Does Jon Snow Return To Winterfell Or Become A Stark? The 'Game of Thrones' Hero's Fate Isn't Sealed Yet
Poor, mopey Jon Snow. His dad never told him who his mom was and then got his head chopped off, his stepmom never loved him, his beloved brother was brutally murdered, all his other siblings are missing, he's bound by oath to serve for life in a frozen wasteland where nobody appreciates him, the love of his life was killed in battle, he just had to watch a man he respects burned alive at the stake... oh, and he's really bad at dinner parties. Will he finally catch a break in Season 5 of Game Of Thrones? All the poor kid has ever wanted is to be considered a Stark, like his honorable father. Impossible, right? Not so fast — King Stannis Baratheon has arrived at the Wall and he's got an interesting proposition for noble bastard Lord Snow: Will Jon Snow accept, become a Stark, & return to Winterfell?
The press release for the fifth season's second episode, "The House Of Black And White," makes brief mention of this proposition, teasing that "Stannis tempts Jon." During the episode, we learn that Stannis offers Jon everything he's ever wanted.
(It's interesting to note that, while much has been made about HBO's show catching up to George R.R. Martin's novels — and with entire characters being left in the dust because of it — Jon Snow's plot is actually the furthest behind. In fact, Stannis's offer comes from the third novel; while everyone else is busy delving into A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons, the story at the Wall is still mining material from A Storm Of Swords.)
So what happens?
In that book, Stannis arrives just in time to save the Night's Watch from the attack by Mance Rayder and his Wildling army, just like on the show. Soon after the King's arrival, he presents Jon with an unexpected opportunity: If the bastard were to recognize Stannis as the lawful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, the king would use his power to legitimize Lord Snow, finally making him a Stark and bestowing Winterfell upon him, dubbing him the Warden of the North.
Jon is sorely tempted by this offer. On the one hand, Stannis is offering him everything he's ever wanted. On the other, he feels immense guilt; both at Robb's death and the idea of abandoning his vows to the Night's Watch. But what finally tips the scale for Jon is Lady Melisandre — he realizes that if he were to accept Stannis's proposition, the Red Priestess would likely demand that Winterfell's heartree, an ancient weirwood and symbol of the Old Gods, be burned in honor of R'hllor, the Lord of Light.
Jon can't abide the thought of betraying both his brothers and his gods, so he shocks Stannis by turning him down. But Lord Snow hasn't lost all hopes of leadership: in a shocking turn of events, Samwell Tarly masterfully manipulates events to get Jon elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch... pretty much rendering his decision moot.
But just because Jon turns down Stannis's offer doesn't mean that A) there will never be a Stark in Winterfell again, or that B) Jon will never be a Stark. Interestingly enough, both of these things may soon come to pass if some fan theories prove to be true. Astute viewers may have noticed that, during the title sequence for the Season 5 premiere, Winterfell was no longer burning. This was a good news/bad news situation, since the rebuilt castle now also boasts the dreaded banner of the flayed man — the symbol of House Bolton, the schemers responsible for the Red Wedding and Theon's torture. But that symbol may yet change back to a Direwolf, if Littlefinger has anything to say about it.
In the books, Littlefinger and Sansa remain in the Vale, where the Master of Coin attempts to wrangle an engagement between the Stark girl and Harrold Hardyng, the next-in-line to the Eyrie should sickly Lord Robin die. But on the show, the unlikely pair are already headed away from the Vale. We don't know yet where they're headed — somewhere even Cersei won't look for him, according to Littlefinger — but the prevailing theory is that they're on their way to Winterfell, where Petyr Baelish will marry Sansa off to Ramsay Bolton in an effort to re-secure the North for the Starks.
Speaking of the Boltons, Roose's legitimization of his bastard son Ramsay (formerly Snow) is often seen as foreshadowing of Jon's eventual legitimization. A popular fan theory, referred to as The Grand Northern Conspiracy, maintains that at some point in A Storm Of Swords, Robb Stark legitimized Jon Snow without his bastard brother's knowledge. Since Bran and Rickon were both assumed dead at that point, Sansa would have been Robb's heir; but since she was married to Tyrion at the time, he didn't want Winterfell falling into the hands of the Lannisters. So, as King in the North, he formally declared Jon a Stark and made him his heir. Whether or not this is true — and whether Jon will ever learn of it — is still unknown. But if it is true, then Jon may very well become Lord Stark of Winterfell whether he chooses the title for himself or not.
Images: Helen Sloan/HBO (3)