Who was the mystery knight at the Tourney of Harrenhal?
For those of you who want to refresh your memory:
The story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree as told to Bran by Meera
on A Wiki of Ice and Fire
Most in fandom identify Lyanna Stark as the Knight of the Laughing Tree. This choice fits well with the R+L=J, the popular theory, which states that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark are the real parents of Eddark Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow. There is indeed quite a bit of evidence available suggesting Lyanna played the role of the mystery knight.
I am not convinced, however. My choice would be Eddard Stark.
Let’s start with some general observations:
According to Meera, a little crannogman who we assume is Howland Reed, was beaten up by three young squires. Lyanna Stark comes to his aid and drives the boys off with a wooden sword. She then takes Howland back to her tent, sees to his wounds and introduces him to her brothers – Brandon, Ned and Benjen Stark. Nobody else seems to notice the incident. We can narrow down candidates to Howland himself or to one of the Stark siblings who felt motivated to avenge him.
Benjen Stark offered to find armour and a horse so that Howland Reed could enter the lists and avenge himself. The crannogman said nothing but acknowledged to himself his lack of experience with lance and horses and did not want to make a fool of himself. Howland prayed to the old gods and spent the night with Ned in Ned’s tent.
Whatever the case, one of the Starks were determined to see Howland’s honour restored and a mystery knight appeared the next day to do just that. It is likely that Benjen Stark supplied the mismatched armour, horse and shield for the mystery knight. The device on the shield, a laughing weirwood tree, is another indication that the knight was of the north and one of the Starks.
What evidence is there that Ned was the Knight of the Laughing Tree?
- The beginning of a long friendship: Ned and Howland shared a tent the night before the mystery knight’s appearance. Ned thus had an opportunity to get to know Howland better and was probably motivated to enter the competition on his behalf. Howland and Ned remained very good friends from that time onwards, fighting a war together and communicating with each other via raven afterwards, so they must have built up quite a rapport.
- Short of stature: the mystery knight is described as being short of stature. We have no exact description of Ned in terms of height or stature but he is said to be shorter than his brother Brandon. Ned is 18 years old at the time of the tourney and a grown man by Westerosi definition. However, because of his age, he was probably slender and not as filled out as an older man would be. Also mentioned is the booming voice of the mystery knight. I think a full helm would distort a voice to some extent but there is evidence to show that Ned in later years taught his sons to train their voices to be loud and commanding. He said a man’s voice was very important on a battle field. One had be able to make oneself heard over the din of battle. At his age, Ned would have trained for this.
- Ability and strength: Ned is not an anointed Knight but he is a good rider and has enjoyed a great deal of training at weapons. He is probably a competent fighter. Since the opponents are not well known knights, they are unlikely to represent difficult matches. Nevertheless, the mystery knight does not know what he might face and must have the physical capacity and some skill at jousting to succeed against three contenders in a row. Howland’s honour is at stake here. Losing is not an option. Ned probably had the ability to see this venture to a positive conclusion.
- The honourable thing to do: Defending someone who suffered an injustice would be just the sort of thing that Ned would do. A big clue is the ransom charge made by the mystery knight after winning the jousts: he asks the defeated knights to teach their squires honour. This is indicative of Ned, a man who places great value on honourable behaviour and who goes to great lengths to be honourable in is dealings with others.
- Ned never tells his children the story of tKotLT.
Meera and Jojen are very surprised that Bran has never heard this story. This may be one of the secrets that Ned keeps to himself. Whatever the case may be, why would Ned not tell his children this story if Lyanna had been the mystery knight? It was a very honourable act and quite sensational if a mere girl had managed to beat three knights in a row at a tourney. It would have been at least one positive account involving Lyanna, a great story to remember her by. Ned had no incentive to tell this story because Lyanna did not play the role of the knight of the laughing tree. I suspect that there is more to his role as the mystery knight than meets the eye and have my own thoughts and theory on that.
A note regarding Lyanna as the KotLT:
Lyanna was a very good horsewoman. This was noted both by Lady Dustin and Roose Bolton.
Good horsemanship is however not enough to guarantee success in a tournament. She would have had to joust against three grown men in a row. She was a good rider but did she have the skill with a lance or strength to unhorse a man? Lord Rickard did not allow her any weapons training. She may have played at swords with Benjen but he was younger and a sword is not a lance. If she was indeed that proficient or talented, where did she acquire this training or even get the chance to practice? She may have gotten lucky against one knight but not against all three. Howland Reed’s honour depended on the mystery knight winning against all three contenders. Failing would not have been good enough. Ned was far better suited to defeating all three knights successfully.
Image of “Weirwood Tree” – taken by Michaela Seifert, Germany