As discussed in Episode 05 of Radio Westeros: A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose
Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost…
When Ned Stark is imprisoned in the Black Cells in A Game of Thrones, he has a dream about the great tourney of Harrenhal which highlights the connection between his sister Lyanna Stark and blue roses, and introduces a possible romantic element to the story of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
In fact, not only are blue roses linked to Lyanna on numerous occasions, but in most cases blood and promises are also associated. Rhaegar Targaryen is also present even in absence, his alleged actions having brought about Lyanna’s death.
The link between Lyanna and blue roses is first hinted at in Ned’s very first chapter in A Game of Thrones when, in the crypts of WInterfell, he recalls his sister’s death:
Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black.
Following this memory explicitly linking blood and roses to his sister, Ned tells King Robert: “I bring her flowers when I can… Lyanna was … fond of flowers.”
In the aftermath of Jaime Lannister’s ambush in King’s Landing, Ned has a fever dream about a certain tower in Dorne wherein the connection is drawn more strongly. The first line (“He dreamt an old dream, of three knights in white cloaks, and a tower long fallen, and Lyanna in her bed of blood“) and the last (“A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death”) work together to connect Lyanna, blue roses and blood.
Ned has another dream, the day King Robert returns from the Kingswood with his fatal wound. He is in the crypts of Winterfell and sees Lyanna’s statue:
“Promise me, Ned.” Lyanna’s statue whispered. She wore a garland of pale blue roses, and her eyes wept blood.
And the Black Cell dream we opened with continues with this passage:
Ned Stark reached out his hand to grasp the flowery crown, but beneath the pale blue petals the thorns lay hidden. He felt them clawing at his skin, sharp and cruel, saw the slow trickle of blood run down his fingers, and woke, trembling, in the dark. Promise me, Ned, his sister had whispered from her bed of blood. She had loved the scent of winter roses.
Every mention of blue roses in Ned’s point of view chapters links to Lyanna, and also involves promises, blood, or both.
A final example of the connection between Lyanna and blue roses is in Theon Greyjoy’s dream of the dead in A Clash of Kings, when he sees a “slim, sad girl who wore a crown of pale blue roses and a white gown spattered with gore” who could only be Lyanna.
As Ned Stark’s ward it’s likely Theon would know only the “official” story of Lyanna’s death, that Rhaegar Targaryen carried her away and left her to die in captivity. And yet in Theon’s dream, as in Ned’s thoughts and dreams, there is the connection made to blue roses.
So Lyanna Stark is heavily associated with blue roses, promises, and blood, and it seems like the author is trying to tell us something. What’s really curious is that, chronologically speaking, the association begins with Rhaegar Targaryen giving her blue roses.
Overall the blue roses seem to symbolize the union between Rhaegar and Lyanna. Given that fans assert that Jon Snow is secretly the direct product of that union, the blue rose can be applied as a metaphor for Jon himself, something Rhaegar has given her, as he gave her the original crown.
And in support of the blue rose representing the child, we see another blue rose in Rhaegar’s sister Daenerys’ vision in the House of the Undying:
A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice …
It’s her sworn shield Jorah Mormont who later clarifies that this blue flower was in fact a blue rose. And that particular blue rose fits Jon Snow very well, with his proximity in the story to the wall of ice that forms the northern border of Westeros.
The connection of blue roses with blood would seem to indicate Lyanna’s death is related to the child, as represented by the roses. The promises are assumed to be the ones Ned made to her to protect her son as she lay dying in an abandoned watchtower in Dorne.
But so far, beyond the crown at the tourney, none of these connections presuppose a romantic element. So let’s fast forward now to A Storm of Swords when Meera Reed tells Bran Stark the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree at the tourney of Harrenhal.
On a metatextual level, it’s commonly accepted that Lyanna Stark donned armor and entered the lists as a mystery knight, seeking to teach a trio of bullying squires she had caught tormenting her friend Howland Reed a lesson in honor.
Howland’s daughter Meera goes on to tell Bran the aftermath of the Knight’s victory and subsequent disappearance:
That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each swore they would unmask [the knight], and the king himself urged men to challenge him, declaring that the face behind that helm was no friend of his. But the next morning, when the heralds blew their trumpets and the king took his seat, only two champions appeared. The Knight of the Laughing Tree had vanished. The king was wroth, and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree. It was the dragon prince who won that tourney in the end.
This passage supports the idea that Rhaegar might have unmasked Lyanna as the mystery knight. Knowledge of the knight’s identity might have led to a desire to honor Lyanna in some way, and would explain Rhaegar’s otherwise inexplicable action in crowning Lyanna as queen of love and beauty.
A meeting of the two young people before the crowning also opens the possibility that there was a window for a romance to develop. Add to that Bran’s subsequent declaration to Meera Reed that the mystery knight should have won the tourney:
…the mystery knight should win the tourney, defeating every challenger, and name the wolf maid the queen of love and beauty.
If Lyanna was the mystery knight, in a sense she did win when Rhaegar presented her with the crown of blue roses. Meera goes on to tell Bran that the wolf maid was crowned, but that the end of the story is “rather sad”, indicating that the tale doesn’t end with the tourney.
The symbolic connection between Lyanna Stark and blue roses, along with blood and promises, and Rhaegar Targaryen and Jon Snow, lends much weight to Rhaegar and Lyanna as the parents of Jon Snow.
Much has been written about the story of Rhaegar and Lyanna, Ned Stark’s thoughts on the Targaryen prince, the identity of the knight, the Tourney of Harrenhal, and the connection of it all with Jon Snow. We discuss these things and more in our podcast “A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose.”
For a more in depth look at the symbolism of blue roses and their connection to Lyanna Stark, a friend of ours has done some writing on the subject at westeros.org, in a thread called Jon Snow and the Blue Winter Rosetta Stone.