The biggest cliffhanger for us Stark loving ASOIAF fans at the end of ADWD: Is Jon dead or is he just mostly dead?
GOT actors, producers and GRRM himself haven’t helped the debate. “Dead is dead” claim HBO and their actors. “Oh, so you think he’s dead do you?” says GRRM.
The latest teaser poster from GOT twitter continues the theme of the teaser trailer, of all the faces of Westeros in the House of Black and White. That doesn’t mean Jon is dead, of course…. but he isn’t looking particularly alive either.
The general consensus is that Jon is totes dead, and will be resurrected by Melisandre or some other hand wavy magic to continue his role in ASOIAF. I don’t propose to go over that ground – instead, I suggest people read this excellent blog on the topic instead.
But what if… he’s just mostly dead? How might that pan out?
I’m not alone in thinking (or more accurately HOPING) that Jon isn’t actually dead-dead.
And look, we’re probably wrong. The set up for the dead being resurrected by the magic of R’hollor is pretty strong in the books, with Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart. And who is at the Wall in the books and GOT right now? Melisandre, priestess of R’hollor and shadowbinder from Asshai, who knows more about the mysteries of her magic than Thoros of Myr did when he resurrected Beric by accident.
So yeah… it looks pretty likely that Jon is dead and is going to be resurrected by fire.
But… let’s indulge the fantasy for a moment: what if he’s just really badly injured?
What actually happens in the Ides of the Watch?
When Wick Whittlestick slashed at his throat, the word turned into a grunt. Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers. “Why?”
“For the Watch.” Wick slashed at him again. This time Jon caught his wrist and bent his arm back until he dropped the dagger. The gangling steward backed away, his hands upraised as if to say, Not me, it was not me. Men were screaming. Jon reached for Longclaw, but his fingers had grown stiff and clumsy. Somehow he could not seem to get the sword free of its scabbard.
Then Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks. “For the Watch.” He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger stayed where he had buried it.
Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold …
OK, so that doesn’t look so good. But what was happening when the men of the Night’s Watch decided to end the reign of a Lord Commander who had let the wildlings south of the Wall and was encouraging men to break their vows to battle Ramsay Snow for Winterfell?
At the time of the attack on Lord Commander Snow, all hell is breaking loose. Ser Patreck has decided to claim himself a wildling princess (which is what all the Southron court have decided Val is, despite all the Free Folk and Jon explaining repeatedly that bloodlines count for squat north of the Wall, and all the wildlings respect is the ability to command them – Val is no more a princess than Wun Wun is.) That didn’t go so well, given that Wun Wun has taken to guarding Val’s tower. Wun Wun has pulled Ser Patreck apart like a rag doll.
Jon appears to be the only one who has noticed that the giant was attacked too – convenient chance for the scared Southron men to kill a giant. Remember all of Selyse’s court wanted Wun Wun back north of the Wall, or dead – and many of the Watch agreed with Stannis’ queen.
And just before all of this chaos, Jon was declaring that while the Watch would be ordered to investigate the attempted breaches of the Wall and the fate of wilding refugees at Mother Mole’s (which we presume will play out like the TV show’s Battle of Hardhome in some way), he would be going to Winterfell to answer the Pink Letter. He did not command anyone to break their vows – he would be the only oathbreaker. But he also invited anyone who wanted to come to join him…. and the wildlings were pretty enthusiastic. Some Watchmen were too.
This is what led to the Ides of the Watch. The Lord Commander announcing his intention to defect from the Watch and engage in a battle for his family’s home, that was the last straw for the men of the Watch who were already unconvinced about the plan to staff the Wall with wildlings and giving sanctuary to their traditional enemies on the New Gift.
Jon Snow, King Beyond the Wall
One of the big errors that the Watch and Selye’s court have made is underestimating the loyalty of the Free Folk.
These Southerners have been repeatedly told: the Free Folk follow the strongest leader. That’s why Mance was King Beyond the Wall. Not because of any fancy swords or claims of blood. It’s about your ability to command the wildlings in battle and unite them.
When the wildlings came south of the Wall, what did they do? They all swore an oath to Jon. Ostensibly they were swearing to be loyal to the Night’s Watch and to obey all commands given by the Lord Commander and his delegates, that’s what Jon planned – but what did Tormund and the wildlings do? Swear personally to follow Jon. Their oath was in the wildling format: they swore to be loyal to the man who was the strongest leader, Lord Commander Jon Snow.
Whether Jon realises it or not, he is King of the Free Folk right now. He demanded the loyalty of the Free Folk, and he was freely given their oaths. He has impressed Tormund and the other wildlings chieftains with his ability to plan for the coming battle against the Others, especially in the face of opposition from the men of the Night’s Watch, who are still stuck in the frame of mind that the wildlings themselves are the greatest threat to come from beyond the Wall.
What impact will that have for the Ides of the Watch?
Not only have the Watch attempted to kill their king (or possibly actually done this), but they’ve also assaulted Wun Wun, a giant who we’ve been shown is a much loved part of the wildling army. He’s a bit simple, so they take care of him, and in return, he is their Hulk, smashing through battles.
I hope that in TWOW we pick up where ADWD left off at the Wall, and see how the wildlings react to the attack on Wun Wun, the attempted stealing of Val by Ser Patreck, and the attack on Jon. My prediction is that the wildlings will go apeshit, and the Watch will be left annihilated – they are already undermanned and under resourced. They have no capacity to respond if all the wildlings attack at once.
Medieval Wound Care
OK, so even if Jon isn’t completely dead, he’s not in great shape. He has a minimum of 4 really bad wounds to his gut, back and essential organs. He’s lost a LOT of blood.
It’s not looking awesome for the idea that Jon isn’t entirely dead.
It’s fair to say that medieval style wound care is a bit… not great. The risk of infection is huge (hey Drogo, how’s that wound going?) And there’s no such thing as blood transfusions or safe internal surgery to patch up the damage done to essential organs or recover from huge blood loss. Realistically, if Jon isn’t already dead, he soon will die from infection or dehydration or loss of blood.
But, if GRRM decides to indulge us with a bit of whimsical unrealistic survival stories, what could happen?
Everyone and their dog is pointing to the Varamyr Sixskins prologue to ADWD to point out that Jon can live on in Ghost. I don’t disagree with that. But what if instead of living in Ghost until his dead body is resurrected by Melisandre, Jon just wargs until he heals – like Bran did in AGOT?
Bran’s injuries were similarly huge and extensive. Taking a guess, a boy who was pushed out of a high tower, and fell enough to break his spine, he probably also had internal injuries and bleeding around his liver, spleen, etc etc. Bran somehow survives – in a fashion. GRRM is realistic enough that Bran can’t magically walk again, and remains a paraplegic, but he also managed to recover from MASSIVE internal trauma with a 3 week coma. Which is not medically accurate, I would say!
What if Jon does something similar? If he is saved from further blows by Tormund and Co rushing into the chaotic scene we left in ADWD, and is treated quickly (perhaps Melisandre can play a role in that way?) then there is a slim chance that he is only mostly dead. We have the precedent within ASOIAF in Bran’s experiences that Jon can warg and learn more about his skinchanging skills through Ghost while he is in his healing coma. The chaos of the Wall can go on around him, while the wildlings take charge of the Watch, and kick out Selyse’s court (hey – let me hope, ok?!) Then when Jon wakes, he can ride to Winterfell for the Battle of the Bastards.
This is the other lingering plot hole in the North: who will the Northern lords back as their King? The living Stark heir, Rickon, who is being retrieved by Ser Davos Seaworth on behalf of Wyman Manderly, who probably has ideas of being Rickon’s regent…. or Jon, who was in all probability named in Robb’s will as a legitimised Stark and Robb’s heir to the Northern Throne?
The North has a choice to make: who will it back?
Currently, the Boltons are Wardens of the North, with Roose Bolton named Lord Paramount of the North in return for his part in the Red Wedding by Tywin Lannister – sorry, by King Joffrey Baratheon… doing as grandpa ordered. This effectively shifted the seat of Northern power from Winterfell to the Dreadfort, but pragmatically, Roose has moved his seat of power back to Winterfell to keep an eye on his son Ramsay, who he has named Lord of Winterfell (in the most epic case of “you broke it, you bought it” in Westeros)
But the Boltons know their hold on the North is tenuous. They never got the Northern lords on side – they were awarded the North for their part in the most heinous crime against humanity seen in the War of the Five Kings. They have forced the North to bow to them through military force and fear. But… they’ve still attempted to legitimately claim Winterfell, by wedding Ramsay
Snow Bolton to “Arya Stark” (provided so graciously by Littlefinger…)
Now, I’m reasonably confident that Roose Bolton knows that this Arya is fake, although I doubt he knows who Jeyne Poole is at all. I don’t think Ramsay is astute enough to realise he has a fake Stark bride, and I’m sure he’s sociopathic enough to not care anyway.
What I’m less sure about is whether the rest of the Northern lords who go through the motions of paying homage to their Lord Paramount at his son’s wedding are also sure that this Arya is fake. I’m sure they suspect, but do they know?
Roose is hoping that the presence of “Ned’s girl” will be enough to prevent the Northern lords from rising up against him. We already know from Wyman Manderly’s “The North Remembers” speech that it won’t work. Manderly is getting Rickon back from Skagos, and obviously hopes to be the power behind the Northern Throne in a Stark restoration.
So that’s Plan A – Rickon, the wild boy king.
What about Plan B, Jon Stark, DAKINGINDANORF?
In Catelyn V ASOS, Robb and Catelyn discuss the Northern line after they receive news that Sansa has been married off to Tyrion Lannister. Robb is not willing to let the Lannisters get their hands on Winterfell and the North through Sansa, which we know was Tywin’s plan in marrying Sansa to his son. As far as Robb knows, Arya hasn’t been seen since Ned’s execution and is presumed dead, and Bran and Rickon have been killed by Theon in his seizure of Winterfell. He proposes to legitimise Jon as a Stark, and intends to name him his heir in his will. Catelyn protests, but Robb says “I am the king” and shows he will not be moved from this.
Some fans think that maybe Robb changed his mind and listened to his mother in the few seconds between their conversation and his announcement to his men about his heir, which happens off the page and isn’t show to us. I don’t. In the spirit of “complex people, simple actions” I think GRRM intended that Robb would carry out his plan as he meant to, and we can safely assume that Robb’s will names Jon as a Stark and the heir to the Northern throne.
But where is Robb’s will?
In the scene where he calls his men to affix their seals to his will and declare his heir, Robb also orders that Maege Mormont and Galbert Glover are to sail North with Jason Mallister to Greywater Watch, and from there liaise with Howland Reed to attack the Ironborn at Moat Callin.
Now, my take away from that scene was that Robb’s will also went North. Maege Mormont and Galbert Glover haven’t been seen since ASOS. It was Maege’s daughter Lyanna who wrote to Stannis at Castle Black declaring “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK.”
(Not going to lie: one of my favourite moments from the book or tv series. Jon’s little smirk as he reads 10 year old Lyanna Mormont’s rejection of Stannis’ claim as King of ALL Westeros, including the North…. love it!)
Dacey Mormont was among the victims of the Red Wedding, and she went out swinging. But where is the mother bear, Maege?
I assume that she is hiding in Greywater Watch with Howland Reed, readying the crannogmen and loyal Northern forces to do something about the Boltons. I also assume that she has Robb’s will.
But this assumption is challenged by Cantuse, who notes that if Robb was concerned enough about the risk of Maege Mormont and Galbert Glover being captured by Ironborn to give them false orders, why would he also give them his will?
So this opens up the opportunity for Robb’s will to be with Jason Mallister, or the captain of the ship that takes them all to Seagard. Cantuse goes through all the candidates to have hold of Robb’s will and concludes that the captain has the will, most likely in Oldtown currently.
However, I think that in terms of narrative and thematic oomph, it makes more narrative sense for Maege Mormont or even Lady Stoneheart to have Robb’s will. I completely agree with Cantuse that there is no way Robb would have entrusted Catelyn with his will, given her blind opposition to Jon as Robb’s heir. But what if the Brotherhood Without Banners have retrieved the will from the captain since the Red Wedding, and Lady Stoneheart now holds it? That could be interesting for what Stoneheart does next. We assume that Stoneheart’s blood lust and drive for vengeance would be bad news for Jon’s claim to the North as Robb’s heir, but what if somehow, in some weird way, her experiences as the undead Stoneheart has changed Catelyn’s views? Made her more pragmatic? There are no Starks left but Sansa, as far as she and Westeros know, and Sansa is still officially a Lannister.
It’s unlikely that Stoneheart will have warmed to Jon, given that Stoneheart encapsulates all the fury and vengeance that Catelyn already had within her.
But if Maege Mormont has the will, and has additional information in the form of Howland Reed about R+L=J, then that combination would make for a POWERFUL narrative turning point for Jon.
He’s back (whether awake from a healing coma, or resurrected by fire magic), he’s angry, he’s more wolfy after time spent within Ghost while healing/dead, and now he knows the truth of his origins – he really is a Stark, through his mother Lyanna, and through Robb’s will. And it’s time to claim what is his: Winterfell, and the North.
He has an army of wildlings who have sworn to follow him by oath and by enthusiasm when he read out the Pink Letter.
He has a
He has the law of the North on his side in the form of Robb’s will. If Manderly wants to nitpick, and say that Robb’s will names Jon heir only on the basis that Rickon and Bran are dead, well how is the claim of a 6 year old wild wolf boy going to stack up against the 18 year old proven leader with an army at his back?
The Northern lords have proven repeatedly that they are pragmatic, and like the wildlings, they will follow a proven leader. They will follow the Stark who can command them – and that’s Jon.