Spoilers ahead for Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones.
Kit Harington couldn’t wait for you to find out.
As the actor who’s played Jon Snow for five seasons, he’s been talking about the show for months during the press tour, all the while not talking about the one thing he wanted to address the most. He’s even kept his hair long and his beard grown out, just so he wouldn’t spoil anything by stepping out with a new ‘do.
“It’s like I’ve been sitting on this big fucking secret,” the actor said with a sigh of relief when Vulture sat down with him at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel on a day he was promoting his latest film, Testament of Youth. “I’ve had to watch what I say, but it’s a big moment, it’s a beautiful ending, and it’s how I wanted to go.”
Readers of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series have been bracing themselves for Jon Snow’s death for a while, even while insisting the passage in the books where the mutiny happens could be interpreted as a cliffhanger. Even Harington himself didn’t want to believe it when he first read A Dance With Dragons. Long before he got the finale script, he theorized that Martin wouldn’t kill off Jon Snow, not without resolving the mystery of his parentage. When we discussed it last year, Harington told me, “One reason I don’t think he dies is that he hasn’t found out who his mother is … He’s got to. It would be unfair if he didn’t. We just need to see him find out.” He added, “I’d love it if Jon was important for the end, I really would.”
Harington is less sentimental now: “Jon dies,” he said with a grin. “It’s final. He’s dead.”
Like Harington, many believe the mystery of Jon Snow’s mother (and father) is central to the story, and that Jon — a brooding bastard with a romantic past — had a hero’s destiny ahead of him. His face launched a thousand theories (he was the song of ice and fire personified). But what cemented his survival in book readers’ minds, beyond any evidence in the text, was the fact that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss had to pass Martin’s quiz about the identity of Jon Snow’s mom in order to move forward with the adaptation. Jon Snow had to survive, somehow. The show wouldn’t have to go this way, right?
“Yeah, they went that way,” Harington laughed, grabbing a handful of M&Ms. “They’re going to have to stick with the books to some extent, you know? And this is Game of Thrones. This is the most depressing TV show in history. I mean, it’s kind of crushing that in episode eight, they build Jon up to be the hero. He finally gets this heroic moment, and the world watching Thrones goes, ‘Ah! Hope!’ And then … dashed. I know. It sucks,” he laughed. “Right?”
The men of the Night’s Watch and the wildlings won’t stand a chance against the White Walkers and the army of the dead unless they unite, but putting their past grievances aside is easier said than done. And while Snow is a great fighter, he’s not always a great talker, or a great listener. As Lord Commander, he’s missed the moments he could have spent listening to people, hearing them out about how they feel disenfranchised by his decisions.
“It’s actually Jon’s fault,” Harington said, leaning forward, keen to analyze this point. “He’s concentrating on the big picture, missing the little hints all around him. If you let a whole bunch of fucking wildlings through your gates, it’s like Israel letting through a whole bunch of Palestinians, or Palestine letting through the Israelis. It’s two warring factions who hate each other, and so you’re going to have dissent, and that dissent comes in its fiercest form, with the final blow.”
To put a human face on this dissent, the showrunners created the character of Olly, a little boy who watched the wildlings massacre his village — Ygritte killed his dad, a cannibalistic Thenn offered to eat him. Olly ran to Castle Black for safety and became Snow’s protégé. Harington called it a “stroke of genius” when the writers made the decision to have Olly kill Ygritte — a moment of retribution, but not enough to satisfy him. And Olly, who kills Snow in the end, isn’t the only one who had a problem with his mentor’s master plan, even if the men of the Night’s Watch had somewhat accepted it. In the books, they eventually mutiny, and Snow is stabbed by multiple men. Here, we get something more personal. “It’s the Julius Caesar moment,” Harington said. “‘Et tu, Brutus?’ It’s lovely. It’s like, ‘Not you! Anyone but you! I could take all the stabs from all the other people, and I’ll look them in the eye and I’ll understand. But not you! Not innocence!’ So it has to be Olly. It wouldn’t have the impact if it’s not him.”
Snow’s death scene wasn’t Harington’s last scene to shoot, “annoyingly.” Instead, he got a “teeny little inside scene with Olly” for his final moment on set, and Brenock O’Connor, who plays Olly, was freaking out about a possible backlash. “He’s shitting his pants,” Harington chuckled. “He’s like, ‘Everybody’s going to hate me!’ Yeah, dude. Welcome to show business.”
But before fans react, or overreact, we thought we should address some of the stages of grief here, the first of which will be denial. Many a fan has come up with ways Snow could technically still be alive or be resurrected, and we don’t want to rule them all out, either, not just yet. John Bradley, who plays Snow’s BFF and maester-in-training Sam Tarly, phoned in to help us do so. One by one, he addressed the predominant theories.
1a. Warging into Ghost. “No Ghost!” Harington laughed. “I’ll flag that one right there,” Bradley said. “I’m not sure if a lot of people love Jon Snow, or if they actually just love Kit Harington’s portrayal of Jon Snow. I don’t think a lot of people would be perfectly happy if Jon Snow was now played by a dog, if it’s a dog with Longclaw strapped to his back.” Think of all the global commercial and merchandising opportunities that would be lost, Bradley pointed out. “A dog is not going to have the same global sex appeal, unless you’re an absolute nutcase.”
1b. Warging into another human. Same problem as above, since we would lose Harington, “unless he wargs into somebody more attractive,” Bradley said. And given the selection of men available at Castle Black (excluding Bradley, since Sam is off to the Citadel), that’s not too likely. “It’s a slightly outlandish possibility” for a long-term solution, Bradley said. After all, Bran can only warg into Hodor on a temporary basis, and when one character who can warg in the books is dying, it doesn’t work out well for him: Varamyr Sixskins tries to take over another human being so he can live on, but the occupying soul wrestles with him and ejects him from her mind.
2. Red priestess intervention. Thoros of Myr was able to resurrect Beric Dondarrion, so shouldn’t Melisandre have similar abilities? And couldn’t she use a win at this point? “If I was Melisandre’s campaign adviser, her spin doctor, if I were in her ear advising her, I would say, ‘You killed a child. Bring Jon Snow back, and you might get the people back on your side,’” Bradley said. “She’s magic. She can do anything she wants.” The problem is proximity, however, so Bradley judges this one as “impossible.”
3. White Walker intervention. This is one scenario that would allow us to keep the actor, but at the cost of losing the character, including his heroic nature. “To keep what people like about Jon Snow, you need to keep Kit, and you need to keep the character the same,” Bradley said. “Otherwise, he’s just an update, an iTunes update of Jon Snow. It’s not the same. I don’t think people will be satisfied.” Unless … Snow becomes a version of the book character Coldhands, a mysterious, resurrected being on the side of humanity. “We’ve all been waiting for that character,” Bradley enthused. And this option seemed to be the most attractive one to an admittedly “vindictive” Bradley, simply because it would require Harington to “get up at 4 a.m., drive an hour, and sit in makeup for five hours. That would really, really ruin his night’s sleep,” he laughed. “I don’t want Kit to get any sleep.”
But whatever happens to Snow on the show from here on out, Harington said he’s not involved. He’s had “the chat” with Benioff and Weiss, he’s had the big sendoff, he’s had the “little cry,” and he considers the matter “pretty closed.” He might keep his hair long for other roles (it’s easier than trying to regrow it out if need be), but he’s planning to shave the beard so he can be “baby faced” — a refreshing change of pace. Anything that happens to Jon Snow’s soul or body (… or dare we say corpse?) from here on out, “that’s up to ol’ Dan and Dave.”
“Trust me, I’m sad, too. But all I know is that he’s dead,” Harington said. “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”