|By Bob Case
on Feb 17, 2017
Season six is a mess. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It starts with nonsense, ends with nonsense, and the middle part is crammed with whatever leftover nonsense they could scrounge up from the bottom of the pan.
One of reasons I’ve had trouble explaining my problems with Game of Thrones to people is that when they ask me “what don’t you like about the writing?” the nearest thing I can give to an accurate answer is “almost everything.” But that sounds churlish and isn’t particularly useful as criticism. I have to organize my griping somehow, and splitting the show up into smaller chunks and them dealing with them in mostly-chronological order is the best solution I’ve come up with. So it makes sense to begin the proceedings by recounting the story of the almost completely meaningless death and resurrection of Jon Snow.
The whole sequence can help illustrate why opinions on the show can differ so much. For those who still trust the writers, and who are still emotionally invested in the show, I suppose I can see how Jon Snow’s death and resurrection was a source of drama and excitement. But for those of us on the wrong side of story collapse, it almost seems like the writers are deliberately yanking our chains for their own amusement. I’m writing this whole thing at least in part as an attempt to form a sort of venn diagram between the two groups. Where is the overlap? Where are the parts of the story that bother all of us? Maybe I can at least describe what this whole mess looks like to me.
The Gospel of Jon
Those of you who watch the show already know that season five ended with Alliser Thorne, Olly, and a dozen of their stooges going all Julius Caesar on Jon Snow for supposedly betraying the Night’s Watch. The opening shot of “The Red Woman” (season six’s first episode) picks up where we left off. Thorne and his co-conspirators apparently just left the body lying in the castle courtyard. Maybe they expected the janitorial staff to take care of it.
I know it looks bad, but a few scoops of sawdust and some Formula 409 will clean that right up.
Later, Ser Davos discovers the body, and he, Edd, and a handful of loyal brothers barricade it inside a room in the castle for some reason. No one – neither the people who killed him nor the people who find him later – ever seems to consider burying Jon, or burning him, or holding a funeral, or doing any of the things one customarily does with a dead body. No explanation is given for this. Of course, WE (as in the audience) know the reason: for months, the show’s marketing has been teasing, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, the possibility that Jon will be resurrected somehow. So his body needs to be kept intact and above ground until that can be arranged. This is a small point, but it establishes the show’s most consistent pattern: things happen not because they make sense, but because the writers want to set up a dramatic moment for later.
Ser Davos appears to be in charge, despite the fact that he’s not a member of the Night’s Watch. In fact I’m not sure why he’s here at all. The show makes no attempt to explain why Stannis’ former Hand of the King is now willing to fight to the death to defend the corpse of a man he never held any allegiance to in life. I suspect that this is just the role the writers like for Davos: he locates the most protagonist-y character in the immediate vicinity and appoints himself their loyal ensign. In any case, soon Thorne and company show up to try and talk the loyalists down, and at this point we have to rewind a bit to discuss how Thorne’s actions don’t make any sense either.
His stated reason for their betrayal is that Jon Snow let the wildlings through the wall. But it wasn’t as though they didn’t have any warning of this – Jon announced his intentions pretty clearly beforehand. Given that, you would have expected the conspirators to turn on him before the wildlings came through, not after, so as to prevent it from happening. Instead, they waited for their Lord Commander to let thousands of his new, heavily-armed friends through the wall, and then ventilated his torso through a dozen holes.And if you’re thinking that they did it this way because this is the way it happened in the books, it didn’t. Without going into too much detail, in the books everything plays out so differently that it’s difficult to even compare the two.
Of course, once again WE know why they turned on him when they did. It’s because the writers wanted Jon to die at the end of season five and be resurrected sometime in the beginning of season six, and if that couldn’t happen with a sensible chain of cause and effect then by R’hllor it would have to happen without one. So Jon Snow is deliberately killed to death in a public place while an entire army of people – who outnumber the Castle Black garrison many times over, and who will almost certainly object to this development – is camped just a short distance away.
Knowing this, Edd goes off to tattle to the Tormund and the wildlings, who are understandably angry that their main ally in the Night’s Watch has been betrayed and murdered by his own officers. They storm Castle Black, much to everyone’s completely inexplicable surprise, and capture the mutineers.
Of course, through all this Jon is still lying on a wooden table in what I guess is the guest dining room or something. It’s a good thing it’s a cold climate or he might be getting pretty ripe by now. It’s time for Davos to ask Melisandre to bring him back from the dead. This is starting to get repetitive, so I’ll just list the problems as quickly as I can: Davos has never seen Melisandre do this before and has no reason to believe that she can, Melisandre herself says she can’t, if she could why wouldn’t she have done it for the hundreds or possibly thousands of people who have died fighting for Stannis in multiple previous battles, or for Stannis himself considering she just came from the battlefield where he died, it violates her own clearly-stated “only death can pay for life” rule… whatever. WE know why Davos is so sure this will work, because we know that the writers want their main character back. So Davos gives everyone’s favorite red woman a pep talk and a couple scenes later Jon Snow is back amongst the living.
Things don’t start making any more sense from there. Jon has Thorne and his stooges hangedSo much for “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”, then hands Edd his cloakIs it some kind of symbol of office? That would be pretty confusing, considering that Edd himself – and half the Night’s Watch – wear cloaks virtually identical to Jon’s., says “you have Castle Black”Is Edd the new Lord Commander now? I thought Lord Commanders were elected. That used to be a major setting detail that once had its own storyline., says “my watch is ended”So I guess his death released him from his vows, in which case under what authority did he hang all those people? Under what authority did he appoint Edd the new commander?, and walks out of the castleWhere is he going? And wherever it is, shouldn’t he dress more warmly? He just gave away his nice, warm-looking fur-shouldered cloak..
You know, sometimes the show has some very artfully-framed shots. If the writing could equal some of the visuals I`d be out of a job here.
This is the point in the post where I have to explain why I described this whole thing as “almost completely meaningless” back in the first paragraph. Remember that people coming back from the dead is supposed to be roughly as impossible in Westoros as it is in real life. Then consider that this entire sequence has virtually no effect on anything else in the story. Immediately after his resurrection, a couple characters get to express… well, if not shock, at least mild bewilderment at the fact that Jon is alive. Davos gives him a short “this is weird, but let’s get on with it” refresher, and then Edd notices that Jon’s eyes aren’t blue (so at least he’s not a wight). Then Tormund makes a joke about his penis.
And that’s it. That is more or less the last time that what should be a miraculous event is ever mentioned by anyone. Later, Jon, Sansa, and Davos seek the military support of several northern lords. If any of these lords are unsettled by the fact that they’re talking to Westorosi Jesus, they certainly hide it well, and it never comes up in any of their conversations. Do they care? Do they even know? It’s not like it was a secret. Anyone who could wander into the courtyard at Castle Black would have witnessed, firsthand, Jon Snow being turned into a human pincushion and then walking around none the worse for wear a short while later.
In real life there’s a story about a guy who supposedly came back from the dead, and they made an entire religion out of it. So you’d think a story like that would spread pretty fast. It certainly spread quickly among the wildlings, who Tormund says regard Jon as some kind of god now.That particular hook is never revisited, by the way. By the end of the season Jon will treat with Ramsay prior to their battle. Ramsay was well informed enough that he knows how many men are in their army. He knew Sansa sought refuge at Castle Black from the beginning. He even knows about Jon’s reputation as a great swordsman.Which was news to everyone else, including the audience. But, ever the soul of good manners, he’s too polite to mention that one time Jon died and came back to life.
Does Sansa even know? This is a serious question. During one of their dialogue scenesIn episode four, “Book of the Stranger.” Jon seems to allude to it, saying “I can’t stay [at Castle Black]. Not after what happened.” “What happened” presumably refers to the stabbing, which means he must have told her about how he got better, right? But you’d think that would be a bigger topic of conversation. In that same scene, they have time to talk about the kidney pies they used to eat as children, and about what a brat Sansa was when she was younger, but no time to talk about how Jon Snow has kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain, and joined the bleeding choir invisible. If one of my siblings had conquered death itself, I would consider that more important than the kidney pies Old Nan used to make. But I guess the Starks have different priorities.
THIS IS AN EX-PROTAGONIST!
Of course, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, WE know why no one mentions it, don’t we? Jon Snow was killed off for the sake of hype, and then resurrected for the sake of more hype, and once all the hype had been cyanide heap-leached out of the proceedings they flushed the depleted ore down the memory hole and carried on as though none of it had ever happened. That’s the long and short of it. What are the tangible effects of the whole sequence on the show as a whole? They milked a couple of scenes’ worth of an Achilles-sulking-in-his-tent story out of it. And that’s a story that doesn’t hang too well on Jon, whose demeanor typically runs the full gamut from “somewhat miserable” to “extremely miserable.”
Aside from that, the fact that he technically died allows him to exploit a loophole in his Night’s Watch vows. So, some legal mumbo-jumbo and a bit of moping. That’s what they got in exchange for turning causality and common sense into a tangled mess. For having the entire north respond to man literally rising from the dead with the rough equivalent of “meh.” That was the end product of all the teasing and speculation.
Of course all of the above can be dismissed as just nitpicking, as usual. I can’t even claim that it isn’t. But to that accusation I would say this: wasn’t I supposed to care about this? Wasn’t Jon’s death supposed to be shocking and sad, and his resurrection a triumphant and dramatic moment? Wasn’t I supposed to take to Twitter, or the comment section of my favorite blog, or my water cooler at work on Monday, or wherever, and talk about this with all my fellow fans, because we all care about it so much?
If so, then do me this favor: don’t ask me to care about something and then ask me not to think about it. Don’t bring someone back from the dead and then ask me not to think about the implications for the setting and those inhabiting it. Don’t write the circumstances around his death and resurrection so that they’re shot through with characters behaving in confusing ways, contradicting previous story elements, and generally just not making any sense. And then, once you’re done, don’t dump the whole thing overboard and carry on as though it never happened. On second thought… maybe that’s the best thing to do.
This whole Jon Snow bit ended up being longer than I anticipated. To be honest, it’s only maybe the third or fourth worst-written thing that will happen in the north this season. Best of all, its weaknesses are pretty much self-contained – you can just pretend the whole thing never happened and the rest of the plot is mostly unaffected.
Next week we’ll look at Sansa’s not-very-promising early career as a Dame of Thrones(TM), and, if there’s time, the 100% Colombian-grade pure awfulness that is Ramsay.