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On the recently concluded sixth season of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow reunited with his estranged sister (well, cousin, given Sunday night’s confirmation of the long-theorized R+L=J), helped her reclaim their family home and purge it, and their beloved North, free of the sadist Ramsay Bolton, and ostensibly picked up where his fallen brother (cousin) Robb left off as the proclaimed King of the North.
To do so, he had to die.
Jon may not be Ned’s son, but he’s molded in his fatally righteous image, as we were reminded of last week when he literally galloped into Ramsay’s inciting trap. From season one onward, as his family accrued one L after another, we’ve seen him place vows over his heart’s desire. A Jon Snow who wasn’t stabbed by the same brotherhood he chose over avenging his family probably would have never left the Night’s Watch; a Jon Snow who hadn’t died, thus technically fulfilling his Night’s Watch oath despite coming back, wouldn’t have had the unprecedented loophole to do so. Recall, he chose not to ride with Stannis Baratheon to battle the Boltons last season even when Stannis, acting on self-proclaimed kingly authority, promised to legitimize him and give him Winterfell should they take it. (Of course, he didn’t know his sister was there, captive to a maniacal serial rapist.) The Stark family wouldn’t have had the huge win they were long overdue for if Jon didn’t die first. If getting stabbed 87 times is the kick the guy needed to finally avenge his fam, I’m glad it happened. But why was his resurrection so fucking boring?
I’m not talking about the banality of “Home’s” climax, which we all predicted almost beat for beat as soon as the credits rolled on his death last summer. Though, that’s certainly where it started.
Plot twists in serial narratives are only as good as their ensuing consequences. As fans and critics alike grew irate at the blatant inevitability of Jon's return, while producers and Kit Harrington played coy, I remained unbothered, confident there was more to the story than just a cheap hiatus cliffhanger. The excitement, for me at least, was less about how Jon would be revived than how Jon would be changed. In theorizing with a friend all summer ‘15, our minds raced to another show we had been mutually obsessed with: Lost, of course. A majority of people jumped ship by then, but a twist in Lost's fifth season finale remains one of my favorite across all of television. In the finale prior, the audience learns John Locke would die in the not-too-distant future. By season five, episode seven we learned how. In that same episode, as the future becomes the present, Locke has been revived. It was as much as a surprise as Jon’s resurrection, because like Jon is to Thrones, Locke was too important to Lost’s narrative and endgame to die that early. At least, so he thought. In the remainder of the season that follows, something is subtly but noticeably different about him. Perhaps it’s just the understandable feeling of validation that he was right all along, that he is too important to the Island to die. Until, in a masterstroke of plotting, the aforementioned season five finale reveals John Locke never came back—somebody else has been wearing his face.
Now look, I’m not saying I needed Jon to be resurrected as Azor Ahai (Long myth short, the chosen Prince Melisandre’s always going on about) for this arc to be validated, though if that had been revealed I would've jumped off the nearest ledge quicker than Tommen in celebration. How great would it have been if all the insistences that "he's really dead" were ironically literal, and the same Jon Snow didn't return, reanimation notwithstanding?
I think back to Beric Dondarrion, who warned Arya of the dangers of resurrection when she asked if it might be possible for her father. Each time he comes back, he loses memories—and loses some of himself. I wanted there to be something different about Jon. I wanted the experience of being dead for two days to change him. George R.R. Martin himself laid precedent for such: "My characters who come back from death are worse for wear. In some ways, they're not even the same characters before. The body may be moving, but some aspect of the spirit is changed or transformed, and they've lost something." What did Jon lose? I at least fucking wanted some cliché, artsy editing, PTSD-style recurring nightmares of Jon recalling the stabbings and his last breath. Alas, if anything, Jon came back duller. If it sounds like I’m being picky and nerdy just answer this: after Jon returned and the traitors hanged (fuck you, Olly) what further impact did his death and revival have on the story?
This is just another season in a larger, long-game serial narrative and Jon still has plenty of story to go. We know his true parentage, but he doesn’t—his cousin Bran is hopefully headed for Winterfell to tell him. His aunt Daenerys is pulling up. Martin’s saga is A Song of Ice and Fire, and Jon literally belongs to both sets. He’s the new King of the North and the only one equipped to battle the Night's King; his fireproof aunt is headed in his general direction. All story signs point to him being the de facto hero of this story. His death and subsequent rebirth may still have ramifications down the line.
But from what we’ve seen so far? He really didn't have to die at all.