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Will Jon Snow Die in Game of Thrones Season 8?
Exactly one month ago, Esquire began running a series of essays—which I’ve called character studies, because it sounds real high-brow—about each core character of Game of Thrones. For these characters, we’ve identified the major theories going into Season Eight and written an analysis of how this person could win or lose the Game of Thrones. Taking the Iron Throne didn’t always mean winning and dying didn’t always mean losing, depending on the character. We dug into what truly drives these characters, whether for Tyrion it was being loved or for Arya revenge. We distilled these complex character arcs down to their most basic motivating forces, analyzing what would be a satisfying or tragic (or both) conclusion.
And, as I thought about how we’d conclude this series of essays with Jon Snow living, dying, winning, or whatever, the answer—any way I looked at it—must be that Jon Snow must die. If Game of Thrones wants to end its eight seasons in a way that does justice to a series that shocked and horrified and angered its fans, Jon Snow must die. If Game of Thrones wants this finale to satisfy, to challenge, to surprise its millions of die-hard viewers, Jon Snow must die. If Game of Thrones wants to avoid cliche and provide an emotionally gratifying experience, Jon Snow must die. If Game of Thrones wants to pay off two decades of books and TV and intricate writing, of prophecies, of clues, of vision—Jon Snow must die.
In Episode Nine of Season Six, Jon Snow is preparing for the Battle of the Bastards. “If I fall,” he tells Melisandre, who resurrected him from death after he was betrayed by his Night’s Watch brothers. “Don’t bring me back.”
“I’ll have to try … I serve the Lord of Light. I do as he commands,” Melisandre says. “If the Lord didn’t want me to bring you back, how did I bring you back? I have no power. Only what he gives me. And he gave me you.”
“Why?” Jon asks.
“I don’t know,” she responds.
In the second episode of that season, Melisandre brings Jon back from the dead in a move that, at the time, felt like fan service. After six seasons of central protagonists getting murdered, by Season Five Jon had emerged at long last as the hero of Game of Thrones. Then in that season finale, he was murdered before he could unite the north to fight the looming threat of the White Walker army. It felt like another Ned Stark moment, another Red Wedding, another classic Game of Thrones slaying of the hero. Fans were convinced this one couldn’t stick. Jon Snow must return to finish what he started.
And, of course, he did. Having passed its source material—George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire—Jon Snow’s fate was in HBO writers now. They brought Jon Snow back, where he’s since become the classic fantasy hero that Game of Thrones never had or needed.
Now Jon Snow, hand-in-hand with his lover/aunt Daenerys Targaryen, are the two protagonists fans have to root for in the climactic battle between the living and the dead in Game of Thrones Season Eight.
This set-up feels surprisingly unlike the Game of Thrones fans knew for five seasons. Here we have clear good and clear evil, clear heroes and clear villains. The HBO writers brought Jon Snow back for this very reason, to create a simple and palatable conclusion for the millions of fans Game of Thrones had accrued. And within the story, The Lord of Light brought Jon Snow back for a similar reason: To lead the living against a battle for the dead.
And, no matter how the ending shapes up, it must end with one thing: Jon Snow must die.
When the battle is over, and Jon Snow has served his purpose for being resurrected, Jon Snow must die. This—in all likelihood—will happen in some beautiful valiant way. So, let’s go back to Melisandre’s Lord of Light. In Chapter 10 of A Clash of Kings, we hear the Azor Ahai prophecy in full:
There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.
In that same book, Salladhor Saan explains how Lightbringer was first forged. It took three tries, and on the third try he drove it through his wife Nissa Nissa, and “her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel.”
Sacrifice, according to this prophecy, is the key to defeating the Army of the Dead. And though audiences have long assumed Jon Snow to be Azor Ahai, the show pretty bluntly hinted that this was not the case back in Season Seven. In one clunky scene, Missandei points out that in High Valyrian, the word prince is actually gender-neutral, which means, you guessed it, that The Prince That Was Promised could be either a man or a woman.
That seems to be pretty clear preparation for Daenerys Targaryen to be our Princess That Was Promised, meaning her lover, Jon Snow, must be sacrificed to defeat the Night King.
With this, Jon Snow would accomplish the only thing that has driven him since he first fought a Wight in Season One Episode Eight. Dying for the cause, with honor, as a hero is the only way Jon Snow can win. And if we’re to consider another driving factor in Jon’s life—to be accepted in his Stark family—dying with honor is the most Stark thing he can do. Just look at Ned Stark’s ending.