[T]here is another significant thread of exposition in “Sons Of The Harpy” that is one of the rare cases where its presence is just as valuable to readers as it is to non-readers. At three very conscious moments in the episode, viewers are given pieces of history that flesh out characters the show has largely elided to this point, but which are crucial to a prominent fan theory. For non-readers, it’s exposition that one can presume will become relevant as the season and series progress; for readers, it’s potentially confirmation of R+L=J.
I certainly read it as confirmation, at least. For the show to have Barristan reflect on his time with Rhaegar in the streets of King’s Landing is one thing—his presence with Daenerys is based on his experience serving her family, and seeing her grow into a ruler would no doubt make him nostalgic. However, for that to happen in the same episode where Littlefinger recounts Rhaegar favoring Lyanna following a tournament despite them being either married or betrothed to others is suspicious, collecting back story for the characters as a rapid speed. But when you combine this with Stannis very casually remarking to Selyse that he doesn’t believe Ned Stark would ever father a bastard with a tavern wench, this is either the biggest troll job in television history or the showrunners have shown their hand on the subject that helped them get the job.
It’s possible to read this as the first significant “spoiler” caused from the show passing the books, but is it really a spoiler? The “R+L=J” theory is something I came to in reading about the show online—I cannot claim it occurred to me while reading the books, but when I was confronted by the theory it made perfect sense. This is not one of those “out there” fan theories that require numerous convoluted reworkings of existing knowledge—this is a clearly constructed mystery, answered in a way that both fits our understanding of the characters in question and works to connect Jon to the larger narrative and the series’ likely endgame. And so to see it moved from subtext to text here—including Melisandre noting there is “power” in Jon, and that he resists it—is not necessarily surprising, but it is still thrilling in light of Martin’s withholding of the same information.