Here’s the problem with Rhaegar Targaryen.
Let’s take it as given that he wanted to honor Lyanna Stark for her deeds as the Knight of the Laughing Tree at the Tourney at Harrenhal. And also given that he felt he needed a third head of the dragon for the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised (the Song of Ice and Fire), and that he really wanted Lyanna in particular to be the mother of his third child. He still went about it in a remarkably stupid fashion.
When he named Lyanna Queen of Love and Beauty instead of his wife Elia Martell, he:
- publicly shamed his wife, leading to tension in the Targaryen-Martell alliance
- angered Lyanna’s betrothed, the lord of the Stormlands
- angered Lyanna’s family, the lords of the North
- caused all the watching lords of Westeros to wonder if he was heading for the “madness” side of the Targaryen coin, and not any more suitable to rule than his mad father was
He could have done many other things to honor her (or declare his love, if you wish). But he did that, which was incredibly politically stupid. Romantic as hell. And goddamn stupid.
Now, Lyanna’s “kidnapping” was several months later. (Not immediately after the Tourney — Rhaegar’s son Aegon was born, the Starks returned home to Winterfell, Robert and Ned went back to the Eyrie, etc.) In that time, there was probably some effort by the Targaryens and their advisers to unruffle the feathers of the various lords. (Probably. God knows, with Aerys.) In that time, Rhaegar decided Elia could not bear a third child and chose Lyanna instead, and perhaps made efforts to court her in secret.
In that time, Rhaegar could have contacted Rickard Stark and asked for Lyanna to be his wife. He could have done something to deal with how his cousin Robert would handle this. (Paid him off somehow, offered some other pretty highborn maiden, who knows.) He could have made the concept of a Stark becoming a Targaryen princess a great honor. He could have made sure Elia would not be further shamed by this and that Dorne would not be angered. (A divorce or annulment might not be necessary, as Targaryens had had multiple wives before, even if it was rare.) And he could have waited to do this all after he called a Great Council to remove his mad father from the throne.
But instead, Lyanna disappeared, and somehow everyone knew Rhaegar was behind it. The assumption by her brother and her betrothed was that she had been kidnapped to be raped by a mad prince. And then after this, Rhaegar was out of touch and could not be found (not by his enemies, by his father and closest friend!) for months, while political chaos ensued and a war began. This was beyond stupid. There aren’t words for how politically dumb this was.
Rhaegar wanted to save the world. All he did was to prevent destruction, to create the savior he couldn’t be himself. But instead he caused a civil war, and destroyed his family, Westeros, and himself. He didn’t need to move so quickly, without thinking — even if the prophecy was true and necessary, there was no need for the third head of the dragon to be born right away. (If there was like 3 years between Rhaenys and Aegon, then surely the same amount of time would be no problem between Aegon and Rhaegar’s third child. And if he thought his infant son was the PTWP, then whatever great calamity Rhaegar thought he was preventing must have been decades away, when the boy would be an adult.)
But he thought prophecy was more important than politics. He held songs higher than diplomacy. And he died for it, as did his son, his daughter, his wife, his father, and his lover. And Lyanna… even if she was in heedless love herself… she knew her father and brother died because of what she did and how she did it. A tragedy beyond measure.
And that’s the problem with Rhaegar. This is not “character hate”. This is his character.
(And I’m actually being kind to him in assuming he did it all for the benefit of the world and not
the benefit of his dick for “love”.)