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Stop judging Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow twist based on a few seconds of airtime

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.

"Oh hai, I'm alive."

Every week throughout season six, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Before you dig in, check out our recap of the Sunday's episode, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, executive editor Matt Yglesias, culture writer Caroline Framke, foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp, and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for more entries.

Andrew Prokop: Jon Snow died, and now he is risen.

And seemingly everyone already has an opinion on whether his resurrection was a good move or a bad move for Game of Thrones.

Is it an awesomely satisfying resolution to a plot thread that's been left dangling for ages? Or is it a cheap trick that proves the show has run out of ideas and chickened out of killing its most popular characters?

Now, it's perfectly fair to critique the execution of the big twist, as Matt Zoller Seitz does at Vulture. Personally, I found it odd that the big idea came from Davos Seaworth, who just in last week's episode said he didn't believe in the gods and had no in-story reason to believe resurrection was possible besides "miracles!"

But regarding whether it's a good idea for the larger story arc, I agree with New York Times critic James Poniewozik, who declared on Twitter that it's way too early to say:

Some may believe that killing and resurrecting any character on any TV show is simply a hackneyed twist. But there was ample setup in Game of Thrones' universe for Jon's resurrection, so you can't blame the showrunners or George R.R. Martin for breaking the rules they'd previously established — they showed another character, Beric Dondarrion, resurrected in exactly this way in season three. And Jon's death and revival have apparently been part of Martin's master plan for the series for well over a decade.

Furthermore, Game of Thrones has done major character deaths to … well, to death, as Zack Beauchamp discussed earlier this week. We already know what it's like to have the rug pulled out from under us, to see a seemingly central character end up brutally murdered. Been there, done that.

But now we're entering a new phase of the story. We know who the central characters are and have gotten to know them quite well. While more shocking deaths may well lie ahead, at this point they really need to serve a thematic purpose that's greater than simply reiterating that "anyone can die." And they need to bring character arcs to an effective conclusion.

Frankly, if Jon Snow had gone out like that, murdered by his Night's Watch brothers without ever doing all that much as lord commander, it would be an unsatisfying end to his character arc. That's why I never believed he was truly gone for good.

So I'll be judging this twist's effectiveness by whether it takes Jon Snow's character, and the larger themes of the story, in interesting directions.

If Jon returns to doing the same old thing he was doing before — brooding, giving solemn lectures, being "brave but stupid" — his resurrection will be a failure, story-wise. Killing a character and bringing him back is a big move. To make it worthwhile, Jon needs to change in ways that are comparably momentous.

Now, I've never thought Game of Thrones has depicted Jon Snow particularly well, for reasons Kelsey McKinney explored here. (I find him much more interesting in the books, especially A Dance with Dragons, where he has to navigate some complex moral dilemmas about how to use his power.) So I understand why some viewers were hoping the character was in fact gone for good.

But death can change a person. And hopefully, it's just what Jon Snow needs to make him much more interesting.

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