Game of Thrones’ biggest secret wasn’t kept quiet for too long once Jon Snow discovered he was a Targaryen, with several characters having already been aware of his true parentage. At the end of Game of Thrones season 7, it’s officially confirmed that Jon Snow is both a Stark and a Targaryen, the trueborn son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. They had been quietly married shortly before Rhaegar was killed by Robert and Lyanna died during childbirth. Jon was raised as the bastard son of Ned Stark, with his honorable adoptive father never revealing the identity of his mother as Lyanna had asked Ned to protect her son as Jon would likely be killed by Robert if his true parentage was revealed.
As expected, Ned kept his word to Lyanna, with Jon only finding out his true name is Aegon Targaryen at the beginning of Game of Thrones season 8. Both a Stark and a Targaryen, the reveal of Jon’s parentage also meant that he was the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, which got in the way of his loyalty to (and romance with) Queen Daenerys Targaryen. While Jon initially tried to keep his Targaryen blood a secret, the word quickly got out as his supporters, such as his sister Lady Sansa Stark, wanted him to vie for the throne over Dany. Jon’s parentage was Westeros’ best-kept secret for over 25 years, but once it spread to Jon himself, quickly became common knowledge among Westeros’ nobility.
However, while HBO’s Game of Thrones answered the question of Jon’s parentage, the A Song of Ice and Fire books have yet to do so. While the prominent theory still remains that Jon’s parents are Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, the books haven’t confirmed so, with Jon and the rest of Westeros still believing him to be the bastard son of Ned Stark. There are still theories among those of Westeros as to who his mother is, with only a few characters seemingly knowing for sure, if their hypotheses are correct. Here’s a breakdown of everyone in Game of Thrones who knew that Jon Snow was a Targaryen before he found out himself, including book characters.
In both Game of Thrones and the books, Ned Stark is the only character confirmed to have known about Jon’s true parentage since he was born. In Game of Thrones season 6, the Three-Eyed Raven takes Bran back in time to when Lyanna died after giving birth to a baby, with Lyanna simply saying “promise me, Ned” before giving him the child. It isn’t until the end of season 7 that the identity of the baby is confirmed to be Jon Snow, proving that Ned was always just his uncle who had to live with the secret of knowing Lyanna and Rhaegar had a child together. Understanding that Robert would kill Jon, a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen, if he found out the truth, Ned also lied to his best friend for the remainder of their lives, with most of Westeros believing that Jon was the son of Ned and a woman he met on the road at war. Although making Jon his bastard son put a public stain on Ned Stark’s honor as he seemingly cheated on Catelyn, Game of Thrones reveals that Ned had kept his honor all along, as he was maintaining a promise he made to his dying sister. While Game of Thrones’ books still hint that Ned could truly be Jon’s father, the only certainty about Ned is that he’s the one person who is confirmed to know Jon’s parentage.
Game of Thrones’ Ned flashback revealed that he wasn’t the only character who knew about Jon all along, as his friend Howland Reed, the father of Jojen and Meera, was there with him when Lyanna died. Since Ned would have to explain why he left the tower with a baby in his arms and his sister deceased, it’s clear Howland at least knew that Jon was never truly the son of Ned Stark. Even if Ned hadn’t directly told Howland that Jon’s father was Rhaegar Targaryen, anyone in the realm could have guessed as much. The story went that Rhaegar Targaryen had kidnapped Lyanna, raped her, then killed her, so finding Lyanna with a baby would have to mean he was Rhaegar’s. While Howland wasn’t in the tower with Ned in Game of Thrones’ series, he was the one who finally pulled Ned away from Lyanna’s dead body in the books. Author George R.R. Martin revealed that Howland Reed won’t be a POV character in the A Song of Ice and Fire books because he knows too much, hinting he does also know the identity of Jon’s parents in the novels.
Although Bran Stark hasn’t gleaned the truth about Jon Snow in the books, he was the first character to confirm his parents as Lyanna and Rhaegar in Game of Thrones. The end of Game of Thrones season 6 sees Bran discover in a vision with the Three-Eyed Raven that Jon was truly Lyanna’s son, with the details of his father coming about in season 7. Bran had already come to understand that Jon was the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, but believed that he was still a bastard until Sam helped fill in the information on their secret marriage. Game of Thrones’ season 7 finale then saw the Three-Eyed Raven Bran enter a vision in which he watched the marriage of Lyanna Stark to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, confirming that Jon, really Aegon Targaryen, was their trueborn son and rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
The last person to find out about Jon Snow being a Targaryen before the character himself was his best friend Samwell Tarly, who learned the information from Bran Stark. When Bran and Samwell meet at the end of Game of Thrones season 7, Bran explains that Jon needs to know the truth about himself, with the new Three-Eyed Raven trusting the soon-to-be Grand Maester with such information. However, Sam had already unintentionally discovered the full truth about Jon’s parentage when at the Citadel with Gilly. Gilly had read in High Septon Maynard’s diary that he had annulled Rhaegar’s marriage with Elia Martell, and had later secretly married Rhaegar to another woman in Dorne. When Game of Thrones‘ Samwell Tarly hears from Bran that Rhaegar and Lyanna are Jon’s parents, he realizes that the secret woman Rhaegar married was Lyanna Stark, making Jon not just their legitimate son, but also a Targaryen heir.
Game of Thrones season 1 features a quick mention of Wylla when Robert and Ned eat a meal together, with the two reminiscing about their time during the rebellion. Robert asks about the mother of Ned’s bastard, whom Ned confirms as “Wylla.” Ned never again mentions Wylla, and dies before he can tell Jon the truth about his mother. While Wylla isn’t the true mother of Jon in Game of Thrones’ series, it’s still possible that she is in the books. George R.R. Martin’s books describe Wylla as a wet nurse who had served House Dayne for many years, though it’s unclear how she met Ned. However, the character Edric “Ned” Dayne tells the adventurous Arya Stark that he and her brother Jon Snow are “milk brothers,” as they were both nursed by Wylla as babies. Dayne was born several years after Jon Snow and Ned left, so he doesn’t know the true circumstances of their time at Starfall, but believes that Wylla is Jon’s mother.
It’s also been suggested that even if Wylla isn’t Jon Snow’s mother in the books, she at least knows some of the truth behind his parentage. Game of Thrones‘ books confirm that Ned went to Starfall following Lyanna’s death because he had to return House Dayne’s ancestral sword after killing Ser Arthur Dayne, with it being likely that Wylla was simply the wet nurse for Jon during their stay there. Wylla has also been speculated to have been the wet nurse present while Lyanna gave birth to Jon Snow on Dorne, which would have made her privy to the information about Jon Snow’s Targaryen identity.
While not confirmed, Ashara Dayne is another rumored mother of Jon Snow in the books, which would clearly indicate that she knows the truth of his parentage. Ashara was presumed to be a love interest of Ned before Robert’s Rebellion, with her story apparently coming to an end when she threw herself out the window and into the sea at Starfall after the rebellion. Catelyn, having heard rumors around the realm, believed that the mother of Jon Snow was Ashara, but Ned never confirmed it. The extent of Ashara Dayne’s knowledge was never revealed in Game of Thrones, nor has it been explained in the books. If Ashara truly is revealed to be Jon’s mother in The Winds of Winter, she’ll have been in on the secret, while it’s also likely that she would know the truth if her wet nurse is his mother. It’s also possible that Ned told both Ashara and Wylla the truth about Jon being a Targaryen when he went to Starfall, though it’s unclear whether the books will ever confirm her knowledge.