“Variations on a theme,” that is one way that many see the epic stories that have become iconic in the popular imagination. For readers and television viewers and movie-goers, most fantasy, science fiction and even teen drama stories can be boiled down into a classic “hero’s journey.”
This journey can be simplified or complicated. It can be in its short form, abridged or told as an epic. It contains some key elements, that for reasons perhaps ingrained in the human experience, speak to us all.
First, a hero should be unlikely in his or her origins. As in the case of Hollywood sci-fi favorite,Luke Skywalker, the young farm boy plucked from obscurity, or in the case of child celebrity Harry Potter, the hero’s journey usually begins when circumstance falls upon the unwitting and unlikely hero. In this way, Jon Snow of Game of Thrones is as good an agent of the classics as any hero. Of seemingly mysterious parentage, the presumed bastard of Winterfell fits the mold quite well. After all, who might have guessed that a lowly adopted squire might pull a sword from the stone. What happens next, is almost as uniform.
The first steps along the path of unlikely heroes is to meet and follow a mentor on a relatively mundane quest that will ultimately lead to self discovery. As Arthur was taken up by Merlin, Skywalker by Obi-wan, or Paul Atredes of Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” is taken in by the Freman leader, Stilgar, Jon follows his uncle Benjin on his quest to become a member of the fabled Night’s Watch. While Jon’s mentor is hardly as clearly defined as these examples, his interactions with the straight-forward Tyrion, the bookish Sam, the harsh Sir Alistar and the Lord Commander Mormont, all equate in this way.
It is said that a boy does not become a man until his father dies. That is why the next, and one of the most vital, components of the hero’s journey is the loss or separation of the mentor from the would-be hero. As in the case of “Dune’s” Paul Atredes, as the would be Mau’dib, leaves knowing he may have to challenge his mentor to a battle to the death, unless he finds a way around it, Jon looses his collective mentors to many causes. Mormont dies, as “ Star Wars’” Obi-wan or “Harry Potter’s” Dumbledore. Benjin disappears, Sam leaves, and Allistar turns away, but all that means one thing to Jon Snow: he is alone.
The next ingredient in the emergence of a great hero is the one that HBO viewers and George R.R. Martin readers are the most concerned with. As the most heroic characters in fiction are messianic heroes, depictions of, as theologians say, “the once and future king,” as in the case of George R.R. Martin’s prophesied “Azur Ahai,” a messianic hero must die. He or she must cease to be the mortal of their previous life, and rise to become the mythic heroic figure of which future bards will sing. This was certainly the case for “Dune’s” Paul Mau’dib, who fell into a death like trance during his transformation, and for “The Matrix’s” Neo, as well as the 1990s television sci-fi epic “Babylon 5’s” Captain Sheridan presumed to have died on the fictional world of Zahadum.
Under this rule, it is apparent that George R.R. Martin and HBO’s fan favorite, Jon Snow, is certainly most effectively dead. But, as indicated above, perhaps he is not for the duration. To quote Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max of “The Princess Bride,” he is perhaps only “mostly dead.”
Since most messianic heroic tales find their roots in theology, just as the Christian tradition dictates, this combination of spiritual and heroic leader, must sometimes take an ethereal journey through death to fully transform, as Christ himself is said to have descended into hell. In the way that Harry Potter confronts his quite literal inner demon in the form of the forgotten horcrux of Voldemort, or the epic transformation of Rand in Robert Jordon’s “Wheel of Time” series, whose transformation is literaly into another character, Jon Snow, if he is indeed a heroic figure, must face his mortal death and be born again in resurrection.
In the epic series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the character many have speculated to be in full or part to be Jon Snow is Azur Ahai. In the prophesy of Azur Ahai, there are some metaphoric clues to a John Snow resurrection. Azur Ahai is said to be “born amidst Smoke and Salt,” “wielding a flaming sword,” “will have the blood of the dragon,” and be born under a “burning star.”
If these are metaphors or direct descriptions, Jon Snow’s resurrection is likely. In both media, television and book, the long summer’s end is heralded by a comet, a flaming star. In both, Jon wields a Valarian steel sword that has demonstrated it’s ability to slay White Walkers, just as does dragon glass, or as it is also known, obsidian. If viewers and readers are correct in their assumption of Jon Snow’s parentage, and indeed R + L = J, than our would be hero does indeed have the “blood of the dragon,” and he is likely to be brought back by the magic of Mellisandra, a priestess of the “lord of light,” a god seemingly possessed of fire, meeting the final requirement of prophesy.
While George R.R. Martin himself has scoffed at many of the staples of modern fantasy writing, saying they have “hurt more than …helped,” he is nothing if not an astute scholar, and while he may loathe the over simplification of these tomes, their universal grip on the collective minds of humanity may yield at least one predictable outcome.
Jon Snow will rise again.
Or, as in life and recorded throughout history, buried deep within the complex tapestry of George R.R. Martin’s world, another hero lies in wait, yet to begin his journey amidst the turmoil set in motion by an otherwise expendable cast of characters, much like all of us as we balance between personal ambition and the unwavering butterfly effects of our own existence.