6:45am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones' Final Path: The Journey of Jon Snow
Welcome to Final Path, the first installment in a new regular feature leading up to the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones. In every Final Path, The Hollywood Reporter's resident Westeros expert Josh Wigler will offer a deep dive into one character's journey through seven seasons, as well as what can be expected in the upcoming eighth and final season. First up: Jon Snow.
Game of Thrones ends its historic run in April, with a final season set to unfurl across six episodes. What will happen to Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and the other heroes and villains fans have come to know and love since the drama debuted in 2011? Who will sit upon the Iron Throne? Will there even be an Iron Throne, or will Westeros itself join the likes of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) on the high-stakes list of shocking casualties?
The answers to all of those questions are set to arrive in short order, which leaves us with limited time to make final predictions about the Game of Thrones endgame. In that spirit, The Hollywood Reporter launches our Game of Thrones: Final Path series. Every week, we will chronicle the journeys of the main series regulars thus far, with an eye toward predicting where each of these characters may very well end up when the long night comes to an end.
From its original beginning as George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novel series through the adaptation helmed by David Benioff and Dan Weiss, Game of Thrones has been heralded for its focus on several different characters, rather than any one hero. With that said, if there's any one player who fits the traditional protagonist bill, it's Jon Snow, thanks to his front-row view of the White Walker war, his current position as Lord of Winterfell and his role as a member of two great Westeros houses — only one of which he currently knows about.
As we mark the inaugural stroll down the Final Path, there's no one better to launch us off than Jon. Without further ado, read on for more about the King in the North's past, present and potential future.
Name and Titles: Jon Snow, the King in the North, former Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, the White Wolf, the Bastard of Winterfell — and, should he ever find out, Aegon Targaryen, the Prince Who Was Promised.
First Appearance: "Winter Is Coming," the first episode of the series. Jon is first seen with his half-siblings Robb (Richard Madden) and Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), instructing the younger of the two in archery. One wonders if the lesson will come full circle in the final season, either when Bran finally (hopefully!) tells Jon about his Targaryen lineage, or if Jon points Bran in the right direction of taking down the Night King once and for all.
Last Appearance: Jon was last seen with Daenerys, consummating the growing attraction between them over the course of season seven. (Incidentally, Tyrion was last seen peeping on the two of them; awkward!) The awkwardness will only grow in power if and when Jon finds out that he's the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and therefore Dany's nephew.
Best Friends: Aside from the albino direwolf Ghost, one of only two surviving Stark animal sidekicks still alive in the series? Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) is at the top of Jon's list, the two of them forging an instant bond during their initial days together as Night's Watch rookies. Since then, the social circle has expanded greatly, with closest confidants including but not limited to top adviser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), Free Folk figurehead Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and acting Lord Commander Dolorous Edd (Ben Compton).
Worst Enemies: There have been many, for sure: Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), the Night's Watch master-at-arms who tried to thwart Jon Snow for years until an ill-advised mutiny play left him hanging in the cold; Karl Tanner of Gin Alley, played by Burn Gorman, who ate a mouthful of Jon Snow's Valyrian steel at the end of his mutinous reign at Craster's Keep; Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), the King Beyond the Wall, with whom Jon managed to maintain a respectful rivalry, ending in a mercy killing at the start of season five; and Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), the temporary Lord of Winterfell who fell hard during the much hyped "Battle of the Bastards." At the end of the day, of course, Jon's greatest adversary is the one he has yet to face for the last time: the Night King, the monstrous ruler of the White Walkers. Their final confrontation is right at the top of the list of most anticipated moments when season eight arrives.
Best Kill: The White Walker at "Hardhome," the surprise battle at the climax of season five. As the Night King's army fell down upon the Wildling stronghold, Jon and his allies faced impossible odds against the overwhelming number of zombified wights. Though the battle was mostly a wash, Jon managed at least one triumph: successfully wielding Longclaw against a White Walker, shattering the unholy creature into thousands of icy pieces. Not only was it one of the most mesmerizing action scenes in Thrones history, it was also highly instructive of the series' future direction: Valyrian steel is to White Walkers as Kryptonite is to Superman, giving mankind an edge (both a literal and slight one) in the final war ahead.
Worst Wound: The list of injuries Jon has sustained over the seasons is vast, including but not limited to multiple arrows in his body, a magical eagle clawing at his face, and a high chance of a small case of pneumonia after being submerged in frozen waters beyond the Wall. All these wounds pale in comparison to the big one: literal death, as Jon was betrayed and murdered by a gang of Night's Watch mutineers, led by Aliser Thorne. Jon eventually came back from the dead, thanks to Melisandre (Carice van Houten), but the 12 hours or so he spent beyond the grave … yeah, that's number one on the "worst wound" list with a Valyrian bullet.
Critical Moments: Unlike his worst wound, it's hard to pick just one. Is it Jon deciding to stick with the brothers of the Night's Watch, even in light of the news about his father's death in King's Landing? Is it Jon's undercover mission with the Wildlings, in which he not only fell in love for the first time but also opened his heart to the plight of a less fortunate people? Is it Jon's first true heartbreak, when he lost Ygritte (Rose Leslie) at the Battle of Castle Black? How about becoming the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, allowing Wildlings through the Wall and dying for his ambitions — which, of course, led to him coming back to life, for reasons that are still not yet altogether clear? Perhaps it's the moment in which he won the Battle of the Bastards and went on to become the King in the North, a title that earned him an audience with Daenerys, very likely the love of his life? In truth, it's likely that the true defining moment for Jon Snow is yet to come, as he still does not know about his roots as a Targaryen, nor has he faced down the Night King one last time.
Unresolved Mystery: An easy one to name, a harder one to reconcile. Jon Snow is at the heart of the biggest mystery in Thrones lore, albeit one that's now coming into starker focus: his parents' true identity. Jon has spent much of his life believing he's the bastard son of Eddard Stark. In reality, he's the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, the product of a forbidden love, and the man with the best claim toward the Iron Throne — theoretically, at least. Two people know about Jon's true origin: Sam Tarly and Bran Stark. Will they reveal the truth to Jon? It's very likely the first order of business when Jon returns to Winterfell (an arrival already confirmed by HBO's first final season teaser), where both Bran and Sam are waiting with a big secret in their back pockets.
Final Prediction: Jon Snow must learn that he's the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. At least, that's the conventional thinking. Given the slow pace at which Thrones revealed Jon's true parents, it's entirely possible the drama will continue to unfold at a crawl for Jon himself, should the White Walkers arrive at Winterfell in a fashion that makes a sit-down with Bran and Sam an impossible affair. What happens if Game of Thrones ends without Jon Snow ever learning that he's a secret Targaryen? Some may find it an unsatisfying resolution to the story, if one can even call it a resolution at all; others may find some solace in the fact that, hey, at least Jon and Dany don't have to have an awkward conversation!
There's a reason why it's worth entertaining the notion of Jon never learning about his history. All series long, Jon has rushed headlong into the thick of conflict, acting first and thinking later. Look no further than his initial escape from the Night's Watch to avenge his father back in season one, or the countless other examples along the way: Jon foolishly launching right into the Battle of the Bastards, and his social strategy faux pas when dealing with Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) at the Dragonpit summit in season seven, as two recent examples. Even though the teaser confirms Jon will arrive in Winterfell at a relatively violence-free moment in the final season, there's no telling how long he'll stay, especially since we know the White Walkers are already in the Seven Kingdoms.
Yes, Jon would eventually find out about his Targaryen roots if he and the right people survive the war against the Night King … but that's a big if, frankly. Indeed, when it comes to Jon, we're ready to make the declaration now: He won't survive. Jon Snow ranks high on our list of main characters who will not walk away from the series finale with their lives intact. A future as the King of Westeros feels far too neat for someone as brooding and headstrong as Jon Snow. He's a reluctant leader at best, and a relatively bad one in reality; his ideals and heart are in the right place, but his ideals and heart have also literally gotten him killed once before. Further, an ending in which Jon rules the Seven Kingdoms because it's his secret Targaryen birthright is simply too tidy for a world as chaotic and messy as the one Thrones occupies.
Before Jon's story ends, however, there's much to accomplish. He must battle the Night King one last time. As a secret Targaryen, he should probably ride a dragon at least once or twice. (Here's looking at you, Rhaegal!) Assuming he dies (it's easy to see him pulling off some kind of sacrifice play against the White Walkers), Jon's legacy may yet live on, pending the results of his romantic evening with Dany, and certainly if the greater Westeros finds out about either his Targaryen origins or the role he played in fighting against the White Walkers.
Even then, legacy isn't something that should matter much when it comes to a satisfying resolution for the Jon Snow story. The most fascinating aspects of Jon have always been the questions surrounding him, not the answers. This is not a man who cares much at all about glory; he cares only about duty. As long as Jon is able to do his duty and play a pivotal role in ending the Night King's reign, then at least he will walk away from this series with satisfaction in his heart, credit be damned.
Last Hope: Is it too much to ask for one final scene between Jon and his adoptive father, Eddard Stark? The last time they were together, all the way back in season one's second episode, Ned said: "The next time we see each other, we'll talk about your mother. I promise." Ned's long dead now, and good things rarely happen on Thrones, but Bran Stark can crawl across time, and has even interacted with a younger version of Ned in the past; is there any chance Bran can take Jon on one of his jaunts through history and connect the two men for an emotional reunion? It's perhaps too sappy for Thrones, but if it serves the dual purpose of enlightening Jon on his true history as a Stark-Targaryen hybrid, then the sappiness will be well worth the cost.
Follow THR.com/GameofThrones for continuing coverage. Game of Thrones returns April 2019.