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 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, identities writer Emily Crockett, foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp, and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for more entries.
Todd VanDerWerff: Here's an interesting query posed by BuzzFeed's Jarett Wieselman:
What makes Jon Snow more deserving of resurrection than the 4 Nights Watch-men he killed tonight other than his status as a main character?— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) May 9, 2016
Now, obviously the answer is that the four men who were executed were the reason Jon needed resurrecting in the first place, having stabbed him to death because they didn't agree with the decisions he made as the lord commander of the Night's Watch. The situation bears out a pretty typical interpretation of the rule of law: If you try to take out your leader and fail — even if that failure involves an unprecedented resurrection — you're probably going to be executed.
But Wieselman is getting at a deeper issue, one that pertains to the larger story arc of Game of Thrones' sixth season: It's not immediately clear why Davos was so certain that Jon needed to be resurrected, nor why Jon, specifically, was the first main character on the show to be resurrected, outside of relying on ancient prophecies described in the show's source novels (and which most casual fans of the show won't know about).
And that means Jon's return feels almost completely arbitrary or, worse, like it only happened because he's one of Game of Thrones' main characters.
I'll admit that I don't entirely agree with this point. But I can rattle off, easily enough, several reasons for why Jon Snow had to return, particularly if you consider basic storytelling concerns like "the plot needs him in order to function properly, for better or worse."
The most basic reason for Jon's resurrection is that if you look back to season five, you can see the show planting the seeds of Davos's turn from Stannis toward Jon, particularly in the last few episodes. If you really try, you can figure out how to connect all those dots.
But that's the problem: If you're only a casual fan of Game of Thrones, it's not immediately clear that the show has connected the dots, at least in a satisfying, logical way. That's led to responses like the one in this tweet from Mark Harris, posted immediately after Jon returned from the dead:
One (more) bad thing about comic-book culture taking over TV culture and movie culture: Nobody stays dead.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) May 2, 2016
On its surface, Harris's statement is nuts to both superfans of the TV show and people who've read the source books, who have been debating this stuff endlessly for years. Of course Jon was going to come back from the dead! Everything pointed to him bucking the odds of the show's universe, as a kind of faint glimmer of hope off over the horizon.
But step back a bit and try to view Jon's resurrection through the lens of someone who's not so steeped in Game of Thrones' mythology and lore, and it becomes harder to argue that the moment was earned. Yes, it's nice to have Jon back. Yes, the resurrection stands as a kind of rebuke of the show's seeming nihilism. But did it make sense?
As the show sprawls further and further from its home base of Winterfell and/or King's Landing, it's having to use more and more storytelling shortcuts. For as much as I've enjoyed seeing Arya's journey toward becoming a Faceless Man, we've really only had two scenes and a montage with her so far this season, and they've taken her from blind beggar girl to kick-ass assassin-to-be, mostly via the kind of training montage that's often derided as a hacky storytelling device.
To a degree, this is something a TV show can do once it's been around — as Game of Thrones has — for at least a few seasons. We know the characters well enough that it can nod toward what's already been established to avoid having even more exposition. But Game of Thrones is so massive, and has developed different characters to different levels of satisfaction for different viewers, that it's easy to see where some people get lost on really basic story threads.
The simple fact of the matter is that I could tell you why the book version of Davos will inevitably be on the side of Jon's resurrection (in a book that hasn't been published yet), because I've spent so much time in his head that I know how he thinks and feels about things. But I'm not sure I can tell you why the show version of Davos did so, without resorting to what I know from the books.
In that way, Game of Thrones is still a series pitched at those who've read and indulged in its source material, or at the viewers who are willing to do deep dives on the Wiki of Ice and Fire. But its casual fandom is larger than ever, and that's led to questions like the ones discussed above, making me feel more and more as if something is being lost in translation that I just can't see, because I speak both languages.
Read the recap. Come back tomorrow for more discussion.