Jon Snow’s resurrection on Game of Thrones was not a surprise, no matter how hard HBO and Kit Harington tried; it was known. The execution of his return was always more important than the fact of it, anyway. But more than halfway through Season 6, it’s time to come to terms with a truth: the execution has fallen short.
Sure, Melisandre’s involvement puts an interesting spin on some Jon Snow fan theories, and Jon is officially leaving The Night’s Watch and moving his plot to more interesting territory. His reunion with Sansa was so touching, a stone man would be hard-pressed to not shed a tear. These are all good things.
But for Jon’s death to transcend its status as a cheap plot device — because character death fake-outs are a dime a dozen on TV — it needs to mean something. And more than halfway through Season 6, all we know is that Jon is sad (what a new turn for him!) and Jon can leave the Night’s Watch.
In the halcyon days of about a month ago, when Season 6 was young, we hoped that death would change Jon. In the same way that Game of Thrones defies fantasy tropes like the princess in the tower, it would use Jon’s resurrection and inevitable grand importance to subvert the Chosen One trope so prevalent in fantasy and sci-fi. We hoped this meant that, instead of moping all the time, he would be bolder and brasher now. But instead of coming back angry, he came back sad and lost.
Granted, his quiet existential despair is understandable – but this, does not dynamic television make. Game of Thrones doesn’t have time to dwell in depression and draw stunning, artistic beauty from it the way The Leftovers does. The show’s sprawling cast hasn’t allowed for enough time with Extra Depressed Jon to make his turmoil resonate. All we really feel is impatience for him to grow a pair. And it’s hard to get fired up about a guy whose original plan, before Sansa came, seemed to be to wander around the North feeling sad.
That was the first missed opportunity.
The second is how the show has used his death as an excuse to incite his departure from The Night’s Watch. That is the sole narrative function it’s had thus far, and as a result, it’s given Jon in a passive role in his own story. A more compelling turn of events would be if Jon actively made the decision to step down as Lord Commander and relinquish his vows.
Perhaps he would do it in response to Ramsay’s threatening letter — there is a precedent in the books. Remember way back in Season 2, when Jon tried to leave the Watch to aid Robb when he heard about Ned’s death?
He could have done the same thing here, and left for good this time. It would have been a powerful decision and an intriguing moral conundrum: Jon would be behaving in a borderline dishonorable manner, and we’d root for him anyway. But instead, the way it happens removes his agency and his choice — of course he can leave The Night’s Watch, the vows say it ends when you’re dead! It takes the easy way out.
Jon’s death and return could have been game-changing for the narrative, but so far all it’s done is made him even less fun at parties than usual. And on a show that has previously featured some of the most exciting and innovative turns on TV, it’s a shame that a potentially intriguing development has become a tired plot device.