BIG SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES' SEASON 5 FINALE AHEAD.
The finale for Game of Thrones Season 5 had plenty of threads to wrap up, and chose to end the season with an episode sure to keep fans talking the best way they know how: character deaths, and plenty of them. One is guaranteed to have fans divided, angered, saddened, and confused more than any other, removing yet another of the HBO show's initial fan-favorite Stark clan from the picture.
And for once, viewers of the series are left with jaws dropped, and readers of the novels unable to tell them what truly lies in store ("A Dance with Dragons" left his fate similarly unclear). However, the novels have offered evidence that suggests Jon Snow's troubles may not be over just yet. At this point all fans have to go on are theories - but the TV series has planted a few seeds that could grow into a pleasantly surprising return down the line.
Needless to say, there will be MASSIVE POTENTIAL SPOILERS ahead, so read at your own risk.
The Death of Jon Snow
If you've made it this far, you've witnessed the season 5 finale's shocking ending (or are simply eager to know what the latest online uproar is all about). After Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) spent this season cashing in on his leadership skills and being voted in as the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, some of his more divisive decisions came back to bite him.
When Jon deemed that the White Walkers were a threat to all living beings, his decision to come to the aid of the Wildlings above The Wall - allowing them to pass through into the North with a vow that they would fight alongside them when the time came - made him more enemies than ever before. In the finale, it was the young Olly who baited Jon to a secluded corner of Castle Black, where his disgruntled brothers (led by Alliser Thorne), plunged a number of daggers into his chest for betraying the Watch. Left bleeding out, and with no maester on hand, it's clear that the injuries are not ones Jon will walk away from.
...or are they? To explain why the final scene may not be all it seems, a refresher is needed - a reminder of characters, supernatural events, and motivations previously explained (often in greater detail when introduced in the novels).
The Red Priest
As just one name on the list of Thrones characters that seemed far too important to be completely erased, Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) made quite an impact when he and his men came across Arya Stark and, later, The Hound in season 3. Upon taking the drifters to see his commander Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) - whom Ned Stark sent to inform Stannis Baratheon of his claim to the throne - a trial by combat was waged in which the Hound delivered a fatal blow to Dondarrion.
That is, until Thoros called upon the Lord of Light, and Beric was resurrected with only a nasty scar to show for it - one of many, since it was a feat Thoros had practiced time and again (watch the scene here). It was one of the first times that viewers saw the true lengths to which the Thrones mythology could stretch, simultaneously suggesting that there may actually be something to the 'Lord of Light' alluded to by Stannis' advisor/consort Melisandre (Carice van Houten).
Neither Thoros or Dondarrion would go on to play as large a part in the series as they have in author George R. R. Martin's novels, so viewers aren't given any insight into exactly how his resurrection took place, or how Thoros acquired the skill in the first place. It was a mutual belief in the Lord of Light or 'Red God' that first united the two men and their 'Brotherhood Without Banners,' meaning Thoros - a red priest of R'hllor (the true name of their deity) - carries out the standard burial rites of their shared faith.
Completely unintentionally, Thoros' communion with R'hllor brings about Beric's resurrection. As the brotherhood continues their mission of protecting the weak, Thoros discovers entirely new powers, able to resurrect Beric multiple times, and is able to receive messages and omens from R'hllor by gazing into fire when he was previously unable to. As a sign of just how much the TV series departs from the novels, Beric would give up his life to resurrect Catelyn Stark as 'Lady Stoneheart'; a character teased for season 5 but who never appeared.
The point remains: belief in R'hllor has led to resurrection before, assuming that a red priest - or priestess - possesses the faith and clarity to achieve it.
The Red Woman
It's not hard to see where we're headed, but we'll start by reminding viewers that it was Melisandre who first introduced the powers of the Lord of Light to the Thrones universe. Her devotion to Stannis Baratheon was claimed to be founded on the prophecy of Azor Ahai; an ancient warrior who defeated a great darkness by wielded a fiery blade called 'Lightbringer.' Azor Ahai, the prophecy claims, will one day return to stop a similar darkness:
"There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him."
Burning human sacrifices and proclaiming Stannis to be the reincarnated Azor Ahai, Melisandre carried out numerous rituals fueled by 'kingly blood' - be it that of Robert Baratheon's bastard, or Stannis' bloodline (which turned out poorly for his young daughter). Yet the season finale sees all her efforts wasted, with Stannis defeated and clearly not the destined ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and savior of the light (something viewers guessed long ago).
Stannis wasn't the only subject of Melisandre's attention, however, as season 4 saw both recognize the strength and potential of Ned Stark's bastard (a title Stannis later claimed he didn't completely believe). Melisandre staring at Jon through a funeral pyre in the season 4 finale was just the beginning, as the red priestess soon took a strong interest in Snow, seeking to forge a... union of sorts, after she sensed the "power in his blood."
To offer any insight into that statement would mean stepping into the realm of fan theories, and potentially spoiling even the unwritten novels, so suffice to say Melisandre would not wish to see Jon Snow killed. It's no coincidence that having her presumed reincarnated Azor Ahai defeated in battle sends her directly to Castle Black, and even less of a coincidence that her arrival is directly followed by Jon's death.
The timing may be enough for her to recognize a new savior and take action, as the novels include a scene in which she gazes into a fire for a vision of Azor Ahai, but "sees only Snow." Whether Jon is a savior or not, he certainly seems the man most likely to keep the White Walkers at bay. That alone could lead Melisandre to initiate burial rites and, like Thoros before her, return him to the land of the living. With a few scars - and some serious grudges - to show for it.
A Warg-ing Solution
The clues planted surrounding resurrection via the Lord of Light, and Melisandre's clear attention paid to Jon may be the most obvious solution to his... predicament, but they're not the only one. Fans have been quick to point out that Jon's nature as a Warg (able to telepathically take control of his direwolf, Ghost's body) offers another out. In short, transferring his consciousness to Ghost before he died.
The feat had been accomplished previously, when Jon killed the wildling Orell before the man 'warged' into his eagle and attacked Jon anew. If Ghost were nearby, Jon could potentially do the same, allowing his consciousness to live on in Ghost's body. The obvious question is why Ghost would be nearby, but not come to his master's aid, but Martin and actor Kit Harington have both offered what could be construed as support for the theory.
Martin has confirmed that Jon Snow will not be a point-of-view character in his next novel, "The Winds of Winter". Similarly, Harington told EW that as far as the showrunners are concerned, he's not going to recover:
"This is my understanding of it. I had a sit-down with [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss]... And they said, “Look, you’re gone, it’s done.”... Quite honestly, I have never been told the future of things in this show, but this is the one time I have. They sat me down and said, “This is how it is.” If anything in the future is not like that, then I don’t know about it – it’s only in David and Dan and George’s heads. But I’ve been told I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m not coming back next season. So that’s all I can tell you, really."
Given that Game of Thrones is now a major multimedia franchise, it goes without saying that the future of the story, including plot twists and character deaths is NOT going to be shared with anyone who doesn't need to know it. So while it's possible that Jon will spend season 6 (and "The Winds of Winter") hiding in plain sight in the form of Ghost, that doesn't mean his story will necessarily end in that way.
Seeing matters go from bad to worse throughout the show's world seems inevitable (on both page and screen), meaning the difference made by Jon Snow's fearless leadership may only become clear after he is dead. If that's the case, and season 6 either sees or concludes with his resurrection - be it from death, or Ghost - then fans will have yet another major event and twist to get them excited for the show's future all over again.
George R. R. Martin has played coy with this same shocking event, reminding readers that nobody stays dead in the book series, and having more recently implied that his planned arc for Jon has yet to end. The show has diverged from the novels in more than a few serious instances, but we doubt anyone involved would choose to remove a fan-favorite character, as opposed to stunning audiences with both his death AND return.
How soon it will happen is up for discussion, since all we have to go on is rumor, speculation, and elaborate mysteries and prophecies. At this point in time, it's safe to say we really know nothing.
What did you make of the season finale and its shocking conclusion? Do you think our theory will prove true, and R'hllor will be responsible for Jon's resurrection? Or do you really believe that Jon Snow's time in the story has come to an end? Be sure to share your own reactions, thoughts and theories in the comments below.
Game of Thrones returns to HBO in April 2016.