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Game of Thrones season 6: The big Jon Snow reveal, explained

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.

MAJOR SPOILERS for season six, episode two of Game of Thrones are below.

Seriously, don't read on if you don't want to know.

Since July 2011, readers of George R.R. Martin's books have been in suspense about the fate of one of the series' central characters, Jon Snow.

Now, nearly five years later, Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones, titled "Home," has resolved this cliffhanger in dramatic and definitive fashion.

As many fans suspected, Jon Snow was not in fact gone for good. With the aid of Melisandre's magic, he returned to life in the final moments of this week's episode.

And though some may cry foul that Game of Thrones has chickened out of killing a major character, delivering a cheap fake-out instead, this is a plot development that's been long in the making.

There were ample clues in the books and hints by the show's creators that Jon's death wouldn't necessarily be permanent, as I wrote last week (and last year). And the series laid the groundwork for Melisandre's resurrection of him all the way back in season three.

So the big question all along, to me, hasn't been whether Jon Snow would come back — it's been whether his brush with death would make the character more interesting. And on that, the jury's still out.

The groundwork for this twist was laid back in season three

Remember this guy? It's okay if you don't, it's been a while.

In both George R.R. Martin's books and the HBO show, the groundwork for Jon's resurrection was laid with a years-old subplot far from the Wall involving Jon's sister, Arya Stark.

Before the Hound became Arya's traveling companion, you may recall, she spent some time with the Brotherhood without Banners — a likable group of bandits waging an insurgency against the Lannisters.

The Brotherhood was led by Lord Beric Dondarrion (pictured above), who had one particularly unusual characteristic — he'd been brought back from the dead six times.

And the person who kept bringing him back was Thoros of Myr — a "red priest" of the Lord of Light, just like Melisandre. Thoros explained how he did it in the sixth episode of season three:

"I knelt beside his cold body and said the old words. Not because I believed in them, but he was my friend, and he was dead. And they were the only words I knew. And for the first time in my life, the Lord replied. Beric's eyes opened. And I knew the truth. Our god is the one true god. And all men must serve him."

Indeed, the show went even further than the books in laying this groundwork. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss invented a plot line in which Melisandre would visit these characters and learn of Thoros's powers.

She was actually rather surprised that Thoros could manage to pull this off, and told him, "You should not have this power." But clearly, the wheels were turning in her head.

The other bit of setup here related to Jon's direwolf, Ghost. Because another way the series established 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 was 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.

It's not entirely clear whether Jon's consciousness in fact went into Ghost in the show. David Benioff doesn't mention it in his "Inside the Episode" commentary, saying only that "Ghost has a kind of sixth sense when it comes to Jon," letting him know "when Jon's in danger and when he might be coming back." But when everyone left the room and Ghost looked at Jon's body, that was when Jon suddenly woke up.

Fans didn't buy Jon's death, because he seems too important to the larger story

There are also more extratextual reasons most avid fans of the series expected Jon to return: He 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.

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 thought that hero was 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 big question now is whether Jon's character will become more interesting

Jon Snow has a reputation as a boring do-gooder drip, which I think is fair for his portrayal in the show.

It's somewhat less fair for his character in the books, though. Martin gave Jon some really interesting moral dilemmas in A Dance with Dragons involving his conflicts between his duty to the Night's Watch and his desire to end the Boltons' cruel reign over the North, and I've complained that this was left out of last season.

So the big question I have going forward is how Jon's death and resurrection will make his show character more interesting.

If, now that Jon's back, he goes right back to ponderously lecturing about how winter is coming and doing good deeds, then this twist would indeed be a pointless fakeout. Instead, this experience should shake him to his foundations and transform his character.

Encouragingly, next week's episode is titled "Oathbreaker," which suggests the show may finally be incorporating some of Jon's knottier A Dance with Dragons material and sending his character in some interesting directions. But in my view, that's what this twist will ultimately be judged by: its effects on Jon Snow's character.

This article has been updated with David Benioff's comments in the "Inside the Episode" segment.