by Allan Fish
WARNING – contains spoilers and conjecture, so do not proceed if you haven’t seen till the end of series 5.
It seems so long ago now. Arya serving Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal, trying to keep out of sight of those like Petyr Baelish who may know her real identity. Tywin finds himself surrounded by idiots and is beginning to wonder how he can deal with Robb Stark – remember him? – the impudent Stark wolf pup who’d defeated him on the field. Tywin asks Arya, as an authentic northern girl, about how Robb is perceived, and Arya talks of how some people talk as if he can’t be killed. “Do you believe that?”, Tywin asks her pointedly. “No”, she replies with just the right air of resignation, “anyone can be killed.”
Don’t we know it! For anyone coming to Game of Thrones as a Westerosi virgin, unacquainted with the doorstopper-sized books that inspire it and who have successfully avoided spoilers, it will have been a chastening journey. The first season alone had seen the king done in by a wild boar and a would-be candidate for his throne covered in molten gold. The would-be heroine of the piece, Daenerys Targaryen, had her child and husband taken from her. Oh, yes, and a bloke called Ned Stark lost his head. If a king and the star of the show could both be talked of in the past tense before we reached the end of round one, what hope for the rest of them?
Up until Thrones’ release from the dragon’s den, fantasy on screen was pretty much exemplified by Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And while few could deny their surface brilliance, let us not forget they were based on books designed for children; they’re snack cakes compared to Martin’s sumptuous feast. While Martin is an obvious admirer of Tolkien, he takes his inspiration from England’s Wars of the Roses and the Shakespeare plays inspired by them, while also doffing a hat to Minoan, Greek, Roman, Germanic, Norse and Celtic mythology and history. Take one look at the huge maps of Martin’s worlds and you’re given an idea. Westeros itself can be seen as a distorted Britannia, as if seen through a vertically stretched Hall of Mirrors, with The Wall a giant ice equivalent of Hadrian’s wall of limestone and the land beyond it the wilds of an Ice Age Scotland. Yet when we see the lands across the Narrow Sea to the east suddenly you realise it isn’t Scandinavia but rather Asia Minor, with Braavos as its Rhodes (it even has its own Colossus guarding the harbour) and doubtless one of its cities doubling for Troy. This then makes the seven kingdoms of Westeros not just a reference to old Anglo Saxon England (Wessex, Mercia, Northumberland, East Anglia, Kent, Sussex and Essex) but also to the old city states of ancient Greece (Athens, Sparta, Mycenae, Macedonia, Thessaly, Thebes, Illyria, etc.). And then there’s the ancient lost civilisation to the south, Valyria, or as we know it, Atlantis.
So where is the whole thing going? Let’s not forget Bran in the wastelands north of the wall. We have already seen how the ‘children’ can deal with the White Walkers reanimated skeletons. Just because we didn’t see him this season because his story was caught up with, don’t forget him. As the Three Eyed Raven told him, he won’t walk again, but he will fly. We’ve seen his vision from the back of a dragon casting its shadow over a warm city. Could he lead the ‘children’ south of the wall? Will Rickon, Osha and Shaggy Dog ever be seen again? Gendry hasn’t been seen since being put in that boat by Davos. Nimeria, Arya’s wolf, hasn’t officially been seen since season one, but she’s still out there. And then there’s Arya, Daenerys, Tyrion, Varys, Daario, Jorah, Jaqen H’ghar, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all across the Narrow Sea. Why was Jaqen H’ghar in Westeros and imprisoned in the first place when he seems so central to the existence of the House of Black and White? Was he there for Arya all along? Was sword master Syrio Forel also a servant of the many faced God (we know he also came from Braavos)? What role will Dorne have to play in it all? (My guess is not much, the whole thing started with the Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens and Baratheons and it’s the Wolf, Lion, Dragon and Stag that occupy the four corners around the series logo and the cosmic wheel that is first seen in the sky as the credits roll – the one Dany told Tyrion she wants to break. The Greyjoys, Boltons, Tyrells and Martells all came later.)
In 1983 as part of their BBC Shakespeare series, the Beeb produced adaptations of Henry VI Parts I, II and III and Richard III, and set them in a sort of children’s playground. It was a novel idea and worked really well for the most part, but its final shot was its greatest. It showed Margaret of Anjou, by now totally bonkers, atop the pile of bodies from the Wars of the Roses, cradling the dead Richard III (the man who killed her beloved son Edward) in her arms like a Pieta and laughing heartily. One almost expects Thrones to end the same way. No-one surviving, a pile of bodies – men, wildlings, whitewalkers, dragons, direwolves – and just Baelish surviving, laughing to himself. Or it could be another one we haven’t mentioned, Tyrion, who by that stage probably wouldn’t care a jot so long as there was enough wine left with which to drink himself to death. Tyrion, Daenerys, Arya, Cersei, Jaime, none of it matters in the end. Power is, as Varys said, just a shadow on the wall.
After all, Thrones has killed off beloved characters before and many of them. Some viewers never came back after the Red Wedding. Others are still in therapy after Oberyn Martell and Ygritte met their ends last year. Yet this year has topped all, with part of the reason being that book followers could no longer gloat; all bets were off. We’d already had Jojen Reed killed off while still living in the books, and now a host of others have followed. Shireen was clearly Martin’s Iphigenia, but in doing so it was dooming Stannis. And while it wasn’t at the hands of his own wife in the bath, Stannis/Agamemnon still met his fate at the hands of a woman, Brienne and her Oathkeeper.
Still viewers complain at the treatment of women in the show, the typically blind politically correct nonsense spouted by people who always want to judge a show set so clearly in the past by our own standards. Sansa’s conjugal rape was horrific to watch, but was thankfully tastefully done, and achieving the necessary objective, giving Theon the nudge to help Sansa escape (assuming they survive the jump). As for Cersei’s treatment, demeaning to women and ungodly as it has been called, do they not forget that a certain Jesus Christ lived at a time when the godly stoned adulteresses – the least of Cersei’s crimes – to death? Cersei’s walk of shame was horrific to watch, but not half as horrific as the things she had done to others. Yet even so, without wishing to bathe in the misogyny that in the present day would appal me, feminist writers will be waxing lyrical on wanting to see Cersei get her revenge. Strong women can kill whoever they like, just so we have strong women, but don’t dare do anything to them.
Losing Shireen was gut-wrenching, for she was one of the few genuinely lovable characters in Martin’s world, yet it was also necessary. For the plot to reach its logical conclusion within the expected seven seasons – seven seasons for seven kingdoms seems fair – contenders need to fall by the wayside. For the Targaryens to have any chance of regaining their rightful place, the Baratheons need to be wiped out. Robert, Renly and Stannis are all gone now. And with the exception of the invertebrate Tommen currently shitting himself on the Iron Throne, all their legitimate children are gone, too. Indeed, only Gendry, if he survived the boat he was dumped on in season three, survives of Robert’s bastards. And that culling of the Baratheons had to happen for House Targaryen’s return. Or for the ascendency of whoever the heck does come out on top. Arya’s story is in keeping with the books. She earned the right to go blind, now she has to earn the right to get her sight back. Myrcella’s death was foreshadowed, right back to Jodhi May’s Maggy laughing at young Cersei in that hut in the opening scene of the season. It said she’d mourn all her children. Only Tommen to go and he has the durability of plasticine.
Yet who are we kidding? It’s all about one character, isn’t it? Jon Snow. The man for whom ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ seemed named. We’d seen Snow on the throne after all – in Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying. The notion of him being the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Leanna Stark is almost taken as gospel amongst fans. Heck, when Benioff and Weiss approached Martin about adapting the books, the last question they were asked to see if they were up to the task was who Jon Snow’s parents were. They guessed correctly and we have the show as a result. But would such a question really have mattered if Snow was to die so long before the end, no matter how foreshadowed it has been. Even to me, who has read the books, and read the words relating to his death, there are doubts. Sure, as we write Kit Harington and the Thrones crew are saying how he’s definitely dead. But is this definitely dead as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss insisted Jim Moriarty was dead in Sherlock? Or definitely dead as Buffy Summers was at the end of another show’s fifth season? Or is it merely definitely dead until he’s brought back. In the novels the woman who, if the Snow theories are right, would actually be his aunt, Catelyn Stark, is brought back by the Brotherhood of the Banners as Lady Stoneheart. This never happened in the series, we assume equally as much down to not wanting to take the fantasy too far and also because, one assumes, Martin has told Benioff and Weiss that she doesn’t have a big part to play in the closing chapters. Yet this is counterbalanced by the fact that they did show Beric Dondarrion’s raising from the dead by Thoros of Myr. Of course, that requires a priest or priestess of R’hllor the Lord of Light to be in close proximity to the recently deceased. And who arrived at Castle Black just in time to see the fatal knife thrusts of little Olly’s Brutus into Jon’s murdered Caesar; one Melisandre. Throw in Melisandre’s attempted seduction of Snow – she’d only do that with those of royal blood and that line in the books – I forget the details – where Melisandre looks into the fire and looking for the outcome of the battle sees only snow. (Time for an additional note of caution here; being an adopted father figure to Jon Snow should carry a governmental health warning. Ned Stark, Benjen Stark (remember him, come to think of it, is he actually dead?), Jeor Mormont, Stannis Baratheon, Mance Rayder – show an interest in Jon Snow, you end up six feet under.)
Jon Snow is really dead we are assured. And yes he is, taken literally. But as Sam Waterston said after Walter Matthau’s plane crashed at the end of Hopscotch and those round him said he was finally dead, “son of a bitch better stay dead.” Have Benioff and Weiss allowed Martin the courtesy of getting the next book out in time to reveal the cliffhanger himself, to confirm or resurrect? And my guess is it will be out around the same time as filming begins. In the books, the last novel ‘A Dance With Dragons’ began with a point of view chapter from a warg and detailed his death and transferral of his spirit into an animal. Jon’s dying words were of Ghost, so maybe something will come of that, but somehow Jon’s spirit surviving in his wolf would make no sense if he was the central character. Logic says he’s a Targaryen, it all points that way, but being one doesn’t mean he can’t die. Then there’s the factor of his hair colour. Just as Ned Stark’s reading the chronicles of the Baratheons showed that they were always dark-haired and Lannisters fair of hair, so were the Targaryens. Are we to believe Leanna Stark’s blood made his hair black and overruled Rhaegar’s family’s white blonde, or is his hair the crucial clue that, after all, the whole Snow/Targaryen theory is one massive red herring? Martin has promised viewers that Jon Snow’s parentage will be revealed before the books’ end, but again, does he have to be alive for this? After all, if the theory is right, Rhaegar and Leanna are the real tragic figures here and were dead before the whole thing began. It’s Game of Thrones, events may shock, but nothing should be a surprise. But if you asked me, hand on heart, is he dead…permanently? My answer is…probably no, but it might be yes. Without wishing to sit on the fence, let’s explain both arguments.
The whole Jon Snow is Rhaegar and Leanna’s son story becomes irrelevant in the face of one major obstacle; Jon’s own stubbornness. He’s already showed that his oath to the Night’s watch, to stay with them, is binding. If the offer of Winterfell from Stannis wasn’t enough to lure him out, nothing would be. But will he feel the same after the Night’s Watch broke their oath to him? Sam will be gone with Gilly to Oldtown, old Maester Aemon has died. There is no longer anything to keep Jon Snow there if he lives. Melisandre has to be at Castle Black for a reason – and she’s there in the books, too, when the same cliffhanger takes place – and there’s still Davos out there, not to mention Sansa and Theon escaping Winterfell, assuming once again that they did survive. Not to mention the wildlings loyal to him. Or the chance postulated by some that Jon will be reborn from the fire of his own funeral pyre as a Targaryen (like Daenerys’ dragon eggs). Either way, for Jon Snow to play a part in the upcoming story, he can’t do it at Castle Black. Benioff and Weiss made a point of having the Arya and the Hound plotline encounter Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, but then they abandoned the Brotherhood of the Banners’ later plotline with Lady Stoneheart. It means they could have excised the Dondarrion scenes altogether if it wasn’t for the fact that it set a precedent for resurrection.
OK, so much for the Jon Snow isn’t dead case. Now, Jon Snow’s death shouldn’t be any more significant than any other in the books/show – than Tywin, Robert, Ned, Robb, Catelyn, Joffrey, Oberyn and the countless others to fade into the dark goodnight. However, all the signs have been pointed to his being a Targaryen and that being the crux of the show. I’m reminded of The Prestige and Michael Caine’s talk about the three stages of a magic trick; the pledge, the turn and the prestige. What if Jon Snow and all the talk and theorising about him is merely the pledge of the trick? What if his death is the turn, the removal of the carpet from under the audience’s hopes and expectations. That still requires a prestige. It’s not enough to have your hopes disappear, YOU HAVE TO BRING THEM BACK. Let me play devil’s advocate here and mention an idea that has been formulating for a while since I finished reading the last book and has gnawed at me more since the season finale aired.
What if Jon Snow’s parentage was designed by Martin as a ruse, allowing the story about Benioff and Weiss guessing his parentage as a way of sustaining this theory? What if he deliberately hasn’t released any books since before the series began so as to maintain the illusion but actually does have them written? What if he, Benioff and Weiss made the decision to hold it back so that when Jon Snow is knifed no-one knows the outcome because there is no book yet out continuing the story? I find it hard to believe Martin, even if book six is ready to publish, can knock off the seventh in the twelve months between seasons six and seven unless he already has it done.
So if Jon Snow is the pledge and we have been lead down the garden path, the only way Martin, Benioff and Weiss can justify it is to ensure that the audience is not disappointed by the outcome. Jon Snow was their gold medal to the audience, now they have to find a platinum medal they would accept. As those who know their detective 101, the outcome (or perpetrator) needs to have been visible since the first season for audiences who cared to look for it. Can the three of them come up with a reveal, with a prestige so good that people won’t care about Jon Snow when it’s revealed? And one that makes no difference to the Jon Snow parentage line. I genuinely believe Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Leanna. But what if it didn’t really matter, he was doomed to die anyway.
Let me refer you back to that vision Dany had in the House of the Undying. In it she wandered through an empty throne room. All that was on the throne was snow. In the books Melisandre sees snow in her fire. Now, that can mean just the white stuff that falls from the sky, or it could be Jon Snow. But are we not forgetting something? Snow is merely the name given to all bastards in the seven kingdoms (apart from in Dorne where they’re called, perhaps appropriately, Sand). Anyone who is a bastard in Westeros is a Snow, like with Ramsay. Therefore could one not actually read the Dany vision as something more vague, just that a bastard will sit on the iron throne. Now, one could say it referred to Joffrey and Tommen who weren’t actually the sons of Robert Baratheon, but with one already dead and the other likely (Maggy told young Cersei in the opening scene of season five that she’ll bury all her children) does it refer instead to another bastard sitting on the throne? Does it mean Gendry? Not likely, not when he’s been absent for two years and could well be dead. Who else is there?
Well, let me suggest this? Is Tyrion Lannister actually Tyrion Snow. Rumours have persisted about Tywin’s wife Joanna and the obsession the old mad king Aerys Targaryen had for her. There have been rumours that Tyrion isn’t actually a Lannister but a Targaryen? The hair colour makes no difference, the Targaryens and Lannisters are both blonde. Did Tywin hate Tyrion not just for being a dwarf and his wife’s death in childbirth but because he wasn’t actually his? Did Aerys remove Tywin as King’s Hand not merely out of his own madness, but through jealousy? Was Cersei’s hatred for Tyrion borne out of an unknown knowledge that he wasn’t actually her brother?
One can say that Jon Snow’s destiny has been foreshadowed – but the fact remains he only knows the world of Winterfell, Castle Black and beyond the wall. He has no connection to King’s Landing. Daenerys has spent the entire five seasons and books beyond the Narrow Sea. Tyrion meanwhile has been everywhere; King’s Landing, Winterfell, The Wall, The Eerie, across the Narrow Sea, even touched on Valyria. Add to this another factor. In the books, Varys is not working directly for Daenerys, but rather on behalf of a character called Griff who, we are told, is actually a surviving son of mad king Aerys. But I feel this has all been a Perkin Warbeck (a figure who challenged the throne of Henry VII after the Wars of the Roses claiming to be a surviving prince of the tower but was a fake) red herring, and the removal of the character from the series shows he holds little importance in the greater scheme of things (another of Martin’s red herrings). In the book he doesn’t go with Tyrion, but if Varys through his little birds finds out about Tyrion’s real parentage, would it not make sense of Varys’ friendship and protection of him? Add to this Tyrion and Varys’ talk about the iron throne early in the season, throw in Tyrion’s first mythic sight of Drogon flying overhead near Valyria, and finally, remember the scene in Volantis, where Tyrion is spotted by the red priestess of Rhyllor. It’s a totally unnecessary scene, but what if the red priestess like Melisandre could see something in Tyrion? Why else would the scene be there? And finally, on the boat in Valyria, poor Jorah contracts greyscale but Tyrion didn’t, despite being grabbed. Can it be that Targaryens – who originate from Valyria – are immune to greyscale (hence Jorah also not giving it to Daenerys in the arena when he took her hand, she, too, is immune) and that’s why Tyrion wasn’t affected?
Does this mean I believe it? Not entirely, the return of Jon Snow seems still more likely. It’s just that if Jon Snow is really dead and they have pulled the rug out from everyone, there needs to be a suitable ‘replacement’ to form the heart of the conclusion. And at the end of the day, much as though Bran, Arya, Sansa and Daenerys are all at the heart of things, somehow neither would quite fit (though the sight of Arya on the Iron Throne would make my day). And in the case of the first three, there’s no way any of them can have Targaryen blood in them. Anything can happen here. Anyone can and will die, perhaps even everyone will die. Yet somehow the smokescreen of Jon Snow being at the centre of everything would only have a suitable trick finale if Martin’s prestige was to reveal Tyrion as the real chosen one. Only one thing is certain, and that is that nothing is certain.
Postscript – couldn’t resist this…STOP KILLING MY PEOPLE!!!