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…
While Ned is imprisoned in the Black Cells in AGoT, he has a dream about the Tourney of Harrenhal which highlights the connection between Lyanna Stark and blue roses, and introduces a possible romantic element to the Rhaegar and Lyanna story.
Fast forward for a moment to ASoS and Meera Reed tells Bran Stark the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Much has been written about the identity of the Knight, and we discussed it in our podcast “A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose.” It’s commonly (though not universally) accepted that Lyanna Stark donned armor and sought to teach the bullying squires she had caught tormenting young Howland Reed a lesson in honor. Meera goes on to tell Bran of the aftermath of the Knight’s victory and disappearance:
That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each swore they would unmask him, 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 lends a lot of weight to the idea that Rhaegar might have unmasked Lyanna as the KotLT which further leads to the possibility that there might have been a window for a spark of mutual attraction to develop if and when he found her. Whether or not romance blossomed immediately, Rhaegar’s knowledge of Lyanna’s actions would give him cause to want to honor her in some way. Add to that Bran’s conviction to Meera Reed that the mystery knight should have won the tourney. If Lyanna was the Knight, in a sense she did when Rhaegar crowned her, though in a very different way, and of course, as Meera indicates, the end of the story is rather sad.
The passage from Ned’s dream also gives us a huge clue as to the link between Lyanna and blue roses. That link is hinted at in Ned’s first chapter in the crypts of WInterfell when he recalls his sister’s death, linked to the smell of blood and roses, and tells Robert “I bring her flowers when I can… Lyanna was … fond of flowers.” Then in Ned’s Tower of Joy dream, in the aftermath of Jaime Lannister’s ambush, 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.
In fact, not only are blue roses linked to Lyanna on numerous occasions, but in most cases blood and promises are also present. Ned has another dream, the day 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 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.”
All the way back in Ned’s first PoV in the Winterfell crypts, we saw this memory:
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.
Every mention of blue roses in Ned’s point of view blue links to Lyanna, and also involves promises, blood or both. A final example of the connection between Lyanna and blue roses is in Theon’s dream of the dead in ACoK, 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.
This dream can be interpreted as a hint to the reader that Lyanna’s crypt statue most likely depicts her wearing that crown of roses. Since the story of the KotLT and the Harrenhal tourney has not been told inside Winterfell (as we know from Bran) it seems unlikely the rose story would have gotten around. Logically, Theon will only know whatever the “official” story of Lyanna’s death is and would have no inkling of any romantic attachment between R+L. For what it’s worth, “spattered with gore” seems to imply that someone else was wounded near her (causing gore to spatter her gown) in the moments before her death, most likely indicating Theon has heard some version of the fight at the ToJ, which would only be natural since several northerners died there. And yet in Theon’s dream, as in Ned’s thoughts and fever dreams, there is the connection made to blue roses. Thus it seems that the crown of roses is depicted on the statue, which very few people would have seen outside of the family.
So back to Ned, he heavily associates Lyanna, blue roses, promises and blood, and it seems like the author is trying to tell us something. What’s really curious is that the association begins with Rhaegar Targaryen giving her blue roses. Overall the blue rose seems to symbolize the union between Rhaegar and Lyanna. Given that RLJ asserts Jon is 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. Of course the blood and promises would indicate Lyanna’s death and the promise Ned made to her, both of which R+L=J assumes relate directly to Jon Snow.
Extending the blue rose symbolism slightly beyond Rhaegar and Lyanna, and attributing it to Jon, we see another blue rose in Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying:
“A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice … “
It’s Jorah Mormont who later clarifies that this blue flower was in fact a blue rose. And that blue rose again fits Jon very well, with his proximity to a Wall of ice. So there’s a brief take on the symbolism of blue roses and their connection to Lyanna Stark. For a more in depth look at blue roses, a friend of ours has done a lot of writing on the subject at westeros.org, in a thread called Jon Snow and the Blue Winter Rosetta Stone.