Is Jon Snow really dead?
It might depend which version of the epic tale of Westeros and Essos you’re referring to—or not.
In both HBO’s Game of Thrones fifth season finale and the final chapter in George R.R. Martin’s 2011 novel A Dance with Dragons, Snow was seemingly killed by his mutinous Night’s Watch brothers who object to their Lord Commander’s plan to enlist the Wildlings army against their common supernatural foe.
When asked point-blank of Snow is firmly gone—as in, is actor Kit Harington released from his Thrones contract?—showrunner Dan Weiss told EW, “Dead is dead.”
“We would hope that after seeing the scene and the way it’s shot that the answer to that will be unambiguous in the minds of the people watching it,” Weiss explained. “It should be pretty clear what happens in by the time you’re done seeing that scene. It’s not an, ‘Oh what just happened scene?'”
Yet when we asked Martin about his A Song of Ice and Fire saga, the author gave a very different answer. “Oh, you think he’s dead, do you?” Martin teased us in an interview in 2011. “My readers should know better than to take anything as gospel.”
And then just a few months ago when we re-asked about the topic, Martin told us: “If there’s one thing we know in A Song of Ice and Fire is that death is not necessarily permanent.”
One longtime fan theory is that Snow might have “warged” into his direwolf Ghost just before he died, keeping his spirit alive in the physical world even though his body had perished. Another is that Melisandre could revive Snow much the same way another Lord of Light practitioner Thoros resurrected Beric Dondarrion in both the books and the series (Melisandre also returned to Castle Black just in time for Snow’s demise in the season finale, which suggests this could happen in the series, as well). Those answers might not be discovered until Martin’s next novel is published, The Winds of Winter, and/or season 6 premieres next year.
When I asked Martin what was Jon’s biggest “mistake,” the author thoughtfully replied, “Were they mistakes? I guess they were mistakes in some ways since they led to him losing control of part of his group. But it might have been wise and necessary decisions in terms of protecting the realm and dealing with the threat of the White Walkers. I’m a huge student of history, and all through history there’s always this question of what’s the right decision. You look back with benefit of hindsight at a battle that was lost and say, ‘The losing general was such an idiot.’ Was Napoleon a genius for all the battles he won? Or an idiot for losing at Waterloo? Partly I’m reacting to a lot of the fantasy that has come before this. Ruling is difficult whether you’re a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch or the King of England. These are hard decisions and each have consequences. We’re looking at Jon trying to take control of Night’s Watch and deal with The Wildlings and the threat beyond The Wall, and we’re looking at Cersei and Dany in their kingdoms and their choices.”
But as for HBO’s hit series, the show’s team is taking the public stance that Jon is dead. Harington was pretty firm about it in our interview. Weiss noted that when filming a show or movie, the ambiguity of Martin’s final Dance with Dragons chapter is tougher to pull off—a producer typically has to clearly commit to a character’s fate, one way or the other. “In a book, you can present that kind of ambiguity,” Weiss said. “In a show, everybody sees it for what it is. It’s that rule: ‘If don’t see the body then they’re not really dead.’ Like when we cut Ned’s head off, we didn’t want a gory Monty Python geyser of blood, but we needed to see the blade enter his neck and cut out on the frame where the blade was mid-neck—it was longest discussion ever of where to cut a frame; two hours of talking about whether to cut at frame six or frame seven or frame eight. And that’s all by way of saying we needed Ned’s death to be totally unambiguous. I remember reading the book and going back and forth, like, ‘Did I miss something? Was [Ned] swapped out for somebody else?’ There’s a level of ambiguity because you’re not seeing something starkly represented. In the book, you can write around things to preserve a certain level of mystery that you have to commit to on screen.”
If Jon is alive in the books yet dead on the show, it would not be the first time the series has declined to potentially resurrect a central character that’s still around in the novels. In Martin’s books [book spoilers], Catelyn Stark’s vengeful spirit is resurrected as Lady Stoneheart, but that character has not appeared in the show and does not seem to be a part of the showrunners’ plan. And Wildling leader Mance Rayder was firmly killed off when he was burned at the stake in the show’s fifth season finale, but in the books the burning scene was a Melisandre-aided illusion, and Mance later popped up in Ramsay’s court at Winterfell.
But as for Jon in the series … c’mon, he’s really dead?
“What are you gonna do?” Weiss said. “Kit’s a good looking guy. He’s very talented. He’s very sweet, and very easy to work with. It will be a sad day shooting that scene.”
For more on this topic, here’s our interview with Kit Harington.
PLUS EW’s mega-coverage of the Thrones season finale: