One of the fun things about the show diverging so much from the books is that it opens up an entirely new line of theorization and discussion. Instead of just asking how Dave Benioff and D.B. Weiss are going to adapt something, we can now debate what they are going to keep and what they are going to toss from the books. I have a particular theory below relating to the fate of Jon Snow.
As I did last week, I’m about to get into the changes in Season 5 from the books. Please only proceed if you have 1) read all of the books, 2) do not plan on reading the books, or 3) have started reading the books but don’t care about spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Waiting for George R. R. Martin to complete one of his ponderous tomes can be a long process. What makes his audience especially anxious this time around is the cliffhanger that ends the fifth book, “A Dance with Dragons.”
So What Happens?
In summary, Jon Snow has made hard decisions as the leader of the Night’s Watch. He has enlisted the aid of the Wildling army to join or work with the Watch, sent men to rescue Wildlings trapped at Hardhome, and made other controversial decisions. Most of his cover is gone as he has promoted most of his allies, sending them to rebuild other castles along the Wall. Still, he feels confident with the inner circle he’s left behind. It is a shock to both Snow and the reader when that inner circle gangs up on him and stabs him.
So is he dead?
This is the main theory that book readers have been debating since 2011. Is Jon Snow dead, and if not, how did he survive multiple stab wounds in an era when medical care was, well, less than adequate?
Okay, how are they going to do this on the show?
Now we’ve made it to my central theory. They aren’t going to end this season with the same cliffhanger, or at least they aren’t going to do it in the same way. Here are my reasons why:
1. Kit Harrington’s Schedule
It’s pretty easy to end a book with a cliffhanger questioning whether a character is dead or alive. A television series has another problem entirely, especially a show with Game of Thrones’ popularity and herculean filming schedule. You could stab Jon Snow at the end of the season and hold that cliffhanger over the course of the offseason, but you can’t hide the actor who plays him.
Even if HBO closed the set for the Wall scenes, you can’t hide Kit Harrington for six months. If Snow is dead, Harrington will be working on other projects. His role in Game of Thrones has been great for his career and he’s in high demand. If Snow isn’t dead, it’ll be pretty obvious what Harrington is up to for the second half of this year.
HBO especially likes to release a bunch of trailers and behind the scenes specials before Game of Thrones seasons. They can’t cut an entire plot from their promotional materials and do so effectively.
2. Benioff and Weiss Haven’t Laid the Groundwork for Snow’s Stabbing to Have the Same Effect it has in A Dance with Dragons
The stabbing is a shock to the reader because we are experiencing Snow’s story in A Dance with Dragons from inside his head. In hindsight, Snow should have known something was up, but since we are limited to his perspective, we are as shocked as he is when he’s stabbed.
So far, this season of Game of Thrones has made it all too obvious that something like this could happen. It’s established that half the Watch hates Snow, and the other half is now pissed at him because he wants to rescue the Wildlings. It will be a lot less surprising, and therefore less effective, if everyone gangs up on him at this point, especially if he loses a bunch of guys at Hardhome.
3. It Could Still Work if Snow is Simply Dead, but that Seems Unlikely at this Point
Snow probably isn’t dead in the books. First, Martin himself has hinted as much. When asked why he killed off Snow, Martin responded, “So you think he’s dead do you?” He’s been a lot more upfront about his reasons when other characters have died.
Furthermore, there are numerous reasons that the story would fall apart if Snow were dead. Without touching upon Snow’s likely history and destiny as foreshadowed throughout the series, he seems to have an important part to play in the future events of Westeros. He is also the only point of view character at the Wall (except for one Melisandre chapter), and the story at the Wall isn’t over yet.
4. The Series Hasn’t Set Up the Path for Snow’s Possible Survival
The most common theory on how Snow survives his stabbing is that he “wargs” his consciousness into his direwolf and Melisandre and/or Val heals his broken body. It’s always possible he could simply just survive the wounds, but the way the passage is written (along with plenty of foreshadowing) makes most readers believe that the Ghost/Melisandre/Val route is the way he will survive.
The show has not established Val as a character. As for Melisandre, while she becomes something of an advisor to Snow in the book, she’s going with Stannis to attack Winterfell on the show. Finally, the show has not established Jon’s warging ability.
The show has not established the elements needed for the stabbing scenario to work the same way it does in the book. It has made it too obvious that there is dissent and dissatisfaction with Jon’s command. It has not established the elements necessary for Jon’s most likely survival route. Like in the books, there is far too much for Jon to do for him to be “just dead.”
Finally, they can’t hide Kit Harrington for an entire filming schedule unless they plan on cutting him from an entire season. If Benioff and Weiss took that route would completely shut down any viewer interest in the already tangential-seeming plot at the Wall. It would also raise the same problems with the cliffhanger if they bring Harrington back the following season.
(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe