Game of Thrones may be one of the most wildly successful series on the small screen, but that doesn’t mean that there have been no bad decisions made over the past seven seasons. Missing characters, travel times that make no sense, a reliance on sex and violence, to name just a few. Most of the less-than-stellar decisions that showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have made have been balanced out by stunning plot twists, battle scenes, and Westerosi intrigue. However, one of their worst ever decision still leaves a bad taste in fans’ mouths: the death and resurrection of Jon Snow.
Jon, the Bastard of Winterfell, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, King in the North, Aegon Targaryen (and possessor of almost as many titles as Daenerys, at this point!) was killed off in the season 5 finale “Mother’s Mercy,” stabbed to death under a sign that read ‘traitor’ by a faction of the Night’s Watch who hated Jon for bringing the Wildlings south of the Wall. The final blow was dealt by young Olly, a heartwrenching twist, as Olly had been Jon’s biggest fan and protege.
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However, in season 6, episode 2, “Home,” Jon is brought back to life, courtesy of Melisandre. Easy peasy, back to normal. Not only did this big ‘shocking moment’ fall utterly flat, but it adds almost nothing to the series, akes away some of the power of death, and lowers the stakes – and it was Game of Thrones’ worst decision yet.
- This Page: Why Jon Snow’s “Death” Was So Dumb
- Page 2: Could There Be a Reason for Jon’s Resurrection?
It’s easy to see why the showrunners thought they may be able to get away with actually convincing fans that Jon was dead (and not coming back). A Dance With Dragons ends Jon Snow’s story with the Mutiny at Castle Black, so in both A Song Of Ice And Fire and Game Of Thrones, fans are left on a cliffhanger with Jon stabbed by his men and presumably dead.
What Benioff and Weiss did not factor in, however, was the fact that the fandom had learned that Jon Snow was stabbed when A Dance With Dragons came out in 2011. They had already had four years to speculate on how Jon Snow could return, so by the time he ‘died’ in the series, dedicated fans were already convinced not only of his return, but how it would happen, before his body was even cold. The fact that the stabbing happened in the books years before meant that the mutiny itself had essentially no shock value for book fans, and there was no real debate over whether Jon would return in season 6. As far as deaths go, Jon’s had surprisingly little impact.
Jon’s ‘death’ also fell flat because fans simply doubted that it was real. Although Game of Thrones has a history of killing off major characters, starting with Ned Stark, there was a consensus in the fandom that this death wouldn’t stick. In story terms, it was clear that Westeros simply wasn’t done with Jon Snow. As the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna, his parentage is just a little bit important – so every book fan knew that the series couldn’t be done with him before that particular reveal came into play. Add in the Red Woman, who can theoretically bring people back from the dead, just happening to be back at Castle Black? Add in some behind the scenes hints, especially Kit Harington’s un-cut mane, and there was little doubt that Jon would be coming back in the sixth season.
However, the showrunners decided to ignore the fandom on this one, and act as though Jon Snow’s death was a) shocking, and b) permanent. Kit Harington commented to say that he had been told he was definitely dead, and after his return, EW printed a story describing the “Top-Secret, Two Year Plan To Kill Jon Snow – And Bring Him Back To Life!”. Despite the fact that the Game of Thrones fandom had no doubts Jon would be resurrected, the show continued to act as though it was all a big surprise… and patronizing a fandom is simply not a great way to make those fans happy. Game Of Thrones would have been better off treating Jon’s death in a similar manner to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s treatment of Thanos’ snap in Avengers: Infinity War. Everybody knows that not all those dusty deaths are going to be permanent, and Marvel Studios isn’t pretending that they are.
All of this could be ignored, however, had Jon’s death had a major impact on the series. However, Jon’s brush with death seems to have changed very little for him, or for anyone else. Jon is still as noble as ever, making his tough decisions to punish the traitors and rally the Wildlings. He may no longer be at Castle Black, but he’s still in a position of power as King in the North, still struggling to do the right thing, keep everyone happy, and convince people that the Army of the Dead is the biggest threat to Westeros. Melisandre is still running around deciding that every new leader (other than Cersei) is the Prince Who Was Promised (first Stannis, then Jon, then Danerys), and Jon’s death is barely mentioned again.
In addition, by resurrecting Jon Snow, Game of Thrones lost the shock of major character deaths – now, any of the major players could theoretically simply be brought back to life. The possibility of losing any character, no matter how loved, kept fans on the edge of their seats throughout the first five seasons. That death has now become a temporary thing (for more than just Beric Dondarrion) takes some of that edge off. As a result, the next few Jon-death-fakeouts (at the Battle of the Bastards, on his Suicide-Squad-style mission Beyond the Wall) just don’t have the same tension to them. The stakes have been thoroughly lowered, and that’s simply not a good thing.
Page 2: Could There Be A Reason For Jon’s Resurrection?
Of course, there are a few good things to come from Olly’s betrayal and Melisandre’s magic. For one, it supports the fan theory that Jon Snow is Azor Ahai, and will therefore be the one to save Westeros from the Night King and his army. Jon’s death also plays into a few other theories; that Daenerys’ curse (courtesy of Mirri Maz Duur) has been broken, for example. Finally, this allowed Jon to leave the Night’s Watch without breaking his oath, having served to his death. Result: an honorable King in the North who knows the Night’s Watch and the threat of the Army of the Dead.
However, all of this could potentially have been achieved without actually having killed Jon at all. The prophecies surrounding both Azor Ahai and Mirri Maz Duur’s curse are so vague (in the general style of prophecy) that it would definitely be possible for these to be fulfilled or dismissed without a literal death. As for his departure from the Night’s Watch, well, while Jon has shown that he is noble and sticks to his oaths, he has also shown that he’s willing to use loopholes within those oaths to get what he wants (most notably Ygritte, who wasn’t technically his wife, as he points out to Sam). As Lord Commander, Jon could have bent all kinds of rules in order to allow him to become King In The North at the same time – if the business of the Night’s Watch is protecting against White Walkers, and becoming King is the best way to do that…
At the end of the day, though (or at the end of the show), Game of Thrones can still get past the terrible decision to kill Jon Snow – and it all comes down to the final season. There is a whole lot to wrap up here, and Jon Snow is going to be in the thick of it from the start. While his season five death meant that season six and seven death-fakeouts lacked impact, now that the show is almost over, major character deaths are going to come back into play. The fear fans will feel for Jon will be just as real as it was before he was killed in the first place. Whether Jon ends up dead, King in the North, back at the Night’s Watch, or on the Iron Throne itself, Game of Thrones may finally be able to put this terrible non-death behind them for one last fight.
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