Fair warning: This post contains spoilers for all of Game of Thrones books and episodes.
It’s excellent advice for lawyers and omniscient stoners in fantasy series: Don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.
Arya Stark was handed a shiny, deadly new toy in episode 4 of Game of Thrones last weekend: A Valyrian steel dagger. She was given it by her brother Bran, who not long before had been handed it by resident slimeball Littlefinger.
The dagger was used by a cutthroat who tried to murder Bran in Season 1, and as Littlefinger points out, in a very real way it started the War of the Five Kings. After fighting off the assassin, Catelyn Stark took the dagger to Kings Landing because she suspected the Lannisters were behind the attempt on Bran’s life.
Upon receiving the weapon, Bran asks Littlefinger, “Do you know who this belonged to?” It sounds like a straightforward inquiry into who might have tried to kill him, but this is an odd ask coming from a guy who sees everything, so why pose the question at all?
Upon a rewatch, it sounds like a legit, but different, question: Does Littlefinger actually know who this dagger used to belong to?
Littlefinger might not, but it sure seems like Bran does.
There’s good reason to think that the dagger is very old. Sam saw a drawing of it on a page in a book he helpfully lingered on in episode 1.
The text surrounding the image referenced the Targaryen custom of decorative dragonglass weapons and how the style spread throughout the noble houses of Westeros. Later in that same book, Sam learns of the dragonglass mine under Dragonstone, home of the Targaryens.
Assuming the dagger is the same, and we have good reason to do so, it stands to reason that this dagger belonged to the members of House Targaryen and was passed down among them.
Futhermore, we have a clue in the weapon itself: the stone in the hilt points to Rhaegar Targaryen.
Rhaegar’s armour was described as studded with rubies, which fell to the ground when Robert’s war hammer crushed the Targaryen prince’s chest.
The stone in the dagger’s hilt looks very much like a ruby. In GoT promotional materials referenced by Polygon, the stone’s red color is even more pronounced.
In the books, there’s confusion about who had the dagger and gave it to the assassin to kill Bran. Littlefinger says that Tyrion won it from him in a bet, but Jaime remembers the dagger was Robert’s. Eventually the Lannister brothers speculate that Joffrey stole the dagger from Robert and tried to have Bran killed as a way of impressing the man he thought was his dad.
How would Robert Baratheon have gotten a Valyrian steel dagger so renowned that it was sketched in a history book in a chapter on Dragonstone, ancestral seat of House Targaryen?
Simple: He stole it from Rhaegar Targaryen after the Battle on the Trident.
It makes sense that Robert would take a valuable victory trophy from the man he killed in what by all accounts was a very personal conflict. Robert blamed Rhaegar for the kidnapping, rape, and death of the woman he loved and when he killed Rhaegar, he took it.
So let’s say for the sake of argument that Arya Stark is in possession of what I will now refer to as Rhaegar Targaryen’s dagger. Why do we care who it’s owner used to be?
If nothing else the dagger’s provenance is a reminder that the past still matters and that characters are still dealing with the repercussions of choices made a long time ago.
On a more practical level though, there are still people around who might remember that dagger, especially those who were at the Battle of the Trident – Jorah Mormont perhaps? And the more people whose memories can be jogged, the more likely it is that secrets will spill out.
We’ve been assuming that Bran will tell Jon about his true parentage, but if he did, that would violate author George R.R. Martin’s credo that “Magic should never be the solution.” At the very least, it would be helpful if there were someone else to corroborate the story.
If someone were to recognize the dagger and knew Rhaegar, they’d be in a good position to shed some light on the subject. This is also why you should probably bet on Meera making a reappearance. Her father, Howland Reed, was with Ned Stark that day at the Tower of Joy.
I think it’s more likely that someone who was there at the time tells Jon the truth, or casts enough doubt on the party line that Jon or someone else figures it out.
Smart money is also on Sam Tarly, who’s currently an apprentice to a maester writing a history of the War of the Five Kings, and who just got a large number of scrolls to dig through. Research into that history would likely turn up multiple versions of the kidnapping/elopement of Lyanna Stark by/with Rhaegar Targaryen and all you need is someone with the right context and perspective to piece it to together.