Let's make one thing clear: I'm a pop culture writer on the internet. George R.R. Martin is a successful author worth $80 million. He created Westeros and the Starks and White Walkers, this morning I created a mediocre batch of pancakes. George R.R. Martin can do whatever he wants and he doesn't have to listen to me.
That said, long before he wrote A Song of Fire and Ice, George R.R. Martin was a huge nerd and just a fan of geeky stuff. He even wrote letters to Marvel's comic book editors, where he raved and ranted about the Fantastic Four. It's safe to say that Martin understands fan culture, so he can put up with people like me telling him how to "fix" his story. And I'd never dream of yelling at anyone to "fix" their story lest I'm their editor.
But coming up three years on the ultimate reveal of Game of Thrones, in which we learned Jon Snow's true parentage and connections to the Targaryens, I'm curious to know if Martin could (or would) pursue a new path in his books. One that's completely different to how things went down for Jonny Snow in the HBO series.
With Winds of Winter on an indefinite delay, there's space to ponder if Martin is willing to change the ultimate pop culture revelation of the 2010s.
Aegon, Begone — As Game of Thrones fans know, Jon Snow wasn't the "bastard son" of Ned Stark. Although speculation within the Game of Thrones universe was that Ned had an affair with a woman in Wylla, or with the noblewoman Ashara Dayne before she killed herself after Robert's Rebellion, no one ever bought that the honorable Ned had a fling with a total rando who birthed Jon Snow.
For a long time, fans knew better, and soon enough we were proven right. Jon Snow's mother was Lyanna Stark, Ned's sister, who birthed Jon and who gave him his real name of Aegon Targaryen (a name inherited from multiple other Aegons in Game of Thrones' pre-history). Lyanna had Jon/Aegon with Rhaegar Targaryen, the eldest son of the "Mad King" whom everyone believed had kidnapped Lyanna.
The true revelation of Game of Thrones wasn't that Jon was Rhaegar and Lyanna's child. It was that Rhaegar hadn't kidnapped and taken Lyanna, but actually loved her.
Halfway through the show's run, most fans were long subscribed to the theory "R(heagar)+L(yanna)=J(on Snow)". These flames were only stoked further when the show creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss confirmed that their guess at Jon's mother's identity to George R.R. Martin was what got them hired to do the show in the first place.
In Season 7, Game of Thrones confirmed the theory. From there, it was just one maddeningly long waiting game before someone could finally tell Jon and Daenerys the truth.
So, we've seen that story. But what if Martin has something else in mind?
Dead Men Tell No Tales — At the moment in the book series, Jon Snow is still dead. In 2011's A Dance With Dragons, the Night's Watch kill Jon Snow in a mutiny when they disagreed with his leadership. In the TV series, that happened in Season 5, a very long five years ago.
The final line involving Jon Snow in A Dance With Dragons goes:
"When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold."
For years fans speculated that those last two sentences mean Jon could be alive. But with the knowledge that Jon Snow does indeed live through it, the line could also be read as confirmation of his death, with no way of returning from it. Who knows what Martin had or has planned for his books; in the show, Melisandre came through and brought Jon back, and that might be what Martin had in mind for his novels too.
But will Jon Snow even be in Winds of Winter? There is actually healthy doubt that he has no place in the book at all, given that Jon isn't one of the many characters expected to provide a point-of-view chapter. That doesn't mean he can't be in the book, but it definitely means readers won't hear (or, read) from Jon himself. Maybe not until the final book in the series, A Dream of Spring.
Snow Patrol — Though fans have been "spoiled" on what looked like Martin's ultimate reveal, one that would have been his Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker moment from Empire Strikes Back, Martin appears intent on keeping the story pretty much as-is. This includes the question of Snow's parentage, which he told Entertainment Weekly is one of the biggest pieces to making his story work.
It has, after all, been in the title all along: "A Song of Fire and Ice."
“The internet affects all this to a degree it was never affected before,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2019, going on to lament how the internet's fan theories suddenly become expectations:
“Like Jon Snow’s parentage. There were early hints ... in the books, but only one reader in 100 put it together," he said. "And before the internet that was fine — for 99 readers out of 100 when Jon Snow’s parentage gets revealed it would be, ‘Oh, that’s a great twist!’ But in the age of the internet, even if only one person in 100 figures it out then that one person posts it online and the other 99 people read it and go, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ Suddenly the twist you’re building towards is out there.”
Despite Martin's twist now being "out there," the New Jersey-born author seems unwilling to depart from what he intended to tell all along:
“And there is a temptation to then change it — ‘Oh my god, it’s screwed up, I have to come up with something different.’ But that’s wrong. Because you’ve been planning for a certain ending and if you suddenly change direction just because somebody figured it out, or because they don’t like it, then it screws up the whole structure."
"So no," he added, "I don’t read the fan sites. I want to write the book I’ve always intended to write all along. And when it comes out they can like it or they can not like it.”
While Martin is now on the record saying he will not change Jon Snow's story in Winds of Winter, he's still in complete control and is free to tell whatever story he wants. That's the funny thing with the creative arts, inspiration can strike at times you don't expect or anticipate them. Who knows what has gone through Martin's mind since that interview in July? Or what's been brewing all along and is only bubbling to the surface now?
Whether Jon Snow's story is the same or departs completely from the TV show, Martin is still doing what he's doing best. He's keeping everyone guessing.
There is no confirmed release date for Winds of Winter.