Last night A Song of Ice and Fire readers and Game of Thrones watchers finally found themselves on the same page*, unsure what the cliffhanger finale could mean for the future of the story. This is the Schrodinger’s Jon Snow we book readers have been living with for the last four years or so, and I can assure show watchers that you get used to it.
I feel like book readers took Jon’s death in greater stride than viewers did. One reason may be that his death as the cliffhanger of A Dance With Dragons felt so unlike the way George RR Martin usually kills characters that everybody more or less assumes he’s just coming back in The Winds of Winter. And Martin’s books are different from the TV show at this point simply because they are currently littered with undead characters who have real roles, from Ser Beric Dondarrion, who came back to life a whopping six times, to Catelyn Stark, who was resurrected after her death at the Red Wedding. That’s to say nothing of The Mountain, resurrected by Qyburn and now a member of the Kingsguard under the name Robert Strong. We saw him last night in the show.
All of that resurrection - mostly in the name of the Lord of Light, the same god to which Melisandre sacrificed Shireen - points to a seemingly obvious out for Jon Snow after getting the Caesar treatment from the Night’s Watch. In the books Melisandre stayed at the Wall when Stannis marched on Winterfell; by having her return to the Wall just before Jon Snow’s death the show seems to be tipping its hand at her bringing him back.
There was another popular fan theory, that Jon would warg into Ghost at the moment of his death, something we had seen Wildlings do, and that he would spend the rest of the series as a hyper-intelligent direwolf. The show has really backgrounded wargs, and has really really backgrounded warging in the Stark clan (in the books Jon does it and Arya often has dreams where she is warging into Nymeria, her direwolf that has been just wandering Westeros for the last few years. In the books Nymeria has been gathering a posse of wolves behind her) except for Bran, whose warging seems to be critically important to his story. With Jon’s warg abilities seemingly nerfed, this theory is probably right out the window.
Of course it’s possible Jon is just good old fashioned dead. In interviews Kit Harrington has said he is not coming back next season. The show will start shooting in just a couple of months, and it seems likely that someone would notice Harrington in Iceland or wherever they’d be shooting all his Wall business. Maybe Jon sits out the entire sixth book/season? Or perhaps he has a long road back to life, as happened with The Mountain, who spent all season as an agonized experiment.
It’s important to note that Martin has defined two kinds of undead in the novels. There are the wights who serve The Others (called The White Walkers on TV) and then there are those raised by the power of R’Hollor, Melisandre's god, who we know has real power. Those raised by the Lord of Light are still human upon resurrection, but they are changed. Each time Dondarrion rises from the dead he remembers less and less of who he was, and he bears the wounds that killed him each time. By his final life he was barely a man, and he gave his full life force in order to raise Catelyn… but she came back much nastier than she had been before, and became known as Lady Stoneheart and started wreaking real havoc on the Lannisters.
Lady Stoneheart hasn’t appeared on the show, and I would guess that is a choice made to keep Jon’s resurrection more special and surprising. Dondarrion has appeared and been risen from the dead on the show, so the groundwork has been laid on Game of Thrones. Perhaps Dondarrion will give his final life to bring back Jon for the final season.
It seems like Jon Snow has to come back; the question of his parentage hasn’t been answered yet, and answering it when he’s dead makes no dramatic sense. If he is half Targaryen, as seems to be the case and has been speculated by fans for a decade, him being dead before Daenerys gets to Westeros makes no sense as well.
On top of that, there’s a whole bunch of prophecy surrounding the coming invasion of The White Walkers, most specifically about the return of Azor Ahai and his sword the Lightbringer. Azor Ahai had originally beaten The Others way back in the olden days (to do so he had to kill his wife with his sword to make it special - Westeros is tough), and prophecy says that he will return to do the job again. Melisandre thought that Stannis was the returned hero, but it’s become quickly apparent that Stannis (if he’s even still alive after last night) is no hero at all, but rather a tragic figure undone by his own severity. Azor Ahai is supposed to show up with his sword that can defeat The Others, and this season the show proved that the Valyrian steel in Jon’s sword Longclaw can do just that. That reveal has not happened in the books yet, and I have to imagine that this is an important thing that Martin has been holding back purposefully.
So don’t weep for Jon Snow just yet. I have a theory that he will help Daenerys and maybe Tyrion defeat The White Walkers and then, in an echo of how he dealt with the Wildlings, take his own undead self North of the Wall to rule as the new Night’s King and keep the peace between humans and wights.
In the meantime… we’re all pretty much on the same page now. I’m excited that I can talk about the characters and stories of A Song of Ice and Fire without spoiling non-readers!
*Yes, there’s more stuff in the books that will be on screen next year, but it’s all stuff that seems redundant or very unimportant at the moment - nothing that can match up to the events of last night’s finale. Trust me, the Ironborn Kingsmoot isn't a thrill a minute.