The fourth episode of Game of Thrones Season 7 featured a surprising callback to Jon Snow’s past. No, it isn’t when Jon turns up right when Daenerys and Missandei are talking about oral sex, which he invented in Season 3’s “Kissed by Fire.” Rather, it is almost an exact reenactment of a conversation Jon had with another monarch seasons ago — only now, the roles have been reversed.
Jon Snow is a lot like Ned Stark in his sense of honor and grim manner, and he’s like his biological father Rhaegar Targaryen in the fact that he’s a skilled warrior with no appetite for bloodshed. But he’s also been shaped by the influence of King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder (RIP). In Season 5, Stannis Baratheon instructed Jon to tell Mance he needed to bend the knee to Stannis or else face death.
Jon tried to sell the idea of bending the knee by imploring Mance to stick around for the sake of his people. “Isn’t their survival more important than your pride?” Jon told Mance.
Flash forward to Season 7, when Jon is a king in his own right, and Daenerys Targaryen says the exact same thing to Jon when imploring him to bend the knee to her.
They really are related — aunt and nephew use the same argument.
When Jon was on the other side of this debate, Mance argued that it wasn’t a matter of his personal pride but the very way of his people. And he died for preserving this way. In retaliation for his refusal to bend the knee, Stannis burned him at the stake in Season 5. As a sign of Jon’s respect for Mance, he defied Stannis, shooting Mance with an arrow to mercifully speed up his death.
What does it mean that Jon is now on the other side of this debate? He can now see Mance’s perspective, and he knows it isn’t just a matter of personal pride. He’s working for the North and their way of life. But, crucially, unlike Mance Rayder, Jon has already been up close and personal with death and might not be as keen on repeating it. He’s also shown that there is one thing he places above preserving his people’s ways: defeating the Night King.
It remains to be seen, then, if Jon now keenly understands Mance enough to emulate him, or if he thinks that the threat of the Army of the Dead is more important.
Game of Thrones Season 7 is currently airing on Sunday nights on HBO.