Warning: Major spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 ahead!
While Game of Thrones ended things with… let’s just say an unkind crescendo for Team Daenerys, one of the final frame’s most heartbreaking moments for that fandom didn’t occur in the finale, but, rather, Episode 3, “The Long Night,” in which the would-be queen’s famously lovelorn perennial protector, Jorah Mormont, sustained what seemed like countless stabs as her lone line of defense against the invading army of the dead, until finally succumbing to his wounds, only after the battle was won. However, in an intriguing revelation, it turns out that Jorah was originally slated to survive!
Amongst the array of Game of Thrones post-mortem tidbits, series writer Dave Hill spoke to EW, divulging that the original plan for Ser Jorah Mormont, played by Iain Glen, not only called for him surviving the Army of the Dead’s invasion of Winterfell, but live to join the closing shot of the series itself alongside Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane and the Wildlings. Thus, in an alternate reality in which Jorah lived to see Daenerys’s descent into Mad Queendom, it seems that he would carry out actions – something clearly not kosher for the new power – that resulted in him being sent to the Wall with Jon, joining the rebooted Night’s Watch. Hill explains:
“For a long time, we wanted Ser Jorah to be there at The Wall in the end. The three coming out of the tunnel would be Jon and Jorah and Tormund. But the amount to logic we’d have to bend to get Jorah up to The Wall and get him to leave Dany’s side right before [the events in the finale] … there’s no way to do that blithely. And Jorah should have the noble death he craves defending the woman he loves.”
Yet, given the events that took place after Jorah’s demise, with Daenerys’s dragon-driven fiery destruction of King’s Landing, in which she spared neither surrendering soldiers nor even innocent citizens and fleeing children, Jorah died blissfully unaware that Daenerys’s wheel-breaking modus operandi turned out to be genocide. It’s a notion with which Glen agrees, telling EW:
“There’s a sweetness in that because Jorah will never know what she did. That’s probably best. It’s a blessing for him that he never found out what happened to her. And from a pragmatic story point of view, his death served a greater purpose. Where could we have taken Jorah from there? F— if I know.”
While we do know that, had Jorah lived, he would have ended up on the Wall, we don’t know how or why. While Daenerys’s atrocities made even hardliners like Tyrion and, eventually, Jon turn on her, some of her party, notably Unsullied commander Grey Worm, remained loyal to her, even after death. While examining the reasons behind this would take us down a lengthy rabbit hole, we do have to wonder where Jorah would have stood regarding Daenerys after watching her murder what was presumably hundreds of thousands of civilians. While his alternate-ending exile to the Wall implies an act of criminality, it’s very possible that Jorah and Jon end up in the same place after carrying out acts for different sides.
Obviously, having Jorah survive until the end would not only have extended the length of his arc, but significantly altered its poetic nature. From the very beginning of the series, Jorah’s journey has been defined by a perennial pursuit of redemption; an endeavor that always seemed to lead him down the primrose path. His original sin – only referenced on the series anecdotally – was an act of desperation to pay for the extravagant lifestyle of his loveless wife, which led him to sell criminals meant to be sent to the Wall into slavery; something that, even in wild Westeros, is frowned upon, leaving an at-large Jorah with a death sentence – issued by Ned Stark – over his head. Thus, his original attempt at redemption would be to act as a spy for King Robert Baratheon, and spy-master Varys, joining the Essos-bound caravan of the exiled royal-heir Targaryen children – Viserys and Daenerys – posing as a loyal protector while sending valuable intelligence back to King’s Landing.
However, as we all know, once Daenerys was the lone Targaryen standing, Jorah fell in love with her and drank the Kool-Aid hard when it came to her – seemingly beneficent – Queenly plans to “break the wheel” of power in Westeros. Yet, the revelation of Jorah’s spy status led him down a rough road, exiled from Daenerys’s court, turning to desperate measures like opportunistically kidnapping – her family enemy – Tyrion Lannister to win himself back, only to be captured and sold into slavery, during which he contracted the ostensibly-fatal disease, greyscale. It all culminated with Jorah spilling a lot of blood – and unrequited love – to finally soften Daenerys’s obstinance. In the end, that’s what he sought, and that’s what he got.
Indeed, flashing forward, Jorah’s battlefield sacrifice for Dany, and her cause, was the ultimate redemption-seeking act to prove that he possessed the attributes of true loyalty and honor. While said cause turned out to be not as advertised, his death was a fitting final testament to his character, giving him a just redemption, while sparing him from the temptation to remain loyal to Dany for another misguided redemption-seeking act in the invasion of King’s Landing. Thus, it’s for the best that we’ll probably never know which way he’d have gone. Even if the ending we got deprives us of seeing Jorah riding north of the Wall with Jon, Tormund and the Wildlings, it’s the best possible ending for him… and, frankly, us.