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Game of Thrones theories on Jon Snow's real family

The events of season six backed the R+L=J theory, but does he also have a secret twin sister?

Season six of Game of Thrones brought fans tantalisingly close to discovering Jon Snow's true lineage.

It has long been rumoured that Jon Snow is not the bastard son of Ned Stark, but of Ned's sister Lyanna. She is believed to have been raped by Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the mad King Aerys II Targaryen. 

The theory – known as R+L=J among fans – was half confirmed in the latest series, in one of Bran Stark's flashbacks.

Ned discovers Lyanna on her deathbed in the Tower of Joy in Dorne at the end of the rebellion against House Targaryen. As Lyanna's betrothed, Robert Baratheon, was taking the throne from King Aerys, Lyanna was dying after giving birth to a baby boy.

In Bran's flashback she whispers something inaudible to Ned before the baby is handed over to him. "If Robert finds out he will kill him, you know he will," she says. "You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned."

The scene finally confirmed that Jon's mother was indeed Lyanna, that Ned was his uncle and the Stark children – Robb, Sansa, Arya, Rickon and Bran – are not his half-siblings but his cousins.

Lyanna's fear for her son's life also suggests that he is indeed a Targaryen, as at the time of Robert's Rebellion all of the Targaryens, including babies and children, were facing slaughter.

If he is the son of Rhaegar, he would be the nephew of Daenerys Targaryen and presumably have dragon blood.

The three-headed dragon

There is a theory that Daenerys needs two more riders for her three dragons (Rhaegal, Drogon and Viserion) to take back the Iron Throne.

The three-headed dragon motif appears in various ways throughout Game of Thrones history: the Targaryen house symbol features a three-headed dragon, and Dany's ancestor, Aegon Targaryen, conquered Westeros with his two sisters, all mounted on dragons.

In season two, Daenerys also entered the House of the Undying and experienced a number of visions, including one of her brother, Rhaegar, saying: "The dragon has three heads."

This has prompted some to believe that Jon Snow is the second dragon rider – and possibly has another secret Targaryen sibling or cousin who is the third rider.

Does Jon have a twin?

One theory that has been gaining some traction since the season six finale is that Jon Snow and Meera Reed are twins.

The only other person with Ned when he took baby Jon from Lyanna was Howland Reed, who is Meera's father.

While we haven't seen a second child yet, some fans believe Lyanna gave birth to Jon's younger sibling moments after. The "Meera theory" suggests that Ned, who had to pretend Jon was his son to protect him, would have found it difficult to pass off two children as his own and so asked Howland to take the second child.

Meera was born in the same year as Robb and Jon, say fans, and she is still around while her brother, Jojen, was killed off two years ago, something the writers remind us of shortly before the big Jon/baby reveal. And finally, as many commentators point out, Meera and Jon do have remarkably similar hair.

However, Ellie Kendrick, who plays Meera, isn't so sure. 

As the actors "don't get told anything", she says she doesn't know the ending – but she does think the speculation is mostly based on the fact both she and Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, have curly locks.

In the books, she adds, the two characters are described quite differently.

"I'd love it to be true because it would mean great things for my character, but I'm holding back on speculation for now," she tells Digital Spy. "I think what's been going on in George RR Martin's brain is so much more a complex wormhole than we could possibly imagine. I think there's definitely a mystery to Meera and Jojen and their parentage, but I think it'll unwind itself eventually."

Sadie Gennis at TV Guide thinks the twin theory is almost certainly wrong, mainly because... "It's. Too. Darn. Star Wars."

"The 1977 film didn't invent the twins separated at birth plot," she says, "but to make one of A Song of Ice and Fire's biggest twists be so derivative of the Luke and Leia reveal seems far too on-the-nose and uninspired for Martin."

What about Tyrion?

An alternative theory is that Tyrion Lannister is actually a Targaryen. The most compelling piece of evidence for this premise emerged this season, when the youngest Lannister sibling entered the Meereen dungeon and communicated with Daenerys's dragons to emerge unscathed. It takes a Targaryen to tame a dragon, the theory goes, so Tyrion must be a Targaryen.

Tyrion's mother, Joanna, was rumoured to have slept with King Aerys and the final words of Tyrion's father, Tywin, were: "You're no son of mine."

If Aerys is his father, he would be Jon's uncle and Dany's brother.

The show's writers like to keep fans guessing and until season seven of HBO's drama is released – or until George RR Martin publishes his latest novel in the series guessing is all fans can do.

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