denys Darklyn of Duskendale, a port town on Blackwater Bay, perhaps acting under the pernicious influence of his Myrish wife, Lady Serala, demanded increased freedoms for the town on par with the autonomy accorded to Dorne. Lord Denys invited King Aerys to Duskendale to talk about it. Aerys II, though not quite yet the Mad King, had been, for several years, growing increasingly erratic and paranoid. The king’s relationship with his Hand, Lord Tywin Lannister, had been nearly nonexistent ever since Aerys had rebuffed Tywin’s proposal to marry Tywin’s young daughter Cersei to Crown Prince Rhaegar. So when Tywin advised him in no uncertain terms not to go to Duskendale, Aerys was like, “I’m totally going now.” Unfortunately, as a famed admiral once said, it was a trap. The king, who was traveling with a small entourage, was seized. Tywin Lannister, in command of the royal forces, laid siege to Duskendale and threatened to take the city by storm and kill every man, woman, and child within its walls unless the king was released. Typical Tywin. When it was pointed out to Lord Tywin that his strategy might well result in Lord Denys executing the king, Tywin pointed at Prince Rhaegar and said, “If he does, we have a better king right here.”

Ser Barristan proposed another solution. He offered to sneak into the town, alone, to make his way to the fort where the king was being held and spirit the king to safety. By any measure, it was an insane plan, almost as crazy as a one-handed Jaime sneaking into Dorne to rescue Princess Myrcella. Of course, Barristan carried it off. Disguised as a beggar, he scaled the walls of Duskendale, located the king, and then cut their way to safety. It was a moment of legendary heroism that would have far-reaching and unforeseen consequences. House Darklyn and its vassals in House Hollard (with the exception of the young Ser Dontos Hollard, whom we later meet as the drunken jester who helps Sansa escape the Purple Wedding) were wiped out. After his imprisonment, King Aerys was never the same, and he descended irrevocably into madness and cruelty, costing the realm untold thousands of lives. And Rhaegar would never be king.

R.I.P., Ser Barristan.

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