Spoilers for the latest episode of Game of Thrones, although if you haven't watched it I don't know why you would even be clicking on this article.
When Jon Snow died at the end of A Dance With Dragons I think most book readers had the exact same response: okay, how is he coming back?
George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire had developed a reputation for killing off main characters long before it ever hit HBO, but it was clear to anyone reading the series that Jon Snow's death, which happened as a cliffhanger in the book (an as-yet unresolved one, from a literary point of view), was only a temporary setback. Martin had, over the course of the four previous novels, introduced not only the idea of vengeful, monstrous undead with the wights but also a different kind of resurrection south of the Wall. Thoros of Myr, a priest serving the same Lord of Light as Melisandre, was bringing his buddy Beric Dondarrion back to life again and again. Six times, in fact. Every time Beric came back he was less of a human than the last time, and eventually he allowed himself to fully die (his seventh death) so that Thoros could bring back to life Catelyn Stark, mother of all these Stark kids running around. Catelyn returned as Lady Stoneheart, a cold and vengeful figure who murders any Lannister and Bolton, even if they had nothing to do with the Red Wedding where she and her son Robb were killed.
Martin had made it clear: the followers of R'hollor can, in the right circumstances, reanimate the dead. There are consequences, and the risen dead are not quite the same people as they once were, but it was well established. In fact it was established in Clash of Kings, which was published in 1998 - thirteen years before the Game of Thrones show debuted. One thing that book readers knew by 2011, when the show started airing, is that it wasn't just the White Walkers bringing people back from the dead.
In last night's episode of Game of Thrones, Home, Jon Snow was finally resurrected. He died at the end of last season, stayed dead for about two hours this season, and came gasping back to life after Melisandre made her own hail mary pass at bringing the beloved bastard back. As soon as he came back Twitter was engulfed with competing sentiments: it's a cheat that he's back! Also, it's obvious that he was coming back!
Yes, it was obvious. And that's good. That's good storytelling. The twist isn't that Jon Snow comes back, it's what happens to him when he does. Like the books, Game of Thrones laid the groundwork for Jon's resurrection very early - Beric Dondarrion appeared in season one. He was brought back to life by Red Priest Thoros of Myr in season three - on camera! Melisandre met him at that time, and was astonished that he could raise the dead. The groundwork was being laid. In fact I would guess that the main reason we have never had Lady Stonheart on the show is that resurrecting Catelyn would have been really gilding the lily when it came to groundwork - it would have made Jon's resurrection a foregone conclusion as opposed to something that had been set up.
Both reactions speak to a growing lack of interest in real storytelling. To complain that Jon was brought back and that it cheapens death is to ignore literally years of storytelling work to get him to this place (as well as storytelling work that lets us know sometimes dead is better). Anyone saying there are now no consequenes to death in this world just were not paying attention previously. As for people who complained the resurrection was too obvious it's clear they value shock over anything else. If a story point is not a surprise they're disappointed by it. It's a piece of our modern spoilerphobic culture, one that believes a shock should be preserved at all costs, and that a shock is the highest form of storytelling. Good storytelling means you will get payoffs as often as you get reversals, if not more often. I fear for the reaction as the show heads towards its final years and many of the things fans speculated about come to pass. The fact that the show laid the foundation for the end at the beginning isn't a bad thing - it's the best kind of thing. Watching Tyrion interact with the dragons last night seemed to indicate the fan theory that he would ride one back to Westeros alongside Daenerys would come true, and that's awesome. And it's awesome that the writers on Game of Thrones spent time establishing this, rather than springing it on us as a 'holy shit!' moment late in the run.
It's pretty clear that the folks behind the scenes knew what they were doing with Jon's resurrection. They teased us for two hours with it, and even the actual resurrection itself was edited to maximize the tension. You can tell from the camera angle that you're looking at a shot where Jon Snow comes back to life... but they hold the shot a little while longer than you expect. You sort of begin to doubt the obvious thing. It's fun. It's good. It's slightly cruel in the right way. It's suspense, one of the better things you can do in storytelling (and one of the harder).
If I had to ding the show anything in regards to Jon's resurrection it's that they didn't bring Dondarrion in for it. In the books he sacrifices his final life so that Catelyn may live, but that story element seems to be gone in Game of Thrones. Somehow getting Dondarrion and his Brotherhood Without Banners to Castle Black and having him make that same sacrifice for Jon Snow would have been powerful, and it would have helped casual viewers remember that this guy existed. Of course at the same time part of the resurrection of Jon Snow is the story of how it impacts Melisandre; just as with Thoros of Myr it was only when she had lost all her faith that she could let the Lord of Light truly act through her. Having the six-time resurrected Dondarrion there might have undercut her loss of faith (and regaining of it) storyline, which I suspect will be a big deal going forward.
One last note: people are complaining also about showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss lying about Jon Snow being dead. First of all, not really. He was legitimately dead. The show, I believe, fully explained that. He wasn't knocked out or astral projecting or frozen. He was a corpse. But second of all, they're adapting a novel that isn't even finished yet. George RR Martin left A Dance With Dragons off with Jon's death cliffhanger. I feel like the very least they could do was to support that cliffhanger in public until the very last moment when their show necessarily gave it away. It just felt basically polite to me.