Ask the Maester: Some Real Talk About the Jon Snow SituationHBO
Noah, like many of you, asks, “Why?”
To Those Who Have Never Read the Books,
Come here. Sit down. How are you feeling? Sad, yeah? Shocked, I’m sure, and yet somehow not really surprised, am I right? Something like: What has it all been for? What does it mean? Why am I wasting my life watching this awful show? First things first: Jon does indeed fall victim to an Ides of Watch assassination conspiracy in the books. Perhaps you’re now wondering why anyone would ever read these books if all they do is kill off anyone who’s in the slightest bit cool. It’s a good question! Chapter 69 of A Dance of Dragons, the latest book in the series, is where this scene occurs in the literature. There are two more chapters and an epilogue after that. And, let me tell you, I read those two chapters and that epilogue in a Tyrion-on-a-five-day-wine-bender daze. That was almost four years ago, and in that time, I — like, I think, many book readers — have actually become more hopeful about Jon’s future. It wasn’t easy and it took quite a long time. Years, even. But ever since that moment in July 2011, I’ve come to terms with the shock, and now I’m in a better place.
Why? Simple. Because, like my colleague Andy Greenwald,1 I don’t believe that George R.R. Martin — or, by extension, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — will really go through with this. This is not Ned at the end of Season 1 and Book 1, or even Robb in Season and Book 3. I simply do not believe that either George or the showrunners are insane enough to completely remodel the story at this late stage.
Do I know this for a fact? Of course I don’t. Could I be wrong? Could Jon be D-E-A-D? Emphatically: Yes. In an EW interview that dropped onto the Internet mere moments after Jon’s lifeless body hit the snow in the Castle Black yard, Kit Harington went out of his way to confirm that, yes, Jon Snow is dead. I’ll believe it when I see it, though. I mean, what else are Harington and the showrunners going to say? “Yeah, the huge cliffhanger is a fake-out; he’s not totally dead,” thus spoiling not only Season 6 but also The Winds of Winter, the next Song of Ice and Fire book, on which Martin is ostensibly hard at work so it can be published before the next season airs? No, they have to say he’s dead. Out of respect for the show and for Martin, Harington et al. have to maintain kayfabe.
So now that the show is largely caught up with the books, allow me to lay out my potentially crackpot case for Jon not being capital-D dead. Let us theorize together.
1. Obvious stuff first. There are numerous examples, in the books and in the show, of the barrier between life and death being downright porous. In the season finale, we saw the Mountain, a.k.a. Ser Robert Strong, the newest member of the King’s Guard, back from the grave, carrying Cersei up to the Red Keep. The White Walkers raise the dead all the time. In the books, there are examples of wargs uploading their human consciousnesses into a particularly closely held animal companion at the moment of their human body’s untimely death. Related: Jon’s direwolf is named “Ghost.” And, of course, there’s always the Based LoL himself, R’hllor, the Lord of Light. You will perhaps recall that, back in Season 3, the highwayman/vigilante Beric Dondarrion was raised from the dead by the tattered red priest Thoros of Myr after being nearly cut in half by Sandor Clegane. You mean to tell me that Martin and B&W are willing to raise the Mountain, Beric Dondarrion, and a slew of other nobodies from the dead, but WON’T do so with one of the main heroes of the story? Conveniently, for those who wish to put their faith in the Lord of Light, chickenshit Melisandre arrived at Castle Black after fleeing the Battle of Winterfell, right around the time our beloved Lord Commander got belly stabbed by his sworn brothers (#ForTheWatch). In the past, I’ve been skeptical about the extent of Melisandre’s powers. For Jon’s sake, and the sake of our sanity, let’s hope that scarlet pool of (THEORETICALLY!) king’s blood under Jon’s body is enough BALCO juice for Melisandre’s R’hllor fastball.
2. There’s this story in the Hollywood Reporter from October 2014 detailing raises for cast members that will kick in for Season 7 — i.e., two seasons from now — which lists Harington in the top tier of the new compensation structure. Ahh, but now perhaps you’re saying, “WHAT ABOUT HARINGTON CUTTING HIS HAIR LIKE HE’S CONTRACTUALLY PROHIBITED FROM DOING??? DOESN’T THAT CONFIRM HE’S NOT COMING BACK???” Let me tell you about this amazing new advance in special effects technology called the wig. Wigs look just like real hair and are available in different colors and lengths. They’re amazing. Terminator Genisys (in theaters July 1!) features old-ass robot Arnold Schwarzenegger saving the world once again, this time with the help of the Khaleesi sporting her god-given brunette locks. How will Thrones manage to make Emilia Clarke blonde again? Spoiler: with a wig. Like they’ve done every season. Does it strike no one as strange that a show that features numerous cast members in wigs would require one particular cast member to not cut his hair? I think the “Kit contractually can’t cut his hair” story was always a brilliant bit of spoiler smoke screen.
3. I don’t think they have the guts. I hate to keep coming back to this, but I really don’t believe they do. All the Sturm und Drang over Jon’s actual parents. The numerous hints about his parents spread throughout the five novels and the five seasons of Game of Thrones. If Jon is dead, all of that would amount to the longest and most elaborate ruse in the history of fiction. Such a massive misdirect would be, no doubt, fucking impressive, but why go through all that trouble? Snow’s boiled leather over chain mail armor might not have been enough to stop swords and daggers, but that’s nothing compared to his Valyrian steel plot armor. Back in 2005, when Benioff and Weiss met with Martin over lunch to convince him to let them adapt his books, Martin asked them, “Who is Jon Snow’s mother?” They answered correctly and the rest is television history. To believe that Jon Snow is just another corpse on the road to an endless winter, you would also have to believe that what Martin were really asking B&W was something like, “Who is the mother of that character who dies at the end of the fifth book of my seven-book series?”
4. This EW interview with Martin from July 2011 in which he answers the question of why he killed Jon Snow with, “Oh, you think he’s dead, do you?” and, “I’m not going to address whether he’s dead or not.” Martin, as you might expect, is an admirer of Tolkien; Jon bleeding out [cut to black] is his version of Frodo getting stung by Shelob.
Now, even if I’m right, this doesn’t mean that we’re getting Jon Snow back as the Jon Snow we all love, the goth-boy hero with the loyal wolf and the magical sword. He might be trapped in the body of Ghost or some other person or beast. (OUR HERO IS A BIG DOG!) He might come back as a wight-like undead creature. In Season 3, Beric Dondarrion explains to Arya that each time the Lord of Light raises him, more of his memories — more of himself — disappear. If Jon rises again, it’s fair to assume he will not be the Jon Snow we once knew.
Or maybe Jon “lives” again in the books but Benioff and Weiss decided to really FOR REALS kill him off on the show. Could be. I’m skeptical, though. In this age of IMDb leaks and drones taking spy photos from closed sets, we will find out soon enough. Either way, I choose to die on the hill with all the other “Jon Snow doesn’t stay dead” true believers.
David asks: “How did Ghost not come out to save Jon? He saves Sam but can’t make an appearance for Jon?”
In the books, Jon is always having to lock up Ghost because the rest of the Watch and Queen Selyse (still at Castle Black) are terrified of him. Horses, in particular, are always rearing wildly in his presence. You will perhaps remember that during the Battle of Castle Black, Sam had to unlock the broom closet where Jon kept Ghost kenneled. You’d think that once a person becomes Lord Commander of the Watch, he’d be able to walk around his own castle with his awesome direwolf in tow. I guess we can assume that Ghost was locked up in the random kitchen area where we last saw him during the attempted rape of Gilly. Is this a cheap rhetorical device to separate Jon from his direwolf? Yeah, kinda. The show would be kind of boring if everyone who tried to assassinate a Stark got eaten by a direwolf.
Dante asks, “What exactly was the Mother’s Mercy in this episode, or do episode titles not necessarily have meaning?”
The Mother is one of the seven aspects of the god at the core of the Faith of the Seven. The Father represents judgment and justice. The Warrior (the favorite of idealistic Westerosi boys) is the embodiment of martial ability. Innocence and chastity take the form of the Maiden. The Smith is the representative of honest labor in all its forms. The Crone represents wisdom. Death takes the enigmatic form of the Stranger. And the Mother represents a nurturing energy, often associated with fertility, compassion, and forgiveness. A well-known psalm to the Mother reads, in part:
“Gentle Mother, font of mercy,
save our sons from war, we pray,
stay the swords and stay the arrows,
let them know a better day.”
“Mother’s Mercy,” then, is a reference to Cersei’s atonement for the sin of sleeping with her cousin Lancel while married to King Robert by walking nude (shouts to body doubles and cutting-edge CGI face-swapping technology!) through the streets of King’s Landing. She still has to go on trial for the charge of her children being the product of an incestuous relationship with her brother, a charge that she denies.
Fun fact: Cersei is not the first woman associated with House Lannister to take a walk of shame. Cersei’s grandfather — Tywin’s father — was a big old softy by the name of Tytos Lannister. Tywin, of course, was a ruthless administrator and the realm’s foremost practitioner of realpolitik. Any uppity lord who crossed Tywin got his family’s castle caved in around his head, his line ended, and the whole affair immortalized in song. Tywin’s hardassness, though, is best understood through the lens of his father. Tytos Lannister was everything Tywin was not. Tytos was amiable, trusting, and quick to forgive. He was easygoing to a fault: His bannermen would make jokes about him in his very presence, and Tytos would laugh the hardest. The lords of the Westerlands took this joviality, rightly, as weakness, and many of them took advantage of Tytos’s largesse by borrowing gold that they had no intention of ever paying back. One of the people who preyed upon Lord Tytos’s open-handed personality was his mistress. The beautiful daughter of a lowly candlemaker (her name is lost to history), she quickly acclimated to the lifestyles of the rich and Lannister. Within a year of their relationship, Tytos’s mistress felt comfortable enough to fire household servants and order Lannister knights around. She appropriated Tywin’s late mother’s jewels and finery. She even dared to represent Tytos himself whenever the Lord of Casterly Rock couldn’t make a meeting. A crude joke circulating around Lannisport at the time said that the best way to get an audience with Lord Tytos was to speak into his mistress’s lap because … well, you get it. All of this much vexed Tywin, but there was little he could do about it as long as Tytos lived.
Then, one day, Lord Tytos’s fat old heart gave out while he was walking up the steps to his side piece’s bedchamber. Tywin wasted little time. He seized his father’s mistress, had her stripped, and made her walk through Lannisport to the docks “like a common whore.” No one touched her, but her days of influence were done. It’s ironic, then, that such a fate should one day befall Tywin’s only daughter.
Steven asks: “What happened to Arya’s eyes at the end there? Are there any clues in the books?”
“Jaqen” struck her blind to teach her about humility and the importance of not stealing from the Many-Faced God, i.e., killing for her own purposes. Consider it part of her training.
Gio asks: “So, who gets dibs on Storm’s End? Also, now that Dragonstone is mostly unoccupied, it’d make a great staging area for Dany’s eventual invasion force.”
Great question. Storm’s End, the familial seat of the Baratheons, and the island redoubt of Dragonstone are holdings of Stannis Baratheon. Or were Stannis’s holdings. In his absence, the day-to-day operation of each castle is likely being managed by its respective castellan. As for ownership, ever since Aegon the Conqueror united the Seven Kingdoms, lords have retained their lands and titles at the pleasure of the king. Nobles swear to uphold the king’s laws, to vouchsafe the king’s peace, and to remain part of the realm. In return, they can keep their stuff. So while — from the outside, at least — the nobility seems as sturdy as a curtained wall, in practice, status in Westeros can be surprisingly fluid. If a noble chooses the wrong side in a war or runs out of heirs, he (and rarely she) is likely to find his lands and titles given to someone else. The Baratheons themselves are fine examples of this. Before Aegon’s invasion, going all the way back to the Age of Heroes, the stormlands were ruled by the Storm Kings of House Durrandon. During the conquest, King Argilac “the Arrogant” Durrandon opposed Aegon I Targaryen’s armies at every turn. He was old and he simply preferred to die on his feet with a sword in his hand rather than kneel to an invader and live. Aegon the Conqueror’s best friend, possible bastard brother, and, not incidentally, one of his greatest generals, was a man named Orys Baratheon. Sent to bring the Stormlands to heel, Baratheon slew Argilac the Arrogant in single combat. To reward his service, Aegon allowed Orys to take the Durrandon words, sigil, and lands as his own. Orys married Argilac’s daughter and House Baratheon was born.
So what happens to Storm’s End and Dragonstone? Assuming the White Walkers don’t sweep into Westeros and turn out the lights right away, King Tommen could use Storm’s End, Dragonstone, and their respective attendant lands as rewards for faithful service. Or, cash-strapped as the realm is, he could even sell them. Something like, “Hey, clean the Faith Militant out of King’s Landing and pay the throne a million gold dragons and I’ll make you the Lord of Storm’s End.”
Paul asks: “Were those good Dothraki or rival to Khal Drogo Dothraki? In either scenario, where does Dany stand?”
An important thing to remember about the Dothraki is that the Dothraki care only about strength. They will follow only the strongest leader, and if a leader appears weak for whatever reason — losing a battle, listening to Coldplay, being visibly enamored of his wife — that Khal’s lieutenants (not counting his bloodriders, though you never know) could very well turn on him and challenge him to single combat. Whoever wins ends up running the Khalasar. Therefore all Dothraki are, for all intents and purposes, rivals. Where Dany stands with these particular Dothraki is unknown. I guess it depends on whether they know who she is.
Josh asks: “Where did Sansa and Theon/Reek jump to? A big pile of snow? A frozen moat? Or am I to assume they both shatter their femurs and succeeded at nothing?”
A big pile of snow.
Brian asks: “Is Brienne of Tarth the ‘best worst’ personal protector of highborn in the realm’s history? Brienne obviously has fighting chops, but she continually fails those she’s sworn to protect, the latest example being the abandonment of Sansa in the finale. If I were in need of security, I think I’d be looking elsewhere at this point. What sayeth the maester?”
My main criticism of the “heroes” in Game of Thrones (and the ASoIaF books) is that, with a few notable exceptions, they are the dumbest people in the story. With that in mind, shout-out to Brienne of Tarth. You had one job: Look for the candle. And you couldn’t even do that.
Scene of the Week: Season Finale Death Foreshadowing Edition
Onboard the SS Live Forever …
“That was close. … Man, those Sand Snakes are really something, huh?”
“I can’t believe we made it out of Dorne in one piece! Even Bronn! Listen, Myrcella, there’s something I have to tell you. I don’t quite know how to say this, so I guess I’ll just say it. I’m your father.”
“My father? Do you know something? Even though these are my first lines of dialogue in the entire season, I can’t think of a more perfect thing to be talking about. I feel as if I’ve known all along that you are my true father.”
“Now we can go back to King’s Landing. You, mother, even Trystane, and we can all be happy forever.”
“Forehrkghhhhhhhhgggnnghhhhhhhh … ”