Farewell to the Last Honorable Man in Westeros

Photo: HBO

Spoilers ahead for the season five finale of Game of Thrones.

Let us not weep, though sadness may pierce us like shards of dragonglass. Tears cannot wash clean the betrayal that has slain the last honorable man in Westeros.

Jon Snow may have known nothing, but to have watched him was to love him. I am a lapsed book reader and a devotional series watcher, largely because of Jon Snow, and in even larger part because of dreamy Kit Harington, who played him. He lived in the icy wasteland of the North but infused the show with light. Tyrion gives us relief from the relentless tragedy with his cynical wise cracks; Jon Snow was our last vestige of innocence. He gave us hope that, in the darkest, coldest nights, love and goodness might bloom.

His death Sunday night (which Kit Harington told us is “final“), turned upon by the men of the Night’s Watch he’d pledged to lead, is an event we prayed would never come, but feared at every turn. Honor will get you killed, as we learned from the beheading of Jon’s “father,” Ned Stark, in season one. But Jon was a bastard, raised in the castles of Winterfell, but made to never feel like he belonged. His honor was tempered with ambition and hard-learned lessons of constantly having to prove himself. He would make shrewder choices than his father; he had the will and instinct to survive.

That Jon Snow is dead, that he will never find another woman to lie with and kiss between her thighs, that he will never again have a hug and a laugh with Sam, that he will never fulfill what I was sure was his destiny, to join forces with Daenerys and burn the White Walkers with her dragons, might be the cruelest of all cruelties George R.R. Martin has inflicted on us so far. This stabs deeper than Ned’s execution, than the Red Wedding, than Shireen’s horrifying sacrificial burning.

We met Jon four years ago, when he was a teenager. Loving him through those years wasn’t a complicated choice. Who could have turned away from the boy, petulant and forlorn while his stepmother Catelyn Stark excluded him from Winterfell’s welcome dinner for the Lannisters because of his bastard status? It wasn’t his fault that Ned had strayed — or said he did — while at war and returned with a child that was not hers. And yet the disdain with which she treated him. (At least his comically bleak story inspired that amazing Seth Meyers sketch about how Jon Snow would be the worst dinner-party guest ever. He means well, but he’s just a bit of a Debbie Downer.)

Jon was a loving brother. He gave Arya her sword Needle, and the invaluable advice, “Stick ‘em with the pointy end.” He visited a comatose Bran, and promised Bran he could come visit him at the wall when he awoke. His good-bye hug with Robb still brings me to tears. Little did they know they’d never see each other again. He was the one who convinced his father that the direwolf pups they found were fated to belong to the Stark children, and because of that choice, Bran and Arya, even Jon, survived attacks on their lives.

It was as a man of the Night’s Watch that Jon found his purpose, fashioning a loyal band of soldiers out of society’s castoffs. He proved to be better in mock combat than all of them, given his sword fighting training at Winterfell, but he was above all one of their number, the “bastard” label always hanging above him. It’s why he bonded with Tyrion — and I have a soft spot for anyone who bonds with Tyrion — and why he was a virgin when he got to the Wall. He’d been in the whorehouse with Roz, but couldn’t go through with it, for fear of bringing another unwanted bastard into the world.

His friendship with Sam was one of the series’ purest joys. Just a beautiful well of affection that either could draw from whenever they needed strength. (That warmth never abated, and it seems fitting that Jon’s final act was sacrificing his own safety by allowing Sam, Gilly, and the baby to leave The Wall in hope of a better life.) Likewise, his romance with the wildling Ygritte was the one bright spot of season three. Jon may have been a double agent, pretending to be on the wildlings’ side to save his own life, but it was a treat to watch him go from the boy who’d involuntarily pressed his “bone” into her ass while they were sleeping and she was his prisoner, to the pioneer of oral sex in that cave, where he finally let go of his bond of chastity and let himself fall in love with her. Their kiss at the top of the Wall, after Ygritte had nearly fallen to her death and Jon had saved her, may have been the most purely romantic moment in the entire series, and completely worth plowing through those endless hours of Theon getting tortured.

Jon was the leader Westros needed. His heroics are almost too many to list here, but if not for him, Sam might have been attacked by bullies in the night, Commander Mormont might have been killed by a wight in season one, and the wildlings might have overtaken Castle Black. Jon was the one who understood the threat of the White Walkers and saw the kind of slaughter they could wreak. Without him, how can the kingdom survive?

And this is important — how are we as viewers supposed to survive? Characters with pure hearts and intentions like Jon rarely show up in the Game of Thrones universe, and we need the relief, now more than ever.

For me, and I’m sure many of you, that relief often came in the form of just getting to see Kit Harington’s face. He is “a pretty lad,” as Ygritte called him; he is a fine, fine young man to look at. Those long greasy curls, that dark beard, the way he wore a black fur cape. Just watching him stare with dread into the distance was enough to make an episode full of dumb Stannis plotlines worth enduring. Can we go on without him, or will our devotion to the series crumble now that the nicest face in Westeros has turned to dust?

I’ll keep watching because I need to see what happens to the characters Jon loved most: Arya, Bran, and Sam. I need to know that someone will step up and battle the White Walkers in his stead and avenge his death against his men who betrayed him. I need to know once and for all who his mother is. The road before us will be icy and bleak, but Jon Snow — and Kit Harington’s GQ spreads — will give us the strength to move forward, to dream of avenging his death and saving the Seven Kingdoms. After all, if there’s one thing Jon Snow taught us, winter is coming.

Farewell to the Last Honorable Man in Westeros