What the devastating 'Game of Thrones' finale means for next season
The epic season finale of "Game of Thrones" brought heaps of death, destruction, and nail-biting cliffhangers. Not to mention the brutally humiliating walk-of-shame that Cersei had to endure.
But the biggest upset came when Jon Snow was stabbed, over and over again by his Night's Watch brothers, and left to die as the episode faded to black.
Jon was lured into a trap by his squire, Olly, and then stabbed repeatedly in the chest and stomach until he fell to his knees. The men committing mutiny kept repeating "For the Watch," believing they were saving the Night's Watch from Jon's decision to ally with the Wildlings. The final moment of the episode was a quiet zoom into Jon's unseeing eyes, as dark blood pooled into the snow around him.
But all is not lost. Book fans have many reasons to believe Jon is going to survive the attack.
This scene was towards the end of the most recent book installment, A Dance with Dragons. It was the last readers also saw of Jon Snow, and his fate has been one of the biggest burning questions since the book was published in 2011.
So it shouldn't be a big surprise that fans have taken to forums spending the last four years debating and optimistically gathering evidence that Jon will live on as our hero.
Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
The Importance of Warging
You may recall that each Stark child, even Jon, adopted a direwolf puppy back in season one. Since the direwolf is the sigil of the Stark House, this was very auspicious.
When Bran, the second youngest Stark brother, was crippled after being pushed from a tower, it seems to have awoken a power in him. In season four, we saw him receive guidance in "warging" - the ability to enter the mind of another animal or person, and control them.
This power, also known as "skinchanging" seems most directly connected to Bran's direwolf. He can easily slip into the wolf's body, and does so frequently.
So what does this have to do with Jon?
Readers believe that all the Starks are wargs, even if they haven't tapped into their powers yet. This means that Jon may have the ability to warg into his direwolf, Ghost, and therefore technically survive an attack on his body.
Also, in both the show and the books, we were introduced to a famous Wildling with exceptional warging abilities. In the show, his name was Orell, but in the book is named Varamyr Sixskins.
In the fifth book, Varamyr is the point of view character for the prologue chapter. For any non-book readers, you should know that each book's prologue and epilogue introduce a character that is killed by the end of the chapter. More significantly, these chapters almost always include a major event or piece of vital information.
An example of this is the very first scene that shows three Night's Watch brothers encountering the White Walkers for the first time. Show fans might recall that this was also used as the opening for the series. It set the stage for series' fantasy elements, and also gave readers/watchers the inside knowledge that White Walkers exist, while many book characters remained ignorant of this fact.
Varamyr's chapter is an in-depth look at how his powers have enabled him to survive thus far. He spends much of the time pondering his "second life" - the life he will live through either an animal or another human's body after his primary body is dead. Varamyr also thinks about Jon, and directly references his direwolf, Ghost.
This is the most concrete evidence that the prologue provides:
[Varamyr] had known what Snow was the moment he saw that great white direwolf stalking silent at his side. One skinchanger can always sense another. The gift was strong in Snow, but the youth was untaught, still fighting his nature when he should have gloried in it.
So Varamyr is featured in the introduction of the same book that Jon is stabbed in. The odds of that being a coincidence are rather low. It's very likely that the author, George R.R. Martin, included this section to establish the precedent of people "living" after death through warging.
It is also significant that, in the books, the last word Jon said before falling unconscious was "Ghost." He was clearly thinking about his direwolf in the midst of this trauma.
But even if Jon wargs into Ghost, what will happen to his body?
Resurrection and the Lord of Light
Melisandre, the fire priestess and shadowbinder that accompanies Stannis, is a self-proclaimed servant of the Lord of Light. She has made many claims about the power of blood magic, and her ability to "see" the future through fire.
Melisandre believes Stannis Baratheon is the prophesied hero, Azor Ahai. This is a legendary figure who is the Lord of Light's champion, and will be reborn in order to fight a coming darkness.
The full text from the book reads:
There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.
So Melisandre thinks Stannis is this savior, but there is evidence that she's wrong. For a full explanation, watch this video.
The short of it is that Jon Snow is a strong Azor Ahai candidate, mostly due to signs that are present at his attack. The prophecy states that Azor Ahai is reborn amidst salt and smoke, and the book scene described Jon's stab wounds as smoking, while the man stabbing him is crying salty, remorseful tears.
This is also supported by a cryptic line in Melisandre's point of view chapter in "A Dance With Dragons." She thinks to herself, "I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R'hllor shows me only Snow."
It can't get a whole lot clearer than that. Though Melisandre doesn't understand the full weight of what this means, and continues to believe that Stannis is Azor Ahai, many book readers see this as a screaming clue. If Jon Snow is Azor Ahai, it doesn't follow that this attack would result in his permanent death - he has to be reborn to fulfill the prophecy.
In the finale episode, Melisandre actually abandons Stannis, and rides back to the Wall. Book readers take this as a another clear sign that she is involved in the aftermath of Jon's bloody ending in season five. Perhaps this was the showrunners' way of having her realize that Stannis is not Azor Ahai after all, and she has been led back to the Wall for her true purpose.
And Melisandre isn't the only servant of the Lord of Light who dabbles in magic. In both the books and the show series, Beric Dondarion was introduced alongside a man known as Thoros of Myr, a red priest. Thoros uses a mysterious fire magic to resurrect Beric after he is killed in combat.
So there's a chance that if Jon Snow is supposed to be reborn as Azor Ahai, and we know it's possible to resurrect the dead using fire magic. These two piece of information lead many to believe Jon will be brought back to life by Melisandre through some sort of fire magic ritual.
A concern with this resurrection is that Beric admits he is not the same man when he returns, as if the rebirth causes his spirit to fade. This is where the warging theory becomes important again, because if Jon can move his spirit into Ghost temporarily, then when Melisandre revives him there should be no loss of the-essence-of-Jon.
Another book quote that supports that Jon may warg into Ghost and then return to his body comes from the same Melisandre chapter noted above. She is looking into the flames, and sees a vision of Jon Snow. Melisandre watches, and notes that his figure changes: "Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again."
Hints from George R.R. Martin
Another reason fans have faith Jon isn't really dead comes from the author of the series' himself. In 2011, just after "Dance" was released, George R.R. Martin was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly. The first question was, "So why did you kill Jon Snow?"
Martin simply replied, "Oh, you think he's dead, do you?"
This coy answer seems to be a pretty clear way of dodging any definitive confirmation. If Jon were truly dead, and never coming back, why would it matter what the reader thought happened? This is a classic cliffhanger strategy, and Martin has done this before.
Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
However, her chapters picked up again several pages later, revealing she had simply been knocked unconscious. Fool us once, George.
Another shock came when, through a different character's perspective, readers were led to believe Davos Seaworth, Stannis' advisor, had been killed. It is off-handedly mentioned he was caught, and executed for his allegiance to Stannis.
Low and behold, his point of view chapter appeared later in the book, assuring readers that his head was fully intact, and the rumor of his death was an intentional misdirection tactic. Fool us twice, George.
Lastly, Tyrion fans had quite the scare in one of his chapters as well, when he fell overboard from a ship, and into the watery realm of the Stone Men. His chapter ended with the cryptic line, "black water filled his lungs, and the dark closed in around him."
The show actually mimicked this earlier in season five, when Jorah and Tyrion were attacked by Stone Men and the scene faded to black as Tyrion was dragged deep into the water. As the show revealed, similarly to the book, Tyrion was rescued and spared from any lasting damage.
You get the idea.
Book readers refuse to be tricked, once again, into thinking that a key character has died when their chapter ending is left unfinished. The last line in the chapter where Jon is stabbed says, "He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…"
The trailing off implies Jon falls unconscious. None of the following chapters are from the perspective of characters located at the Wall. This means we have no evidence of what happens beyond the attack, and Martin's history of writing white-knuckle chapter endings is giving fans hope this is another false alarm.
An Unfinished Story
The last argument for Jon's survival comes from the simple desire for a completed character arc. Jon has been built up, especially in the recent season, as a growing leader who will have a great impact on the pending war against the White Walkers. Is it really his time to die?
Jon mercy-killed Mance, defying Stannis' orders of having the Wildling leader burnt to death. Then, when faced with treason from Janos Slynt, Jon made the tough but fair call of executing him. He has also been focused on the bigger picture, and knows the Night's Watch tumultuous history with the Wildlings is not as important as the pending war with the White Walkers.
This came to a head in the eighth episode, when HBO pulled out all the stops for a fantastic showdown between Jon and a White Walker. The Night's King watched Jon, clearly intrigued by this small form of resistance, and it has set Jon up as the most direct antagonist to the White Walkers.
There is also the issue of Jon's parentage. Though most fans firmly subscribe to the theory that he is not Ned Stark's son, but in fact his nephew and a secret Targaryen, this has yet to be revealed in either the show or the books. It's doubtful Jon would die before learning who is real parents were.
Despite the many clues we've picked apart, there is no way to precisely know Jon's fate. The answer lies in the long-awaited sixth book, "The Winds of Winter," or the premiere of season six of "Game of Thrones." Until next season, show watchers can finally join in the wild speculation alongside book readers.
Entertainment Weekly spoke with Kit Harington, the actor who plays Jon, about this brutal scene. Harington claims he is not returning to the show. He was told by the show writers: "Look, you're gone, it's done."
This may deter some fans from believing that Jon is still alive, but it's entirely possible that the show writers are keeping his fate a huge secret - even from the actors involved.
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