Other Wars, Part VI: Three Questions about Jon’s Future

The previous parts of this essay sought to analyze Martin’s construction of Jon’s arc in ADWD. This concluding installment of “Other Wars” will shift gears a bit to explore the future of Jon’s “war within his own heart.” With several massively traumatic and important events now taking place, it seems quite possible that Jon’s biggest transformations are yet to come, and that his war within his heart is not yet over. But rather than inventing possible scenarios, or getting into the nitty-gritty mechanics of potential resurrections, I will pose what I see as three very important ways Jon could change, that have all been set up by ADWD. First, how will the fallout at the Wall change Jon? Second, how will Jon’s approach to magic and prophecy change? And third, will Ghost change Jon? The answers to these will have a great deal of bearing on Jon’s values, his future leadership, his noble heart, his greater duty, his identity, and the future of his arc. 

Introduction: Wun Wun and Ser Patrek

But before getting into these questions about Jon’s future, let’s pause and take another look at how Martin left him, by analyzing this one remaining element of his final ADWD chapter. I think we should pay close attention to the images Martin uses here, because Dany’s final chapter and scene are heavily laden with symbolism and thematic import. (Her very last actions in the book are eating a horse Drogon roasted — “fire and blood” — and standing beside her dragon. There, she resolves her preference for Daario over Hizdahr, which symbolizes her preference for war over the peace she built through political compromise.)

Now I’ve been arguing that, in Jon’s arc, he is distracted by his “heroic instinct” to help certain individuals, forgets the bigger picture, and places himself and the larger struggle at risk. And in fact… that is precisely what he does, writ small, in his very last action in the book. For after Jon gives his Shieldhall speech and spends a brief moment thinking about his next move, he suddenly hears the following:

I should talk with Melisandre after I see the queen, he thought. If she could see a raven in a storm, she can find Ramsay Snow for me. Then he heard the shouting … and a roar so loud it seemed to shake the Wall. “That come from Hardin’s Tower, m’lord,” Horse reported. He might have said more, but the scream cut him off.

Val, was Jon’s first thought. But that was no woman’s scream. That is a man in mortal agony. He broke into a run. Horse and Rory raced after him. (JON XIII)

Forgetting to continue to plan the mission, forgetting that Marsh and other Watch men left angrily, forgetting that he now may be an oathbreaker, forgetting that he’s not guarded by Ghost — Jon immediately rushes to go help someone in danger. The hero’s instinct.

When Jon arrives at the scene, he finds that Wun Wun the giant has killed Selyse’s man, Ser Patrek. Interestingly, Martin has also designed this incident so that Jon himself has unwittingly triggered it:

“I have decided that she shall wed my good and leal knight, Ser Patrek of King’s Mountain.”

“Has Val been told, Your Grace?” asked Jon. “Amongst the free folk, when a man desires a woman, he steals her, and thus proves his strength, his cunning, and his courage. The suitor risks a savage beating if he is caught by the woman’s kin, and worse than that if she herself finds him unworthy.”

“A savage custom,” Axell Florent said.

Ser Patrek only chuckled. “No man has ever had cause to question my courage. No woman ever will.” (JON XIII)

Jon apparently didn’t realize that Patrek would take his words as a challenge (Val is currently in Hardin’s Tower, being guarded by Wun Wun — “A giant as protector”). Wun Wun’s wounds make it clear that Ser Patrek is the instigator here.

The giant was bleeding himself, with sword cuts on his belly and his arm. (JON XIII)

On the other hand, Jon repeatedly likens Wun Wun to a blameless child:

The giant was dangling a bloody corpse by one leg, the same way Arya used to dangle her doll when she was small, swinging it like a morningstar when menaced by vegetables. Arya never tore her dolls to pieces, though. The dead man’s sword arm was yards away, the snow beneath it turning red.

“Let him go,” Jon shouted. “Wun Wun, let him go.”

Wun Wun did not hear or did not understand… Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun howled again and gave Ser Patrek’s other arm a twist and pull. It tore loose from his shoulder with a spray of bright red blood. Like a child pulling petals off a daisy, thought Jon. (JON XIII)

Jon evaluates the situation and quickly realizes Wun Wun was attacked. But everyone else seems to take the tableau at face value — a savage giant has brutally murdered a noble queen’s man, and therefore must be dealt with. Jon won’t accept this — note his indignant (and accurate) defense of Wun Wun in his thoughts:

“Leathers, talk to him, calm him. The Old Tongue, he understands the Old Tongue. Keep back, the rest of you. Put away your steel, we’re scaring him.” Couldn’t they see the giant had been cut? (JON XIII)

And so Jon spends his very final moments before his stabbing nobly, desperately trying to do the right thing, defend the innocent, and prevent more death.

Jon had to put an end to this or more men would die. They had no idea of Wun Wun’s strength. (JON XIII)

In being so focused on this particular situation, he has lost sight of the bigger picture, failed to realize the shocking impact of the Shieldhall speech, left himself vulnerable, is completely heedless to an oncoming greater threat, and ends up paying a grave price for it:

A horn, I need a horn. He saw the glint of steel, turned toward it. “No blades!” he screamed. “Wick, put that knife …”

away, he meant to say. When Wick Whittlestick slashed at his throat, the word turned into a grunt. Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers. “Why?”

“For the Watch.” Wick slashed at him again. (JON XIII)

Ending Jon’s arc with this Wun Wun incident further hammers home the importance of Jon’s hero instinct to his arc so far.  I argued that Dany’s final chapter shows a major turning point in her values, where she rejects the idea that she should keep bending over backward to protect innocent life, rather than taking what she wants through force. For Jon, there is no similar rejection of the value of helping innocents, or of his hero’s instinct. As shown above, with Wun Wun, he keeps trying to help people and be a hero right up to the end.

But death can change a person…

Three Questions

I’ve mostly tried to keep these essays to analysis of the published text rather than speculation about the future — but Jon’s storyline ends on such a cliffhanger that I can’t resist some here. To me, the interesting question isn’t whether Jon will come back. I agree with the majority view that Jon is dead and that he will be revived after his consciousness spends some time in Ghost. (The main clues here are the Varamyr prologue establishing the concept of skinchanger “second life,” Melisandre’s vision of Jon as “a man, now a wolf, now a man again,” and Jon’s last word actually being “Ghost.”)

The topic I find much more fascinating is… what kind of a person, and leader, will Jon be when he does return? How will the war within his heart unfold? The following questions seek to explore various avenues Martin has set up by which Jon could change.

1.) How will the fallout at the Wall change Jon?

So, Jon has just been betrayed and stabbed by his own men, and possibly killed. That’s quite a terrible trauma by itself, potentially enough to lead one to reevaluate some life choices.

And yet that will be peanuts compared to the horror that is about to unfold at the Wall. The one event I feel confident assuming is open warfare between the Watch and wildlings. The peace deal Tormund made was with Jon, many wildling chiefs swore loyalty to Jon personally, and they will certainly not kneel to Bowen Marsh after such a treacherous act. Once wildlings and Watch men start killing each other, old habits will reassert themselves — even if there is a substantial contingent of Jon loyalists in the Watch, it is hard to imagine many of them siding with the wildlings against their own brothers. The balance of forces is:

  • 550+ sworn Night’s Watch men, mostly at Castle Black, Eastwatch, and the Shadow Tower, some at other castles
  • 4,000+ wildling men, women, and children (Stannis’ prisoners and Tormund’s band). 1,000 or so warriors. Armed, but many have inferior weaponry, and are “starved and sick.” Most are still apparently at Castle Black, though some have been settled in various other castles.
  • 100 wildling child hostages divided between Castle Black, Eastwatch, and the Shadow Tower.
  • 200 giants and 80 mammoths. However, they are not with the main wildling force — they were sent over to Eastwatch, because they couldn’t fit through Castle Black’s gate. (Eastwatch is currently commanded by Glendon Hewett, an Alliser Thorne crony.)
  • 50 of Selyse’s armed men, who have just heard their king is dead. Also Melisandre, Selyse, Shireen, and Patchface.
  • The Weeper’s wildling band – thought to be thousands strong and planning to attack the Shadow Tower
  • And, oh yeah, the Others and wights

So the wildlings have the numbers, but the Watch men have better weapons, hostages, are in better fighting shape, have superior knowledge of the battleground, and have better communication (much could hinge on the Watch conspirators sending quick ravens to other castles). Beyond that, there are the queen’s men, giants, Melisandre, Weeper’s band, and Others as x factors. So things could play out in a host of different ways.

But the overall takeaway for me is that a whole ton of people will die horribly and all preparation to face the Others will effectively cease. How Jon interprets and deals with this turn of events will be crucial to his future development. Will it kill his hero’s instinct, and force him to take stock and focus on winnable battles? Or, when revived, might Jon double down, blame Ramsay and Marsh for everything, view his own mistakes as merely practical ones, and redouble his efforts to save every innocent he can? Perhaps he’ll grab more power for himself as a means to that end, viewing himself as too handicapped by the Watch’s constraints. For all we know, he could be so traumatized that he’d decide humanity isn’t even worth saving. But I don’t think it’s clear yet what his reaction will be, so I’m fascinated to find out.

2.) How will Jon’s approach to magic and prophecy change?

There is one change in Jon in his final chapter that is quite clear, and seems to be setup for a later payoff. In the beginning of the chapter, he derides Melisandre and her prophecies:

“A grey girl on a dying horse. Daggers in the dark. A promised prince, born in smoke and salt. It seems to me that you make nothing but mistakes, my lady. Where is Stannis? What of Rattleshirt and his spearwives? Where is my sister?”

“All your questions shall be answered. Look to the skies, Lord Snow. And when you have your answers, send to me. Winter is almost upon us now. I am your only hope.”

“A fool’s hope.” Jon turned and left her. (JON XIII)

Yet after receiving the Pink Letter, Jon completely changes his mind, and is newly persuaded of her skills:

“Melisandre … look to the skies, she said.” He set the letter down. “A raven in a storm. She saw this coming.” When you have your answers, send to me

I should talk with Melisandre after I see the queen, he thought. If she could see a raven in a storm, she can find Ramsay Snow for me. (JON XIII)

But, wait a minute. First of all, Melisandre never said she saw a raven in a storm! She gave an incredibly vague and functionally useless prophecy of “look to the skies.” Second… wasn’t Melisandre, and her incorrect prediction of Arya coming to the Wall, the main reason Jon got in this Pink Letter mess by sending Mance south in the first place? Which means that blindly trusting in her advice has now backfired horribly? And yet somehow Jon’s takeaway here is that Melisandre was right and that she “saw this coming”?

Now, if Jon already has a newfound trust in Melisandre’s ability on such dubious grounds, then the apparent fulfillment of the “daggers in the dark” vision, which Jon had dismissed, will surely only further convince Jon of her power:

“It is not the foes who curse you to your face that you must fear, but those who smile when you are looking and sharpen their knives when you turn your back. You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you. Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.” (JON I)

“I am seeing skulls. And you. I see your face every time I look into the flames. The danger that I warned you of grows very close now.”

“Daggers in the dark. I know. You will forgive my doubts, my lady.”  (JON X)

Not to mention, of course, that Melisandre might also endear herself to Jon by resurrecting him, which would be an undeniable display of her power.

But does this mean her claims to prophetic knowledge can be trusted? It’s clear Melisandre genuinely sees images of the future in the flames. The problem with Melisandre is that her modus operandi is to convince powerful men that she knows more than she actually does, and that they should therefore trust her interpretation and advice of those visions. But in reality, she usually seems to know nothing more beyond the vision, which is usually something very vague and open to misinterpretation:

The girl. I must find the girl again, the grey girl on the dying horse. Jon Snow would expect that of her, and soon. It would not be enough to say the girl was fleeing. He would want more, he would want the when and where, and she did not have that for him. She had seen the girl only once. A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away. (MELISANDRE I)

Even worse, Melisandre often feels compelled to pretend confidence when she has actually has no idea what she’s talking about:

“Wildlings massing, Ser Denys believes. He thinks they are going to try to force the Bridge of Skulls again.”

“Some may.” Could the skulls in her vision have signified this bridge? Somehow Melisandre did not think so. “If it comes, that attack will be no more than a diversion. I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide. That is where the heaviest blow will fall.”

“Eastwatch?”

Was it? Melisandre had seen Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with King Stannis. That was where His Grace left Queen Selyse and their daughter Shireen when he assembled his knights for the march to Castle Black. The towers in her fire had been different, but that was oft the way with visions. “Yes. Eastwatch, my lord.”

“When?”

She spread her hands. “On the morrow. In a moon’s turn. In a year. And it may be that if you act, you may avert what I have seen entirely.” Else what would be the point of visions? (MELISANDRE I)

This of course can lead to some very wrong and bad advice. So, Jon’s apparent newfound trust that Melisandre “saw this coming,” likely to be amplified after his stabbing and potential resurrection, is quite unsettling to me. And not only because she wants him to have sex with her and make a shadowbaby:

She knelt and scratched Ghost behind his ear. “Your Wall is a queer place, but there is power here, if you will use it. Power in you, and in this beast. You resist it, and that is your mistake. Embrace it. Use it.”

I am not a wolf, he thought. “And how would I do that?”

“I can show you.” Melisandre draped one slender arm over Ghost, and the direwolf licked her face. “The Lord of Light in his wisdom made us male and female, two parts of a greater whole. In our joining there is power. Power to make life. Power to make light. Power to cast shadows.”

“Shadows.” The world seemed darker when he said it.

“Every man who walks the earth casts a shadow on the world. Some are thin and weak, others long and dark. You should look behind you, Lord Snow. The moon has kissed you and etched your shadow upon the ice twenty feet tall.” (ADWD JON VI)

More disturbing is that, in contrast to Melisandre’s pretensions, we have two very memorable and vivid metaphors about why sorcery and prophecy are quite dangerous and untrustworthy. First, from Marwyn:

“Born amidst salt and smoke, beneath a bleeding star. I know the prophecy.” Marwyn turned his head and spat a gob of red phlegm onto the floor. “Not that I would trust it. Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is . . . and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams. That is the nature of prophecy, said Gorghan. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time.” (AFFC SAM V)

Now, there are hardly any examples in the series so far of prophecy being useful for any important character. In contrast, there are many examples of excessive concern with prophecy leading to folly and destruction, including, of course, Jon’s own likely father apparently triggering Robert’s Rebellion because of a prophecy. So I tend to think Martin shares Gorghan’s mindset. After all, it’s not very dramatic if main characters get prophetic knowledge that helps them solve their problems — that rather drains the drama from the series and devalues their own choices, as Martin has said about magic generally:

“Magic should never be the solution to the problem. My credo as a writer has always been Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech where he said, “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” That transcends genre. That’s what good fiction, good drama is about: human beings in trouble. You have to make a decision, you have to do something, your life is in danger or your honor is in danger, or you’re facing some crisis of the heart… Magic can ruin things. Magic should never be the solution. Magic can be part of the problem.” (George RR Martin interview, August 2013)

This is backed up further by the second major metaphor, about sorcery more generally, from Dalla:

“Dalla told me something once. Val’s sister, Mance Rayder’s wife. She said that sorcery was a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.”

“A wise woman.” Melisandre rose, her red robes stirring in the wind. “A sword without a hilt is still a sword, though, and a sword is a fine thing to have when foes are all about.” (ADWD JON VI)

This is in the context of whether Jon should trust Melisandre’s assurances that there’s a way to save his sister. But Jon concludes that Melisandre has the better argument, and dismisses Val’s later attempts to warn him away from trusting her:

“She knows who he [Gilly’s baby] is. She sees things in her fires”…  “Why let it happen if she knew?”

“Because it suited her. Fire is a fickle thing. No one knows which way a flame will go.” Val put a foot into a stirrup, swung her leg over her horse’s back, and looked down from the saddle. “Do you remember what my sister told you?”

“Yes.” A sword without a hilt, with no safe way to hold it. But Melisandre had the right of it. Even a sword without a hilt is better than an empty hand when foes are all around you. (ADWD JON VIII)

Need I mention again that Dalla was proven right in this case, because Jon’s trust in Melisandre’s bad advice led to the Pink Letter? Unfortunately, Jon does not seem to realize this. So overall, I am not feeling good about this turn of Jon toward Melisandre, sorcery, and prophecy that has been set up.

3.) Will Ghost change Jon?

In the prologue of ADWD, a very interesting point is established about skinchanger “second life” that reads like quite important setup to me:

“They say you forget,” Haggon had told him, a few weeks before his own death. “When the man’s flesh dies, his spirit lives on inside the beast, but every day his memory fades, and the beast becomes a little less a warg, a little more a wolf, until nothing of the man is left and only the beast remains.” (ADWD PROLOGUE)

So, the possibility of Jon’s consciousness becoming more “wolf-like” the longer he’s stuck in Ghost is worth exploring. Indeed, it has been set up earlier in the book, with Jon trying to insist he’s not a wolf, despite somewhat enjoying being one:

The smells are stronger in my wolf dreams, he reflected, and food tastes richer too. Ghost is more alive than I am.  (ADWD JON II)

…She knelt and scratched Ghost behind his ear. “Your Wall is a queer place, but there is power here, if you will use it. Power in you, and in this beast. You resist it, and that is your mistake. Embrace it. Use it.”

I am not a wolf, he thought. (ADWD JON VI)

In the classic Martin style, this self-denial probably means that Jon will soon have to grapple with what it means to “be a wolf.” So what does it mean? Besides the obvious connection to House Stark, I think there are three important traits in Martin’s portrayal of the direwolves. First, they represent power — this is pretty obvious, as they are strong and fierce beasts, they provide the young Starks with the power to kill if they wish, and Melisandre makes the linkage explicit to Jon above. Second, they are fiercely loyal to their pack — the direwolves save the Stark kids many times, and the pack is itself magically linked:

Far off, he could hear his packmates calling to him, like to like. They were hunting too… Once they had been six, five whimpering blind in the snow beside their dead mother, sucking cool milk from her hard dead nipples whilst he crawled off alone. Four remained. (ADWD JON I)

Third, it’s notable that in ADWD Martin starts to emphasize another important direwolf trait… they eat people! Not out of spite or anything, but because they need food, and all meat is the same to a wolf. In ADWD, our three POVs who intentionally warg — Bran, Arya, and Varamyr — all eat human flesh while warging wolves, with differing degrees of moral outrage:

Long leagues away, the boy stirred uneasily. Black. Night’s Watch. They were Night’s Watch. The direwolf did not care. They were meat. He was hungry…The pack was his. The prey as well. He went from man to man, sniffing, before settling on the biggest, a faceless thing who clutched black iron in one hand. His other hand was missing, severed at the wrist, the stump bound up in leather. Blood flowed thick and sluggish from the slash across his throat. The wolf lapped at it with his tongue, licked the ragged eyeless ruin of his nose and cheeks, then buried his muzzle in his neck and tore it open, gulping down a gobbet of sweet meat. No flesh had ever tasted half as good. When he was done with that one, he moved to the next, and devoured the choicest bits of that man too. (ADWD BRAN I)

She opened her eyes and stared up blind at the black that shrouded her, her dream already fading. So beautiful. She licked her lips, remembering. The bleating of the sheep, the terror in the shepherd’s eyes, the sound the dogs had made as she killed them one by one, the snarling of her pack. Game had become scarcer since the snows began to fall, but last night they had feasted. Lamb and dog and mutton and the flesh of man. Some of her little grey cousins were afraid of men, even dead men, but not her. Meat was meat, and men were prey. She was the night wolf. But only when she dreamed. (ADWD ARYA I)

That left the female and her pup for him. She had a tooth too, a little one made of bone, but she dropped it when the warg’s jaws closed around her leg. As she fell, she wrapped both arms around her noisy pup. Underneath her furs the female was just skin and bones, but her dugs were full of milk. The sweetest meat was on the pup. The wolf saved the choicest parts for his brother. All around the carcasses, the frozen snow turned pink and red as the pack filled its bellies.

Leagues away, in a one-room hut of mud and straw with a thatched roof and a smoke hole and a floor of hard-packed earth, Varamyr shivered and coughed and licked his lips. His eyes were red, his lips cracked, his throat dry and parched, but the taste of blood and fat filled his mouth, even as his swollen belly cried for nourishment. A child’s flesh, he thought, remembering Bump. Human meat. Had he sunk so low as to hunger after human meat? He could almost hear Haggon growling at him. “Men may eat the flesh of beasts and beasts the flesh of men, but the man who eats the flesh of man is an abomination.” (ADWD PROLOGUE)

Jon has been defined by his intense moral feelings, particularly his desire to protect the weak and innocent. Yet wolves prey on the weak. They eat them to become stronger. Morality came naturally and instinctually to Jon, but it doesn’t come naturally to a wolf. Wolves do try to protect their pack — but who is Jon’s pack, now? If his consciousness does become influenced by Ghost’s, and he hopes to hold true to himself, he will have to work hard to find a middle ground between his moral and wolfish instincts. He will have to not let his wolf side consume him. He will have to work hard not to go from one extreme of taking great risks to protect human life, to the other extreme of being wholly indifferent to it.

Conclusion

In ADWD, Martin gave continued portraying Jon’s struggle within his heart by giving him his toughest tests yet — tests that pitted his noble heart and heroic instincts against his greater duty. In TWOW, I feel there is setup for the cruel tests to continue, in new forms. Jon has been traumatically stabbed, he will likely see the Wall collapse into chaos, he will likely soon be very influenced by sorcery and prophecy, and his consciousness will be stuck in a wolf for some time. How will all this affect how he values innocent life? How he approaches the threat of the Others? How he assesses risk? How he leads and rules? We can’t know yet, but overall, I think it’s clear Jon’s struggle with himself hasn’t ended. It’s just beginning.

Thank you for reading!

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64 Comments

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64 responses to “Other Wars, Part VI: Three Questions about Jon’s Future

  1. The essays are fascinating–I wonder how Jon’s experiences at the Wall will shape his interactions with his siblings if they meet again. His reliance on Melisandre will be very like Dany’s reliance on Quaithe. How safe will Selyse and Shireen be at the Wall if there is a war between the Wildlings and the Watch? What impact will this have on Stannis’ strategy in the North, if he should win against the Boltons? And how will Stannis respond to Aegon’s takeover of Storm’s End (the Arianne chapter from Winds of Winter)? And what impact will this have on Rickon, if and when Davos finds him and brings him back from Skagos?
    I think GRRM has put a lot of thought into this–there are hints of Julius Caesar’s assassination (daggers in the dark) as well as the death of John of Gloucester, Richard III’s bastard son, who served on the Border, because he received a letter from Ireland.

  2. Chris

    Thank you for your thoughtful study of ADWD – I find this and AFFC (hen viewed together) to be absolutely on par with ASOS, and I look forward to reading each new installment on your blog! I’m curious if you have any intention to write more now that you’ve finished examining Dany and Jon’s A Dance with Dragons arcs… I’d especially like to read your thoughts on Theon’s, Tyrion’s, or Jaime’s arcs. Cersei’s as well, if you don’t mind descending into her insanity for a couple weeks. Or perhaps some essays on groups of characters who have less “screen time” in the last two books – the young Starks, the Martells, the non-Theon Ironborn, Aegon and company… I’m sure that anything you chose to discuss would be fascinating! I just got worried when you didn’t give us a tease of what’s to come!

  3. Jami

    I hope your next series of articles is on Littlefinger, Sansa, the politics of the Vale, and ideally your detailed thoughts on how Varys has played against him. I loved what I read on Reddit but this needs the meereneseblot treatment!!

  4. I was hoping you’d confront the idea of Jon being Azor Ahai more directly, especially as his death contains all of the elements in the prophecy (including Ser Patrick’s “bleeding star”) — but that would imply that he is reborn immediately rather than staying in Ghost for awhile.

    • not really.All the elements are there but they still have to be put together. Theon is the salt,Bloodraven is the smoke,the thief and sir patrick are the bleeding star, there is a sea under the caves that house bloodraven right now. Then there is BloodRaven himself he was a practicer of magic and worshiper the old gods. It makes sense that Jon should be brought back through Bloodraven rather than Mel. I do agree that Jon is going to go much darker. He’s going to really see that he has to protect the greater before himself. He has never had to understand what it ment to be place your people before yourself. OH and Tune if you want some insight into Jon and Ghost them being AA checkout my topic of Westero.org Titled Jon/Ghost and different theory.

      • Kingsland Smarse

        Reading this reply just sparked a thought in my head, and if I’m honest, when I was reading the et tu brute Julius Caesar death scene, I had the distinct feeling that Jon really wasn’t dead. It leads credence to the “man-wolf-man” subject if you reflect on brans transformation into warg. He started having the green dreams while he was on his death bed and eventually recovered. Could be a parrallel, could be coincidence. Just a thought.

    • Wil Harper

      You can also add the fact that GRRM described Jon’s wound was “smoking” and Bowen Marsh was crying(salt).

  5. Madi

    I really enjoy your analysis. They are truly illuminating. 🙂
    And I would like to draw your attention to some corrections, if I may. According to calculations made from DwD still living number of Night’s Watch men at the Wall is around 500-530 (in vote-time: 589, and next due to various things – 3-1-9+6-mission Hardhome with Cotter Pyke). The number of wildlings is difficult to estimate, but around 1000-1500 warriors is good guess. Another thing is that wilding boys (so called child hostages) are trained in fighting, so they aren’t harmless. 😉

    In my opinion Tormund made a pact with Alliser Thorne outside the Wall, so there’s gonna be smooth change in command in the future.

    Sorry for my beginner’s English and once again thank you for this amazing blog. Great job!

  6. DougL

    Whaoh Nelly! Mel never said Arya was riding north, she said a girl fleeing from a marriage and based on all known evidence (nobody knew what was going on at the Karstarks), Jon, and her came to the conclusion it must be Arya, but Mel never came to him and outright said oh, your sister is on her way here. Jon leaped at the chance to believe it must be Arya and then later blamed Mel for getting it wrong, when she had actually described exactly what she saw to Jon and he came to the same conclusion.

    • “I have seen your sister in my fires, fleeing from this marriage they have made for her. Coming here, to you. A girl in grey on a dying horse, I have seen it plain as day. “

      • DougL

        Yes, but then he asked what she saw and she explained EXACTLY what she had seen, and he came to the same conclusion.

    • John

      She primed him to see it that way, though. If all she’d said was “I saw a girl on a horse” he’d have seen no significance in it — she forced him to consider the possibility that it was his sister, which there was no reason whatever to suspect, and once she’d put that thought in his head his emotional reaction made it seem more reasonable than it really was. Classic manipulation tactic (cold readers do stuff like this all the time) of the sort she’s been using her entire life.

  7. Lau

    Bravo! I’ve really enjoyed reading your perspective. I didn’t internalize a lot of these points until reading your essays, and I’m sure I’ll do a re-read to enjoy the books with this in mind. As someone else mentioned, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s happening at the Vale.

  8. Andrew

    Melisandre doesn’t seem to realize that no information is better than misinformation, as Gandalf said: “The wise speak only of what they know.” Yet she seems to care more about presenting herself as an omniscient sorceress than giving helpful advice. The raven in storm described could be Bloodraven, aiding a comatose Jon like he did with Bran during the falldown at the Wall. I think it is in this time that Jon’s true heritage will be revealed to him. This will add to the trauma as I doubt he will take that news well. He might suffer an identity crisis from it.

    I think Jon will learn not to trust in Melisandre and her prophecies as he has now learned the lesson from Gandalf: “The burned hand teaches best. After that advice about fire goes to the heart.” Jon has a burned hand, and will have learned his lesson not to stick his hand into the fire.

    A little mistrust will serve Jon well as he needs to learn to deal with every faction who have concerns to avoid them taking the rout of Marsh.

    Sorcery is a sword without a hilt, and has the potential to do more harm than good as demonstrated by Dany’s dragons when Barristan is asked if they will join the battle his concern is whether they will be able to distinguish between friend and foe. The Gandlaf quote for this one: “A treacherous weapon is ever a danger to the hand.”

    • Anonede

      Well, if Jon is anything like his suspect father, then I think that the opposite is true, and he will learn to the prophecies. Up until now, he doubted Melisandre’s advice mostly, although wishful thinking lead him to act on it. How was that Tyrion’s line about children repeating what their fathers had been doing…

      I sooo hope you’re not right about the dream thing. A small clue could be cool, but to reveal it this way would be lame, IMHO. 😛

      • Andrew

        Well his heritage is going to be eventually going to be explicitly revealed, and there have been a mountain of small clues.

        http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/79816-a-king-in-hiding-adding-it-all-up/

        In a Russian folktale, Prince Lyubim is betrayed and murdered by his brothers only to be resurrected by the winged wolf. Bran is described as the winged wolf by Jojen, and I think he will work with Bloodraven to help Jon.

        I wouldn’t call it lame if it is, and likely will be, well-written. Jon never knew his father, and so I doubt he would follow the same pattern.

        One thing I would like to add about Ser Patrek is that Jon knew early on that he was looking for some provocation or excuse to spill blood.

    • If Jon is who everyone thinks he is then yes. I do think that he might have an identity crisis because Rheagar did something that tore the realm apart and his families blood is on his father and grandfather’s hands. Then there is the thought that maybe the was born from rape. Until someone tells him that his father loved his mother and she him. Then he will get another rude awakening when he realizes that he was heir the entire kingdom and his adapted father allowed him to be shipped off to the wall to die. Plus let not forget that there is more to the story about what Lyanna made Ned promise. If my thought are correct then Ned’s an oathbreaker and that’s apart of the reason Ice was renamed oathkeeper only we don’t know that yet. I think that Lyanna made Ned promise to help Jon get what Robert Stole from the Targs. Remember when the decision to send Jon to the wall was told through Cat’s eyes. We only know that Ned says that a man can raise high in the nightswatch. IN captivity he feels shame for Jon and that he wishes he could sit down and talk to the boy. When it comes to light that Jon’s honorable father acted in an inhororalbe way that could real change him. The thought of putting duty first why neither of his father’s but duty first. Rheagar started a war and Ned allowed him to be sent to the wall and never even told him about his lost place in the world. I think this bout with the nights watch is going to harden jon into the hard and harsh men like the old rulers of the north.

      • Jim B

        “I think that Lyanna made Ned promise to help Jon get what Robert Stole from the Targs.”

        I can’t imagine this being the case. Even if Lyanna would ask it, Ned wouldn’t promise it. Ned doesn’t think that Robert “stole” anything from the Targaryens; the Targs forfeited their claim to the throne by leaving a madman on the throne, and murdering the heads of Great Houses without trial. The fact that it turns out that Lyanna went with Rhaegar voluntarily doesn’t retroactively make it ok for Aerys to boil Rickard Stark alive.

        And if he had promised it, he wouldn’t have behaved the way he did. He wouldn’t swear fealty to Robert as king if he intended to put Jon on the throne. And even if, against everything we know about him, Ned was planning some long-term strategy to betray Robert and give Jon the throne, there’s just no way he allows Jon to go off to the Night’s Watch and swear an oath that disavows all claims and titles.

  9. DougL

    So we all love this blog, who is next on your block of people to look closely at?

  10. Someone

    There’s one matter of Jon’s future that wasn’t mentioned in this blog and tends to get overlooked in all discussions of Jon’s future:

    Melisandre cannot “resurrect” or “revive” him. That’s not how R’hillor’s magic works.

    She can reanimate him.

    We’ve seen two living corpses in the story so far, and both are very clearly still corpses and not living people. Jon can still lead in such a state (Lady Stoneheart does), but he cannot rule. You can’t put a crown on the head of a corpse with knife wounds that will never close. Those with their hearts set on King Jon Stark tend to overlook this or pretend like some new measure of resurrection, true resurrection, will make itself plain.

    What do you think is most likely. What effect do you think being undead would have on Jon’s future?

    • Mel isn’t going to be the bringer back person. Jon has to be able to rule not merely command an army. The north is going to need an heir. I guess you could argue that Rickon could be jon’s heir. I don’t think so Rickon’s place isn’t in the north. Yet I get off topic your right that if Mel brought him back then he would be wrong but also worthless to her. You can’t get shadowbabies from a dead man. I don’t know if the dead cast a shadow. Anyway COFT while blood magic might be better to get jon on his way to rebirth. Though I don’t know how you die and not change as a person and how you look at the world.

    • Brad Johnston

      People keep thinking because Mel said she can help Jon, that she is the only solution, as far as bringing him back to man, resurrection. But I feel Val has the powers/knowledge of the Old Gods, like her sister. Plus she has eyes for Jon, not of lust or power, but of admiration and possible love. From a storytellers perspective I believe she is the one to let Ghost out of the locked quarters and help Jon become what he’s supposed to be. TPtwP/AA, and she his bride. It is a change of pace as far as the wildling woman is to be stolen in the night. Bottom line is there are sooo many ways GRRM can take this story arc. Let Stanis’ family be slain and he becomes the Night King. or have Jon become a folly Night King with his Other bride, and break the cyclical cycle of the Others just being held back and thwarted, and instead kill them off for good, or send them to deal with the other Gods that are playing mankind as chess pieces.

      • John

        R’hllor’s is the only power that’s been shown to be able to bring someone back from the dead fully sentient (if not the same person they were). The only hint that the old gods can do anything similar is Coldhands, and he seems to be tied closely to Brynden who’s an unusually powerful warg. While I imagine Val is going to be important in keeping Ghost alive after Jon’s death, and that she may well be aware what he is and able to explain it to him, I see no reason to think she’d have any idea how to “bring him back”, if that’s even possible.

    • Brett

      Beric and Cat retained some of their personality. Living Corpses are the Wights.

      Additionally, even if that were true, neither Beric nor Cat had the benefit of preserving their psyche in a wolf. Jon does. He will not have quite the same level of psychological damage that they endured.

  11. I agree that wild speculation isn’t the best way to go, so I applaud you on not trying to fit in the events into the Azor Ahai prophecy or any such. Those can be debated without end and I believe your arguments and ideas are much more revealing.

    As for the theme of the next series on your blog, I don’t think Tyrion’s travelling (or any of the other travel-based arcs) particularly fit with what you’ve done so far, take a theme/place and try to place the arc of it and clear up misconceptions that are hidden. Tyrion seems quite straightforward and outside of looking for results to minor mysteries (like who’s Penny), there doesn’t seem much meat on the bone there (besides character studies). Though of course it’s doable, but I would prefer other elements.

    There are quite a few places where many things are hidden or encoded by the viewpoint character. While King’s Landing, the Vale, (Oldtown and the Riverlands) are obvious choices, I’d rather first propose to take a look at Braavos and/or Volantis. Both cities seem to be quite important, Braavos with getting an own map and Volantis with its brewing slave revolts. And with both cities I have the impresson that GRRM is telling us much and more (;-)) by indirect comments and other descriptions.

    But I’d be fine with Tyrion too 🙂

  12. Dragon Roast

    More great work. Thanks for both the Dany and Jon essays,

    Bran has made a connection to Ghost through Summer in the past. Will he connect with Jon/Ghost in TWOW?

    I think it might be likely. Learning that Bran and other Stark children are alive would add another narrative tension to Jon’s story arc. And the magic Bran represents is in some conflict with Mel’s magic (or at least she thinks it is…)

    Cheers..

    • Why does do you think that there would be tention? Bran can renouce his claim to winterfell and so can rickon. As children they can be taken as wards of jon and has their closes relative it makes sense that he would want to raise them. He wouldn’t want one of the bannermen to raise them because that would take to power out of the hands of house stark. It would make sense that if he is raise to be king and he marries Val he would send them to Winterfell or as a to get them out of the north he could send them to their Uncle Blackfish and have them fostered in the riverlands which is have of their heritage.Plus that takes them out of the north and points of rebellion if the northenmen don’t like what jon is doing. I think that Jon is smart enough to realize what a folly it could be to leave them in the north especially in light of his assassination attempt. We also know that Robb came to Bran and they had a talk. We don’t know what they talked about but it stands to reason that he told Bran and Rickon about him leaving WInterfell to Jon. The northenmen aren’t fools Rickon is a child and the bane of any house. Boy-kings with councils trying to rule in their stead and bran is broken. Last but not Jon is legitamate now and by all the laws of westeros they can’t inherit before Jon. Like Robb said That would be like Bran being the ruler of winterfell before me, Renly can’t be king before stannis. His is the better claim. The girls are none factors because who ever they married their lord and husband would become the lord of winterfell. SO the smart thing to do would be to make who ever marries them to sign waver of claim to Winterfell and the North as a realm. They could never claim winterfell and only if there is no heir do their heirs have any rights to winterfell and the north.

      • Kingsland Smarse

        ” We also know that Robb came to Bran and they had a talk.”

        Maybe I missed this, I need to do a re-read… Quotes??

  13. So Jon’s dilemma is between the one and the many, and Dany’s is war and peace. An excellent series! (I still say Sansa and the Vale next, if you’re taking requests!)

  14. Wilbur

    I very much enjoy these insights – thank you!

  15. Pascal

    Enjoying the essays very much. The academic approach to analyzing the novels is refreshing and enlightening. If any future forays are planned, my first request would be analysis of the Theon chapters in ADWD. Much like in Meereen, there appears to be a lot happening beneath the surface, and I’m curious to know if you found any deeper relevance to his arc in the progressive changing of the chapter titles.

  16. D

    Of course Tyrion!
    Dragon has three heads… 😉

  17. It makes me so happy to read this. You know who’s death was literally the saddest thing I’ve ever read. Just thinking about what the last thing to go through his mind was, and him whispering “ghost”, oh geez. Gets me every time.

  18. John

    If we’re suggesting follow-ups, I’d love to see a comparison of Theon, Sansa and Arya’s various takes on the theme of loss of identity. The idiosyncratic chapter names make it seem like this was meant to be a wider theme of the book (or maybe that he just got carried away with that particular device), and it’s touched upon elsewhere – Tyrion, Varamyr, Bloodraven – but those three characters really hinge on it.

    • Joe

      Agreed that identity is massive, and so is “game” (vs. reality?) and the way notions of identity and game interact, even better… but the Blot specialty being analyzing character arc in Dance, I will be very pleased if the next series is Tyrion’s. Can’t wait.

  19. Shahnawaz

    no more essays? Cmon man i neeed my ASOIAF fix

  20. Jim B

    I like your take on prophecy and GRRM’s use of it. I think one of the things I like about R + L = J is that it shows that an entire kingdom was plunged into civil war, with thousands killed, because two romantic idiots decided they needed to act out a prophecy.

    I think that a lot of fandom is busy trying to parse the meaning of various prophecies to figure out what will happen, but the truth is that GRRM could write whatever ending he wants and people — both characters in-universe and readers — will be able to retroactively make it fit with prophecy.

    Just look at some fan theories: the prophecy about Cersei being killed by the valonqar will be deemed “true” if Tyrion kills her, or Jaime, or — according to many fans — if Loras kills her, because he’s someone’s brother, too! (If you accept that logic, then most of the men in Westeros can fulfill the prophecy.) Or all the various rationales for how so-and-so could be Azor Ahai, if you interpret “smoke” this way and “salt” that way and so forth.

    I’m not sure how aSoIaF will end, but somehow I suspect that it isn’t going to be Dany and Jon and [insert third “dragon”] riding the three dragons into a climactic battle with the Others.

    And I would absolutely love it if the final novels confirm to us the readers that Jon is Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son, but that Jon lives, dies, lives again and spends the rest of his years never knowing it. He’s the “secret prince” and arguably for some the “rightful” king of the realm, and it doesn’t matter, because this isn’t a fairy tale.

    • “And I would absolutely love it if the final novels confirm to us the readers that Jon is Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son, but that Jon lives, dies, lives again and spends the rest of his years never knowing it. He’s the “secret prince” and arguably for some the “rightful” king of the realm, and it doesn’t matter, because this isn’t a fairy tale.”

      Yep, this is my dream ending as well.

    • John

      “I would absolutely love it if the final novels confirm to us the readers that Jon is Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son, but that Jon lives, dies, lives again and spends the rest of his years never knowing it. He’s the “secret prince” and arguably for some the “rightful” king of the realm, and it doesn’t matter, because this isn’t a fairy tale.”

      That would be a good way to play it. Or perhaps even better, drop a couple more hints that make it seem all but certain to the reader, but without ANY one character ever putting the pieces together. If anybody even can at this point, it’s going to be Bran using his magical look-back-in-time-oscope, and it seems like he’d have trouble telling Jon about it.

  21. I enjoyed this take on Jon even more than I enjoyed the essays on Daenerys. I’m probably repeating what someone else has already said, but what I appreciate most in your analysis is your ability to show something that was in the text, but wasn’t that apparent at a first reading – like, here, how individually helping some people in distress contrast with protecting the Wall (and Westeros) against the Others, or how Jon makes peace with the Wildlings but refuses to play neutral with the Boltons. That’s what an analysis should do. Thank you!

  22. Prophecy and magic while risky and unpredictable, still have their uses. There is power in it and any1 would be foolish to completely ignore it. It is always best to avoid desperate situations if possible but, desperate situations call for desperate measures. I’m betting on magic being used prominently and looking forward to it.

  23. I’m really hoping the dense and somewhat stubborn Jon Snow learns valuable lessons from all this and changes his approach to leadership and survival. Otherwise, I might give up my enjoyment of the character. Wisdom comes at a heavy price but I hope the price Jon paid does not go unrewarded. He desperately needs to focus his efforts on strengthening the watch and learning the weakness of the others, nothing more. Let Stannis and the ironborn handle the Boltons.

  24. bittersweetroses

    Excellent writing! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughtful, critical analysis in all these essays. Thank you for posting!!

  25. bittersweetroses

    Thank you for posting these in depth and thoughtful critical analyses! I truly enjoyed reading all these Jon essays!

  26. I just thought of something.

    How fast do you think Val came down the tower stairs, blade in hand, as soon as she heard Ser HornyPants start screaming?

    How quickly and accurately do you think she’ll assess the situation when she gets to the ground and out the door?

    Who does she start slicing open first?

  27. More brilliant analysis. Thank you!

    I think you make a great case that the foreshadowing points to Jon going into Ghost for a bit. But I’m surprised nobody is considering another alternative: that Jon is re-animated by the power of the Others and fulfills Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying of a Blue-eyed king that casts no shadow, wielding a flaming sword. I think some people have taken the person in this vision to be Stannis but the wording makes me think it’s Azor Ahai and I don’t think any of the readers actually believe Stannis is Azor Ahai. Further, the words “cast no shadow” definitely have a vampiric quality and would suggest someone who is “undead.” So is there any scenario readers have speculated on where an undead person wields the flaming sword of Azor Ahai?

    I think there is some foreshadowing that could have been preparation for the possibility of Jon becoming re-animated. I’d have to go back and re-read more closely but I believe there was something about it getting really cold as Jon was being assassinated, possibly foreshadowing of the Others presence in the area. Also, there are still Wights chained up somewhere in Castle Black.

    I think that most readers are reading with an elemental bias, assuming that the forces of cold are the story’s antagonist and giving a pass to the forces of the fire god, even when they do bad things. But this is kind of irrational isn’t it? After all, hot and cold are just two elemental forces that balance each other out. We know that an ancestor of Jon’s (The Night’s King) once fell in love with an Other, so they are not just raging demons. We also know that being brought back from the dead doesn’t necessarily turn you into a moral zombie – Cold Hands has proved this. Is it okay for Mellisendre to bring Jon back from the dead but not the Others? And if so, why?

    If you look at this possibility, you can see that Jon’s acceptance of the Wildings could have been a foreshadowing of him eventually making peace with the Others down the line. In the first case he had to look past the paradigm of this brothers that all humans north of the wall were bad guys. Who’s to say he won’t take this a step further and look past the readers’ bias as well, finding empathy with the Others.

    I just don’t see any reason we should all be implicitly rooting for the forces of R’hllor to win this epic conflict.

    • A. E.

      Very interesting alternate theory.

    • We don’t actually know that the story of Night’s King is true, in whole or in part, literally or figuratively. I know it comes from Old Nan, but this is a tale that has been transmitted strictly orally for a few thousand years. And the act of raising the dead itself is not evil. That is determined by the purpose or your intentions for the act. Raising the dead so you can send them to slaughter the people they loved and were loved by seems pretty evil.

  28. Tommystinker

    Great essay’s an excellent read.

  29. “Night gathers and now my watch begins. IT SHALL NOT END UNTIL MY DEATH.”

    Technically, Jon’s vows and obligations towards the Nights Watch could be fulfilled. So if (when?) he is brought back to life, he could be free to do all sorts of fun things like: get married (to Danaerys?), hold titles and land (Warden of the North? King in the North? King of Westeros?), have children (Ice + Fire babies with Dany?), etc. etc.

  30. abwolverine

    This whole blog is amazing. Your analysis made me appreciate the series in a whole new way. I haven’t thought like this about literature since college. I am re-reading the entire series more slowly now to appreciate all the little details and set up.

    I am worried that the events will change Jon to be more like Dany, concluding that the realm is more important than any individual. My worst fear is for Arya to find Jon and him not to care that they’re reunited, either because he forgets some of his past while in Ghost, or because he sees his love for his family as something that has to be sacrificed for the greater good (in contrast to his own past actions, or even to atone for Rhaegar sacrificing the greater good for individual love). Some kind of Jon/Arya reunion could present a huge test for Jon, and it could be terribly heartbreaking. As GRRM has some serious heartbreaking chops, I’m scared!

  31. Pingback: Otras guerras: El futuro de Jon Nieve

  32. Simon

    I salute the effort and thought that went into all this , brilliant job well done .

  33. FoolishOwl

    What really strikes is how well this analysis seems to fit the tempo and style of Martin’s writing. It’s the first time I’ve really seen both sides of Daenarys’s nature taken into account, and the first time I’ve really seen Jon’s tragic flaws clearly explained.

    I’m left thinking the next volume of the series will be the most painful and compelling to read.

  34. What these essays about Daenerys and Jon indicate to me is that “A Dance with Dragons” draws a parallel between their two storylines so as to reveal more of Jon’s true, Targaryen heritage. Both are tasked with complex peace agreements (in Meereen, at the Wall) before they are prepared to confront their ultimate goals (the war for the Iron Throne, the war on the Others), but both feel as though they are betraying themselves in doing so (Daenerys’s compromises in her crusade against slavery, Jon’s role as Lord Commander versus his more noble instincts as a Stark), and both find themselves betrayed (by the Meereenese, by the Night’s Watch). Jon, like his aunt, Daenerys, is not above unilaterally pursuing a cause he sees as heroic, even if it means forsaking a number of obligations from his role as a leader. George R.R. Martin ingeniously develops these two central characters in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga (a Northman (ice) and the Mother of Dragons (fire, even though the “Song of Ice and Fire” in the story is one person – Azor Ahai – and that person is almost certainly Jon Snow of House Stargaryen, but that’s yet to be finalized)) through an epic-length prelude to the climax of the series, and masterfully constructs an aura of suspense behind the uncertainty of what will happen when these two headstrong, increasingly powerful forces inevitably meet: will they work WITH each other, or AGAINST each other, and what will be the outcome? Who do you root for? As Targaryens, Daenerys and Jon could very well be the “dragons” in the title of the work: the “dance” suggests a peaceful back-and-forth with them (at Meereen and at the Wall), but no amount of negotiation changes the fact that they’re still dragons.

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