Learning that a major character died in a Game of Thrones season finale shouldn’t surprise you. But exactly who died in last Sunday’s episode very well might. Is this character really as dead as them seem, though? Here are all the reasons viewers and book readers alike have devised that [REDACTED] may yet be around.
In case you don’t know but are super-interested in spoiling the season 5 Game of Thrones finale for yourself, here:
Jon Snow had a bad night — if you count being repeatedly stabbed in the gut by his fellow members of the Night’s Watch for allowing the Wildings through the wall “bad.” The episode ended, much like his final chapter in 2011’s most recent book volume, A Dance with Dragons, with Jon Snow alone and bleeding out onto the frozen ground.
Obviously, fans lost their minds when they got to this part of the story in either medium, and immediately the theories started flying as to how — and why — this latest death of a beloved GoT character could be undone. Here, we examine all these theories, and why they do and don’t work to answer the most important question of our time: Is Jon Snow coming back?
The case for: The first thing to note is that both the book and the TV series cut away before Jon Snow is definitely dead. Yes, he’s been stabbed in the gut multiple times, and but narrative convention suggests that until we’ve seen the cold dead body, there’s always a chance of the traitorous Watch members missing his vital organs and Jon needing a few months to recover. Additionally, Game of Thrones is not a show to shirk showing the full aftermath of characters’ demises (see Joffrey’s death scene in season 4 for an example of how to show a character dying beyond a shadow of a doubt). This time, though, the show cut away before we could know for certain that Jon was dead.
The case against: While Game of Thrones the show relies on coincidence more than the books do — a necessity of narrative economy more than anything — generally, both versions of the stories have avoided giving characters that much “luck.” Jon living through all those stab wounds just doesn’t seem plausible, and despite the magic and dragons and ice zombies, Game of Thrones does try to stick to reality in all other regards. Plus, as that final scene shows, Jon lost a lot of blood.
The case for: In the books, Jon Snow has warged into his direwolf Ghost — which is to say transferred his consciousness, in case you’ve forgotten the term — on several occasions, and most readers assumed that when Jon was stabbed, he immediately sent his mind into his animal companion. As the book proved with Orell, who sent his mind into an eagle when his body was killed, there is definitely precedent for a skinchanger’s mind to live on past his physical body’s demise. Indeed, this is what most bookreaders believe has happened to Jon.
The case against: While it may seem likely in the books, the show has virtually never shown Jon Snow warging into Ghost, and if this is what has happens it will effectively come out of left field for TV viewers. It would be sloppy storytelling, and whatever problems you may have with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, that’s not a problem they often are guilty of. Besides, it seems unlikely that the book and the show would have different solutions to this massive event, although it’s certainly possible.
The case for: In both the show and the book, the red priestess of R’hllor is at Castle Black when Jon Snow is stabbed. Both iterations of Game of Thrones have had lengthy subplots showing that the priests of R’hllor have the power to resurrect the dead via Thoros of Myr, who has continually brought Ser Beric Dondarrion back to life, as Arya saw. This is a huge plot element that so far seems to have had no narrative impact, and is almost certainly waiting to pay off down the line — and Jon’s resurrection seems the most obvious candidate. Besides, both the books and the show went to decent lengths to make sure R’hllor priestess Melisandre would be at Castle Black during Jon’s demise. Admittedly, Melisandre has not yet used this resurrection power, but she does know it’s possible, having met Thoros on the show.
The case against: Again, it seems somewhat unlikely that the show and the books would have two different solutions to such a major event, and Melisandre hasn’t met Thoros in the books, and seemingly does not know about the resurrection powers of her red fire god. Maybe she’ll receive a new vision in the flames, of maybe she actually learned about this power in R’hllor Sunday School and merely hasn’t mentioned it. But at the moment, there’s no reason to suspect she’s aware of her potential ability to bring Jon back to life.
The case for: The prevailing theory of Jon Snow’s parentage is that he’s the secret son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, whom Ned adopted and kept secret to prevent Robert Baratheon from killing in his attempt to rid the world of Targaryens. As we saw in the first season, Targaryens have a peculiar relationship with fire in that Danaerys was able to enter Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre and emerge unscathed. If the Watch performs normal procedure and gives Jon the normal ceremony, his body will be burned as well (although this is hardly a sure thing, seeing as he was murdered as a traitor by his fellow Watch members). At this point, his Targaryen blood could kick in — and perhaps even his presumed destiny as Azor Ahai — and not only keep his body from burning, but actually bring him back to life as well. It certainly wouldn’t be the most fantastic event in the series.
The case against: The fire itself resurrecting Jon is a bit more literal than GRRM usually is. It’s not impossible, but Dany’s “rebirth” in the flames of Drogo’s funeral pyre was metaphorical. Neither we nor the characters in the series truly understand the fire magic at work in the Targaryen line or R’hllor’s priests, but from the evidence given so far, there seemingly needs to be an agent at work, like Thoros of Myr (or, presumably, Melisandre) to resurrect someone from the dead. Perhaps Jon’s body will be burned, and perhaps the flames may inspire Melisandre to try to resurrect him, but this would still fall under “Melisandre resurrects Jon” as opposed to the fire doing all the work.
The case for: Plenty of people come back to life after they die up north, even if they come back wrong. While it seems completely absurd that Jon would come back as a mindless wight — no matter what his circumstance, it seems unlikely that his future role would be as a mere minion of the White Walkers — given Jon’s clear importance to the story, he would need to have some semblance of agency to fulfill his narrative duties.
Besides, in the epic episode “Hardhome,” the leader of the White Walkerss very much singled Jon out with the ultimate “COME AT ME BRO” look. This implies some kind of relationship, even if Jon is unaware of it — does the Night’s King look at Jon as his ultimate adversary, or could it have been something more?
The case against: There are a lot of effective “maybes” in the above paragraph, even for an article dedicated solely to theories. Besides, people have to die north of the Wall to become a wight, and, at least according to the show, there needs to be a much more elaborate ceremony to create a White Walker. Jon died very clearly in Castle Black. Basically, there’s really no in-book or in-show evidence to support this theory.
The case for: This is still a fantasy series, with magic and dragons and ice zombies. There’s a ton about the world of Westeros that neither we nor the characters know about yet, and GRRM could have some other method of bringing Jon Snow back to life that we haven’t thought of yet. It could have something to do with his parents — whether it be Stark, Targaryen, or something else entirely — it could involve the White Walkers, the magic of the north, the direwolves, Bran and his new powers… there are many possibilities.
The case against: George R.R. Martin is not a bad writer. He’s almost certainly not going to pull a deus ex machina to save Jon at the beginning of the next book, and the TV show will likely follow suit. And he’s especially not going to spring something out of nowhere when he’s produced Chekhov’s guns, like magical resurrection, in earlier books.
The case for: Besides the problems with each of the theories listed above, there’s one enormous real life obstacle to them: The fact that actor Kit Harington unequivocally says Jon Snow is dead and that he’s not coming back to the series. That seems as definitive as can be. Furthermore, Harington was famously unable to cut his hair while he was employed by the show, and EW also reports that he’s cut his long locks — as clear a sign that Jon Snow’s story is done as anything.
Besides, let’s look at the show’s track record. Every time a traditional hero from the Stark family emerges, his desire to do the right thing gets him killed. This was true of Ned and Robb — why wouldn’t Jon Snow also pay the same price for trying to bring the Watch and the Wildings together to band against their greater foe?
The bottom line is that Game of Thrones has done this before — on several occasions — and with a few minor exceptions, dead is dead.
The case against: Come on. Come on. I know George R.R. Martin has a thoroughly justified reputation killing off major characters, but at a certain point even it becomes absurd. Having Jon die — permanently — for the same reasons of his father and brother is superfluous; there is nothing Jon’s death adds to the narrative that the previous deaths don’t. We already know no character in A Song of Ice and Fire is safe, and don’t need it demonstrated again.
More importantly, for both the show and the TV series, we’re approaching the end game. Only two more books and two more seasons are forthcoming, which means a lot is going to happen in these remaining episodes and chapters. While obviously some characters are going to die along the way, it’s not unwarranted to believe the characters who have made it this far in the story have done so for some specific purpose — and it doesn’t seem like Jon has served that purpose yet. Perhaps his one goal was to bring some of the Wildings south of the Wall, but there were other ways for them to achieve this — Jon Snow wasn’t strictly necessary. And as much focus has been placed on Jon Snow in the story so far, it seems quite reasonable to believe he has a greater purpose ahead of him.
By this same token, the character of Jon Snow has not learned his true parentage yet, which, in almost any other fantasy series, would make him practically immortal. Again, we know that Martin loves disrupting the storytelling traditions of fantasy, but this goes beyond killing Ned (the original main character) or Robb (the son who sets out to avenge his father). A character failing to achieve a goal is part of a story being told, but leaving a mystery unsolved is denying the basic catharsis that characters need to develop and reader/viewers need to be satisfied (not “happy,” mind you, but “satisfied”). It sounds absurd, I know, but I think denying readers the chance of Jon Snow learning his parentage might be too cruel for George R.R. Martin — at least in the sense that it’s the sort of thwarted expectation that makes readers genuinely dissatisfied with the story, as opposed to upset with the story’s events.
And last but not least, the story itself gives several clues that Jon’s role is not yet over. The most famous prophecy in A Song of Ice and Fire is of course that “the dragon has three heads,” which readers assume to mean Daenerys, Tyrion and Jon Snow (for details on why Tyrion and Jon may be considered “dragons,” see this). If Jon Snow is 100% dead, he can’t be one of the dragon’s three heads, which seems extremely unlikely that he, Daenerys and Tyrion are the three characters the books have spent the most time covering. Additionally, if Jon Snow isn’t part of this triumvirate, who is? Neither the show nor the books have offered even a hint of an alternative.
As for the interview, there are some obvious arguments to be made against Harington’s comments. As many people have pointed out, while the EW interview headline originally screamed “I won’t be back”, Harington’s actual quote is “I won’t be back in season six,” which is very different, leaving open the possibility of his return in season 7. Also, as some people have pointed out, this was an interview that was not only set to run immediately after the finale aired, but almost certainly took place weeks before. The chances of Harington being allowed to hint at Jon Snow’s survival by the showrunners was probably nil, either before or immediately after the episode premiered. If Harington said, “Oh, yeah, I’ll be back next season!” mere minutes after his death scene on TV, it would have undercut everything the episode had tried to achieve, and done so in mere minutes. So while Harington may be telling the truth about being gone — for a while or forever — we absolutely cannot be certain he’s telling the truth.
Hell if I know. What I do know is this: TV viewers are now almost exactly at the place the book readers have been since we finished the last chapter of A Dance with Dragons in 2011. You know as much as we do, and vice versa. From this point, we’ll truly be experiencing the show (and the books) together, with no idea what’s coming next. Whether Jon Snow returns next season, disappears until next year, or is never seen again, we’re all in this together now. And even if Jon Snow failed to bring the Night’s Watch and the Wildings together, bringing Game of Thrones book readers and TV show watchers together is no small feat.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.