The story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree is one familiar to A Song of Ice and Fire readers, but completely unknown to those who have only watched Game of Thrones. At first glance, the tale might seem like one of the dozens that George R. R. Martin peppers his larger narrative with. It's undoubtedly part of his masterful world-building, but it might actually provide the backstory for some of the most significant events in Westerosi history. Why is the Knight of the Laughing Tree so important? Two words: Lyanna Stark.
As the impetus for Robert’s Rebellion and the mother of Jon Snow, Lyanna Stark is incredibly important to the overall narrative of A Song of Ice and Fire. Because of the central mysteries tied into her character, much of her personal backstory has been intentionally obscured by George R. R. Martin. However, ever the sneaky author, GRRM may have left some of the most important parts of Lyanna’s story hiding in plain sight, through the tale of the Knight of the Laughing Tree.
How Rhaegar Targaryen Got Involved
The involvement of Rhaegar Targaryen, who crowned Lyanna as the Queen of Love and Beauty at the end of the tournament and "kidnapped" her less than a year later, lends further evidence to deduce the identity of the Knight of the Laughing Tree.
Rhaegar’s father, Mad King Aerys, was typically paranoid about this mystery knight, especially when the knight vanished mysteriously after only one day of competition. He tasked his son with hunting down the Knight of the Laughing Tree, but Rhaegar returned empty handed, having found nothing more than the Knight's shield hanging in the forest.
However, the story makes a lot more sense if Prince Rhaegar actually did track down the Knight of the Laughing Tree and discovered Lyanna Stark underneath the armor. Unlike his paranoid father, Rhaegar would likely have been impressed with Lyanna’s bravery, and perhaps this led to him falling for her. His subsequent snubbing of his own wife to crown Lyanna as the Queen of Love and Beauty seems like a much less random choice with this added bit of context.
There are many who believe the love between Rhaegar and Lyanna was mutual, partially due to a description of Rhaegar making her weep with his singing at the tourney feast, and posit that a whirlwind romance occurred behind the scenes at Harrenhal. This would have obviously set the stage for the two to abscond together shortly thereafter.
What It Means For The Larger Story And The Future Of Game Of ThronesPhoto: Game of Thrones/HBO
If the Knight of the Laughing Tree was Lyanna Stark, which seems almost certain, and if her crannogman-avenging antics did win her the love of Rhaegar Targaryen, which seems logical, then this story had a massive impact on the rest of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Rhaegar’s “kidnapping” of Lyanna led directly to Robert’s Rebellion, which forever altered the lives of an entire generation and the shape of Westerosi politics. The main timeline of events in A Song of Ice and Fire all spill out from the cataclysmic aftermath of Robert’s Rebellion, from the exile of Daenerys Targaryen to the marriage of Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister.
And that’s to say nothing of another, even more direct result of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s affair: the birth of Jon Snow. Without the Knight of the Laughing Tree, there would be no "ice" in A Song of Ice and Fire.