I’ve known Jon Snow longer than all my friends at school (high school and college).
By now, you’ve scoured the world wide web. You want it to all be make believe. It was just a dream, you muttered this morning. You googled, “Is Jon Snow really dead?” Hundred–Hell thousands–of hit hungry posts led you–like Ollie led dear Jon to the stabbing post–to this Entertainment Weekly interview, where Kit Harrington and through him Benioff and Weiss explain that yes, Jon really seems dead, apparently. It wouldn’t be the first time someone lied to an Entertainment Weekly reporter. But if Jon Snow is really dead, so is the story.
As I often remind anyone within earshot, I’m a book reader! I know things! So I sort of knew Jon’s fate (since the summer of 2011) … but you never know. Benioff and Weiss had unchained themselves like our tired buddy Drogon once had from Martin’s plodding pace. In the first half of the season (the best half season of the show so far), the pair had killed characters still breathing in the holy source material and seemed bent on taking the story farther than even book readers could imagine. It was a liberating experience. It led and allowed me for the first time to see the show as something totally different than Martin’s original story. I began to see the show not as an interpretation of the books, but both as interpretations of one, very general outline in a world as ripe for stories as Marvel comics or Greek Mythology.
Ahh the good times never last do they? One minute, you’re delighted your daughter is accepting of incestual practices, the next she’s dead. Yeah, so I knew Jon was set for a midnight stabbing, but I thought … maybe the show will steer away … they wouldn’t kill him after spending half of an episode establishing him as the biggest action star on television? Like the most handsome knight on the planet Jorah ‘The Andal’ Mormont, I just keep coming back for more. Of course the little Ollie would sink a dagger into Jon’s heart, though next time little buddy, when you want to betray your Lord Commander, be a little more subtle about it. Don’t tell everyone wildings killed your parents.
I could have written this a week ago, but I waited. I hoped, and if Jon was really meant to face his end with daggers in the darkness, at least my gut would be raw and wriggling to flesh some of this out.
A few differences from Martin’s text. Book Jon goes farther than Head and Shoulders show Jon. In the book, Jon raises the wildings for a ranging south (a big black brother no-no). Stannis troops have aparently failed to take Winterfell, and Jon (still about 16) intends to march south with the wildings to take back Winterfell from the Boltons. I was heartbroken when I read the words of Jon’s death, but I knew where Dolorious Ed and the boys were coming from. And as you’ve probably found out, there are as many “Jon Death” theories as there are “Jon Parents.” I’ve read the end of Dance with Dragons at least fifty times. “He never felt the fourth knife…only the cold…” Which would seemingly indicate that after being resurrected by Mellisadre or warging into Ghost or (insert deus ex machina) Jon yanked those daggers out. Maybe he’s alive. Maybe we should buy the next book to find out.
Martin has given a lot of interviews. He loves it. One of the few interesting points he’s made has obviosly been about death. He’s talked about how shocked he was reading Gandalf’s death scene at twelve. Here’s mostly the full quote.
When I was a 12-year-old kid reading The Fellowship of the Ring and ‘Fly, you fools!’ and he goes into the chasm … it was ‘Holy shit! [J.R.R. Tolkien] killed the wizard! That’s the guy who knew everything. How are they going to destroy the ring without him?’ And now the ‘kids’ have to grow up because their ‘daddy’ is dead. If Gandalf could die, anybody could die. And then just a few chapters later Boromir goes down. Those two deaths created in me the ‘anyone could die’ thing. At that point I was expecting [Tolkien] to pick off the whole Fellowship one by one. And then we also think in The Two Towers that Frodo is dead, since Shelob stung him and wrapped him up. I really bought it because he set me up with those other deaths. But then, of course, he brings Gandalf back. He’s a little strange at first, but then he’s basically the same old Gandalf. I liked the impact we got from him being gone.
Both Game of Thrones and Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire delight in cleaving fantasy tropes. There’s magic, but (thankfully) no real wizards. Our honorable hero and lord was beheaded in the first book/season. The most enduring and dramatic love story is between a brother and his sister. The hero boy king was brutally murdered in a violation of guest rights. But as dependent on this one move–a bloody reversal of what it thinks we expect–both interpretations are as reliant on history and other stories–especially Shakespeare. The political aspect–as Martin has explained–is based off the English War of the Roses (which I un-coincidentally did a research report on my sophomore year of high school). The Red Wedding was based on a real event. The Wall is based on Hadrian’s wall that the Romans built in northern England. Martin just buffed it all up with a few inverted fantasy tropes. And didn’t the deaths Sunday night seem erily familiar?. Death from a kiss? Romeo and Juliet. Jon betrayed by his brothers and buried under daggers. Julius Caesar. Stannis’ descent into madness (driven by a mad woman and prophecy) and (supposed) death at the hands of Brienne. Macbeth
What drew me into Westeros and Martin’s expansive, fictional world was that it seemed real. There were consequences for fucking up. You can’t just parade around King’s Landing like a fool and expect to make it alive. You can win every pitched battle but if you refuse to play politics, you may end up dead at your brother in laws wedding. If you go about reversing a thousand years of tradition without some allies, yeah you might end up with some once friendly daggers in your chest. But somewhere along the line, killing the heroes became the story’s go to move. And it’s worn out.
“Hardhome” worked so well because it bucked trends that Game of Thrones had painfully set up for four seasons. The episode ran along like all the others had before. Daenaerys and Tyrion trade some theatrical declarations on power. Arya passes out some seafood. It’s running along like the typical Game of Thrones episode, everyone getting their alotted scene. Then we go beyond the Wall. Jon’s boat hits the shore and he strides out like a young, curly haired George Washington. We’re thinking … it’s the eighth episode, not the ninth. We’re not gonna have a battle, especially one that happens off book. We’ll spend ten minutes with Jon and be whisked off to Dorne for any meaningful additions to what could have been a wonderful sandy adventure with my boy Bronn. But Jon kept talking … a storm of zombies arrived at the gates … the clock kept ticking … the undead kept killing … Jon killed a White Walker! … The Night’s King raised his arms … silence.
Benioff, Weiss, and the director exploited our expectations–like they always do–but with what we expect from the story, not from Lord of the Rings. No one (even book readers) expected us to spend the last half of the eight episode in a battle against the mystical undead. That’s the move that’s work best this season. That’s the move that the show (and books) needs to make more. It’s the move both should make with Jon. We expect them to kill our favorite character. If Game of Thrones wants to avoid becoming a trope, it has to bring back Jon.
There’s also the equally pressing issue of investment. We simply don’t have the time or energy anymore to build up heroes in this story. Winter Is Coming in two to three seasons. It’d just be wasteful storytelling to kill Jon. All the other deaths have ramped up our investment in Jon, so to kill Jon would kill the narrative point of all the other deaths.
So yeah, sorry Kit, we’ll see you in Belfast again one day.