Jon Snow lives! A reversal of fortunes, and expectations, in Westeros

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years you must have heard of the HBO T.V series A Game of Thrones, based on George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. The T.V adaption of the books has left both book and show in a peculiar position as now the show has actually caught up the books, which are still being written. Now some stories we’ll be watching on screen, like Jon Snow’s death, haven’t actually played out in the books yet. Thanks to the show we don’t have to wait till the next book comes out to find out if Jon will somehow come back to life. Last night we got our answer in the final moments of the show’s episode.

Well, he’s back folks! Jon Snow lives!

This shouldn’t really come as a shock. Jon is a main character in the story, we should have this coming a mile off, and yet we still harboured doubts about whether we would actually see Jon live again. People have been debating over whether Jon would rise from the dead for a whole year now, taking all kinds of thing into account- even analysing the actor’s haircut! Eagle eyes fans thought they spotted actor Kit Harrington lurking in the background of a photo taken at the game of thrones filming wrap party. The speculation has literally been nonstop while actors and producers of the show have patiently and persistently told us Jon Snow is dead. Well, I suppose they weren’t lying, kind of.

But now that the fan’s beloved Jon is back doesn’t it seem obvious that this would happen? How did the resurrection of Jon Snow in the episode’s final scene have viewers on tenterhooks and leave them jumping with joy when Jon finally opened his eyes again in the episode’s final few seconds? Surely it was painfully obvious what would happen all along, right? Not quite- and that’s due to the clever writing of George Martin…

It all comes down to the readers expectations. Most readers believe that the protagonists of a novel with survive till the end of the story and eventually save the day. That’s what we all believed when we started reading a game of thrones and met the character of Ned Stark. Ned was a main character. He was a good guy. George Martin was clearly setting him up as the hero of the novel and, along with that archetype, there comes certain expectations with it. When Ned Stark began to discover that the king’s children were in fact the product of an incestuous love affair between the queen and her brother we thought that our heroic Ned was on his way to saving the day. He would defeat the evil Lannisters and all would be well. Even when things looked at the worst, and Ned was injured and locked up in a dark dungeon, the faithful reader still held out hope. The hero always manages to win just after things get about as bad as they can, right? And besides Ned’s daughter, Sansa, was begging the Lannisters to let her father live if he confessed to his ‘crimes.’ All Ned Stark had to do was retract his claims of incest against the queen and he would live to fight another day. That’s what we all expected would happen, one way or another.

It came as quite a surprise, then, when Ned Stark got his head chopped off.

And thus the readers was welcomed to expectations being blown into smithereens. The hero killed? But- but- that’s not how it’s supposed to happen! But poor old Ned was hardly the only example of this kind of literary cruelty in the first novel. Remember Khal Drogo, the might horse lord Daenerys Targaryen was sold to? Daenerys was forced into a marriage with Drogo, whether she liked it or not. Thankfully for her she ended up liking it, even after Drogo killed her brother, Viserys, who was kind of a douchebag anyway. But after Daenerys brother was killed she decided she wanted to take back her kingdom, Westeros (where all the other characters were milling about) and avenge her dead family by destroying all those who once took part in house Targaryen’s downfall. There was only one problem, Khal Drogo didn’t want to go anywhere near Westeros and without him Daenerys couldn’t hope to conquer her dreams of putting her family’s name back on the map after all those terrible years in exile. The conflict in her story was clear: exiled princess wants her throne back, husband is blocking her from achieving her goals. Things changed, however, after a failed attempt to poison Daenerys. Khal Drogo had a change of heart. To pay back those conniving lords who tried to murder his wife he vowed he would sail to Westeros and conquer the whole kingdom, take back his wife’s throne leaving us readers ready to pity the fools who would dare stand in his way. Exiled princesses always gets their throne back, right? And Khal Drogo was Daenerys hero, he was obviously going to… wait a minute. Nope he didn’t manage to do anything we expected of him. Instead he ended up dead. Another reader’s expectations dashed away from us just when we thought we had the plot sussed out.

Things didn’t get any easier in the following novels. The reader made some adjustments. Perhaps Ned was never supposed to be the hero? That was just a trick to catch us off guard, perhaps? Maybe the real hero that would emerge would be Ned’s oldest son and heir, Robb. Robb Stark went to war with the Lannisters and managed to win every battle he fought in. Yes, this was more like it! No one could hope to ever beat Robb. No one had a hope in hell of beating Robb in battle so he had to win, surely? Well… not quite. Robb was pretty much invincible on the battle field, but he met his end after being killed at a wedding feast, caught off guard. His mother, Catelyn, a hugely central character, also met her untimely demise at that wedding too. Even the most dim witted of readers could sense a certain pattern emerging. The heroes don’t always win in Westeros. And being a central character isn’t the get out of jail card it seems either.

Even the villains weren’t safe. Two of the story’s most vile creations, Joffery Baratheon and Tywin Lannister were murdered in the third book. The message was clear. No one is safe. That is what the readers expectations became.

At the end of the last book Jon Snow is murdered by the brothers of the Nights Watch. By now we have become so used to the central characters being brutally killed off that it’s our expectation that he won’t be coming back from the dead. This is Westeros after all. Heroes get murdered around here. But then it happens. Jon Snow opens his eyes, a total reversal of the expectations we have been trained to believe will happen so far. And that is how Jon Snow’s return kept everyone on the edge of their seats. On paper it should have been woefully predicable but thanks to the clever reversals of expectations in George Martin’s storytelling we were suitably shocked, and not to mention relieved, at the return of everyone’s favourite moody bastard.