Beyond The Wall

Daenerys & Jon's Potentially Taboo 'Thrones' Romance Is Real And Raises Questions

daenerys and jon snow incest romance
HBO

Sparks are flying at Dragonstone.

They may be embroiled in political conflict, but Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are forming a mutual attraction. It's obvious in their tense interactions, Davos's playful insinuations, and the words of Game of Thrones creator David Benioff, who confirmed after the fourth episode of Season 7, "The Spoils of War," that the dueling monarchs are falling for each other. "There's conflict between powerful people," he said. "And then to make it all even more complicated, they're starting to be attracted to each other."

The clues of a potential courtship (or something more immediate) run so deep that in the episode's cave scene, where Jon shows Daenerys the ancient drawings of the Children of the Forest, featured a musical cue that mashes both characters' previous love themes. No, Game of Thrones fandom, you are not dreaming.

A Jon and Daenerys love plot has long-seemed inevitable. The characters' respective iconography -- Jon's snowy Northernness, Dany's inferno-blazing dragons -- are the foundation of the series' title, A Song of Ice and Fire. Melisandre says as much in the third episode of the season, "The Queen's Justice," after Jon arrives at Dragonstone: "I've done my part. I've brought ice and fire together." A romance is the next logical step in what has so far been a sparring back-and-forth, Jon desperate for Dany's help to stop the White Walkers, and Dany's stubborn insistence that Jon bend the knee and surrender the North. Their interactions are fraught, but heavy with subtext. The dragon queen and the white wolf are falling in love.

But because this is Game of Thrones, and happy things are never so easy, there's the little matter of lineage: If R+L=J is indeed a reality, and Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, that makes Daenerys his aunt, which… complicates things. Can we root for an incestuous romance?

Of course, the Targaryens have a storied history of intermarriage. Dany's parents – and Jon's likely grandparents – were brother and sister, as were their parents. Targaryen incest is a trademark of the house, a practice adopted from their native Valyria.

Still, it's a hard pill to swallow. Just how weird would it be if Jon and Dany hooked up? For that, we need to take a look at the Westerosi views on incest, and some real-world examples that may shed insight on the uncomfortable, but resonant pairing.

cersei and jaime incest
HBO

Incest is taboo in Westeros -- to an extent

For the most part, incest is frowned upon in the Seven Kingdoms. In fact, according to George R.R. Martin's source material, it's considered a cardinal sin, along with kinslaying and violating guest rights – a taboo trifecta the Lannisters had no trouble clearing. The arrival of Aegon the Conquerer, who invaded Westeros and established the Targaryen dynasty, challenged religious views on the practice when he took the crown. (In addition to incest, Aegon also practiced polygamy: he was married to his two sisters.)

Soon after Aegon's death, the Faith Militant tried to banish the Targaryen habit of intermarriage -- which they maintained in an effort to "keep bloodlines pure" -- but were unsuccessful. Incest was still widely seen as an abomination, but the Targaryens were considered a royal exception.

When the Targaryens were defeated during Robert's Rebellion, incest was once again outlawed. However, something important to note is that cousin marriages weren't considered illegal in Westeros and were, in fact, a fairly standard practice. Jaime and Cersei's parents, Tywin and Joanna, were first cousins, and Ned Stark's parents were first cousins once removed. That means both of Jon's assumed parents – Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar – were the product of incest to varying degrees.

So, assuming Jon and Dany get together, does the cousin thing mean their relationship might escape taboo? Not quite. Avunculate marriage – or, marriage between aunt-nephew or uncle-niece – is as frowned upon as brother-sister unions, due to a higher percentage of shared DNA than that of first cousins. This probably wouldn't bother Daenerys – in the books, she assumes she'd have married either her brother Viserys or her nephew Aegon had circumstances been different, and grew up with the knowledge of her Targaryen heritage. Jon, on the other hand, was raised by the Starks of Winterfell, who worshipped the anti-incest Old Gods. He'll almost certainly have an aversion to bedding his aunt, unless the apocalyptic threat of the White Walkers rewires his Northern dignity.

Of course, the new world order in Westeros has superseded established norms. Jon, a bastard, was named King of the North, after all. Maybe with the looming White Walker threat, an aunt-nephew romance is a low-priority problem.

daenerys is cleopatra
HBO/20th Century Fox

There's historical context for Targaryen intermarriage

George R.R. Martin based the Targaryen dynasty on Ptolemaic Egypt, of which Cleopatra was a member. Cleopatra's paternal grandparents were brother and sister, her maternal grandparents were uncle and niece, her parents were cousins, and she married her two brothers. Martin has said of the inspiration, "The Targaryens have heavily interbred, like the Ptolemys of Egypt. As any horse or dog breeder can tell you, interbreeding accentuates both flaws and virtues, and pushes a lineage toward the extremes."

Another notable Egyptian, King Tutankhamun, was also a product of incest: his excavated remains showed that his parents were siblings.

European monarchs also took part in intermarriage, many in avunculate relationships. Philip II of Spain was married to his niece, Anna of Austria, who was his fourth wife – his first two were also his cousins, and their family was so inbred that many had jaw deformities, known as the "Habsburg jaw." Joanna of Naples married her nephew, Ferdinand II. Charles II of Austria married his niece, Maria Anna of Bavaria. Francis IV, Duke of Modena, married his niece, Maria Beatrice of Savoy. Even French philosopher Voltaire lived and slept with his niece, Marie Louise Mignot. Game of Thrones might be fantasy, but when it comes to romance, the inter-familial love connections are the real deal.

dany and jon
HBO

Jon and Daenerys are different than most traditional avunculate partnerships

Yes, there's Westerosian and real-world precedence for the relationship Jon and Dany are likely to enter, but there's one notable difference between their circumstance and those who came before: they don't know that they're related, so their attraction is natural, not strategic. This should make things even messier when all is finally revealed. If Jon is Rhaegar's legitimate heir, he's a threat to Daenerys's claim. That could throw a wrench in both a potential romance and a secured family bond.

But maybe they won't care. As Maester Aemon said back in Season 5, "A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing." Perhaps the sheer relief of knowing they aren't alone will strengthen their relationship, instead of crumbling it.

In a piece for the National Geographic, David Dobbs wrote of royal incest that it "occurs mainly in societies where rulers have tremendous power and no peers, except the gods. Since gods marry each other, so should royals." If Jon and Daenerys are – as many predict – Azor Ahai reborn in two bodies, the "song of ice and fire," do standard rules of morality even imply, or is their love a transcendent and predestined force comparable to that of gods? It's a question sure to plague them – and the audience – going forward.

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Lindsey Romain is a writer and editor living in Chicago. She covers politics for Teen Vogue and has also appeared in Vulture, Birth.Movies.Death, and more. Follow her on Twitter @lindseyromain.