As we gear up for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, everyone is talking about Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). Is he dead? Is he alive? Will he become a ghost, or will he become Ghost? After the dramatic conclusion of Season 5, it’s no wonder that his is the name on everybody’s lips. We’ll have to wait a few months longer before we get to find out exactly what’s going on with the young Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but in the meantime, how much do you really know about Jon Snow?
Warning: Book spoilers abound!
In the books, we first meet Jon Snow when he is only fourteen, as the world of A Song of Ice And Fire follows medieval tradition where teenagers are treated largely as adults. With the seasons and years running a little differently in Westeros than in our world, (and none of the characters exactly celebrating birthdays!) it’s hard to say how old he is at this point, but presumably around 15 or 16.
HBO decided to age the characters for the series, making Jon Snow 17 during Season 1. We don’t know exactly how old he is now – if the characters age a year each season, he would be in his very early twenties, but it is just as possible that he is eighteen or nineteen in the upcoming season.
Jon’s ascent to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch was a matter of some contention, not least because of his age. However, he is not officially the youngest Lord Commander that the Night’s Watch has ever had. The youngest ever Lord Commander was Osric Stark, who was made Lord Commander at the age of only ten! However, this was a long time before the events of the series, and we only know about Osric because of Samwell Tarly’s (John Bradley-West) diligent research.
He mentions the boy-commander in Season 5, when he is reading up on the history of the Choosing and past Lord Commanders.
Although he is officially recognized as Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) son, his name isn’t Jon Stark. This is because in the world of Game of Thrones, only children born in wedlock are able to take the names of their fathers. Instead, a "bastard" is given a pre-determined name based on where they were born, allowing everyone to recognize not only where they are from, but that they are not "true" family. (This also allows characters in disguise to claim a bastard name and thus not be associated with a particular house.)
Snow is the name for all North-born bastards. The other regions name their bastards as follows: Waters for the Crownlands, Sand for Dorne, Pyke for the Iron Islands, Flowers for the Reach, Rivers for the Riverlands, Storm for the Stormlands, Hill for the Westerlands, and Stone for the Vale of Arryn.
There are lots of fascinating connections in the incredibly complex world of Westeros, and many of them link back to the Night’s Watch. The previous Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), took the black when he abdicated as Lord of Bear Island so that his son could take over ruling his lands. However, as we know, that son was Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), who disgraced his family and was sent into exile (where he now serves Daenerys). The family sword, Longclaw, was returned to Jeor on the Wall, where he gave it to Jon Snow to thank Jon for saving his life.
As well as being the sword of the Mormonts and made of Valyrian steel, Longclaw is also a bastard sword. This is a specific type of sword that is shorter than a longsword, allowing the user to wield it one-handed (and hold a shield in the other). What this means is that the bastard of House Stark has a bastard sword to fight with!
The Night’s Watch was founded 8,000 years ago, to protect the realm from threats from beyond the wall. In the time since, it has fallen into disrepute, going from a noble calling to a dumping ground for criminals and embarrassing nobles. The Night’s Watch always has a Lord Commander, the man in charge of all aspects of life and military campaigning at the wall, and the highest rank achievable in the watch. Jon Snow, the current Lord Commander, is the 998th to hold that title.
More than just a fun fact, we can assume that there is something significant about being this close to the thousandth commander, especially as Jon Snow may not be holding that title any more. Could the thousandth be the one to save the Night’s Watch from ruin?
Jon’s best friend at Castle Black is the studious Samwell Tarly, who was sent to the wall because his father was ashamed to have a cowardly son. Jon and Sam became close, and Sam has long been support and voice of reason for Jon in amongst the politics of being Lord Commander. In Season 5 of Game of Thrones, we saw Sam ask Jon for permission to leave Castle Black, taking Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her child to the Citadel to train as a Maester for the Night’s Watch. This sad departure was seen as part of what led to Jon’s painful final scene.
However, in the books, it was Jon that sent Sam away, even though he didn’t want to go. As well as putting a very different spin on their relationship (and how this departure plays into Jon’s “death”) this difference is connected to some very important missing plot points from the books. Key here is the presence of another child, who is taken away secretly with Gilly, rather than her own baby… (we’ll leave you to read the books to put the rest of that one together!)
This coming season, the series will outstrip the books for the first time, meaning that no one knows what will happen. Our last look at Snow in A Dance With Dragons found him in almost exactly the same scenario as in the show. Betrayed by the men of the Night’s Watch, he is stabbed repeatedly at Castle Black, and presumed dead. However, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t the first time that a character in the books has been presumed to be dead or dying, and actually made it through. Short of beheading, death in this series isn’t always permanent.
However, if you were planning on catching up on the books to discover Jon’s fate, you are out of luck. Nobody knows right now except for author George RR Martin and those involved in the show itself.
We’ve already seen a little bit about skinchanging in the series, although nowhere near as much as there is in the books. In short, a skinchanger is a human who has the ability to project their consciousness into the bodies of animals (or even other humans). The stronger the bond there is between the individual animal and the skinchanger, the easier it is to change. A warg is a specific term for a skinchanger who can enter the mind of a dog or wolf.
Jon Snow (along with most of the other Stark children) is a warg, and has the ability to enter the mind of his direwolf, Ghost. At the moment, he is largely unaware of his abilities, although he has dreams and visions of wolves. In the books, Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) offers to help him learn how to use this power, so it’s possible that she may do this now that she is back in Castle Black for Season 6. This ability is also a key part of many fan theories as to his death (or lack thereof). As a warg, Jon may be able to live on in Ghost, even if his human body doesn’t survive the stabbing.
Jon Snow’s paternity is a huge source of speculation for fans of the franchise. Although he is acknowledged as Ned Stark’s bastard son, and raised by him at Winterfell, most believe that Ned Stark isn’t actually his father. No mother was ever mentioned, and it was assumed that this was Ned being considerate to his wife. However, fans argue that a man like Eddard would never have been unfaithful to his wife – it has been stated several times that unlike Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), Ned Stark has no other bastards and was never otherwise unfaithful. He does, however, have the kind of sense of honor that would lead him to raise another’s child… especially if that other was his sister, Lyanna.
The prevailing theory is that Lyanna died giving birth to Jon when she was engaged to Robert Baratheon, but rather than bring shame on her (by revealing that she was pregnant out of wedlock), Ned took the child on as his own. If this is true, it has some fairly big implications for the story because…
If Jon Snow is Lyanna’s son, then he would also be the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King Aerys. We know that Lyanna was kidnapped by Rhaegar when she was engaged to Robert. She was taken to the Tower of Joy, and after the war Ned and his companions went to save her, but she was found dying by the time they reached her. The assumption is that during the time of her abduction, she was raped by Rhaegar, and died giving birth to his son, Jon.
In which case, Jon Snow is actually Jon Targaryen, and could be considered a potential heir to the throne. Interestingly, it seems that we may see the Tower of Joy and a young Ned Stark in Season 6, so perhaps we are about to find out if Jon really is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna!
Anything else about Jon Snow that we should know? Let us know in the comments!