Jon Snow (character)

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Jon Snow
A Song of Ice and Fire character
The character dressed in armor holding a sword
Kit Harington as Jon Snow
First appearance
Last appearance
Created by George R. R. Martin
Portrayed by Kit Harington
Game of Thrones
Aliases Lord Snow
Gender Male
Title Lord Commander of
the Night's Watch
Family House Stark
Significant other(s) Ygritte
Relatives Ned Stark (father)
Robb Stark (half-brother)
Sansa Stark (half-sister)
Arya Stark (half-sister)
Bran Stark (half-brother)
Rickon Stark (half-brother)
Alliance The North
The Wall

Jon Snow is a fictional character in the A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels by American author George R. R. Martin, and its television adaptation Game of Thrones. He is a prominent point of view character in the novels, and has been called one of the author's "finest creations" and most popular characters by The New York Times.[1][2]

Introduced in 1996's A Game of Thrones, Jon is the illegitimate son of Ned Stark, the honorable lord of Winterfell, an ancient fortress in the North of the fictional kingdom of Westeros. He subsequently appeared in Martin's A Clash of Kings (1998) and A Storm of Swords (2000). Jon made a brief appearance in 2005's A Feast for Crows,[3][4] and returned as a prominent character in the next novel A Dance with Dragons (2011).[2][3][5] The character's presence in the forthcoming volume The Winds of Winter is uncertain.[6]

Jon is portrayed by Kit Harington on the HBO series Game of Thrones. In 2012, Harington was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television for the role.[7] He and the rest of the cast were nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2012, 2014 and 2015.[8][9][10][11][12]

Character description[edit]

In A Game of Thrones (1996), Jon Snow is the 14-year-old bastard son of Eddard "Ned" Stark, lord of Winterfell,[13][14] and half-brother to Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon. Described as having strong Stark features with a lean build, long face, dark brown hair and grey eyes,[15] he has the surname "Snow"—customary for illegitimate children in the North—and is resented by Stark's wife Catelyn as a reminder of Ned's affair.[14] Jon is the same age as Robb and enjoys a warm relationship with his siblings, particularly the tomboy Arya, who resembles Jon and, like him, does not feel like she fits in. Ned treats Jon as much like his other children as propriety and his honor will allow; still, as somewhat of an outsider, Jon has learned to be independent and to fend for himself when necessary.[13] Jon idolizes his father, but is wounded by Ned's refusal to identify his mother.[16] At the beginning of the story, Jon adopts the albino direwolf he names Ghost; he later finds that at times he can "inhabit" the wolf and share its experiences.[14][15][16]

David Orr of The New York Times describes Jon as "a complex, thoughtful and basically good character".[1] Ned Stark teaches all his children about leadership, selflessness, duty and honor, and though Jon is a bastard—and therefore expected by some of the nobility to behave less than honorably—he cannot help but follow his father's example. This becomes more difficult as Jon faces challenges to his identity as a man, a Stark and a brother of the Night's Watch. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the creators and executive producers of the television adaptation of the series, note that "Jon Snow tries to live with honor, while knowing that honor often gets his family members murdered."[17] They explain that he is one of several characters in the series who must "face hard truths about the world they live in, and adapt themselves to those truths. The struggle many of them face is how to do that without losing their grip on who they are."[17]


Jon is a prominent point of view character in the novels, and David Orr of The New York Times called him one of Martin's "finest creations".[1] Jon is introduced as the 14-year-old bastard son of a Northern lord who, realizing he is an outsider in his own family, decides to accept the honorable duty of serving in the Night's Watch. But as much as he is a second-class Stark at home, initially his fellow recruits and brothers of the Watch set him apart as privileged and aloof. Jon adapts, soon proving himself to be wise, compassionate and a natural leader. Over the course of the series, Jon's loyalty to the Watch and its vows, his family and even Westeros itself are tested as he becomes embroiled in the efforts of the wildlings from Beyond the Wall to force their way back into the Seven Kingdoms. He lives among them as a spy for the Watch, sympathetic to their cause and becoming romantically involved with the tenacious Ygritte, but ultimately betraying them to defend The Wall. Later, as the newest Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, he pursues an alliance with the wildlings.[13][14][15][18]

Several reviews of 2011's A Dance with Dragons noted the return to the narrative of Jon, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister, the three popular characters whom fans had missed most from the previous volume, A Feast for Crows.[2][3][4][5][19] These "favorites" had last been featured 11 years before in Martin's A Storm of Swords.[20] In A Dance with Dragons, Jon's leadership of the Night's Watch is complicated by several unprecedented challenges, including a wildling alliance, the demands of would-be-king Stannis Baratheon and the conflicting factions developing within the Watch itself.[4][20][21] The New York Times notes that "Jon’s leadership is the best hope of Westeros, so naturally he’s in imminent danger throughout A Dance With Dragons."[1] James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly called Jon's final chapter in A Dance with Dragons "a harsh chapter in terms of fan expectations. You go from this total high of Jon giving this rousing speech about going after the evil Ramsay Bolton, to this utter low of his men turning against him."[6] Jon's presence in the forthcoming volume The Winds of Winter is uncertain.[6]

Asked what he thought was Jon’s biggest "mistake", Martin replied:

Were they mistakes? I guess they were mistakes in some ways since they led to him losing control of part of his group. But it might have been wise and necessary decisions in terms of protecting the realm and dealing with the threat of the White Walkers. I’m a huge student of history, and all through history there’s always this question of what’s the right decision. You look back with benefit of hindsight at a battle that was lost and say, ‘The losing general was such an idiot.’ Was Napoleon a genius for all the battles he won? Or an idiot for losing at Waterloo? Partly I’m reacting to a lot of the fantasy that has come before this. Ruling is difficult whether you’re a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch or the King of England. These are hard decisions and each have consequences. We’re looking at Jon trying to take control of Night’s Watch and deal with the wildlings and the threat beyond The Wall.[22]

The identity of Jon's mother has created much speculation among readers of the series, and guessing her identity was actually the test Martin gave Benioff and Weiss when they approached him in March 2006 about adapting his novels into a TV series.[23][24][25] The popular fan theory, based on anecdotal evidence in the texts, is that Jon is actually the son of Ned's sister Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.[23][26][27][28]


A Game of Thrones[edit]

Jon Snow is first introduced in A Game of Thrones (1996), as he and his five siblings adopt six orphaned direwolf cubs. As Ned Stark's illegitimate son and with Ned's wife Catelyn despising him, Jon has always felt removed from the rest of the Stark family. He resolves to join the Night's Watch, as his status as a bastard prevents him from holding lands or marrying into a good family. At The Wall, the other recruits resent Jon's aura of superiority, but he makes amends by helping them master swordplay. He also befriends Samwell Tarly, a cowardly lordling who, despite being helpless with weapons, displays an aptitude for book learning. Jon's independence and his compassion for the recruits invite the ire of the harsh master-at-arms Alliser Thorne, who sees Jon as a threat to his authority. Jon gains the notice of the Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont, who names Jon his personal squire and grooms Jon for command. After learning of his father's execution, Jon resolves to desert the Night's Watch and join his half brother Robb, but the other recruits convince Jon to remain loyal to his Night's Watch vows. The next night, Jon saves Mormont's life by killing an undead wight. Mormont then orders a Great Ranging beyond the Wall to learn more of this new threat.[13][16]

A Clash of Kings[edit]

In 1998's A Clash of Kings, Mormont leads a party of Night's Watch rangers beyond the Wall to investigate the disappearance of Jon's uncle Benjen, assess the intentions of the wildling leader Mance Rayder and learn more of the threat posed by the Others. Jon is sent out with a scouting party led by Qhorin Halfhand. On the journey, Jon comes upon a wildling lookout and takes the warrior girl Ygritte captive; though told to kill her, Jon lets her escape. Jon and Qhorin are subsequently captured by the wildlings. Qhorin, who faces certain execution at Mance's hands, commands Jon to infiltrate the wildlings and learn their plans, at any cost. Jon pretends to disavow the Night's Watch, and the wildlings force him to fight Qhorin to the death to earn their trust. With Qhorin's silent consent, Jon kills him with the aid of Ghost.[14][29]

A Storm of Swords[edit]

As A Storm of Swords (2000) begins, Jon has gained the trust of the wildlings by killing Qhorin, and marches with their host. He learns that Mance intends to breach the Wall and march south to escape the Others, crushing the Night's Watch if necessary. Jon finds himself torn between his growing love for Ygritte and his vows of celibacy. After climbing over The Wall with Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane, Jon deserts them to warn the Watch of the impending attack. He helps defend Castle Black against the wildlings' initial attacks despite his lack of men and weapons. Ygritte is killed in the fighting, leaving Jon stricken.

When the battle is won, Jon is arrested for desertion by Thorne and Janos Slynt, but is freed after convincing the judges of his loyalty. Still suspicious, Thorne orders that Jon be sent to kill Mance under the pretense of parley, but Jon's task is interrupted by the arrival of Stannis Baratheon's army. Stannis offers to legitimize Jon and declare him Lord of Winterfell if he will align the North with Stannis. Though greatly tempted at the prospect of becoming a true Stark, Jon again chooses to remain loyal to his Night's Watch vows. With the help of Samwell Tarly, Jon is elected to the position of Lord Commander by acclamation.[2][4][18][30]

A Feast for Crows[edit]

In 2005's A Feast for Crows, Jon sends Sam away from Castle Black with the Watch's Maester Aemon and Mance's newborn son to protect them from Melisandre's fires. He also gives Sam the specific mission of travelling to the Citadel in Oldtown to become a maester, so that he may better understand the threat of the White Walkers and eventually succeed Maester Aemon.

A Dance with Dragons[edit]

In A Dance with Dragons (2011), after sending Sam away to the Citadel to become a Maester, Jon successfully negotiates the peaceful surrender of the remains of Mance's army and promises to settle the wildlings in sparsely populated regions of The North as well as allowing them to join the Watch. Many members of the Night's Watch dislike the idea of allowing their ancient enemies through the Wall and welcoming them into their ranks. Throughout the novel, Jon attempts to juggle the integration of the wildlings, growing unrest within the Night's Watch, and Stannis' attempts to use the Watch in his war for the Iron Throne, while maintaining the Watch's strict political neutrality. Already agitated by these unprecedented developments, a group of officers led by Slynt openly defies Jon's orders. When Slynt refuses to submit, Jon executes the man himself.

Jon learns that his sister Arya is being married to Ramsay Bolton so that the Boltons may claim Winterfell. Unaware that the bride is actually Jeyne Poole, Jon sends Mance to rescue her while Stannis marches on Winterfell. Jon later receives a letter from Ramsay claiming that Stannis has been defeated and Mance is a prisoner. Ramsay demands hostages, else he will march on the Wall and kill Jon. Jon decides to seek out and kill Ramsay himself, but he is stabbed by his Night's Watch brothers seeking to uphold the Watch's political neutrality.[1][2][4][20][21][31]

Jon's presence in the forthcoming volume The Winds of Winter is uncertain; when asked in 2011 by Entertainment Weekly "Why did you kill Jon Snow?", author Martin responded "Oh, you think he’s dead, do you?"[6] Queried later whether Jon was killed or will survive, Martin responded with a laugh, "I will not comment on that."[32]

Family tree of House Stark[edit]

TV adaptation[edit]

Martin told Rolling Stone in 2014 that some early inquiries he received about adapting A Song of Ice and Fire suggested identifying the story's "important character" and focusing on that individual plot line: Jon and Daenerys Targaryen being the two most popular choices.[33] Martin was not interested in sacrificing so much of the overall story.[33] When the pilot for the HBO adaptation went into production years later, one of the first roles cast was Jon, with Kit Harington announced in the role in July 2009.[34][35]

As the series premiered, TV Guide called Harington a "soulful heartthrob" whose Jon is idolized by his younger siblings and who "seeks purpose" by joining the Night's Watch.[36] Creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss later noted that Jon "tries to live with honor, while knowing that honor often gets his family members murdered".[17] They explained that he is one of several characters in the series who must "face hard truths about the world they live in, and adapt themselves to those truths. The struggle many of them face is how to do that without losing their grip on who they are."[17] Matt Fowler of IGN wrote in 2013 that while Jon and Daenerys' storylines in Seasons 1 and 2 "felt very separate" from the rest of the series' plot, for the first time in Season 3, "Jon's entire situation felt incorporated into the larger picture."[37] Fowler also added that Jon's "oath-breaking romance with Ygritte added a lot of heat to the story".[37]

Harington was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television for the role in 2012.[7] He and the rest of the cast were nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2012, 2014 and 2015.[8][9][10][11][12]

In a 2015 interview Benioff said, "The problem with Jon is, he’s not a cautious man. It’s the problem with him, and also the reason we love him. He is a hero, but heroes are inherently incautious."[38] Weiss added, "At the end of the day, Jon is his father’s son, he’s a person who’s honorable to a fault and does the right thing even when the right thing is extremely dangerous to him personally."[38] In the June 2015 Season 5 finale "Mother's Mercy", Jon is stabbed to death by Alliser Thorne and several men of the Night's Watch after being labeled a traitor.[38] With Martin's 2011 novel A Dance with Dragons vague on Jon's fate, Harington confirmed the character's death in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying "I’ve been told I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m not coming back next season."[39] He added, "I loved how they brought Olly in to be the person who kills me. I love how the storyline with Thorne was wrapped up."[39] Benioff also said of the episode:

This is obviously a big deal, the death of Jon Snow. This is something we’ve been thinking about for a long long time, and Alliser kills him, it’s kind of like, it’s a bad guy killing a good guy. But when it’s Olly holding the knife … Olly’s not a bad guy. Olly’s a kid who’s seen just way too much horror way too early, and he makes a decision that’s a really hard decision for him but you understand where he’s coming from ... It’s one of those great conflicts that makes us love the books and this saga, is that it’s, ultimately it’s not just about good vs evil, it’s about people of good intentions who come into conflict with each other because they have very different views of the world, and unfortunately it did not work out well for Jon Snow in this case.[38]

Amid strong fan reaction over Jon's death on social media,[40] immediately following the episode journalists began theorizing how the show could resurrect the character.[22][41][42][43][44][45] Nate Jones of noted, "[I]t's easy to see what [other characters'] deaths meant for the series' sprawling narrative: Ned's execution sent the Stark kids adrift in a universe where there was nobody looking out for them, while Robb's murder was the final death knell for the hopes that the saga would ever have a traditional 'happy' ending. What would be accomplished, narratively, by getting rid of Jon permanently right now?"[46] When jokingly asked during a panel if Harington—in concert with one theory—would ever get to play a warg (a human who has possessed the body of an animal), Weiss replied with, "Two words for you: Season 6."[44] A July 2015 sighting of Harington arriving in Belfast, a primary filming location for the series where other actors were arriving for season 6 script read-throughs, prompted further speculation about the character's return.[47][48]


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