Game Of Thrones Season 5 was full of its fair share of traumatizing events, from Sansa's nightmarish wedding night to Stannis sacrificing his only daughter and Jon Snow's murder at the hands of his own sworn brothers. As horrific as those first two events were, it was the latter that was perhaps the most traumatizing for fans, since Jon Snow has long been one of the central characters of the HBO show; it's difficult to envision its future without him. And, yet, a side-by-side comparison of Jon Snow's death scenes in both the show and in the book by George R.R. Martin may provide some hope for those still reeling from the events of the Season 5 finale, "Mother's Mercy."
While Jon's death follows the basic bullet points of the scene on the page: Lord Commander Snow is stabbed by the Night's Watch in the courtyard of Castle Black — it's actually quite different in almost every detail. This is largely because the scene in A Dance With Dragons involves a plethora of characters who never even made the translation from page to screen. Without many of Castle Black's more peripheral supporting characters, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were forced to streamline the traumatic event — and even invent an entirely new character to help move things along. (Olly, you little traitor.)
Here's a breakdown of the six biggest differences between Jon's death on Game of Thrones and his death in the pages of the books:
1. The Timing
Show: Before this year, GoT hadn't really been known for ending on dramatic cliffhangers that left characters' fates hanging. Season 1 ended with the birth of Dany's dragons, Season 2 with the army of White Walkers, Season 3 with Dany amongst a crowd of freed slaves, and Season 4 with Arya setting sail for Essos. If a pivotal character did bite the dust, it was handled in the season's penultimate episode (Ned Stark in "Baelor" and Robb & Catelyn in "The Rains Of Castamere") so that the finale could depict the consequences of that death. If Jon were really dead, shouldn't he have been killed in Episode 9 so viewers would have a whole episode to absorb the finality of his demise?
Books: Not only is Jon's death not the final event of ADWD, it's not even the penultimate event. In fact, there are two whole chapters and an epilogue left after the Night's Watch stabs their Lord Commander. One from a still-living Barristan's point of view as he prepares Meereen for war against Yunkai, one from Dany's point of view as she encounters the Dothraki, and one from Kevan Lannister's point of view as he's murdered by Varys. The fact that Martin positioned such a climactic event so far from ADWD's end certainly implies that there's more to the story to come in The Winds Of Winter.
2. The Inciting Incident
Show: There really isn't a specific inciting incident to Jon's death on the show. Resentment had been building up within the ranks of the Night's Watch all season, coming to a head when Jon led hundreds of wildlings — the Watch's sworn enemies — through the Wall in order to protect them from the White Walkers. (This begs the question: if Alliser Thorne wanted to kill Jon, why didn't he just not let him through the gate? Now he's stuck with hundreds of wildlings in Castle Black who are bound to be pissed when they find out he's murdered the only Crow who was on their side.)
Book: In ADWD, there's a very specific incident that spurs the Night's Watch into action against their Lord Commander. Following the battle at Winterfell, Jon receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton claiming that Stannis has been killed and Mance Rayder (who is still alive in the books) has been captured. Whether any of this is true is up for debate, since we don't actually witness the battle from anyone's perspective, but the "Pink Letter" (as it's referred to by book readers). But, this enrages Jon enough that he holds an emergency meeting where he declares his intentions to lead an army to Winterfell to kill Ramsay. Since the Night's Watch say a vow to take no part in the politics of Westeros, this is a direct and specific act of treason — one which leads directly to the decision to assassinate Jon.
3. The Distraction
Show: Olly runs into the Lord Commander's chambers, claiming that wildling has information on the whereabouts of Jon's missing uncle, First Ranger Benjen Stark. Jon follows him out into the yard where he finds... a sign reading "traitor" and immediately receives several daggers in his belly. (This was a particularly cruel invention by Benioff and Weiss, given how eager book readers are to find out what really happened to Benjen.) This planned trap makes it very clear that Jon's murder was a carefully coordinated event.
Book: In ADWD, Jon's death is much less rehearsed and much more impulsive. Immediately following his declaration of war against Ramsay, Jon hears a commotion in the yard, where he finds the giant Wun Wun slaughtering a knight named Ser Patrek. (It appears that Patrek, who had previously announced his intention to marry the wildling princess Val, had attempted to kill the giant guarding her tower in a show of valor.) In the ensuing chaos, those Watch members offended by Jon's treason seize the opportunity to kill their Lord Commander.
4. The Culprits
Show: On GoT, Alliser Thorne is the first person to shove a knife in Jon's gut, followed by several anonymous Crows, and finally Jon's steward Olly, who delivers the finishing blow. (Olly was upset that Jon was helping the same wildlings who had slaughtered his entire family.)
Book: Olly doesn't exist in Martin's books, and Ser Alliser wasn't even in Castle Black at the time of Jon's murder. Knowing the master-at-arms' hatred for him, Jon had previously sent the knight beyond the Wall. The first person to attack Jon is a steward named Wick Wittlestick, but his dagger barely grazes Jon's neck and startles the Lord Commander more than hurts him. Lord Steward Bowen Marsh is the first person to deal Jon a mortal blow. This was a particularly cruel twist of fate, given that Marsh was a longtime support of Jon's — he was there when the young recruit took his vow in front of the weirwood and served as interim commander after Jeor Mormont's murder. Marsh isn't killing Jon because he hates him, but because he genuinely thinks the young Lord Commander is destroying the Brotherhood. In fact, Martin specifically describes how Marsh is weeping as he stabs Jon. This makes the scene poignant in its tragedy rather than merely shocking.
5. The Death
Show: Perhaps this is just because of the visual nature of the medium, but Jon's death on the show seemed much more final than it ever did in the books. The camera slowly panned in on Jon's face as the blood flowed, his breathing stopped, and his eyes unfocused. He seems pretty dead.
Books: The description of Jon's "death" on the page is much more vague: "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 ..." That's it. No, "And then he died." Not even a, "And then the light went out of his eyes." Just "cold..."
6. The Clues
Show: Martin offers several clues for his more attentive readers that perhaps Jon's death isn't so final. Most of these clues have been eradicated from the show, with the exception of one. Mere moments before the assassination, Melisandre arrives back at the Wall. As we know from Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, R'hllor sometimes gives his priests the power of resurrection. This isn't a power that Melisandre has demonstrated before, but perhaps she'll find it within herself to bring Jon back from the dead. (In the books, Melisandre never even leaves the Wall, so there's no glaringly obvious last-minute arrival on her part.)
Books: Only a couple of chapters before his death, Melisandre told Jon of the prophecy of Azor Ahai, the legendary warrior who will rise again to lead the people against the armies of the White Walkers. "When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone." Now check out these quotes from Jon's death scene:
"[Ser Patrek's] cloak flapped in the cold air. Of white wool it had been, bordered in cloth-of-silver and patterned with blue stars. Blood and bone were flying everywhere."
"Then Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks."
"He found the dagger's hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking."
The blood-stained cloak, Marsh's tears, and Jon's smoking wound could easily constitute the red stars, the salt, and the smoke of Melisandre's prophecy. Is Jon Azor Ahai? If this isn't enough evidence for you, Martin himself offers not one, but two alternate theories to consider as well:
"'Ghost,' he whispered. Pain washed over him."
Did Jon warg at the moment of his death, transferring his consciousness into his beloved direwolf?
"He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold..."
Could Jon be turning into a wight due to the proximity of the White Walkers? Now THAT would be the cruelest twist of all: our hero, Jon Snow, becoming a lieutenant of the dreaded Night's King. If only we didn't have to wait so long for the answers.
Images: HBO (2); Helen Sloan/HBO (4)