Anecdota

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Knight of the Laughing Tree: how did Jon Snow’s parents meet?


Twenty years before the main story of Game
of Thrones, there was a great tournament held at the castle of Harrenhal . This was like,
the biggest high school house party in Westeros – everyone was there, drinking, feasting,
hanging out, hooking up, trading secrets, raising drama – and all these years later,
people are still talking about what happened those nights – who got the most drunk, who
hooked up with who, who was plotting to overthrow the government – that sorta stuff . We don’t
know the details of much that happened, cause we only learn of the tourney through memory
and rumour. But we do hear one mysterious story – about
the Knight of the Laughing Tree. In Book 3, Meera Reed tells Bran Stark the
story. It begins in the Neck, a swampy region north
of the riverlands . The story follows a crannogman – a young man from the Neck, and though
Meera never says his name, it’s implied that the lad is a young Howland Reed – the
father of Meera and Jojen. From his home in the Neck, Howland travelled
south to the Isle of Faces, an island in the riverlands sacred to the old gods and inhabited
by a mysterious people called the green men . Howland stayed there through winter, and
when he left, he came to castle of Harrenhal, where the tournament was beginning. Meera lists some of the people who were there
– and again she doesn’t say their names, but we can figure them out by their titles
and heraldry. There’s “The king”, Aerys Targaryen,
“with his son the dragon prince” Rhaegar – cause this all takes place before Robert’s
Rebellion when the Targaryens still ruled Westeros. There are “The White Swords” – the Kingsguard
– who’d come “to welcome a new brother to their ranks” – a young Jaime Lannister
was about to join the Kingsguard. “The storm lord”, Robert Baratheon was
there, “and the rose lord”, Mace Tyrell. But “The great lion of the rock”, Tywin
Lannister, didn’t come – he was angry with Aerys for taking Jaime into the Kingsguard,
and for refusing to marry Rhaegar to Cersei – Rhaegar instead married Elia Martell,
she’s here as well. So the young Howland from the Neck saw all
these important people at this great castle, the knights and banners, the food and laughter
, and he was excited to be a part of it . But as he was “walking across [a] field”,
“enjoying the … day and harming none”, he was attacked by three young squires . There’s
a lot of racism against the crannogmen of the Neck – people call them “mud-men”
and “frog-eaters” . The squires believed this was their world, and the crannogman Howland
“had no right to be there”. So they hit him and kicked him and cursed
him until he was saved by a “she-wolf” – Lyanna Stark. Lyanna drove off the squires with a blunted
sword and took Howland back her tent to treat his injuries. There, Howland met Lyanna’s brothers – “the
wild wolf” Brandon Stark – who dies before Robert’s Rebellion so he isn’t in the
show – “the quiet wolf” Eddard Stark, and “the pup” Benjen Stark . They’re
all teenagers back then – Brandon’s about nineteen, Ned was eighteen, Lyanna bout fifteen
and Benjen about fourteen. Howland was sixteen or so. Lyanna insisted that Howland come sit with
the Starks at the feast, so that night “he ate and drank with the” northmen, and took
in the sights of the feast. He saw Prince Rhaegar sing “a song so sad
it made” Lyanna cry – this is the first mention of a connection between these two. And he saw “a maid with laughing purple
eyes”, Ashara Dayne, dance with a Kingsguard, and with Oberyn Martell, and Jon Connington,
and with Ned Stark – after Ned got Brandon to ask Ashara for the dance, cause Ned was
too shy . There are rumours of a relationship between Ned and Ashara – some say that Ned
got Ashara pregnant, others think it might have been Brandon – whoever it was, a year
later, Ashara had a stillborn child, and her brother Arthur was killed – by Ned and Howland
– and Ashara committed suicide – so we might never know the truth. Later at the feast, Howland spotted the squires
who attacked him, and saw they each served a knight – one of House Haigh, one of House
Blount, and one of House Frey . The Starks suggested that Howland should win back his
honour by beating the knights in the tournament – but Howland wasn’t much good at riding
and jousting and thought he’d just make a fool of himself. That night he went out by the lake and looked
to the Isle of Faces and prayed to the old gods of the north. Later at the tournament, the knights of Haigh,
Blount and Frey did well in the jousting, but late one afternoon, a new challenger appeared
– a mystery knight, with his name and face hidden, identified only by weirwood tree with
a laughing face painted on his shield. This Knight of the Laughing Tree challenged
the Haigh, Blount and Frey knights, and defeated each of them at jousting. He gave them back their horses and armour
only after the knights punished their squires for having attacked Howland – and so the
crannogman’s honour was restored, and all the crowd cheered for the mystery knight. King Aerys, though, was not a fan. Aerys was mad, and paranoid, and he saw the
Tree Knight as his enemy – so he sent his son Rhaegar to find out who the Tree Knight
was, but apparently “all they ever found was [the Knight’s] painted shield, hanging
… in a tree”. And so the story of the Knight of the Laughing
Tree ends with a mystery – who was the knight? The story leads us to believe that the Knight
was Howland Reed – and Howland would fit some of the details we’re given about the
Knight. The Knight’s said to be “short of stature”
and Howland was “small” , and the Knight is “clad in ill-fitting armor made up of
bits and pieces” , as Howland would’ve been if had to scrounge armour together to
compete. But we’re also told pretty clearly that
Howland isn’t good at riding and jousting – he feared he’d make a fool of himself
if he entered the tourney . In the story Meera suggests that the old gods or the green men
of the Isle heard Howland’s prayers by the lake , and “gave strength to his arm”
so he could win back his honour. Which is nice enough for a fairytale. But Game of Thrones isn’t the sort of world
where the weak can beat the strong by just being righteous and brave and believing in
themselves. Littlefinger learned that in his duel with
Brandon Stark . As for the old gods, they really don’t seem to be the benevolent divine
intervention sorta type – they’re more into blood sacrifice, all that heavy Old Testament
shit . Would they really bother answering the prayers of a teenager who wants to win
a joust? That’s just isn’t consistent with what
we’ve seen of gods and magic in this series. The other important reason why the Knight
probably isn’t Howland is because Bran tells us that he thinks the Knight is Howland. What sort of mystery is that, if we’re immediately
given the right answer? Usually the way mysteries work in this series
is that we’re given an obvious answer at first – like, that Jon Snow is the bastard
son of Ned Stark, or that Jon Arryn was poisoned by the Lannisters – but we later find out
that the truth is something more complex – that Jon Snow is actually Lyanna Stark’s son,
and that Jon Arryn was actually poisoned by Lysa, for Littlefinger. So what’s the deeper, more complex truth
to the mystery of the Knight of the Laughing Tree? When Meera tells this story, Jojen seems really
surprised that Bran hasn’t already heard the tale from his father Ned . This may suggest
that Ned, or someone close to him was the mystery knight. Maybe it was one of the Stark boys. Benjen, Ned and Brandon each would’ve made
a better knight than Howland Reed. The Starks were trained to ride and fight,
so they wouldn’t have needed divine intervention to plausibly win a few jousts. Brandon, especially, was said to be good at
riding and fighting, and he was described as hot-blooded, and rash – a “gallant
fool” . So standing up for Howland by riding in the tourney fits pretty well with what
we know of his personality. There are problems with Brandon, though, cause
Brandon was “tall” , so even at the age of nineteen, he might not have fit the mystery
knight’s short stature. Also, it doesn’t make much sense for Brandon
to enter the tourney as a mystery knight, cause he later rides in the tourney as himself
– why would he choose to ride in disguise in the first place? Another possibility is Ned. He was younger and shorter than Brandon , so
he might fit the Knight’s small stature. And Ned riding for Howland in the tourney
might help explain how Howland became such a loyal friend to Ned . However, even as a
young man Ned’s described as “solemn” and “somber” . He’s responsible and
reserved, with “a certain distaste for the … pageantry of tourneys” . Joining in
a joust as a mystery knight, with a shield of a “laughing” tree is not exactly Ned’s
style. He’s not so showy and theatrical. So Ned’s not a great fit for the Knight
of the Laughing Tree either. Maybe it was Benjen. Benjen was fourteen or younger then, so he’d
fit the Knight’s short stature. And Benjen was the one to offer Howland armour
and horse to ride in the tourney , so he was enthusiastic about someone competing. But on the other hand, at fourteen years of
age, Ben was very young and there’s no suggestion in the text that he was particularly good
at riding or fighting or jousting so he doesn’t seem a very likely Knight either. All three Stark boys could maybe be the Tree
Knight, but none are very convincing. A more likely answer to this mystery is Lyanna
Stark. As a teenage girl, Lyanna could fit the Knight’s
short stature, and “ill-fitting armor”. And she certainly has motivation to help Howland
– she was the one to come defend him in the first place. Competing in the tourney also fits well with
her personality – she’s described as “wild”, “willful”, and “boyish” , she’s
said to be like Arya – and fighting to help out a friend is exactly the sort of thing
Arya would do. Lyanna being the Knight also adds a cool twist
in having the Knight who everyone assumed to be a man turn out to be a girl. At one point in the story Meera describes
the Knight’s voice “booming” through his helm – maybe the echoeyness of the Knight’s
helmet helped disguise Lyanna’s voice. Of course, it is questionable whether a fifteen
year old girl would be strong enough to use a lance in a joust , but in Winds, there’s
another fifteen-year-old girl, Elia Sand, who jousts so much they call her Lady Lance
– a perfect precedent for Lyanna to joust also. Further, we’re told a bunch of times that
Lyanna was a very good horse rider – Roose Bolton says that Lyanna “was half a horse”,
and he also says in the same paragraph that “A great jouster must be a great horseman”
. Jaime Lannister agrees, thinking that jousting is three-quarters horsemanship . The text
directly links the idea of riding being important for jousting to the fact that Lyanna was great
at riding – a pretty strong hint that Lyanna could have done well in a tourney. So Lyanna fits the Knight of the Laughing
Tree quite well – but the most convincing reasons for why Lyanna was probably the mystery
knight relate to how this would fit with the broader story. It’s very very interesting that we’re
specifically told that King Aerys sent his son Rhaegar to find and unmask the Knight
of the Laughing Tree. Because later in this same tournament, Prince
Rhaegar publicly crowns Lyanna as his Queen of Love and Beauty, and later, he runs away
with Lyanna, leading to Robert’s Rebellion , the deaths of Rhaegar and Lyanna, and the
birth of Jon Snow. Maybe the fateful relationship between Lyanna
and Rhaegar all began when Rhaegar was sent to find the Knight of the Laughing Tree. We’re told that no one found the Knight,
but what if Rhaegar did and chose to keep Lyanna’s secret? Maybe he was impressed by her boldness in
riding in the tourney. We already know Lyanna wept at the beauty
of Rhaegar’s harp earlier. Maybe they hit it off. They say there’s nothing “like a tourney
to make the blood run hot” – so “maybe some words were whispered in a tent of a night”,
“Words or kisses, maybe more” maybe this is how Lyanna and Rhaegar, ice and fire, first
fell in love. It’s also very interesting that the place
where all this happens, and the place where Rhaegar later quote-unquote abducts Lyanna
is so close to the Isle of Faces. There are theories that Rhaegar and Lyanna
secretly got married on the Isle of Faces, with the weirwoods all round – so that psychic
Bran can later have a vision of the wedding and R+L=J can finally be revealed. This all very speculative, but it fits so
well with what we know, and paints a beautiful picture of a tragic love story between Lyanna
Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, a story that all begins with the Knight of the Laughing
Tree. So given how well this all fits, and given
the hints of Lyanna’s riding ability and personality, it seems pretty likely that Lyanna
is our mystery knight. But we’ll also have a quick look at a crazier
theory. As we saw in Season 6, Bran Stark’s greensight
tree-magic psychic powers can lead to some pretty wacky timey-wimey shenanigans, like
when he broke the mind of Hodor by reaching through his past self to make the Hodor of
the present “hold the door”. Some fans believe that something similar could
have happened with the Knight of the Laughing Tree – that when Howland prayed to the old
gods, Bran answers his prayers from the future by warging into past-Howland, taking the identity
of the mystery knight – with a weirwood on his shield – and using some manner of
old gods magic to win the jousts and restore Howland’s honour. This fits some of the talk of magic mentioned
in Meera’s story , and it also gives Bran the chance to be something he’s always dreamed
of being – a knight . After Meera tells the story of the Tree Knight, Bran thinks
that he’d love to be a knight for a day. “A day would be enough”, he thinks. Maybe with the magic of the old gods he got
that one day at the tourney of Harrenhal. So yeah the magic time-travel theories are
kinda ridiculous, but it has happened before, and these ideas can have some nice thematic
resonance. But it was probably Lyanna. We’ll talk more about Lyanna and Rhaegar
before Season 7 arrives, but you might like to go back and watch the Season 6 Episode
10 video – Rhaegar and Lyanna and Jon are explained about 14 minutes in. Thanks for watching this video. As ever, these theories and ideas mostly come
from the Game of Thrones fan community – go check out westeros.org and the subreddits. Thanks to the translators for translating
captions, thanks to The Mico for use of his art, and thanks to the Patrons who make Alt
Shift X possible, including Paige Marchus-Stewart, Natalie Woo, Jason Gray Jr, Walt Mayfield,
and History of Westeros – a podcast you should all check out, link below. Cheers!

100 thoughts on “Knight of the Laughing Tree: how did Jon Snow’s parents meet?

  1. Me at the beginning: Such a random little tale, why make a video about it?

    Me at the end: Holy shit, this story started the events of Game of Thrones.

  2. I personally think there was something between Rhaegar and Lyanna before this tournament. I think the two were seriously bummed because Aerys had now hooked Rhaegar up with the Martell babe and that the song he sings was secretly an ode to the forbidden love between Rhaegar and Lyanna. That would explain why Lyanna cried when she heard it. I think Rhaegar might have guessed who the knight of the laughing tree was and maybe he actually volunteered for the search to keep Lyanna safe from his father or just to spend some time alone together.

  3. "You never heard this tale from your father?" "Your lord father never told it to you?"
    Ned has been consistently taciturn with all matters Lyanna. Why not with this tale too?

  4. Agree about Lyanna; but, the Bran theory? There’s no evidence I can think of that would allow Bran to use Old Magic to enhance his physical skills when he wargs. If I remember correctly he can only use the physical traits present: Summer’s wolf-senses, Hodor’s strength, etc. However, Bran can only use them to HIS ability/experience. I would argue that because he never grew to learn and be proficient at riding and jousting, using Howland’s past-self aaa the Laughing Knight would be moot.

  5. Basically Tournament of Harrenhaal was the final moment of serenity before massive piles of dragon shit hit the fans.

  6. I've only just discovered all of these amazing videos (and I'm in love), but I'm starting to realise how incredible the fans of GoT are… In the video, you mention a theory some fans came up with about how Lyanna and Rhaegar could have gotten married on the conveniently close Isle of Faces, all so that Bran would be able to have a vision about it in the future etc. etc., and now, after finished all of GoT up until S07, I know that's ACTUALLY WHAT HAPPENED. Similar things have happened in other videos where you talk about or mention fan theories and they end up being relatively, if not almost completely, accurate. GoT fans are SO GODDAMN SMART!!

  7. Ahh, the good ol’ days of highschool house parties… Discussing overthrowing governments over games of beer pong

  8. Of all the people making these theory videos, yours are the best. Very good, precise and multi-faceted analysis! Thank you!

  9. But how was Benjen too young to compete and Lyanna wasnt? Benjen was 14 (almost a man grown) and Lyanna 15, and that makes her strong enough to compete and unhorse 3 full grown knights? I dont think so. And what about the booming voice?

  10. It was Brynden Rivers the Bloodraven. Reed prayed to the old gods, to the laughing tree and Bloodraven responded warging into Reed and creating the circumstances which would bring Bran to him and Jon Snow into the world. That could be at least one reason Aerys II was afraid of the mysterious knight (besides being crazy).

  11. One other piece of evidence that points to it being Lyanna: the Reeds are surprised that Ned never mentioned the story to Bran. Ned knows it was Lyanna but buries all the memories of her deep to protect the promise he made to her: keep Jon Snow safe. Also, to Howland Reed it was just a cool thing that happened to him, but to Ned it was the start of a tragedy that would end in the deaths of basically his entire family.

  12. Lyana is the laughing knight. That's how she met the Prince. He fell in love with her and that why he gave he the 💐.

  13. Did anyone fucking realize he basically predicted Season 7 ending before it happened…. Just me??? Oh okay

  14. I’ll be waiting every single day to see Lyanna saving Howlan Reeds ass and then riding a dragon in the same day!!!

  15. the knight of the laughing tree is actually Ryan Gosling from the future who warged into Rhaegar Targaryen and then wanted to try out his jousting skills on three snotty brats. Ryan won that, but what people don't know is that Heath Ledger actually warged into Rhaegar for the real tourney. he ended up winning it all and today we have a movie that is loosely based on Heath warging into the past – A Knight's Tale.

  16. In the books this is fantastic…in the show it may get a one minute flashback. Not many hours left and a lot of questions to answer

  17. Shouldn't it be; "R+L=A"?

    (As opposed to; "R+L=J"?)

    I'm just sayin'.

    If it's some big, "truth," that Rhaegar and Lyanna were actually in love, doesn't it make more sense to continue the whole, "truth," concept, by being accurate about the real name of their child?!

    I mean, Everyone was told, so they thought that his name was Jon.
    And everyone was told, so they thought that he was Ned Stark's bastard, and so the, "common wisdom," was that his name was Jon Snow.
    But, Everyone was also told, and so they thought, that Rhaegar abducted and raped Lyanna.

    But, if it's actually been proven true that he is the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna, and that his name is really Aegon Targaryen, shouldn't we all be saying;
    R+L=A?

  18. I REALLY hope we get the Knight of the Laughing Tree vision in Season 8!!!!! Do u think we will??? (And I 100% agree it’s lyanna & how she met Rhaegar)❤️

  19. If they were going to do a spin off series, a Roberts rebellion tale starting with these events could be really great.

  20. One thing I really don't like is that, producers always pick "little, fragile girl" and try to make her "warrior kind". Be reasonable. If Lyana was kind of "strong and boyish", her body should follow it.
    The only "character" I would tell is "correct" is Lady Brian, where she was really shown as "strong" woman.
    And I don't tell, Lyana should be the "bodybuilder", but her body should follow basic physic rights: no muscles = no strength.

  21. I’d say that Ned helped Lyanna put her plan into action. It explains why Howland likes Ned after the tourney, but also let’s Lyanna be the one who actually does it. Ned loved his sister, so would obviously help her in her quest.
    Ned and the brothers could’ve helped her gather the armor and shield and thus plan the seed for Robert’s Rebellion.

  22. Howland Reed never told his child about the Robert rebellion because he feel he was the one responsible of Robert rebellion if he didnt bullied lyanna will not become the knight of the laughing tree and rhaegar will not fall in love with lyanna and entar rebellion will not happen

  23. i agree that the knight of the laughing tree could have been lyanna since she beat off those three squires on her own…bad to the bone.

    something just came to mind after watching a recap and i am wondering if drogon was pregnant or seeking out other dragons in asshai because there was a time that danearys hadnt seen him for quite some time when she was in mureen and the other two were pissed with her and wouldnt let her really come near them, so something happened that drogon was gone for such a long time

    also eddard knew that lyanna was a great warrior and when he saw arya as capable and even that look on his face when he saw her learning to fight with serio he may have thought about his sister at that moment

  24. And here we are knowing what we know now! I have zero doubt that the Knight of the Laughing Tree was Lyanna Stark. She defended Howland Reed's honor and in return he kept the secret of Jon Snow's true identity all these years. It works out perfectly as he is the only living person that can confirm Jon Snow's identity. We also now have Arya, that like her Aunt Lyanna was a badass!! Now I want to see how Bran as the Three-Eyed Raven ties in to all of this. All of his visions that were shown to him by the original 3ER were very intentional! They showed him ways/lessons on how the truth/memories can be altered. Lyanna was amazing like Arya, but because they were women no one suspected them (to be the Knight of the Laughing Tree or to kill the Night King). Seeing what happened to Hodor was a lesson about how meddling in the present while in the past can still alter history. The Tower of Joy had a few lessons. One was how people remember things vs. how they really happen – Ned killing Dayne and becoming a legend, when it was actually Reed that saved him. Two being the part where Bran called out to his father and he paused and turned around. The second time Bran goes back to the vision he doesn't call out his father's name, but his father still stops and turns around. I think these lessons helped Bran/3ER learn how to put Arya in a position to be trained to become "No One" and to sneak up on the Night King without him seeing it coming. We were all distracted by prophesies that better fit other characters while Bran/3ER was manipulating Arya's destiny all along.

  25. I mean… I feel like it was always implied that it was Lyanna who did it, from the start. Lyanna rescues him at the start, Lyanna wants him to stand up for himself, she's described as a "She-Wolf" and from what we know about her is a lot like Arya, and the idea of Rhaegar being sent after the night only to discover it was Lyanna Stark creates a nice start to their relationship. I never got the impression it was supposed to be Howland.

  26. Just watching this now, but I’m sold on Lyanna being the knight. Assuming you put this together on your own, it was a well put together theory. It makes sense (to me) that a girl would be the mystery knight since there should be no other reason for the knight to hide their identity.

  27. I mean "it's out of his character" is a better reason for the knight to be masked and mysterious than not. I don't think that discounts Ned

  28. I think it should be Howland… Howland becomes pretty capable seeing as only him and Ned survived the battle against the Arthur Dayne, Oswell Whent, and Gerold Hightower. That is a feat greater than Jousting I think.

  29. Regardless of how the books play out, Bran will definitely do some time traveling to change big events (bran builder?). …. Quite unlike season 8

  30. I thought Aegon targereon was the son of lyanna and rhaegar? The one varys and Illyria want on the throne?

  31. Fits well with what you mentioned at the start, foreshadowing what overthrew the Targaeryan reign, thats why the Mad King hated the knight. Perhaps whispers in his ear from Bran or Bloodraven.

  32. I might be a suck, but I wish Rhaegar and Lyanna didn't die D: I know the story would obviously be completely different, but the story sounds so damn hot. Partly because Rhaegar looked like a cutie

  33. "…first we're given an obvious answer"

    Like, when Roose Bolton died, stabbed by his bastard, but in reality he was poisoned by his enemies?

  34. Dissapointing Bran doesnt show us a vision of this moment from the past. It would have made the final season a little more monumental.

  35. Also lances and weapons in general compered to popular belief are not particularly heavy

  36. it’s worth noting that Lyanna saves Howland from the squires by beating them with a wooden tourney sword.

  37. I always wonder why the Tully's were never mwntioned at the tourney, I mean hardball is in the riverlands, you'd think they would be there..

  38. I think its plausible that Lyanna is the knight of the laughing tree but some of the logic is just overthought and wrong headed. You say that ASOIF is not a fantasy where the weak can beat the strong but its a fantasy where a 15 year old girl can beat 3 seasoned knights, all grown men in a combat sport? You then say Benjen a 14 year old boy may be too young and therefore not strong enough to beat said knights but, Lyanna a year older and a girl is strong enough? Neither of those statements are logical.

  39. Form now on I will plot overthrow the government during my party's
    Also I think the old gods would help someone win back there

  40. Brandon Stark – The Wild Wolf

    Ned Stark – The Quiet Wolf

    Lyanna Stark – The She Wolf

    Benjen Stark – The wolf pup, The Lone Wolf

    Catelyn Stark – The Mother Wolf

    Jon Snow – The White Wolf

    Robb Stark – The Young Wolf

    Sansa Stark – The Wise Wolf

    Arya Stark – The Wolf Girl

    Bran Stark – The Wolf King

    Rickon Stark – The Fierce Wolf

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