When I first read Jon’s death scene in A Dance With Dragons, back in 2011, I was shocked. I read the chapter again. Then I got angry. Not because Jon was my favorite character (he’s OK), but because of what his death meant for the story as a whole: The death of one of the story’s core heroes, deep in the fifth book of a planned seven-book series that began in 1996, could only mean that the end was further away than anyone had thought. After 15 circuitous years, we were back to square one.
That feeling lasted about a week. It was quickly eroded by some of the more rational threads on the Westeros.org forums and the accrued experience of, like, every story I’ve ever read, watched, or heard. Show watchers have recently experienced the same roller coaster. Listen to people talk about TV in 2016 and you’ll hear them throw around industry terms like “IP” and “showrunner” or criticize a plot turn for being “unearned.” Pretty quickly, and with the help of book readers and the content-industrial complex, Game of Thrones’s fans realized that a story simply can’t kill its hero two-thirds of the way through. At least not permanently. It’s right there in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in the stage of the hero’s quest he calls “The Return” and that Hollywood development executive and writer Christopher Vogler calls “The Resurrection”:
This explains the most curious thing about Jon’s death: the lack of anger. Has an audience ever been so blasé, so in on the joke, about being misled? Who cares? Jon Snow is back like we always knew he would be. All the statements to the contrary were just storytellers trying to do their jobs in a more informed age.
On to the questions.
Brandon asks, “Can bringing Jon back really be that easy?”
You’re calling that R’hllor jam session easy? In terms of process — a little snip, a quick body wash, some Valyrian freestyling — sure. But even that was practically trigonometry compared to how Thoros of Myr jump-started Beric Dondarrion by whispering in the dude’s ear. The thing that makes resurrection difficult to replicate, though, is the state of mind and faith of the person attempting it. Melisandre, like Thoros, was at her lowest point. She no longer felt a connection to R’hllor and doubted everything she had ever seen in the flames. She was totally humbled. At the peak of her confidence and smoke-baby-birthing powers, Melisandre could not have brought Jon back. Only when she was broken, desperate, and pleading was she able to.
Adam asks, “Do you think Jon warged inside Ghost and then warged back into his body, or that he was just resurrected by Melisandre?”
I think it was a combination of the two. Jon’s consciousness uploaded to the Ghost cloud at the moment of his death. When Melisandre rebooted his body, the Snow OS was automatically reinstalled.
Mike asks: “So the last time people were resurrected, there was mention of possible memory loss or losing part of yourself as a risk of the resurrection. Are we anticipating anything like this to happen with Jon, and if so what do you think?”
I would imagine that death has a way of changing a man, but we’ll have to wait to find out.
Ryan asks: “Forget Jon. Let’s talk Tyrion. Is this dude a Targaryen?”
Tyrion being a secret Targ is a seemingly crackpot book theory that I formerly did not subscribe to. (In truth, I’m just not a fan of Tyrion being an unacknowledged Targaryen.) However! In light of Viserion and Rhaegal’s decision to not turn Tyrion into a red wine Imp flambé, I am seriously reconsidering my position.
Though evidence of an actual relationship is scant, there has long been gossip suggesting that Aerys II Targaryen, the future Mad King, had a sexual interest in Tyrion’s mother, Joanna Lannister. Joanna first came to court for the coronation of Aerys’s sickly father, King Jaehaerys II, in 259 AC, about 40 years before the events of the show. Princess Rhaella, Aerys’s wife, took Joanna into her service, allowing the young lady to remain in the capital. Aerys, like nearly every Targaryen ever, was known to have a wandering eye, and it was whispered that the Prince took Joanna Lannister’s virginity. However, that claim seems suspect since, if true, her cousin Tywin Lannister likely would not have married her.
Ironically, events at Tywin and Joanna’s wedding provide the best evidence of Aerys’s desires for Joanna. During the traditional bedding ceremony — a rollicking affair during which wedding guests tear the clothes off the bride and groom and carry the couple to the marital bed — many apparently witnessed Aerys, now King Aerys II, taking “unwonted liberties with Lady Joanna’s person.” If you get called out for being too handsy during a bedding ceremony — and check out Edmure and Roslin’s from the Red Wedding to get a sense of how bawdy they are — you really must have crossed a line. Soon after, Queen Rhaella dismissed Joanna from her service.
The King and Queen did not have a happy marriage, mostly because after successfully giving birth to Prince Rhaegar, Rhaella struggled to carry another pregnancy to term. This is perhaps the most interesting clue suggesting Tyrion is the Mad King’s bastard son. The Queen’s next eight pregnancies following the birth of Prince Rhaegar ended in miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature death. Aerys blamed Rhaella for these failures, because, of course, none of these stillborn babes and feeble infants could be the product of his own dragon seed. Joanna, meanwhile, gave birth to wonder twins Cersei and Jaime at Casterly Rock in 266. When the King heard that news, he was said to have remarked, “I appear to have married the wrong woman.” Tywin and Joanna’s next, and last, child, of course, was Tyrion, “a malformed, dwarfish babe” born in 273. Joanna died giving birth to him.
Nicole asks, “Who becomes king if Tommen gets killed?”
In the past, the realm has called conclaves known as Great Councils to mediate issues of unclear succession. These involve inviting every noble house in Westeros, great and small, to gather in King’s Landing to decide the realm’s next ruler. That works only under the most stable of circumstances. Westeros today is falling apart, decimated by war, choked by debt, with an armed religious insurgency controlling large parts of the capital. Many of the families in the realm are, or have recently been, at war with each other; putting them together in a big room is a nonstarter. If Tommen dies, the Tyrells would likely try to hold on to the throne through Margaery (all the more reason to spring her from her cell as soon as possible), while Cersei would attempt to exercise her power as Queen Regent. (Regent to whom? Such questions do not bother Cersei.) The result would be another war.
Jared asks, “Seriously, why does Tommen not just have all the Faith Militant people killed and get his wife back already?”
Because Tommen is weak and enjoys playing with kittens. This is partially Cersei’s fault; she encouraged Tommen’s indecisiveness and stacked the small council with sycophants because it allowed her to rule in his name.
AJ asks, “Who are the Karstarks?”
Roughly 1,000 years ago, an unnamed King in the North tasked his relative Karlon Stark with snuffing out a rebellion. This Karlon did. For his service, he was rewarded with lands on the eastern coast of the North, south of the Bay of Seals (and directly northeast of the Dreadfort; the King in the North was likely trying to keep the Boltons contained). Karl built the castle Karl’s Hold — now known as Karhold — and over the years his line became known as the Karstarks.
Christopher asks, “Why was Harald Karstark so nonchalant in the face of Ramsay murdering Roose and nuking the Frey alliance?”
The most obvious reason why Harry K. was cool with Ramsay shanking dear old dad is the blood feud that began when Robb beheaded Lord Rickard Karstark for treason in Season 3. As mentioned above, the Starks and Karstarks are related, making Lord Rickard’s execution not just ruthless, but an act of kinslaying. If Ramsay is the guy to help them take revenge, that’s who the Karstarks will back.
Less obviously, this is a great play for the Karstarks. Ramsay is a mad dog. No house of the North will feel safe with him in charge. With the Starks gone, who might the Northern nobles turn to to lead them against the Boltons? Well, the Karstarks are cousins to the Starks …
Marc asks, “Is the Three-Eyed Raven like Wikipedia for the realm, or will Bran gain this power to see things in the past?”
The ancient faces carved into the weirwoods of Westeros have witnessed much in their time. From his weirwood root throne, the Three-Eyed Raven has access to everything the trees have ever seen. He’s teaching Bran to do the same.
Jon asks: “In Roose Bolton’s farewell scene, they seem to count House Umber as an ally, but Greatjon Umber doesn’t seem like someone who would ally with this family. Is this just politics, or is there an alliance?”
In the books, the Greatjon was taken hostage by the Freys at the Red Wedding. To ensure his safe return, the Umbers are compelled to ally with the Freys and the Boltons. I’m assuming that’s the case here.
DJ asks, “So who was the dude on the bridge?”
Balon Greyjoy’s younger brother Euron. He’s among the most well-traveled people in the world and is perhaps the only living person to have explored both the Smoking Sea of Valyria and Asshai by the Shadow, the eastern limit of the known world. He’s kind of insane. I’ll write more on him, the Greyjoys, and the Kingsmoot at a later date.
This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 3, 2016.