Warning – This post and the links within contain serious “Game of Thrones” spoilers. This post discusses the entire storyline of the series up to the end of “A Dance with Dragons” and it also delves into theories about Jon Snow’s parentage. If you haven’t finished reading/watching the series and/or you are unfamiliar with the the “R+L=J” theory, read and click at your own risk!
Why I’m Writing This Post:
In my spare time recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about “Game of Thrones.” A number of my coworkers have read the books and are hooked on the show, and we enjoy discussing our own predictions about what will eventually happen. After these conversations, I often visit the Song of Fire and Ice forums to see how our ideas compare the theories of other fans. In my forum readings last week, I stumbled across this thread about whether or not Jon Snow is dead (after being stabbed multiple times at the end of the last book). Rather than read the contents of the thread immediately, I wanted to develop my own theorycrafting post for once, as I have strong feelings about this topic. I also wanted to write this post as a #thoughvectors exercise. This post seemed to fit the idea of the “inquiry project” pretty well, as the topic is personally intriguing to me, is based upon an “argument,” requires a decent amount of research and investigation, and can be made much more visually appealing through the variety of media that the internets has to offer.
Although some of my wife’s students may disagree with me, I believe Jon Snow is the closest thing that the “Game of Thrones” series has to a protagonist. In a world of “gray” characters, John Snow has a lot of white to him, often acting in the best of the majority even when it conflicts with his own personal and familiar interests. However, the more compelling reason that I believe Jon Snow to be the protagonist of the story is because his character arc closely corresponds to the stages of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.
George R.R. Martin has no problem killing off main characters, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jon die towards the end of the story. But ultimately, I believe that Jon will be alive in some way, shape, or form at the start of the next book. He has progressed through a large portion of the “Hero’s Journey,” but still has a few more stages to go through that could seriously impact the conclusion of the series.
The Call to Adventure:
“The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.”
(This and all following quotes regarding the stages of the Hero’s Journey have been taken directly from the Monomyth Wikipedia Entry)
From the beginning of the story, the reader/viewer sympathizes with Jon and his role within the Stark family. Jon is the bastard child of Ned Stark, and despite his father’s best efforts to raise him as member of the family, Jon does not receive the same treatment as the rest of his siblings.
As the King’s entourage prepares to leave Winterfell for King’s Landing, Jon sets out on a separate path. Realizing that he will never be a true Stark, Jon meets with his uncle, Benjen, and decides to leave Winterfell for the Wall.
Refusal of the Call:
“Often when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.”
Almost immediately after deciding to become a member of the Night’s Watch, Jon has second thoughts about his decision to leave behind his family. We sense Jon’s unease in his conversation with Tyrion and his insecurity intensifies after spending time at the Wall with the other new recruits. Even after making friends with his new brethren, Jon runs away from the wall after taking his vows, but is convinced to return by his his closest friends.
Sidenote: Interestingly enough, in this stage of his journey, Jon receives a burn wound on his hand while protecting Commander Mormont. Does this sound like another well known monomyth to anyone?
“Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid them later in their quest.”
Jon has a direwolf companion. And although he may not have the same level of ability that Bran does, it becomes obvious to readers that Jon is a warg.
And we can’t ignore Jon’s “meeting with the mentor,” where he receives advice about his journey. In the books, this discussion occurs with Mormont, but the show lays out Jon’s conflict in a conversation with Maester Aemon. Interestingly enough, this advice involves a story about an individual with a personal connection to the Iron Throne. Could that be foreshadowing?!?
Crossing the Threshold:
“This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.”
Jon goes through the Wall, a literal threshold between his old life and his new vows.
Belly of the Whale:
“The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.”
It is easy to see Jon’s “metamorphosis” after passing through the wall. Jon kills Qhorin Halfhand and leaves his Night’s Watch brothers behind in order to integrate himself into wildling society. But as Ygritte points out, and as we see through Jon’s internal monologue, Jon never forgets the vows he has taken. Jon’s metamorphosis is not that he becomes a wildling. Instead, his trials prepare him for a role of leadership and a desire to work for the greater good.
The Road of Trials:
“The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.”
While in the company of the wildlings, Jon faces a number of physical and emotional ordeals. Jon meets Mance Rayder and pledges allegiance to the wildling cause. On Mance’s orders, Jon climbs the Wall with a group of wildlings that will serve as a raiding party on Castle Black. Notably, Jon fails in one of his trials as a man of the Night’s Watch when he falls in love with Ygritte. But ultimately, Jon’s time with the wildlings strengthens his devotion to the cause of Night’s Watch. When faced with the decision to kill an innocent man and break his vows again, Jon leaves the wildlings behind, warns the Night’s Watch of the impending attack, and ultimately protects the wall and the realm.
Meeting with the Goddess:
“This is the point when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.”
Jon learns unconditional love in his relationship with Ygritte. Interestingly enough, as much as I’ve read about Game of Thrones, I haven’t read this following idea (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s out there – I just haven’t read it). Personally, I think Ygritte is an incredibly important plot device, as she teaches Jon what humans are willing to do for love. This lesson will help Jon eventually reconcile with what many fans assume to be his true identity. Although Jon may initially be angry that he is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, his experiences with Ygritte will help him reflect on love, come to understand his parents feelings for each other, and help him to accept his true past.
Woman as Temptress:
“In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.”
You could initially read Ygirtte as the “temptress,” as she leads Jon astray from his vows, but I don’t think this is the correct interpretation of the story. The real temptation for Jon comes when he is offered the life that he dreamed of growing up, to be Ned’s true son and the heir to Winterfell. Stannis offers Jon a “return to the known world,” but Jon refuses. Instead, Jon continues on his path to the “unknown” and becomes the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, learning a variety of leadership skills along the way.
Atonement with the Father:
“In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving into this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power.”
Hey, John Snow. Who’s Your Daddy?
Jon has serious Daddy issues. Giving up the position at Winterfell fits into the stage of the journey as well, as Jon must make peace with the fact he will never be the Lord of Winterfell, which should be his, given that he believes he is the only surviving son of Ned, who he still believes to be his father. By reconciling his past, Jon can become Commander of the Night’s Watch and protect the realm.
However, the big reveal has yet to come, and Jon will eventually need to reconcile the fact that Rhaegar is in fact his real father.
“When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.”
This is where our story ends for now. And like a number of other individuals, I believe Jon will warg into Ghost’s body (Supernatural puppy!) and it is in this state that he will learn about his true parentage. Melisandre has an obvious role to play, and we already know that Red Priests can raise the dead. A little foreshadowing perhaps?
Jon has progressed through the majority of the hero’s journey stages up to this point, and I just don’t believe that his story will abruptly come to an end at this point. If you look at the characters that Martin has killed off up to this point, they may be well developed, and you could consider many of them to be “main” characters for their roles in important plot lines, but their story lines do not have the depth nor the cyclical nature of Jon’s. I’m not going to pretend I know what’s in store for Jon Snow, I’ll leave others to make those predictions. But I do know that his watch has not yet ended.
Before I started this post a few days ago, I did some initial Googling of “John Snow Monomyth” and “John Snow Hero’s Journey” just to see if this idea was out there to any extent. I found a few pages and forum posts that discussed this topic, but I promised myself that I would not read them until after I finished my own post. The most interesting and thoughful post I found was this one, which went into a good amount of depth and shares many of the ideas that I have mentioned here. So as Tom Woodward once told me, “There’s nothing you can do that’s not already on the internet somewhere.” However, I do feel like my analysis is slightly different from this author’s, and adds a few more interesting pieces to the discussion.
Applications for Education:
I see a lot of value in the “inquiry” project for students in middle school and high school. According to my wife, I spent too much time writing this post out, but I did learn the following/complete the following while writing this post:
- I practiced my gif making. Although the quality of these gifs is not much better than the first one I made, I made them in a much shorter amount of time (2 minutes or so each) than the first one. Next, I would like to work on the quality of my gifs next and learn how to add text to gif in Photoshop Elements.
- I developed a thesis and supported my argument with specific examples, a skill that’s important for any subject, but especially relevant in language arts. And the finding the “support” for my argument involved looking at Youtube videos. How awesome is that?
- I made a product (this post) that I can use as teaching tool for a lesson on the “Hero’s Journey.” Students could find their own “monomyths’ in literature and popular culture and explain them in a similar fashion.
- While writing this out, I convinced myself that Jon Snow is definitely not dead – I’m at least 99.999999% sure of that. I was at maybe 95% beforehand…