Game of Thrones: Why This Could Be the Greatest Season Yet
Jon Snow comes back from the dead in "Oathbreaker."
Courtesy of HBO
Warning: The following contains spoilers for HBO's Game of Thrones through season 6, episode 3.
On last week's Game of Thrones, we finally saw the moment that some fans prayed would come and others hoped would never happen: Jon Snow came back to life. Certain critics immediately deemed this a great move for the future of the show, while others called it a cheap ploy to bring back a favorite character. We admit, we had our reservations: Game of Thrones has always thrived on its ability to kill anyone at any time to great dramatic effect, so what happens to that aspect of the show when death loses its permanence? What does it matter when a character dies anymore if the writers can always bring them back to life?
Of course, we had no idea which Jon Snow actually came back last week. In discussing his own resurrection in season three, Beric Dondarrion warned that those who return from the dead lose a substantial amount of their memories and personalities in the process. Other characters who cheated death in various ways got it even worse — the mute and deformed Mountain, the vegetative Khal Drogo, the numerous White Walker-fied Free Folk. But on last night's episode, "Oathbreaker," we see the return of Jon Snow properly, and he looks about the same as we've ever known him — brown-eyed, full of memories, and brooding as ever. And in fact, the other men at Castle Black waste no time in beginning to call him a god.
This obviously suggests a thematic connection to the story of Christ, but it also bears a striking resemblance to a resurrection from earlier in this same show: Daenerys' at the end of season one. As her scene in last night's episode reminded us, she had planned for Khal Drogo to conquer the world with her by his side, and his death dashed all hopes of that happening, to the point where she walked into his burning funeral pyre. When she emerged the next morning with three newborn dragons by her side, that moment signaled her transformation into one of the leading forces of Game of Thrones, from a follower into a leader, from a distraught widow to one of the strongest contenders for the Iron Throne.
Daenerys with her newborn dragon at the end of Game of Thrones season one.
Courtesy of HBO
And in a sense, the same happens for Jon Snow at the end of "Oathbreaker," when he renounces his loyalty to the Night's Watch and storms out of the castle. Indeed, you need to die for your watch to end, which he did, and with little precedent for how that applies if you happen to come back to life later, he's most likely going to get away with it. We still don't have much of an idea as to what exactly Jon plans to do instead (who knows where he'll stomp off to once he leaves the Wall?) — let alone why he chose to leave in the first place. But up until now, Snow's story has remained the most insular of the show's major plotlines, with almost everything he does pertaining directly to his relationship with the Night's Watch and the Wildlings. That all changes now, as he has the opportunity to go anywhere and do anything with the experience he gained there. For the first time, Jon Snow has become a player in the game of thrones.
This is all very exciting, but it's not particularly Christlike for having so openly evoked the comparison. Jon never got the chance to do much as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and he could have very well maintained that protectorate role to see how things would have unraveled naturally. But how many people have now died at the hands of Daenerys Targaryan following her return from the dead? And will we see Jon Snow begin to wreak the same havoc? Perhaps this is part of the greater "you win or you die" theme of the show, that even those who should logically follow a pacifist route will instead take up arms and fight for lack of any better option. How Jon proceeds might give the writers their greatest opportunity to expound on that idea from a fascinating new angle.
Jon Snow in Castle Black for what may be the last time.
Courtesy of HBO
Moreover, this development suggests that the end of permadeath in Game of Thrones doesn't by any means rob death of its power as a story mechanic. Much of the show's plot has spun outward from the characters coping with the most significant deaths — Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, Robb and Catelyn Stark, Joffrey Baratheon. But news of these deaths immediately spread across the Seven Kingdoms, whereas no one ever really heard about Jon dying besides those already at Castle Black. Instead, the real thrill will come from the characters reacting to the resurrection and Jon's subsequent decision to leave in the same manner. What will Sansa and Theon do once they arrive at the Wall and find out Jon's not there to protect them? How will Ramsay's battle plan change with his primary adversary potentially out of the picture? And how will everyone else's perceive Jon differently now that he's done the impossible?
Now we can see, this isn't fan service. The writers didn't kill Jon for the sake of shock value, only to bring him back so he could keep doing what he's been doing all along. His death, his return, and his departure will substantially change the course of the show just as much as a proper death would have, but this time in new and surprising ways. Most importantly, the character will finally have the opportunity to interact with the world beyond the Wall and potentially fight for the throne himself. Bringing Jon Snow back from the dead isn't going to ruin Game of Thrones — in fact, it might lead to the show's greatest season yet.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.