Why the Latest Game of Thrones Death Might Not Be Like the Others

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Et tu, Olly? Photo: HBO

If you watched Sunday night's Game of Thrones finale, you know that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss stayed true to George R.R. Martin's books in at least one respect. Just as A Dance With Dragons did, "Mother's Mercy" ended with the tragic death of ... well, we'll talk about it after the jump. Spoilers for Sunday night's episode of GOT follow!

Still here? Good. [Takes deep breath.] It was Jon! Olly killed Jon Snow! Stabbed him right in the back, figuratively, and in the heart, literally. Jon Snow knows nothing (about being alive) because he is currently dead.

Or, millions of book readers ask with an arched eyebrow, is he?

In the four years since ADWD was published, fans have had plenty of time to discuss Jon's murder — which happens in the book at the hands of an impromptu group of Night's Watch mutineers — and they've come to a general consensus: Jon is not dead. Or at least he's not dead for good. Why? Part of it is simple story dynamics. Jon has been set up as the closest thing Thrones has to a hero with a great destiny — right down to the mysterious parentage — and it doesn't really make sense for his arc for him to die right now. Yes, Ned and Robb Stark seemed like heroes, too, and that didn't save them from the chopping block. But in retrospect, it's easy to see what their deaths meant for the series' sprawling narrative: Ned's execution sent the Stark kids adrift in a universe where there was nobody looking out for them, while Robb's murder was the final death knell for the hopes that the saga would ever have a traditional "happy" ending. What would be accomplished, narratively, by getting rid of Jon permanently right now?

Kit Harington swears he's not coming back, but the people who think Jon's not "really" dead aren't just thinking wishfully: George R.R. Martin foreshadowed Jon's return from the grave steadily throughout ADWD, in ways that didn't quite make it into the TV adaptation. The largest hint came in the book's prologue, told from the perspective of a dying wildling fleeing after the Battle of the Wall. Like Bran, this wildling is a skinchanger who can transplant his consciousness into the body of his wolf, and he spends quite a long time musing on what happens to skinchangers after they die. Turns out, their spirit gets flung into their animal, where the two souls slowly merge into one. The books hint that Jon also has a skinchanger-style bond with Ghost, which means it's possible that, at the start of season six, his mind will be chilling inside a direwolf.

Also validating the Jon's-spirit-goes-into-Ghost theory is a vision Melisandre has while looking into her flames:

The flames crackled softly, and in their crackling she heard the whispered name Jon Snow. His long face floated before her, limned in tongues of red and orange, appearing and disappearing again, a shadow half- seen behind a fluttering curtain. Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again.

But how will Jon's spirit get back into his body? (Or, we suppose, any body.) That's where opinions differ. Until a few weeks ago, the most sensible answer was that Melisandre would use the power of the Lord of Light to bring him back to life, the same way that Thoros of Myr revived Beric Dondarrion. Now that Melisandre is back at the Wall, this could be a possibility. Will he be revived when his body's burned on a funeral pyre, sort of like what Daenerys did in season one? (Hmmm.) As previous episodes have shown, the traditional Night's Watch eulogy ends with the phrase, "And now his watch is ended." If Jon comes back this way, will he have loophole'd his way out of his vows?

Or maybe Jon won't have time to be brought back from the dead through the power of fire ... because he'll already be an ice-zombie! "Hardhome" reminded us just how dangerous it can be to have corpses lying around north of the Wall, and we already saw in season one that the White Walkers' evil magic extends to Castle Black. Kit Harington would look awfully cute with blue eyes. Or maybe Jon won't be a normal wight: The Night's King seemed awfully intrigued by Jon last time they hung out, and it's possible that he could see something special in his fellow undead former Lord Commander.

The last theory worth catching up on is by far the nerdiest of all, so get ready. It goes like this: In the various cultures of Game of Thrones, there is a common legend of a lone hero who stopped the first invasion of the White Walkers with the help of a magical blade — and, crucially, he's going to rise again. Melisandre in the show calls him the Lord's Chosen, some characters call him the Prince Who Was Promised, and others call him Azor Ahai, but most fans assume they are all the same person. There are a number of prophecies about how this guy's going to come back and save the day, and, being prophecies, they point to a very-specific-yet-vaguely-worded set of circumstances that must be fulfilled in order for him to return: This hero must be the blood of the dragon, there must be a "bleeding star" in the sky, and he must be reborn amid smoke and salt. (You may remember the last two of these for inspiring Renly Baratheon's classic comeback, "Is he a ham?")

Fans have driven themselves mad trying to find characters who fit this description, and it turns out a lot of them do — not just obvious choices like Dany, but also outside-the-box choices like Davos or one of Theon's uncles. (Melisandre is convinced that Stannis is the one, which everyone generally agrees is proof he isn't.) In the books at least, Jon's assassination fits all these criteria. It's spurred on by the death of a knight with a star sigil (the bleeding star), one of his assassins is crying (the salt), and when he's stabbed, his wounds steam in the cold (the smoke). As for the blood of the dragon ... well, that's another theory entirely. If Jon really is this legendary hero — and again, it's possible someone else is, or that multiple people are — his rebirth could be the key to stopping the White Walkers for good.

Of course, Jon's potential rebirth isn't the only major event likely to come out of his assassination. The Watch is currently home to thousands of wildlings, and they're likely not going to react too well to the Night's Watch killing their biggest ally. Tensions are high, everyone's armed, and oh yeah, there's a giant wandering around. Reincarnation or not, a lot of shit is going to be brewing at the Wall next year — and for the first time, book readers and show watchers are equally in the dark on what will come next.