This article contains Game of Thrones spoilers.
It was never supposed to happen. Either as a secret Targaryen heir or as the “Bastard of Winterfell,” the man they call Jon Snow should never have been King in the North… nor in the bed of his aunt Daenerys Targaryen. If he had been born into a world without a Mad King, or at least an unsuccessful Robert’s Rebellion, he would’ve been legitimately Rhegar Targaryen’s heir to the Iron Throne, as well as eventually King Aegon Targaryen, the Sixth in His Name. And if Eddard Stark’s ruse to disguise his sister’s son had been fully successful, Jon Snow would never have come down from that Wall.
Yet here we are, Jon, still ignorant of his heritage, is in a union that could bring peace to the realm—or more bloodshed. In either case, the last season ended with him in Dany’s arms as they sail toward the North, Winterfell, and their potential doom. For what awaits them there is sure to be the descending White Walkers, as well as the first revelation of Jon’s parentage via Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen will begin Game of Thrones Season 8 as Westeros’ ultimate power couple; a union to unite the living against the dead, day against the night, and a joining of a song of ice and fire. One would even expect between them they could birth the Prince Who Was Promised.
… But I think not. We are here to speculate where Game of Thrones Season 8 will lead for Jon Snow. And if you allow us the chance to play our murmur’s farce then you’ll see Jon Snow’s fate will not be a fully happy one.
The Wolf and the Dragon Cannot Be
As we mentioned in the endgame article about Daenerys Targaryen several weeks ago, we do not think Jon Snow and Dany’s song is meant to be an everlasting one. Their paths will eventually diverge, so we’ll consider it briefly here from Jon Snow’s perspective.
The truth of Jon Snow’s parentage will come out. Bran Stark confirmed as much in the season 7 finale, and honestly, for whatever pain it will eventually cause, Jon Snow has a right to know. Lied to from birth by a man who might’ve been a father to him, yet never could tell him about his mother, this lifelong storm cloud has bedeviled Jon all his days and nights until they ended the first time at the hands of mutinous Night’s Watch brothers. Bran and Sam will tell him and Daenerys the truth, whether before or after the Battle of Winterfell that is to come, and we imagine it will be confirmed as much by Meera Reed and her father, Howland Reed.
For those who may not recall, Howland Reed was the only Northern bannerman to survive with Ned the duel outside the Tower of Joy, and thus knows the truth that Ser Arthur Dayne died to protect: Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were wed, and Jon/Aegon was the result. From the perspective of Daenerys, this will either explicitly or eventually through paranoia be viewed as a challenge. Jon’s claim to the Iron Throne is greater than her own, as he is the son of Mad Aerys II’s oldest son, whereas she is only Aerys’ third child, and a daughter at that. We imagine much dramatic tension will be derived from this.
However, from Jon Snow’s point-of-view, I imagine someone who is as forthright and ultimately stout of heart as Eddard Stark will feel nothing short of shame at the prospect of incest with his aunt. While he might be a Targaryen by blood, he is a Stark by upbringing and temperament. I also imagine he will be reluctant to be thrust into the midst of political games in King’s Landing, much like his real father Eddard was in season 1. Speaking of which…
The Once and Future King?
As Jon Snow technically has the best claim on the Iron Throne, it is worth considering whether he will wind up sitting atop it. From a certain Tolkien-esque perspective, it makes sense. Like the ranger they called Stryder, but who was ever really Aragorn, he is of an ancient royal lineage. Born into banishment and obscurity, it is through his cunning and righteousness that his nobility becomes manifest; his deeds will win him back his rightful throne.
However, much of George R.R. Martin’s entire “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga has been a rebuke, or at least a smiling subversion, of those well-worn fantasy tropes. Jon Snow sitting on the Iron Throne, as either Daenerys’ king or flying solo, seems dubious and far too storybook for my liking.
This is most specifically due to the fact that Jon Snow does not want to rule, and in addition I imagine would be quite terrible at it. A worthier prophecy than any in the entire Game of Thrones canon is that sorrow follows anytime a Stark rides south. Jon’s Uncle Brandon Stark died before the birth of any of his nieces or nephews, as he went to King’s Landing to confront Aerys II about the “abduction” of Lyanna. And Ned and Brandon’s father Rickard soon followed… where Aerys burned him alive while forcing Brandon to watch before the latter choked to death by a noose.
Eddard Stark of course came to King’s Landing cloaked in power. As Hand of the King, he had the ability to root out conspiracies against the boneheaded king and pursue the enemies who left his son crippled and his mentor poisoned. Ned instead showed a complete lack of political intuition, helping to inadvertently start a generational war between his family and the Lannisters, and lost his head while condemning his daughters to brutally tragic childhoods.
The Starks do not do well going south, and I do not think Jon Snow has shown any greater aptitude at dealing with political machinations. He is his father’s son. Daenerys might wish to “break the wheel,” but having the ability to build something new in its place will require a greater savvy than Jon displayed when he let his own brothers in black form a mutiny that left him dead… or when he failed to lie to Cersei Lannister in the Dragonspit in season 7. If he had but told her that he’d stay out of the inevitable War Between the Queens, I imagine he might have had greater support than Jaime Lannister at his back when the Night King arrives in Winterfell.
His political ineptitude would end in tragedy, if at least in small degrees, as how Robert Baratheon let flatterers and opportunists fill his court, if not the calamity wrought by poor dead Ned. Perhaps that could be the bittersweet ending to Game of Thrones though? The implication that history may repeat itself. However, I disagree. So what options does that leave?
One More Dead Stark for the Foundations?
Another popular theory about Jon Snow is that after Daenerys is impregnated, either he shall die in battle or she in childbirth, and one will be left to raise the child in King’s Landing. At least with his death, there is real potential of this happening.
While I find Dany dying in childbirth the epitome of bad fan fiction (or Star Wars plotting), I find it more probable that Jon Snow will die in the field. There will be two major battles in Game of Thrones Season 8. The first will be the Battle for the Dawn between the forces of the living and the dead. It will occur at Winterfell, which was intimated when we saw the White Walkers marching south while Jon and Dany sailed north. All of the characters are headed to a collision with fate and television rating beneath the walls of the Stark family’s ancestral home: Jon, Dany, Jaime, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Sam, Gilly, the Hound, Jorah, and more. Undoubtedly, many of them will meet their ends there.
It could even be somewhat poetically ripe that Jon should die to defeat his greatest enemy, the Night King, while Daenerys must live, either grieving or regretting her nephew, as she faces a formidable and regrouped Cersei Lannister. Aye, because again this is not Tolkien, and there is no black and white on this series, there will be a second battle within the harbor of King’s Landing, which could decide the fate of the Iron Throne… and perhaps life itself if the White Walkers are able to get past Winterfell.
Either way, I don’t imagine Jon will really die in the first battle. He will need to make it to the series’ final episode, or at least its penultimate one. If Dany is pregnant, he must go to the grave knowing that. I somewhat like this more operatic rendering, which ends with Dany firing Drogon on Cersei and the whole Red Keep. However, I imagine something a little less on the nose, in the end.
There is a clear logic to Jon dying to me, as a father-to-be or otherwise. Ever since Melisandre brought him back in season 6, he seemed a changed man living on borrowed time. Dying once took something from him that never will fully return. We saw it when he needed to be pressured by Sansa into retaking Winterfell—he wanted to abandon his childhood home and the Wall alike, let the Others take them both, and go stick his head in the sands of Dorne. We saw it again when he asked Melisandre to not bring him back should he die in the Battle of the Bastards.
There is a weary affirmation on his face when Beric Dondarrion tells him in season 7 that happiness and the nice things of life aren’t meant for them; they who came back from the grave are here to serve the Light and then will be returned to the weeds. It’s a morbid prognosis, but one Jon seems fairly accepting of, no matter how much Jorah Mormont reminds him he should think to a future with children to whom he can bequeath Longclaw…
Always the King of Winter
However, that just seems a little too bleak, even for me. While I think Jon Snow dying has a high probability of happening, I think there is a third way to end Jon’s story.
As previously mentioned, Jon Snow is his true father’s son, no matter who his biological progenitor may be. Call him Aegon all you want, but his hair is as dark as Arya’s, and his eyes as gray as the pupils of the Warden of the North who imparted true morality in his House. Such a rarity has a place, and it is far away from the realpolitiking of the capital.
The bittersweetness hinted by George R.R. Martin for this tale could refer to the simple fact that despite whatever love and fondness may exist between Jon and Dany, their places are forever to be apart. Jon will forsake whatever claim he has over the Iron Throne. He won’t want it, and unlike Daenerys, he has not had a life of lessons preparing him for it. She will have a rare opportunity to usher in a new age to the realm, and he will be able to go home. Mayhaps she will even let him and the North keep their independence, given they will still be a bulwark against the White Walkers and the menaces of the dead? (You can never truly defeat death or nature, after all). Mayhaps not.
Either way, as Warden or King, someone will need to take on the mantle of leadership in the North and probably rebuild Winterfell from whatever horrors it is about to face. While it is hard to imagine Jon in King’s Landing, the reconstruction of the North is a responsibility he’d seem born to. However, will the North let itself be ruled by a man who is revealed to be a Targaryen? Well, I’m of two minds there. The first, and the one I’d root for, is they’d recognize him as Jon Stark, as that is his real heritage. And yet, there is a more potentially Martin-esque answer that I would not be a strong advocate for… but still makes a great deal of sense. Jon marries back into the ancestral seat of his family by wedding Sansa Stark.
Technically cousins, if only in the legal sense, that would be less grotesque in the eyes of the Westerosi, if not our own. The logic of this is also that it is hard to imagine Sansa not rising to a role of power in Winterfell (or what’s left of it), as she has learned the political lessons needed to govern. It also would have a symbolic echo of Ned and Cat, as the former chose to stay in the North as opposed to rule in the south with Robert, and entered a political marriage with an auburn haired Tully descendant. And, ironically enough, their union would allow Jon to be what Catelyn never allowed, an official Stark living with the same rights as her children. This also would allow for Jorah’s foreshadowing to make sense, and lastly is somewhat in line with the even more uncomfortable original outline for “A Song of Ice and Fire” (in which Martin initially imagined Jon marrying Arya Stark).
While I can see all the logical rationales for that storytelling development, I think it is just too perverse, even for Game of Thrones. More likely is Jon and Sansa simply rule in the North as brother and sister, and her finally learning contentment even without absolute power. (Or she dies in the Battle of Winterfell.)
However the fates fall, I think Jon in the North and Dany in the South, ships in the night that are never meant to be together other than when they were the same literal ship, is the true bittersweet ending to Game of Thrones. While Jon dying on the battlements of King’s Landing, and Daenerys mourning her lover’s passing while raising their child, the future monarch of Westeros, has a certain poetic irony that I can appreciate, it is the sheer poetry that makes it seem less likely. Two lovers forced by the political realities of their world to be apart and keep living in a war ravaged wasteland has more of a ring of historical fantasy to it than it does the Arthurian kind. Real love, as opposed to a courtly song.
I could be wrong, but that’s my three-eyed vision on this one.