Game of Thrones has become a cultural phenomenon. It is a crossover hit that is no longer just for fantasy fans. It bridges the gap between good dramatic television and fantasy motifs by eliminating a lot of what makes fantasy novels so inaccessible for casual readers. It removes all of the different races and peoples by replacing them with racial traits more closely related to different parts of the world we already know. Dorne, for instance, is like sandy Spain or Morocco. These are all ideals that people who did not grow up reading about Orcs and Elves can grasp. A significant amount of the plot has been borrowed or gathered from different areas of history and reworked to fit the needs of the realm of Westoros. This, however, does not matter to the story as a whole because we are not there for the plot or the story, we want to see how the characters grow and develop throughout the hardships and struggles they face. Each character follows a slow and winding trail to arrive at the state they have ended up in today. Jon Snow is one of the most complex and deliberate takes on the classic fantasy hero.
The classic fantasy hero is often a white male, of noble birth, and is an excellent swordsman, think Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. He travels the lands and defeats evil and learns a few lessons along the way. He might vanquish evil and save the fair maiden, but his story remained unchanged throughout many different fantasy series. In the beginning of the series, I’ll be focusing mostly on the HBO television series mostly because I have yet to finish all the novels, Jon Snow starts out as the bastard born son of a highborn family and receives no love from his step-mother, I’m not sure how that all works in Westoros. Anyway, Catelyn Stark really hates him and instead of sending him somewhere to become more of a hero or having him leave the family home with his father, they all decide to have Jon Snow go to the wall. The wall is a place where old knights go to die and criminals go to live. Jeor Mormont, the current Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, abdicated his lands to his son, Jorah, and came to the wall to serve his last days as a defender of the realms of men. Needless to say, this is not a place you send the protagonist of your fantasy story if you send him to a place he can never leave. He is essentially doomed before he can even get started.
Jon Snow lived a protected life inside Winterfell under his “father’s” care and was not subjected to the scorn and disdain he experiences at the wall. The people of Winterfell treated him mostly well, except for Catelyn Stark. He grew up in a loving family with brothers and sisters who regarded him as one of their own, as best they could. The high walls of Winterfell kept him secluded from how the world really views bastards, which is to say not well. Many of the older knights view his arrival as an affront to their standing at the wall. As the blood of Ned Stark, the last great Stark of Winterfell, they do not respect his unclean birth and the training he received from the stewards at his home. Immediately, he is met with resistance and insults from Alliser Thorne and his ilk. Although the common theme for the male fantasy protagonist still shines through at this point it is overshadowed by the fact that Jon Snow is not going anywhere fast. In fact most of his scenes take place within the confines of Castle Black for many seasons to come.
Around season four a change starts to take hold within Jon Snow, he has lived amongst the wildlings and known love for a woman, both things he vowed to never do. I feel as if George R.R. Martin sent Jon Snow to the wall because maybe even he did not know what to do with him and felt like he needed time to develop. Or, it could have been a misdirection, sending him to the place where most men end their lives for him to start his story. He slowly becomes a great warrior and commander, learning from Jeor Mormont and seeing the betrayal that fell upon him. Taking over command of the wall during the wildling attack. He learned from his mistakes and those of others. He finally made the choice that would doom him and he was killed for it. He finally ended his life at the wall, as most men do, and was set free to go forth and become what he was born to be, not what he was.
Jon takes a subtle path to greatness, removed from the lord and ladies of King’s Landing and the rest of Westeros. He was saved from the murder of his “father” and the diaspora of his family. Unlike his brother, Robb, he is not thrown into the thick of the game for the Iron Throne but he takes his time to learn a few things before he makes his move. He may not be the most skilled strategist in battle, or the most level headed but he can inspire respect from the men around him. I choose to believe he is the greatest swordsman alive in Westeros, but probably not the greatest who ever lived. He stands a greater chance to survive the series because of the lessons he learned and he already died once, he will not be that gullible again. Finally, we see the black cloud clear away from hanging over his head and the man emerge to confront the seven kingdoms headfirst.