This article contains Game of Thrones season 6 spoilers.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, chances are that you are still a little punch-drunk with giddiness after Sunday night’s episode (or perhaps, just drunk-drunk if you are a Lannister). After all, we are still in the honeymoon phase that followed Jon Snow’s resurrection from the Great Beyond, and with it there needs to be a round of applause for actor Kit Harington, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, for keeping the charade going these last 10 months.
But as the elation dies down, the fact remains that we do not know for certain just what to expect from a newly risen Jon Snow after spending about 24 hours as a corpse. And even more intriguing still is the idea of where Jon might go from here now that the snow has been lifted from his proverbial coffin, instead of him being buried in it. He also just might be free of those pesky vows to the Night’s Watch since he’s already died once.
There are plenty of fan theories about what will happen next for the beloved Bastard of Winterfell, and with the end of Game of Thrones approaching faster than you realize (there may only be one extended 13-episode season that will be split over two years after season 6), it is time to consider all of the tantalizing possibilities for what the Jon Snow endgame exactly will be.
A Bastard By Any Other Name
There is a more obvious and beloved fan theory than where we are about to start, but this one prediction about Jon Snow’s parentage—and thus his destiny—that never gets a fair shake: what if Jon Snow is Robert Baratheon’s bastard?
It is no secret that Robert Baratheon’s seed was indeed strong. Such a phrase might have even expedited Littlefinger’s plans to kill Jon Arryn before Game of Thrones’ story began. Plus, there has been so much emphasis on who Jon Snow’s likely parents are with the beloved fan theory of “R+L=J” (which we will get to shortly) that it could almost be a classic George R.R. Martin red herring. While all evidence points one way to Jon Snow’s heritage, perhaps it is misdirection from the truth?
Consider that Lyanna Stark—Eddard Stark’s sister who we saw in her girlhood during Bran’s flashback/time travel to his father’s youth—was betrothed to a young and handsome Robert Baratheon before she was kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen. In the ensuing battle to win her back from her supposed imprisonment at the Tower of Joy, Ned Stark found only a dying sister, whose demise further plunged the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil since Robert would be king after the Targaryens fell.
But perhaps worst of all, Lyanna might have been pregnant with Robert’s bastard son due to a pre-marital consummation. It certainly makes more cosmetic sense for Jon Snow to be a secret Baratheon than a secret Targaryen since his hair is as black as night, like all of Robert’s children, while every Targaryen has a platinum blond coif. Further consideration also indicates the need to protect this bastard becoming paramount for Ned since it was still his dying sister’s child. Robert, meanwhile, would have to unite the Seven Kingdoms by marrying another strong house (thus enter a young and naïve Cersei Lannister). The union tied a choking knot to the bow atop Robert’s Rebellion.
Knowing that Robert could be sullied by the shadow of a bastard born out of wedlock from a murdered past love, it is conceivable that Ned would pass Jon off as his own son, and keep him away from the deadly machinations of King’s Landing.
It also would have devastating effects going forward on the series if Jon and the world were to know the truth. Since Robert has no true living children from his marriage by Cersei—they are all bastards born of incest—Jon would be Robert’s oldest living son and thus a man with a strong claim on the Iron Throne.
Likelihood of Being True? In my personal opinion, this is a clever bit of fan second-guessing, but it is still highly unlikely. When Jon was born, it was not clear that Robert would be king. Also, Jon’s life would not be in danger after the marriage to Cersei produced a supposedly legitimate heir, so Ned would not have felt the need to continue to lie about Jon’s parentage to Catelyn for the rest of his life. Still, it’s a fun thought to entertain.
Still, the most popular theory about where Jon Snow really comes from is also the most enticing: he is the son of (R)haegar Targaryen + (L)yanna Stark. For despite the many implications that Lyanna was kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar, most fans suspect this to be revisionist history. In fact, so do characters on the show. Consider that when Sansa Stark visited Lyanna’s tomb in season 5, she repeated the official version of events, and the always cynical and knowing Littlefinger only smirked.
What is very likely to be revealed shortly is that when Rhaegar Targaryen turned his head toward Lyanna Stark instead of his own wife (Elia Martell) at a fateful tournament, Lyanna reciprocated the flirting gesture from the blonde-haired prince. Rather than kidnap Lyanna Stark, it is much more plausible that Rhaegar ran off with her in a fit of passion that unintentionally ignited a war.
In such a scenario, it is much more believable that Jon Snow’s true origins were a secret Ned Stark sought to take to his grave: if Robert knew that Lyanna did not love him and fathered a child by Rhaegar Targaryen (a man Robert personally bludgeoned to death on the River Trident), then Jon would have been sentenced to immediate death. After all, the Lannisters killed all of Rhaegar and Elia’s legitimate children when they took the Red Keep in monstrous ways.
Likelihood of Being True? With almost total certainty, I believe this is a foregone conclusion. Unlike being another bastard of Robert, the reasons to hide Jon’s origins are infinite here. Also, if he is born of Stark and Targaryen blood, he is quite literally a child of ice and fire. This makes his role in any of the below theories about the character’s actual endgame that much more fascinating.
The Prince Who Was Promised, and Every Viewer’s Dream of Spring
The idea of Jon Snow being really a Targaryen (or a Baratheon) sets into motion the most fan-pleasing endgame for the character: he is the prince who was promised, and his is the Song of Ice and Fire.
The “prince who was promised” is an old prophecy that may go back as far as 5,000 years according to Melisandre (in the novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire”). Melisandre uses this prophecy interchangeably with Azor Ahai (who we will get to later in this article), but they should be differentiated by fans since Azor Ahai is directly informed by Melisandre’s red god religion while the “prince” might date further back to Old Valyria—the birthplace of the Targaryens.
Indeed, Rhaegar Targaryen once believed himself to be the prince who was promised before Robert Baratheon bashed his brains out on the banks of the Trident. Thus it would make sense that his son, who would be a true prince if he were Rhaegar’s child, could be this savior who will free Westeros from the dark. And in a vision Daenerys had strictly in the book series, a ghostly Rhaegar does indeed tell his young sister that she will one day meet “[a man who] is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”
This opens the story up to the aforementioned storybook ending many would have. It is obvious that Jon Snow will take on the title of Jon Stark in season 6. Rallying his new power between the wildlings and Northern houses loyal to the Starks (as well as perhaps Sansa Stark, who will almost certainly reunite with her “brother” this year), Jon will go to war with Ramsay Bolton for Winterfell. Indeed, all the clips we’ve seen from trailers indicate that the season’s major battle will decide the fate of power in the North between the Starks and Boltons.
However, further down the line, if Jon is the prince who was promised, and the one Daenerys is destined to meet, the happiest endgame outcome would be for their joint powers to indeed be the “Song of Ice and Fire.” Combining their forces and his tactical know-how to battle White Walkers with her dragons, they could together save the world from the Long Night that the series seems inevitably building toward. They might even bring peace to the Seven Kingdoms by uniting North and South in a marriage that sees a strong king and queen ruling the Seven Kingdoms in harmony.
This sort of détente between strong, likeable characters—complete with a little romance—is the closest Game of Thrones could possibly get to a happily ever after.
Likelihood of Being True? But this is just a little too neat for George R.R. Martin, no? Two of the most lovable protagonists of the same age fitting snugly into the title of the book series by tying the knot and saving the world? The perfect symmetry of it is why I don’t believe for a second that it will ever happen. Jon Snow might be the prince who was promised, but his song very well could be only for one. Which leads me to…
A Song of Ice and Fire… and Death
Consider now a much more apropos scenario between Jon Snow and Daenerys in the coming seasons of Game of Thrones: one of war.
While I believe with absolute confidence that Jon Snow is actually Dany’s nephew, neither Jon or the Mother of Dragons will likely be aware of this detail for some time. I suspect that Bran Stark will put the pieces together in his visions, but by the time Daenerys makes landfall in Westeros (and it has to happen, right?!), Jon will be going by the surname “Stark.” If Jon Stark is ruling a reunited North with an eye toward the falling snow and the White Walkers that come with it, Dany might not take kindly to the lad. After all, Jon will seem to be the son of Ned Stark, who betrayed her father and brother in a war that left them dead, and she will most likely begin her conquest by making short bloody work of the Southron kingdoms.
Indeed, I imagine a much changed khaleesi when she reaches the Seven Kingdoms (and one worthy of her own endgame article). She very likely will have lost much of her compassion and patience for tradition after her failings in Meereen and Slaver’s Bay. She instead will be her father’s daughter and attempt to take the Seven Kingdoms in fire and blood, and that includes Winterfell. In this context, it is hard to believe she’ll stop to listen about White Walkers. Aye, it seems inevitable that Bran’s ultimate role is to utilize his warg powers and commandeer Daenerys’ dragons when she refuses to fight on Jon’s behalf.
Such ugliness can only end in bloodshed between the two characters with Dany being the ruthless conqueror, and Jon the last lord in Westeros who cares about the coming apocalypse.
Likelihood of Being True? It really is a 50/50 at this point, but if Bran isn’t meant to “fly” with the dragons, what is the point of his warg training? And if he is forced to take command over Daenerys’ dragons, then clearly relations between North and South must be grim. Again, Jon’s is the song of ice and fire with his combined Targaryen and Stark blood; he does not need anymore of either tune to win the day.
The King in the North
So, if Jon does not wind up ruling the Seven Kingdoms by Daenerys’ side, the question is where could this end (other than death again by the White Walkers’ hands?). My personal best guess is that he will become the most unlikely heir to Winterfell—or at least marry into it.
It should be noted that when George R.R. Martin first pitched “A Song of Ice and Fire,” it was envisioned as a trilogy. Much has changed in the details, but many things have not. Martin always intended noble Ned Stark to die, and for Robb Stark to fail. He even imagined Daenerys to take Westeros with a Dothraki army, which still might come to pass given recent season 6 developments. But he also imagined a rather icky and very aesthetically familiar romance between Jon Snow and Arya Stark that would have had unrequited undertones until it’s revealed that Jon and Arya were only cousins. It should also be noted that George never revealed the age of Arya in this original pitch.
For that reason, another plausible endgame scenario is that Jon becomes King in the North, although (and thankfully) not by marrying Arya Stark. Nay, he might have a political match with Sansa Stark. After you are done cringing, consider why this might be useful by the end of the series. Once Sansa Stark is revealed to be alive, she will be seen as the de facto Queen in the North since all of Ned Stark’s legitimate sons are believed to be dead. Assuming Rickon doesn’t come back and declare himself king, it is probable that forces will gather around Sansa Stark’s claim for Winterfell—and she is unlikely to remain any friendlier to the Lannisters in the south than Robb and Catelyn were in seasons past.
Once she is queen, she can instantly legitimize Jon Snow as Jon Stark, which seems inevitable no matter what (he certainly shouldn’t want to hang around with the Night’s Watch for much longer). But even with Sansa as the political power, Jon will be the militaristic and tactical strength behind her claim. Again, they will still believe themselves to be half-siblings after spending an entire childhood raised that way. This is admittedly quite unpleasant to think about, but perfectly apiece with many of Martin’s previous themes. Further, by the end of the series, it is logical to imagine Jon Snow winning the war against the White Walkers (lest the series end with the world destroyed and under the Night’s King’s power), and fully aware of the knowledge that he is actually Rhaegar Targaryen’s son. Ergo, as merely Sansa’s cousin, and to consolidate power in the North, the war hero and heir of Winterfell will combine powers as the King and Queen in the North.
Likelihood of Being True? Stranger and more uncomfortable things have happened on Game of Thrones. And that touch of weirdness makes me suspect it to be more likely than Jon and Dany ruling the Seven Kingdoms in peace.
Jon Snow Never Really Comes Back At All
Still, even if we get the ultimate happy ending of Jon Snow and Daenerys joining forces and defeating the White Walkers, who is to say it will ever fully be Jon Snow again? Blood magic has a price, and Beric Dondarrion alone was able to vouch for that to Arya Stark in season 3. Every time he comes back from the dead, he loses a little bit of his soul in the process. And Thoros of Myr was raising Beric immediately after oblivion… Jon Snow has been dead for more than a day on Game of Thrones.
This alone should give viewers pause about how much of the Jon Snow they love will be entering this world again. But additionally, there is the strong possibility that he is not Jon Snow at all, but rather Melisandre’s long awaited and much fabled Azor Ahai.
As previously mentioned, Melisandre conflated Azor Ahai and the prince who was promised in the books, but they are two different entities according to legend. The prince who is promised is said to return to Westeros after another long summer that descends into the Long Night. This messiah previously defeated the Night’s King, and he is expected to do it again when he returns, which is undeniably the case of the current falling winter on Game of Thrones. However, Azor Ahai is of an Essos origin, and unlike the prince who was promised, has been explicitly namedropped on the TV show. Azor Ahai is also the messiah figure for Melisandre’s cult of R’hllor religion.
It is said that Azor Ahai forged the Red Sword of Heroes that would never break or burn after working on it for a hundred days and nights (it was also his third attempt), and he proved its resilience by stabbing it through his wife’s heart. Ever since, it could not be destroyed, and its shining flames could kill monsters. Melisandre falsely attempted to dress Stannis up as this messiah figure by setting his swords aflame and then watching them shrivel to ash.
Jon Snow, however, has a Valyrian steel blade in Longclaw that cannot be destroyed by mere fire. And it can utterly devastate White Walkers as witnessed in season 5 with “Hardhome” where it shattered the monster into shards of ice. Presumably, once lit on fire, the nigh indestructible sword could be equally deadly to White Walkers and Wights (the ice zombies who must burn).
So mayhaps Jon Snow never came back when R’hllor heard Melisandre’s prayer. Is he simply a vessel for the resurrected Azor Ahai, who will stop the Long Night where Stannis failed?
Likelihood of Being True? This one is a bit of a yes and no. I fully expect Jon Snow to be much changed from his experience as a corpse; Beric Dondarrion was altered after being dead only for a few moments. Jon might even have a hint of that supernatural presence in his soul that is now part Azor, yet I do not think it will be a full case of possession. He may be both Jon Snow and Azor, but never completely either. And we might not even know this until many episodes from now when Jon Snow faces the White Walkers again.
Also, would Ghost not recognize it was Jon if it were in fact a red god messiah?
So, there are the many theories about Jon Snow’s endgame on Game of Thrones! Think any of these will come to pass? Do you think they are all wrong and that I missed the one truth? Let me know in the comment section below or on Twitter @DCrowsNest.