You Know Nothing, Fan Boy: Jon Snow and the Hero’s Journey

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Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”

Last night’s GAME OF THRONES fifth season finale shocked the shit out of fans of the show in the waning moments of the broadcast. If you didn’t see it, well, Jon Snow, the last of Edd Stark’s male heirs, was given a shank blanket party by his brothers in the Night’s Watch and left to bleed out in the snow. Men with hearts of stone cried last night. Now readers of the books knew this was coming, but it still had a cathartic effect on anyone who viewed it, whether or not they were aware of the twist in the plot. Even I sat there dumbfounded, like a lost child. My wife, concerned that something serious had happened, asked me, “What’s wrong?” I sat my beer down and solemnly replied, “Jon Snow died.”

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I sat there staring at the credits as they rolled, stoic, trying not to cry. But then I realized what George RR Martin and the show runners had done, and I smiled. You see, the writers and Martin sent Jon Snow to the place he needed to go, a place that heralds the upcoming climax of the popular series. They sent Jon Snow to the Underworld. You see, Jon Snow as we knew him, had to die. The story required it. But don’t worry, folks, the same creed that dictated he must die also insures he will return. Confused? You shouldn’t be. You’ve been conditioned to this since watching your first cartoon.

Season Five of GAME OF THRONES has been ripe with mythological Greek references, and this is no different. The sacrifice of Princess Shireen, the rape of Sansa Stark, all of these plot points have their origins in Hellenic mythology. The bottom line is GAME OF THRONES is classic Hellenic story telling at its gruesome best, and Hellenic stories follow a format. Most of you are very familiar with this type of story telling. It’s the most common way to tell a story in modern literature and cinema, you’ve seen it in everything from Winnie the Pooh to Rambo (yes, I’m talking about Stallone here!) and even STAR WARS. The latter example is perhaps the easiest to show, as STAR WARS creator, George Lucas, has made it clear on many occasions that STAR WARS came from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

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The Hero’s Journey is the template for the classic adventure tale. It is simple. Your protagonist is young and naïve, an instance happens ripping him from the simple life he knows. He must undertake a quest to correct the wrongs, during this quest the hero will typically surround themselves with archetypical companions, which will include an elder mentor who is often doomed to be a sacrificial Red Shirt, ala Star Trek. They will often be provided special weapons from the gods to complete their quest. At one point the hero will enter the Underworld, wherein they will also die, yet unlike their mentor, they are reborn and enlightened as the hero they were meant to be.

Each character in GAME OF THRONES has their own story arcs, and Jon Snow’s has always been the Hero’s Journey. The catchphrase attached to him, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” is an allegory to his naivety. Did the gods give him magic weapons? They certainly did, in the form of Valyrian steel and Dragon Glass. Mentor? Absolutely, in fact, Jon Snow actually has a trio of doomed mentors between his father, Jeor Mormonat and Maester Aemon. Is he surrounded by archetypical companions? Yes, Samwell and his loyal Nights Watch brethren complete that fellowship. And now, as the series nears it’s climax, it’s time for the hero to enter the Underworld and be reborn, setting up the events that will bring our story to a conclusion.

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Jon Snow is Luke Skywalker. He’s Frodo Baggins. He’s John Rambo. Luke entered the Underworld throughout THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and emerged as a Jedi Knight. The Mines of Moria, wherein Gandalf the Grey finds an untimely demise? You guessed it: the Underworld. When Rambo cuts through the cave during his escape: the Underworld. In order for Jon to complete his quest, he needed to be removed from the Night’s Watch, whose oath tied him to the Wall. The only way to facilitate that through the narrative was to kill him, as an oath is binding unto one’s death.

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Oaths take the forefront in much Greek story telling, as well, and they were a common theme this season. Arya’s oath to kill those on her Death List, Brienne’s oath to protect Stansa and Arya, Jorah’s oath to defend Daenerys to his death and so forth. Throughout the season, time and time again, principal characters were tested and motivated by their oaths. But, in the end, Martin made it easy on us for the fate of Lord Snow, with one simple line in the Night’s Watch oath: “It shall not end until my death.” And now, the presence of the Red Woman, Melisandre, at Castle Black only verifies Snow’s resurrection will occur. I’m telling you right now, without a shadow of a doubt:

JON SNOW WILL RETURN!

He has to. The format upon which GAME OF THRONES is based requires him to come back. When he does, Snow will be back, bigger and badder, as a soldier of the Lord of Light, and he’ll be on a mission to defeat the Night’s King and to become the King of the North. He has a quest to complete, and that quest is to save the world from the White Walkers and the Night’s King. The latter is his Darth Vader (remember, the Night’s King was once a Lord Commander of the Wall!), his Sauron (Sauron was once benevolent!), his Chief Teasle. Jon Snow’s metamorphosis from being the bastard son of a Lord to becoming a Lord himself won’t be complete until he kills the Night’s King, and in order to do so he had to die, to be reborn.

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Now, whether he shares his final fate happily ever-after with Luke and Frodo, or breathes his last breath with John Rambo, I can’t predict. But dry your tears, stiffen that lip and sleep easy, friends. Now you’ve been educated on why you have nothing to worry about with Jon Snow. He’ll be back for at least Season Seven, I assure you. After all, the boy must die so the man can be born.

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