Why Jon Snow Should Have Remained Dead on Game of Thrones

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Why Jon Snow Should Have Remained Dead on Game of Thrones

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Spoilers ahead.

A long time ago, in the hazily remembered past, Game of Thrones was once a great show. It was unpredictable, unmissable, and unlike anything else on air. In those glory days (also known as Seasons 1 through 6), the hated villain Ramsay Bolton told his torture victim Theon Greyjoy, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” It was the in-universe acknowledgement that this is a series that aims to overturn well-worn tropes in the fantasy genre. But in its final episode, a happy ending is exactly what the show attempts to give its characters, subverting expectations and giving fans a headache in the process. Bran became King, Sansa became Queen in the North, Arya set off to map the world, and everyone seemed to be doing well. Everyone, that is, except Jon Snow, who went right back to being an outcast bastard.

Of the dozens of important characters to have died a brutal death on the show, Snow was the only one to return from the dead (Lord Beric doesn’t count, I said important characters). But the way his life panned out, he is probably going to look back on this resurrection as the worst thing to ever happen to him. Ever since he came back to life, he’s been as useful as mannequin with a sulky expression. At the Battle of the Bastards, it was Sansa’s alliance with the Knights of the Vale that saved his army. Beyond the Wall, only Daenerys’ timely arrival with her dragons saved him from becoming the first wight with a man-bun. As King in the North, he gave up his title and country’s independence to serve a queen he ultimately betrayed. Jon Snow knows nothing, it’s true, but of late, he also does nothing – nothing worth mentioning at least.

After Daenerys makes it clear that King’s Landing is just the first stop on a world tour of destruction, Jon stabs her in the heart and is taken prisoner by the Unsullied. Daenerys’ followers want him executed for killing their queen, while the Northmen promise to start a whole new war if any harm comes to their favourite bastard. A compromise is arrived at by the new King Bran, and Jon is sent to re-join the Night’s Watch. No family, no lovers, no prospects whatsoever; Jon is right back where he started when he first left Winterfell in Season 1. The argument that his character coming full-circle could be considered poetic gets less convincing when you see how each of his Stark housemates ended up becoming more empowered, self-assured version of themselves by the time the credits rolled in the final episode. But poor Jon started the show as a bastard, and a bastard he shall forever remain.

To be clear, by the standards of GoT, ending up on the Night’s Watch is not the worst of fates. This is a show that has killed off characters by burning them with dragonfire, encasing their heads in molten gold, and locking them to starve in a dungeon with the putrefying corpses of their children. So the brahmachari lifestyle of the Night’s Watch could almost be considered cushy, especially because Snow has already experienced it once before. But it’s not the monotony of a puritanical existence in the bleak North that is the real injustice here, it’s how close Jon came to rising above his station before being sent back to his unglamorous roots. If the show’s plot was a game of Snakes & Ladders, Snow would have made it all the way to Tile 99 before landing on a snake that dragged him back down to the starting point.

Jon Snow knows nothing, it’s true, but of late, he also does nothing – nothing worth mentioning at least.

Maybe George RR Martin has a personal dislike for Jon Snow, which the showrunners inherited. It’s the only explanation I can think of to justify how many times the plot has swerved Jon, whose perennially sulky face is starting to make a lot more sense. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

He first joins the Night’s Watch thinking it will bring him great glory, only to learn it’s basically the trash heap of Westeros humanity. By Season 2, he’s starting to fall in love with a wildling girl, but that romance is doomed, simply because nice things never happen to Jon Snow. After she dies in his arms, he becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and tries to broker peace between her people and his. Trying to forge peace earns him a knife in his back. He comes back to life, survives two hard-fought battles, and starts to fall in love again. Except, he has two problems. The smaller of the two, surprisingly, is the fact that his lover is also his aunt. The bigger problem is that she is starting to go crazy, and crazy dragon ladies are harder to deal with than crazy cat ladies.

Two dead ex-girlfriends. Two prematurely terminated tenures as Lord Commander and King in the North. Countless insults and reminders that he is nothing more than a bastard. It would have all been worth it had Jon Snow lived up to his destiny as a secret Targaryen prince, and taken the throne that others had coveted. Instead, even his heritage as Aegon Targaryen was a huge tease, and the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne was packed off back to the Wall as if he was lost property of the Night’s Watch. Nine years of character building came to nothing, but at least he was reunited with Ghost at the end.

In Season 1, Cersei Lannister spoke the instantly iconic line, “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.” Cersei never foresaw a third possibility, where you neither win, nor die, but simply lose. And when you’re Jon Snow, you know nothing, but you lose everything.