Jon Snow’s death was inevitable, but so was his resurrection. And that’s a problem when a show like Game of Thrones tries so hard to surprise us.
Snow was killed at the end of season 5, after his ideas about what to do with the Wildlings and his stories about the White Walkers drove the rest of the Night’s Watch past their breaking point. He was labeled a traitor, and just about everyone at Castle Black had a go putting a knife in his gut. Snow was too radical, or maybe too pragmatic, to lead an organization that was so rooted in dogma and tradition. How his death happened was a surprise in the moment, but the act itself was expected.
The final shot of Snow’s body from above didn’t pull back to follow his soul’s escape; it pushed in close. It looked like something was coming back. We already knew Melisandre — a character with a good track of bending magic to her will — was at Castle Black at the time.
There was never much actual tension about whether or not he would be resurrected, although people loved speculating about the “how” of his return, and what the timing might be like. No other character was given as much attention after death, with theories about his death not being final beginning almost immediately after the episode aired.
The cast and crew tried to keep his return a secret, but even many of the actors who were there shooting at the time didn’t believe he was dead, according to quotes given to Entertainment Weekly. Here’s a sample:
Liam Cunningham, who plays Ser Davos Seaworth and is close to Harington, didn’t believe he was really exiting for a second. “He told me to f—off from the start,” Harington recalls.
Snow was always a thin character. His character traits include “never fitting in,” “good at swinging a sword,” and “wants to do the right thing.” Being an outsider helps the audience see the world through his eyes, but kind of leaves him stuck in the “hero” archetype. The first thing Game of Thrones ever taught us was Westeros hates heroes, with the death of Ned Stark. No one is safe, not even the chosen ones.
This is a problem
But Snow was safe, and we knew he was safe.
Jon’s death and rebirth does raise the stakes a bit, but those heightened stakes are nebulously defined. Beric Dondarrion said that he always came back “a bit less” after being resurrected so many times, but Snow is still on his first resurrection. He may have left a bit behind, but he’s got a ways to go until it happens so often that it hurts his soul somehow. We also know that he doesn’t want to be brought back again, so the next death will be permanent if the other characters abide by his wishes. Or they could ignore his wishes and bring him back again, who knows?
Snow isn’t “safe” in the last episodes of the show, but it’s likely that his next death will be more meaningful than his last. The show’s writers seem to want to assure us that sure, death isn’t always final, but it might be next time! It would be a really big deal if Snow were to die again!
And it’s a problem that isn’t likely to be solved in the final season
Jon Snow’s death really did change everything for Game of Thrones, even if it didn’t change the character, but the shift was away from a show in which anyone and everyone could die at any time, toward a more traditional fantasy world in which certain characters are wearing plot armor. And Snow now has the most heavily-plated plot armor of any character, except maybe Daenerys.
Which means that every time the show’s writers and directors tried to sell us on the idea that Jon was in danger, even during major battles, it fell flat. One of the worst offenders was the Battle of the Bastards, where Snow and his forces squared off against Ramsay Bolton. Soldiers died all around Snow, but he wasn’t touched. The arrows fell and killed enemy and friend indiscriminately, but they just happened to avoid Snow. The worse Snow’s situation became after his resurrection, the sillier his escapes stared to feel.
Count how many times during this battle Snow is left with nothing to do, after being saved by someone else at the last moment or just because so few enemy soldiers seemed to want to engage with him. Things happen around him, and from time to time he kills one of Bolton’s men, but overall he seems like a visitor in his own battle. His invulnerability destroys the tension once you know it’s there.
Will Jon die during the show’s last season? Maybe. But we know that when he dies it will be part of a larger act that will have some larger meaning for the final arc of all of these characters, and that’s a far cry from how the show began. Game of Thrones wanted to sell us on the idea that anyone could die, at any time, and it didn’t particularly need to mean anything. Having a good heart isn’t nearly as effective as being a devious bastard, in both the literal and figurative sense, in this world.
Until Jon was brought back, of course. And now suddenly there’s an actual hero who can’t seem to die until the story needs him to. A bit of the magic has been taken out of Game of Thrones, and it was removed the moment Snow came back from the other side having seen absolutely nothing.