Difficult Choices For Jon Define The Season
Game of Thrones is ubiquitous for its sprawling narrative and gigantic cast of characters. But season five is the season where it honed in and made it clear that it was mainly about one character: Jon Snow.
At this point, we all know that Jon dies at the very end of season five. Killed by his own Night’s Watch. In the moment, it was shocking. Another Stark dead. Season 1 saw Ned get his head chopped off. Season 3 watched Catelyn and Robb brutally murdered. And season 5 now sees Jon get stabbed to death by his fellow brothers of the Night’s Watch.
But unlike the proceeding Stark deaths, this one was not as shocking. It was written on the walls and foreshadowed in nearly every proceeding episode. Sure, the show has shown that no one is safe and death looms at seemingly every waking moment. But with Jon and the buildup to his death, the foreshadowing was done out in the open for all to see. The signs were there. But largely ignored. Jon for all intents and purposed dug his own grave with his honor. What a dude.
Fortunately for everyone involved he did not stay dead. Which is great. Honor to a cause is in what large part got Ned and Robb killed. So, naturally, guided by honor, Jon found an early grave too. Thankfully, Lady Melisandre found her way back to Castle Black and eventually brings him back to life. Jon’s entire story simultaneously built up to his death, as well as set up his rebirth. The code of honor that he lived by defined him. He learned season by season how to become a better leader and an honorable man. But unfortunately, those are not traits that get you far in Westeros. Which is why his rebirth is so important. He learned that final lesson the hard way, but was able to resurrect and start anew.
It is his most important season to date. The culmination of 5 seasons of development, while also starting the plot line that would carry him to the finish line of the show. Let’s take a look at some of the actions during season 5 that led to his ultimate demise.
The Wars To Come
In the first episode, there is his whole relationship with Mance that comes to fruition. Stannis calls him out on it. The people in the Night’s Watch call him out on it. People are unsettled, to say the least, that he views the wildling leader so kindly. Stannis tells Jon to try to convince Mance to allow his people to fight for him. Otherwise, he dies. Jon fails in that task, which leads to Mance being burned at the stake.
And with everyone watching the King Beyond The Wall being burned at the stake, Jon shoots an arrow into his heart. Killing him before he is burned alive. He might be gaining more respect in the long run, especially with the wildlings, but he gets many minus points in the moment from the people in the Night’s Watch. This action practically cements Jon as a wildling sympathizer.
The House of Black and White
In Episode two, there is the vote for new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. This pits Ser Alliser against Jon. Sam nominates Jon unexpectedly and gives a glowing speech highlighting the strong suits of Jon’s character. And next thing you know, boom, Jon is the new Lord Commander. It is a great moment of Jon rising to power. But with power comes great responsibility. And when you are in a position of power, you get a target on your back in Westeros. It is a dangerous place to be and one that Jon soon comes to realize.
Episode three is rife with important Jon Snow moments. Stannis offers him Lordship, shedding him of his bastard name of Snow. He would become Jon Stark and help Stannis win Winterfell. But Jon sticks to his vows and remains with the Night’s Watch. This is something he has wanted his whole life, so you know how seriously he sticks to his vows. He takes being Lord Commander seriously and cannot break that oath. Stannis then advises Jon to send away Ser Alliser. “I thought you should keep your enemies close?” Jon says to Stannis, who replies, “whoever said that never had a lot of enemies.” This is a crucial point by Stannis, but instead of listening to him he names Ser Allister First Ranger. A great honor and a strategic move to buy some good will with some of his brethren. But if Jon sent him away, liked advised, he would not have been there to help conspire Jon’s assassination. Jon believes he is doing the right thing by honoring Alliser, which I am sure bought him some time.
Then there is the insubordination with scum bucket Janos Slynt, who directly disobeys an order from the Lord Commander. Jon has no choice but to behead Slynt. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword,” Eddard Stark says in his first scene. Robb followed this advice when he beheaded Lord Carstark and we all know how that worked out for Robb. But Jon, following suit, beheads Slynt himself. This action buys him no favors with those who were already against Jon in the Night’s Watch. He killed a brother, no matter how right he was in doing so.
Sons of the Harpy
In episode 4, Jon holds off the advances of Lady Melisandre and has some wise words with Ser Davos. He remains committed to his cause even with Stannis still trying to convince him to break his vows. Which is weird, because vows mean a lot to Stannis, so wanting Jon to break his show you how desperate Stannis is at the moment. Both of the conversations Jon has are looming and fateful. The Red Woman, who disrobes in front of Jon and has him grab her “heart” leaves the room with these parting words: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Chilling. To. The. Core. Those are Ygritte’s words! But more importantly, these are words that are foreboding. Jon, in his steadfast loyalty to the Watch, believes he is being honorable and doing the right thing. But in hindsight, these words – you know nothing, Jon Snow – never ring more true than how his honor is going to get him killed.
And then there is his conversation with Ser Davos. One where Davos repeats the vows of the Night’s Watch to Jon and highlights “the realms of men.” Davos is trying to council Jon to look at the bigger picture. Davos thinks he is looking at the big picture, but his picture is narrowed to the battle for the North. In Jon’s eyes, he is looking at the bigger picture. It is in the lens of simply wanting to get the wildings who are beyond the wall to safety and away from the impending doom of the Night King.
Kill The Boy
“Kill the boy, Jon Snow, kill the boy and let the man be born.” These are the words of (uncle!) Aemon Targaryen to Jon, who is stuck trying to make a decision to please both sides: the Watch and the wildlings.
Aemon gives Jon the advice to do what he thinks is right. Commit to his choice and stop caring about what others think. On the surface, this is pretty solid advice. Jon makes his decision to travel beyond the wall, which further alienates half the Watch. This decision pretty much seals his fate. The men of the Night’s Watch propably hoped he died in his excursion north, which he almost does anyway, but hie eventual return to Castle Black meant those sworn brothers had to take action against the man who they feel is a traitor. This brings to light how some great people suffer tragic consequences, because the masses fear change. It takes a true leader to make hard choices and truly commit to them. Jon understands the stakes and is willing to risk his life to save the people who are hated anyway.
As the season starts picking up steam in episode 7, we see Jon gathering some Night’s Watch brethren to take to Hardhome with him. Oh, and of course the de facto wilding leader Tormund. Alliser is none too pleased with these developments and tells Jon right to his face. “Lord Commander,” he says, ” it is my duty to tell you I believe this mission to be reckless, foolhardy, and an insult to all the brothers who have died fighting the wildlings.” Jon, in typical fashion, simply says, “As always, thank you for your honesty.” Jon knows what he is doing is right, even if it has many of the Night’s Watch questioning him. It is a pivotal moment for Jon, who is growing as a leader. He makes this decision and sticks with it in unwavering fashion, for better or for worse (spoiler alert, it is for the worst!)
And then we are brought to “Hardhome.” A defining Jon Snow episode. Here, he lands at a wildling camp and pleads his case to get them to trust him. Many of the words he says are echoed from his speeches to the Night’s Watch. How the Long Night is coming and it is pitting the living against the dead. And how every living person must band together. Sentiments on both sides – the wildlings and Night’s Watch alike – about the dead the other side has caused. Jon’s speech is rousing. Here it is in word form:
“I’m not asking you to forget your dead. I’ll never forget mine. I lost 50 brothers the night that Mance attacked the Wall. But I’m asking you to think about your children now. They’ll never have children of their own if we don’t band together. The Long Night is coming and the dead come with it. No clan can stop them. The free folk can’t stop them. The Night’s Watch can’t stop them. And all the southern kings can’t stop them. Only together, all of us. And even then it may not be enough, but at least we’ll give the fuckers a fight.”
I cannot express how much I love Jon uttering “fuckers” in the speech. Gives me the feels. He trusts his instincts because he knows he is right. And he knows this is the only way to win. He put everything on the table
Jon doesn’t get everyone on board though, much to his chagrin. He is still thinking about the ones left behind. “It’s not enough,” Jon says to Edd as they are loading the boats. It is a moment like this that defines Jon as a leader. Here he is, in enemy territory, saving lives, and he is still weighed down by the fact that not everybody is coming . . . and then it happens. The attack from the Night King and his wights. A truly remarkable television moment.
The attack is less a battle and more a slaughter. It is essentially get the fuck outta there or die. Jon quickly realizes this and what does he do? He puts himself in the thick of the action. And what else does he do? He seeks out the dragon glass because the big picture still matters. That glass is important. More important than his life. “Fuck the glass!” Edd yells. But Loboda, the Thenn who pretty much told Jon to fuck off, decides to help Jon retrieve the dragon glass. It wasn’t the words that inspired him, but rather it was the action. He saw Jon completely throw himself into the muck in a dire situation to help people that were supposed to be his enemies. The two head into the hut with the glass where they encounter a White Walker. Loboda instructs Jon to get the glass, as he would fight off the Walker. An admirable last moment for the dude. Much respect.
Long story short. Jon fights and kills the Walker in stunning fashion. Jon living is great, but the reveal of the importance of Valyrian steel is even greater. It can also kill White Walkers! A game-changing moment for the realm and their impending battle with the Night King and the army of the dead.
The stakes, we know, were high going into the scene before the attack. And after, well, after it seems almost hopeless. The Night King lifts his arms as Jon is sailing away. With this motion the dead on the shoreline rise. A haunting moment. The power of the Night King is real and the fight against the living is knocking closer at the doorstep. Jon living is able to get back to Castle Black and inform people of the danger of the threat at hand.
The Dance of Dragons
The penultimate episode sees Jon return to Castle Black. Standing beyond the Wall with those in the Night’s Watch staring down at him, along with the large group of wildlings he brought back with him. Alliser Thorne gives a scornful look from atop the wall, but reluctantly opens the gate to let them pass. Jon is relieved. Though he still feels like the mission was a failure. Sam refutes this claim, pointing to all the people who are alive because of his heroics. Jon then points to some of the Night’s Watch who are looking at these people pass through with hate in their eyes. Another foreboding sign of Jon’s impending death.
Thorne later says to Jon, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It’ll get us all killed.” Truly not mincing words at this point anymore. Jon’s situation is becoming more dire with each passing day. He saved these wildlings from certain death. Saved them from being a part of the army of the dead. But in the eyes of the Night’s Watch, Jon is a traitor who aided and abetted the enemy. The scope of the big picture is lost on them. The only picture they see is the hate they have for these people. And that hate consumes them and stops them from seeing any other angle.
And all of this brought us to the finale, where Jon was assassinated by Night’s Watch members. Alliser Thorne delivers the first blow and fucking Olly delivers the final. But let’s track back for a second to Jon and Sam’s conversation earlier in the episode. “The first Lord Commander in history to sacrifice the lives of sworn brothers to save the lives of wildlings,” Jon says to Sam, and finishes, “How does it feel to be friends with the most hated man in Castle Black?” Sam, the good friend that he is, reassures Jon that he did the right thing and brings up how Jon befriended him when he was hated upon arrival. But the stress of the situation is clearly weighing on Jon, which can be seen in the final scene. Before Olly bursts into the room, Jon looks wearied as he is peering at scrolls in his dark room, doing Lord Commander stuff. Then he is brought out by Olly to the trap laid by others in the Night’s Watch.
“For the watch!” Alliser says as he drives the knife into Jon’s stomach. Each member echoes those words and they, too, do their part in the assassination. As much as it was foreshadowed and as much as we have learned about where honor gets you, this death is still shocking. You can’t kill the main character! Not again!
But unlike the others, this story is fully and firmly about Jon Snow. Every other character is tangential to his growth. So, despite him dying, there was never a doubt that the Red Woman would bring him back. She is aware of that ability from encountering Thoros a few seasons back, but she never performed the feat herself. “Because he was my friend, and those were the only words I knew,” Thoros says to Lady Melissandre. Thank the Lord of Light that she bonded with Jon, otherwise this would have played out much differently and much worse for Jon.
All in all, season five is much derided as being “the worst” of the bunch. Which might be true. But it is vital to many of the characters involved and none more so than Jon. Jon gets elected Lord Commander. A position he was being groomed for since season one. He was becoming the man he was always supposed to be. He learns how to be a true leader and make difficult choices. And what happens? He is brutally murdered by his sworn brothers. Westeros is a cruel place and honor takes a back seat to evil. Jon’s is resurrected a more skeptical man. But despite that skepticism, he is still as honorable as ever. This time just not part of the Night’s Watch.