The Jon Snow-ball Effect: How 'Thrones' Changed the 'Game' of Death on TV

Kit Harington's uncertain fate on 'Game of Thrones' has colored the way viewers are talking about another recent television "death."
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through the latest episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones and AMC's The Walking Dead.]

Even though his Game of Thrones death occurred months ago on the HBO drama, the heroic Jon Snow (Kit Harington) has been on the minds of many television viewers during the past two weeks — especially those who watch AMC's The Walking Dead.

The AMC zombie series, inspired by the comic series created by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore, made waves with the third episode of its current sixth season, in which fan-favorite hero Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) appeared to be killed off in a gruesome scene of gut-wrenching horror. Or did he?

Five months out from the Game of Thrones season five finale, and a few months yet away from the season six premiere, a particular kind of impact of Jon Snow dying is starting to make itself known, thanks to the latest Walking Dead plot twist.

Rewind the clock to the morning after Snow's demise at the hands of fellow members of the Night's Watch, when Thrones viewers struggled through the stages of grief, like besieged weary warriors at the battle of Hardhome. Many were angry with the show, others were heartbroken, and a vocal contingent expressed skepticism — that Jon was not truly dead, or would not be dead for long, thanks to years of theories developed by readers of A Song of Ice and Fire, the George R.R. Martin novel series on which Thrones is based.

For their part, those involved with Thrones have maintained the company line when it comes to Jon. "Dead is dead," showrunner Dan Weiss said in the immediate aftermath of the moment. Even Harington's signature Snow hair became a topic of conversation in the days and weeks following the episode; despite reports that Harington cut his locks, subsequent photos of the actor proved otherwise. That's not even getting into the numerous reports and photos of Harington spotted in Belfast, one of the show's main shooting locations, not to mention sightings on the actual set itself.

What's happening with Walking Dead now reflects the Thrones situation in some interesting ways, if not exact ones. Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple and producers have yet to outright confirm Glenn's death, adopting a more ambiguous stance than the company line about Snow. "We saw what we saw on screen," Gimple told The Hollywood Reporter. "People will know [if Glenn lived or died] pretty damn quick," with his fate set to be revealed in the first half of the season.

While Harington fielded interviews following his apparent exit from Thrones, Yeun has stayed away from the press, not appearing on Walking Dead after-show Talking Dead, and remaining completely silent on his typically active Twitter account. What's more, Glenn was not featured in Talking Dead's weekly memorial segment. Some see this silence as a loud sign of Glenn's continued survival, to the point that many fans are skeptical about why Yeun's name was missing from The Walking Dead's opening credits in the subsequent episode. And then there's the fact that Yeun, like Harington on Thrones, has been spotted on the Walking Dead set during production on the second half of the current season.

The comparisons between the two situations have been drawn numerous times by numerous outlets. The words "Jon Snow" have found their way into countless headlines for postmortem coverage of Glenn's potential death, like pieces published by The Los Angeles Times and Huffington Post, as two of many examples. (Indeed, the Huffington Post article even touches upon Yeun's recent haircut. Spoiler alert?) Interviews with Walking Dead producers contain questions with "Jon Snow" used as a point of reference, including THR's own conversation with Gimple.

Glenn's actual guts aside, the currently unraveling entrails of The Walking Dead are covered not only in blood, but in Snow. The controversial Game of Thrones plot twist has become a seemingly inevitable touchstone not just for Glenn's fate, but for other ambiguous fates on popular shows in the seasons to come.

It's an interesting challenge to the way stories are told in a world of armchair quarterbacking, when every viewer becomes a detective seeking signs that their fan-favorites will survive certain doom — a frustrating challenge for creators, perhaps, but a meta game that's just as rich and compelling for some consumers as the actual stories themselves.

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