“I Know He’s the King.”

Thinking about what the revelation of Jon Snow’s true parentage will mean for him…

Many believe he’ll then consider himself the heir to the Iron Throne. In my opinion, this overlooks a major aspect of Jon’s character as established in A Dance with Dragons. Namely, he already has a king.

“Our oaths are sworn to the realm, and the realm now stands in dire peril.
Stannis Baratheon aids us against our foes from beyond the Wall,
though we are not his men …”

“Well,” said Sam, squirming, “we’re not. Are we?”

“In times as confused as these, even men of honor must wonder where their duty lies. Your Grace is not the only king in the realm demanding homage.”

Lady Melisandre stirred. “Tell me, Lord Snow … where were these other kings when the wild people stormed your Wall?”

“A thousand leagues away and deaf to our need,” Jon replied. “I have not forgotten that, my lady. Nor will I.”

King Stannis said, “Lord Snow, tell me of Mors Umber.”

The Night’s Watch takes no part, Jon thought, but another voice
within him said, Words are not swords.

“Sire, this is a bold stroke, but the risk—” The Night’s Watch takes no part.
Baratheon or Bolton should be the same to me.

Jon realized that his words were wasted. Stannis would take the Dreadfort or die in the attempt. The Night’s Watch takes no part, a voice said, but another replied, Stannis fights for the realm, the ironmen for thralls and plunder. “Your Grace, I know where you might find more men. Give me the wildlings, and I will gladly tell you where and how.”

I find it very telling that Jon never thinks of Sansa (or Arya, after he learns she’s alive) as the rightful Queen of the North, Robb’s heir given that he thinks Bran and Rickon are dead. (He does stand up for Sansa as the heir to Winterfell itself, but nothing more.) This is in spite of the fact that he furiously denies the Boltons’ legitimacy and openly despises the Lannisters for what they’ve done to his family:

“It’s death and destruction I want to bring down upon House Lannister, not scorn.”

His fingers closed around the parchment. Would that they could crush
Ramsay Bolton’s throat as easily.

You’d think Jon would be the most devoted of Stark restorationists, even more so than Wyman Manderly or the Umber brothers. Instead, he becomes one of the “king’s men,” so much so that Stannis uses him as a counterweight against the queen’s men:

He had made it a point to learn all he could of the men around the king. Queen’s men, all. It struck Jon as odd that there were no king’s men about the king, but that seemed to be the way of it. The king’s men had incurred Stannis’s ire on Dragonstone, if the talk Jon heard was true.

Jon Snow does not recognize Stannis as King simply to keep their alliance running smoothly, nor out of consideration for the true Baratheon succession. Jon commits himself to Stannis’ cause fully and fervently, repeatedly ignoring the inner voice (and also Sam and Bowen Marsh) telling him he’s crossing the line. Again, this is in part because Jon utterly refuses to accept Bolton rule of the North, emotionally unable to recognize that the logic he applies to making peace with the wildlings (all humanity must stand together against the Others) must also at some point be extended to even Roose and Ramsay. 

But there’s more to it than that. Jon is not only grateful that Stannis saved the Watch from Mance’s army; he is deeply impressed that alone among southerners, Stannis realized his duty to the realm required him to come North, all but abandoning his struggle for the Iron Throne itself. I know this is a Sam quote, but it perfectly captures Jon’s feelings about Stannis:

Few of the birds that Aemon had sent off had returned as yet. One reached Stannis, though. One found Dragonstone, and a king who still cared.

Stannis meets Jon soon after Davos provides him an epiphany offscreen: that rather than devote himself to establishing his kingdom, he must demonstrate what kind of king he would be.

“I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.”

This creed could’ve been designed to appeal to Jon (and I believe GRRM had that in mind), because that’s exactly how he feels about Winterfell. Jon wants to be Lord of Winterfell, I think that’s beyond question, but he feels guilty about it because his ascension would necessarily come at the expense of the trueborn cousins siblings he loves…and would validate Catelyn’s dislike of his presence. So Jon joins the Night’s Watch in part to throw Catelyn’s fears about him back in her face: see, I’m abandoning any claim to land, any chance at children who might threaten yours. Instead, I’m going to protect your kids’ inheritance from marauders and worse. Perversely enough, Jon sets out to prove himself worthy of ruling Winterfell by giving up any chance of doing so, just as Stannis proves himself worthy of the crown by recognizing there’s a battle more important than the game of thrones.

But there’s still more to it. For all their gruff stoicism, both Jon and Stannis are (within their context) radical progressives, working toward an end to the millennia-long war between the wildlings and the Watch and the beginning of a more inclusive realm:

“Your brothers will not like it, no more than your father’s lords, but I mean to allow the wildlings through the Wall … I will settle them on the Gift, once I have wrested it away from your new Lord Commander. When the cold winds rise, we shall live or die together. It is time we made alliance against our common foe.” He looked at Jon. “Would you agree?”

“My father dreamed of resettling the Gift,” Jon admitted. “He and my uncle Benjen used to talk of it.” He never thought of settling it with wildlings, though… but he never rode with wildlings, either. He did not fool himself; the free folk would make for unruly subjects and dangerous neighbors. Yet when he weighed Ygritte’s red hair against the cold blue eyes of the wights, the choice was easy. “I agree.”

“Good,” King Stannis said, “for the surest way to seal a new alliance is with a marriage. I mean to wed my Lord of Winterfell to this wildling princess.

“A northern maid and a wildling warrior, bound together by the Lord of Light.” Ser Axell Florent slipped into Lady Alys’s vacant seat. “Her Grace approves. I am close to her, my lord, so I know her mind. King Stannis will approve as well.”

“I know what I swore.” Jon said the words. “I am the sword in the
darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns
against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes
the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.
Were those the
same words you said when you took your vows?”

“They were. As the lord commander knows.”

“Are you certain that I have not forgotten some? The ones about
the king and his laws, and how we must defend every foot of his land
and cling to each ruined castle?
How does that part go?” Jon waited
for an answer. None came. “I am the shield that guards the realms of
Those are the words. So tell me, my lord—what are these
wildlings, if not men?”

Moreover, both of them proudly keep by their side a potent example of the possibilities their reforms would open up to the outcasts and the marginalized:

“Then rise again, Davos Seaworth, and rise as Lord of the Rainwood, Admiral of the Narrow Sea, and Hand of the King.”

For a moment Davos was too stunned to move. I woke this morning in his dungeon. “Your Grace, you cannot… I am no fit man to be a King’s Hand.”

“There is no man fitter.” Stannis sheathed Lightbringer, gave Davos his hand, and pulled him to his feet.

“I am lowborn,” Davos reminded him. “An upjumped smuggler. Your lords will never obey me.”

“Then we will make new lords.”

Septon Cellador spoke up. “This boy Satin. It’s said you mean to make him your steward and squire, in Tollett’s place. My lord, the boy’s a whore … a … dare I say … a painted catamite from the brothels of Oldtown.”

And you are a drunk. “What he was in Oldtown is none of our concern. He’s quick to learn and very clever. The other recruits started out despising him, but he won them over and made friends of them all. He’s fearless in a fight, and can even read and write after a fashion. He should be capable of fetching me my meals and saddling my horse, don’t you think?”

But…there’s still more to it. There’s a strong emotional connection between the two men as well, all the more touching given Stannis’ distrust of affection and Jon’s keeping his distance from his friends following his election as Lord Commander. 

“The woman was named Ygritte. I broke my vows with her, but I swear to you on my father’s name that I never turned my cloak.”

“I believe you,” the king said.

That startled him. “Why?”

Stannis snorted. “I know Janos Slynt. And I knew Ned Stark as well. Your father was no friend of mine, but only a fool would doubt his honor or his honesty. You have his look.”

“Words. Words are wind. Why do you think I abandoned Dragonstone and sailed to the Wall, Lord Snow?”

“I am no lord, sire. You came because we sent for you, I hope. Though I could not say why you took so long about it.”

Surprisingly, Stannis smiled at that. “You’re bold enough to be a Stark.”

He glanced at the letter again. I will save your sister if I can. A surprisingly tender sentiment from Stannis…

Jon glanced back at Stannis. For an instant, their eyes met. Then the king nodded, and went back inside his tower.

So, what does this have to do with R+L=J? Jon may worship the Young Dragon, but he knows the horrors the last Targaryen to sit the Iron Throne inflicted on the Starks. I think he’ll be aghast to learn that he’s Mad Aerys’ grandson, not to mention heartbroken that Ned isn’t his biological father. (Btw, how fucked up is it that one of Jon’s grandfathers burned the other alive?) Jon’s story is all about his father figures, and when his true heritage is unveiled, I believe he’ll cling all the fiercer to Stannis; after all, his claim to the Iron Throne invalidates both Stark and Targaryen restorations, thus preventing Jon from having to choose between them.