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Why Game of Thrones' Jon Snow is probably coming back from the dead

How could Game of Thrones continue on without this face?
How could Game of Thrones continue on without this face?
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

With the sixth season of Game of Thrones premiering on Sunday, fans of both the show and the related book series are likely to soon learn the answer to a hugely important mystery — is Jon Snow, who was apparently stabbed to death at the very end of season five, really gone for good?

Viewers of the HBO series have had to wait nearly a year for the resolution of this shocking cliffhanger. But that's nothing compared to the wait experienced by readers of George R.R. Martin's book series, who have been in suspense about Jon's fate since A Dance with Dragons was published nearly five years ago.

And since Martin didn't finish the next book in the series in time to stay ahead of the HBO show, the early episodes of the new season are set to resolve this dangling thread for both groups of fans — one of the biggest cases in which the show will be "spoiling" future books.

However, there's long been a near-universal consensus among the series' fans that Jon's death won't be a permanent one, for a few reasons.

First, there's so much still unresolved about his character — most notably the question of who his parents are, which seems to be quite important.

Second, the comments and actions of people associated with the books and show — Martin himself, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and conspicuously still-long-haired actor Kit Harington — seem overall to point to Jon's return.

And third and most importantly, the series has established three main magical ways characters can return from the grave — and not just one but all three are relevant to Jon's current situation.

So, to prepare you for the season premiere, let's recap both what happened with Jon, and the major arguments for why this isn't the last we'll see of him.

When last we left Jon Snow, he was lying dead in a pool of his own blood

This is a dead man.

At the very end of season five, Night's Watch Lord Commander Jon Snow was betrayed and repeatedly stabbed by his own Night's Watch men, who viewed him as a traitor for allowing the wildling people to cross over into Westeros. The camera showed him lying on the ground in a rapidly expanding pool of his own blood, looking quite dead, before cutting to black.

And make no mistake — at that moment, Jon Snow is dead. Showrunners Benioff and Weiss have been crystal clear on that.

In an "Inside the Episode" video last year, Benioff referred to "the death of Jon Snow." When asked about Jon's fate, Weiss responded "dead is dead" and Harington said "I've been told I'm dead." Benioff and Weiss reiterated to Variety again just this week that "Jon Snow is dead." HBO's summary for this Sunday's season premiere includes the sentence "Jon Snow is dead" as well.

So, at first glance, this plot twist may seem to be the next shocking death of an apparent protagonist, from the series famous for Ned Stark's execution and the bloody Red Wedding.

Yet of course, in a series full of sorcery like Thrones, death isn't necessarily the end of the story for a character. And since A Dance with Dragons came out back in 2011, fans have long been deeply, deeply skeptical that this twist is the end for Jon Snow.

Jon is tied into too many of the series' larger mysteries to exit the story now

For one, Jon seems incredibly important to the larger story of the series in ways that haven't fully come into play yet.

For instance, the mystery of who Jon's mother is has been teased from the start. Most fans think they've figured it out, and that his true parents are Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. (Here's our fuller explainer on the R+L=J theory.) For a while, the show had been mostly ignoring the history of those two long-dead characters, but in season five, Rhaegar and Lyanna were suddenly the subject of several scenes again, in an apparent effort to remind viewers of their importance.

This revelation would be deeply significant, because it would make Jon a blood relative of another main character, Daenerys Targaryen (she's Rhaegar's sister, so Jon would be Dany's nephew), as well as giving him a potential claim to the Iron Throne. With this "blood of the dragon," he could even potentially ride one of Dany's dragons later on.

Plus, Martin has promised the secret of Jon's parentage will be revealed eventually. But what would the answer matter if Jon was already dead?

Additionally, the books have extensively set up a prophecy believed by followers of the Lord of Light — that a promised hero, Azor Ahai, would return and save the world from darkness. Melisandre thinks that hero is Stannis — but in one chapter she searches for him while staring into her magical flames, and says, "All I see is Snow" — with a capital S. If Jon's father is, in fact, Rhaegar Targaryen, that would mean he's the blood of the dragon, as well as a Stark — a fitting lineage for a mystical hero in a series called A Song of Ice and Fire.

The creators can't keep their stories straight

George R.R. Martin has emphasized that death isn't necessarily permanent in his books.
Fred Duval/FilmMagic

In addition to all this, there are the comments and behavior of the real-life people involved in telling this story, which conflict somewhat but overall seem to point to Jon's return.

For instance, George R.R. Martin has long refused to confirm whether Jon is even dead at all. Just days after A Dance with Dragons was published, George R.R. Martin was asked, "Why did you kill Jon Snow?" He responded, "Oh, you think he's dead, do you?" He then added, "I’m not going to address whether he’s dead or not." And when asked more recently, he took a bit of a different tack, saying, "If there's one thing we know in A Song of Ice and Fire it's that death is not necessarily permanent."

Showrunners Benioff and Weiss, in contrast, have repeatedly stuck to their line that Jon Snow is definitely dead, as mentioned above. But they've conspicuously avoided addressing Martin's latter point that death may not be permanent in a series featuring multiple magical methods of resurrection.

Only Kit Harington, who plays (or played?) Jon, got so far out on a limb as to definitely say that he would not return in season six. "I'm dead. I'm not coming back next season," he told Entertainment Weekly last summer. "I've finished Thrones … I've died," he told the Sunday Times. However, he recently clarified that he did film some scenes for season six, but he maintains he was playing "a dead body" (scenes that have been heavily featured in the trailers).

But there are reasons to doubt Harington here — most notably, the matter of his hair. Harington said back in 2014 that he hates the long hair that he grew for the show and is contractually obligated to keep by it, and that he'd cut it off "as soon as I'm allowed."

Yet here's how he looked as of this month. Hmmm…

Kit Harington looking like the spitting image of Jon Snow at the Oliver Awards earlier this month, and not just because he's with former Thrones co-star Rose Leslie.
Fred Duval/FilmMagic/Getty

Plus there's the broader point that if Jon truly had died at the end of season five, there would be little dramatic value in keeping this fact ambiguous.

In that case, the "reveal" that he has indeed perished wouldn't be a reveal at all — it would be an anticlimax. The only reason it makes sense for Martin, Benioff, and Weiss to all remain so vague on the subject is if there's a further twist coming down the road.

The three ways Jon Snow could be resurrected

Game of Thrones
The first episode of the new season is titled "The Red Woman" (though this lighting downplays Melisandre's redness a bit).

So how, exactly, will Jon Snow return from the grave? There are three major possibilities.

First, it's been established in both the books and the show that the Red Priest Thoros of Myr can resurrect the dead. Melisandre has not done anything similar yet, but as she is also a Red Priest of the Lord of Light with magical powers, many have long speculated that she could have similar abilities. In both the books and show, Melisandre is at the Wall nearby Jon when the stabbing occurs. And the first episode of the new season is titled "The Red Woman," indicating a prominent role for Melisandre early on.

The second way that someone's mind — but not someone's body — can escape death was through warging (when a character's mind enters an animal's body). The prologue of A Dance With Dragons told the story of a wildling warg, Varamyr Sixskins, whose consciousness went into a wolf when he died. Many believe Martin focused on this one-off character in the prologue to establish what happens to a warg when he dies. (The show depicted this, too, when the eagle-controlling wildling Orell was killed by Jon back in season three — his eyes turned white, and the eagle suddenly began attacking Jon.)

In the books, it's been established that Jon has this power too — he has dreams where his mind enters his direwolf Ghost's body — just like his brother Bran. He never really chooses to use or grapple with it, but it's clear to the reader that he has it. And, conveniently, when Jon is killed in both the books and show, Ghost isn't killed with him.

So the most common book reader theory for how Jon would survive the stabbing was that warging would save his mind, while Melisandre would resurrect his body. But since Jon's warging hasn't been set up in the show, it's possible that the show could simplify things by just relying on Melisandre.

Then, of course, there's a third way a character could conceivably escape death — through the White Walkers. We've only seen them reanimate seemingly mindless zombie corpses, but when Jon encountered a wight back in A Game of Thrones, he observed that it seemed to know it was on a mission. Jon met the king of the White Walkers this year — maybe he'll meet him again.

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