On Jon Snow and Where He Goes After Being Stabbed in “Oathbreaker,” a ‘Game of Thrones’ Recap

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“Oathbreaker” showed two versions of Jon Snow. The first is one that feels familiar: he’s shaking, whether by the cold or a panic attack, deeply confused to be alive, and very aware of the events that turned him into a pincushion. This is our ever-sympathetic Jon Snow.

Melisandre looks at his reanimated body in awe. She may have been in awe of the Lord of Light’s powers, but I like to think a part of her couldn’t believe she’d done something right for once. It wasn’t burning someone alive or torching leeches in the name of sacrifice. She brought life into the world. (And actual life this time, not a shadow baby to kill Renly.) Her first question to Jon is an eager, “After they stabbed you, after you died, where did you go? What did you see?”

His response: “Nothing. There was nothing at all.”

It’s a disappointing answer for everyone involved. Certainly Melisandre must be a bit befuddled. She just brought someone back from the dead using the Lord of Light’s powers, at the same time fulfilling a prophecy for a savior (that bit about “the prince who was promised”.) There is an afterlife in the R’hllor religion and its purpose is salvation from the living world, which is considered to be hell itself. Essentially Jon has just confirmed that there is no reprieve from hell on earth. Which makes sense for Game of Thrones, doesn’t it?

The confusion continues when Melisandre is shooed away and Jon is suddenly stricken with doubt: “I did what I thought was right and I got murdered for it. And now I’m back. Why?” Davos responds with a utilitarian, “What does it matter?” and prods him to move on. If he failed, he must fail again. He’s gotten a literal second chance to continue to do good for the world. This feels like Jon Snow.

It also feels like him when he debuts his life-filled body to the mass of Night’s Watchmen and Wildlings, and he greets Tormund and Edd with hugs. He’s sore, but thankful, to his friends who avenged his death. There was even a dick joke! For a moment it seems like he’ll soon be ready to fail again.

But we have to wonder when Edd asks him, “Is that you in there?” All this time we were just waiting for Jon to come back to life, but now that he’s alive, how much of him is back? The second version of Jon Snow comes in the one sentencing the Night’s Watch rebels to hang. This is an odd and particularly cruel way to go in this world, as treason is typically met with quick beheading. Sure, it creates a more complete tableau, but there’s also something that feels retaliatory about the act. He feels deep betrayal for being stabbed by his brothers, which, admittedly, is a very fair reaction. But he wasn’t just disappointed. There was no longer a twinge of doubt as to whether he was the one in the wrong. With the swing of Longclaw to hang four of the mutineers, Jon was downright angry for what may be the first time in this series. He then hands his Lord Commander cloak to Edd, tells him to do whatever he wants with it, and announces, “My watch is ended.”

It’s striking to see his sudden indifference towards the Night’s Watch. This is, after all, the institution he’d been anxious to join since the first season, and once he joined was staunch in his loyalty to the oath. (Okay, so he got some in a cave. Let’s remember the grey area in the oath about “fathering children.”) He didn’t give the courtesy of two weeks’ notice, or even observe a brief ceremony in passing the command onto his friend. He handed Edd his cloak with a cavalier, “This is your problem now.”

The first, familiar version of Jon Snow was one that was fair and righteous and possessed the strongest of moral compasses. The second version may still retain some of that, but there is a new driving force that seems unwilling to offer so much personal sacrifice.

Maybe Jon tried so hard to be good and was betrayed to such a degree that he can’t possibly honor the oath anymore. Maybe it’s just because he died, and his Night’s Watch oath is only good until death. Maybe he’s realized that there is nothing after this hell on earth, and if nothing is the payment for an virtuous life, then there’s little reason to live virtuously. Whatever the reason, Jon Snow 2.0 walked out of Castle Black with purpose. Where could he possibly be going?


Also from this episode: 
Gilly’s Glee and Bran’s Gall
Daenerys Is Not Special, and Other Meereen Thoughts
Little Birds with Giant Mountains
The Two Degrees of Forgotten

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