We’re finally here: the triumphant moment where your hero and mine, Jon Snow, is hailed as King in the North by a bunch of mostly anonymous, almost invariably bearded northern lords.
Ask yourself – if you were one of these northern lords (take a quick break to grow a three-month beard if you need to get into character), would you want Jon Snow as your King? More than that, would you upend social and political convention, and take a significant political risk, to make him your King? Let’s have a quick look at his qualifications:
No social or political status: Jon is essentially nothing. He’s not Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch anymore. He’s not a member of the Night’s Watch anymore. He’s not a Lord, or even a knight. He holds no lands or titles. He’s bastard-born. Depending on whether his new subjects believe the stories about his resurrection or notWe the viewers have no idea, since everyone on the show seems to have forgotten it happened., he could even be considered a deserter and an oathbreaker, which is punishable by death.
No leadership qualities: He made a disastrous tactical blunder in the only battle any of the northern Lords have seen him in. What’s more, up until this point his ability to inspire loyalty is most charitably described as “spotty.” Jon may have some gifts, but charisma is not one of them. He doesn’t make inspiring speeches or impassioned pleas. When trying to recruit the north to his side prior to the battle, he mostly just stood in the back and kept his mouth shut. Even the wildlings were reluctant to sign on, and according to Tormund they see Jon as some kind of god.Did they change their minds? Maybe Tormund told them about Jon’s insufficiently godlike penis, and they changed their minds.
No plan for succession: To put it mildly, the issue of succession is rather important in real-world feudalism, and has been shown to be quite important in the Westerosi version as well. Jon has no wife or children, and therefore no heir and no immediate way to make one. His children would not be Starks, and would have no legal claim to Winterfell or anywhere else. To top it all off, he swore an oath not to father any children. Is he still bound by that oath? Once again I have to wonder if the people cheering for him at Winterfell even know about his death and resurrection or not. If it were me, that’s the sort of ambiguity I would want cleared up before declaring someone my King.
Believes in kooky conspiracy theories: Of course we in the audience know that the White Walkers are real, but that’s not the prevailing opinion. No one in this scene brings up the army of the dead except Jon. Even Lord Umber, whose lands are the farthest north, was more worried about the Wildlings than the Walkers. That, and everything that every northern Lord has said and done throughout the season, suggests that your average northerner still considers them to be a fairy tale. And yet Jon keeps pushing the need to unite against them, and no one seems bothered.
No track record of success: His last gig was leading the Night’s Watch, where he was so popular that he was betrayed and killed by his own men. Then he suffered a catastrophic defeat in battle before being bailed out by an army he didn’t know was coming. Eisenhower on V-E Day he ain’t.
Represents an enormous political risk: The North does not have any urgent need of a King. There’s a perfectly serviceable Lady of Winterfell sitting literally right next to him. (In fact, as Ramsay’s widow and Ned Stark’s trueborn daughter, she can claim Winterfell in two different ways.) Declaring allegiance to King Jon means renouncing King TommenOr Queen Cersei, depending on how quickly news from the south reaches Winterfell. and inviting another war with the Iron Throne. It’s not the sort of provocation you want to make with winter just around the corner.
I could go on, but you get the idea. In the interests of fairness, we can take a look at the arguments for Jon Snow as King in the North, as presented at by his supporters:
“We know no King but the King in the North, whose name is Stark.”: This is the case made by Lady Mormont, the head of a very minor house who looks to be about ten years old. Not sure what there is to say about this. As a matter of plain fact, Jon’s name is not Stark. There is a surviving Stark sitting right next to him, though – and then there’s Bran, who everyone seems to have forgotten about, including his own siblings.
“He avenged the Red Wedding.”: This one comes from Lord Manderly, and is just confusing. The Red Wedding was orchestrated by Roose Bolton (killed by Ramsay), Tywin Lannister (killed by Tyrion), and Walder Frey (who, as far as anyone here knows, is still alive). For all Ramsay’s many crimes, he had nothing to do with the Red Wedding. I suppose he could be said to carry some hereditary guilt by way of his father, but that’s a pretty thin thread to hang a coronation on.
I’ve seen inconsitency of character before, and inconsistency of plot. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen inconsistency of setting on such a scale before. The various structures and norms that you would expect to underpin a medieval society seem to appear and disappear at random.
Sansa is the key to the North, according to Littlefinger, but no northern Lords show up to her wedding, and two declare for Ramsay after she escapes. “The Starks lost my house the day Robb cut off my father’s head,” says Lord Karstark, who watches Ramsay kill Roose moments later and doesn’t make a peep. “Fuck kneeling and fuck oaths” says Lord Umber, a member of a noble family who was born and raised in a feudal society. “We know no King but the King in the North, whose name is Stark,” says Lyanna Mormont, who is decidedly uninterested upon learning that Robb Stark’s brother is being held captive.
And then of course, there’s Bran, the legal heir to Winterfell, who the general public now has reason to believe is alive. But I don’t even know how to talk about Bran. Even though he’s the eldest son of Ned Stark in a world that runs on male primogeniture, no one in the political mix has acknowledged his existence all season. Do they think he’s dead now? Have they realized he was ever alive in the first place after his last supposed death? We have no idea.
If just one of these many things happened, it wouldn’t be so disruptive. But they happen constantly, systematically unmooring events from reasonable expectations to the point where it’s disorienting. I know I’m supposed to be thrilled that Jon has been hailed as King. I can hear the swelling music. I can see all the extras shouting and raising their swords in the air. But whenever I try to figure out why it happened, the only explanation that holds any water is “this is what the writers wanted.” That doesn’t help my belief in the setting or the events that take place in it.
There are a few things that this show consistently does that are hard to talk about. Not because they don’t happen, but because they happen so much that they’re pervasive, and to call out every instance would get tiresome. One of these is the nonversation.
“Nonversation” is another term that arose from the murky depths of the internet. I’m sure that it predates Game of Thrones, but I can’t remember where I first heard itI think I first heard it used to describe some of the scenes in Star Trek: Voyager.. Shamus actually once described a classic nonversation that took place in the prologue of the latest Thief gameshamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=22587, though he didn’t use the word. In short, it’s a dialogue scene between two or more characters in which many words are said, but no meaningful communication occurs.
Though it’s not as bad as the one in Thief, the scene between Sansa and Littlefinger in episode ten is about as clear an example of a Game of Thrones vintage nonversation as you’ll ever hear. You would hope that a scene between two major characters would either advance the plot in some way, reveal something new about one or both of them, or basically do anything at all. But none of that happens.
Littlefinger shows that he’s ambitious and more than a little obsessed with Sansa, but we already knew that. Sansa shows that she finds Littlefinger untrustworthy and offputting, but we knew that too. She doesn’t convince him to do anything, or try to convince him to do anything. He seems like he’s trying to manipulate her into… distrusting Jon I guess? But it’s not clear why, or what his agenda is (this is especially bad because Littlefinger hasn’t had a coherent agenda in two seasons and counting).
If you’re wondering why the show sometimes gives the impression of both rushing and dragging at the same time, in my opinion it’s because so many of the scenes contain nonversations like this one. Should you ever feel the need to rewatch the show, take note of how many of the scenes contain nonversations. You can even make a game of it!
And Now I Go All Book Fanboy
I don’t like to bring up the Song of Ice and Fire novels in this series. The show is now its own entity, and both the usual challenges of adaptation plus the added wrinkle that the books are still unfinished means direct comparisons are usually unfair. But in this case I have to let my inner GRRM fanboy out a little bit. Folks, believe me, what happens in the books is so, so much better. It’s both layered and interesting, it doesn’t require you to suspend your understanding of the setting to believe in it (in fact, it reinforces and deepens your understanding of the setting), and it barely resembles what’s happening in the show at all.
One of the most frustrating things as a book reader is to see people assume that weaknesses in the show must be reflections of weaknesses in the source material. Don’t get me wrong, the source material is not perfect. But it’s way better than the show that’s supposedly adapting it.
Aaaaand It’s Finally Over
I promised long-form complaining about season six’s northern storyline, and now I’ve delivered.
This is the first time I’ve written something quite like this, and it may sound funny now, but I honestly thought it would be easier. Now, every week I look back and think “I should’ve explained that differently,” or “I should’ve expanded on that more,” or “I shouldn’t have even brought that up at all.” It’s not as much like writing for videos as I thought it would be.
A note about comments: I’m not psychologically equipped to deal with comments well. Not only do I take criticism personally, I get embarassed by praise, and even by agreement. But you should know that I do in fact read the comments even if I don’t respond. For my money, Twenty Sided has some of the best comment sections you’ll find anywhere. So thanks to everyone that’s responded, even those who were critical.
I’m done with Game of Thrones – for now, at least. If there’s going to be more in the future, you’ll be the first to know.
 We the viewers have no idea, since everyone on the show seems to have forgotten it happened.
 Did they change their minds? Maybe Tormund told them about Jon’s insufficiently godlike penis, and they changed their minds.
 Or Queen Cersei, depending on how quickly news from the south reaches Winterfell.
 I think I first heard it used to describe some of the scenes in Star Trek: Voyager.
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