Resurrection and Identity in Game of Thrones I – The Man of Ice and Fire

Game of Thrones made its mark upon the public consciousness with its mix of fantasy and intrigue but also with its premium-channel willingess to “go there” with sex and violence. Thematically, this has been shown in numerous instances of the Death of the Hero. Not only were Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark shown to be flawed and destroyed by their enemies, but also their avengers – Stannis & Renly Baratheon, Robb & Catelyn Stark, etc., came to untimely ends before our eyes. Death is a god in the eyes of more than one set of characters in Westeros, and its reach, the shows seems to tell us, is unlimited.

Except not really. There are certain characters who still possess what is known as plot armor: they are too essential to the storyline, or readers have invested too much in them, to be discarded. Tyrion Lannister, Danaerys Targaryen, and others are all but assured of at least making it to the climax of the story. They may die in that, but their deaths are to be used on behalf of the climax, and not just as a consequence of their own flaws.

Consequently, this season of Game of Thrones has had a marked interested in the theme of Ressurrection. Characters are being brought back, symbolically and literally, from death and given a new lease on life. Concomitant with resurrections are a shift in identity. The dead/dying characters are not just reborn, but recast as someone new. In this space, I will discuss some of the characters who have or are experiencing rebirth this season. Today, we will deal with the obvious: Jon Snow.

Game-of-Thrones-Jon-Snow-Dead

Jon’s return from the dead is a literal resurrection. But as the example of Beric Dondarrion establishes, that return from death is incomplete – a part of him is “missing”. Jon Snow is no longer Jon Snow as we knew him. He has, for example, consciously abandoned the Night’s Watch that was the source of his identity since he left Winterfell, and by association, abandoned the struggle against the Night’s King that was so much a part of his tenure as Lord Commander. He is not who he was, and no one knows who he is yet – least of all him.

I cannot avoid pointing out that, in the context of Westeros, “Jon Snow” is about the most generic name a boy can have – an almost peasant given name and a bastard surname. It is the polar opposite of the colorful and memorable names that other Point-of-View characters have. And even this identity is something Jon deliberately chose to subsume into an organization which grants its members no chance of building a name. To join the Night’s Watch is to choose a lonely death, remembered by no one.

But Jon has had his lonely death already. He has an entirely new life now. But as who?

The assumption has always been that Jon’s true parentage will give Jon a new, messianic purpose. It may even bring him a new name. If we assume, as nearly all fans of the show do, that Jon’s actual parents are Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, it may be that his true parents had a name picked out for him, and that name was transmitted to Eddard Stark and Howland Reed, with Eddard hiding the boy in plain sight with the obfuscatory sobriquet “Jon Snow”. If I was a betting man, I would guess “Jahaerys” as his true name.

In the first place, Rhaegar would be unlikely to use the name “Aegon,” having already a son of that name. Nor have we any indication that his relationship with his father was warm enough that Rhaegar would want him named “Aerys”. But, in the books at least, “Jahaerys” was Rhaegar’s grandfather, and it may be that Rhaegar retains an infant’s memory of him (Rhaegar, born at Summerhall, was no more than three when Jahaerys died). Also, the name references Jahaerys the Conciliator, longest-reigning of the Targaryen Kings, who reconciled the Iron Throne to the Faith of the Seven and ruled over a brief golden age. This has a thematic connection with the bringing together of “Ice and Fire” which is supposed to be happening in Jon’s own blood. Also, the alliteration of “Jahaerys” and “Jon” catches the eye.

The chief question would be whether he can claim to be a legitimate or illegitimate Targaryen. The matter is significant, because as a legitimate Targaryen, he is first-in-line for the Mad King’s throne – ahead of Danaerys. But this seems to be a long shot. At the time of Robert’s Rebellion, Rhaegar had a consecrated marriage with Elia Martell and legitmate children with her. And since no Targaryen since Aegon the Conqueror has practiced polygamy successfully, it is hard to claim that Targaryen tradition will grant Jon legitimacy. Whatever Rhaegar’s motives were in making off with Lyanna, it would seem odd for him to forget that no bastard has ever successfully claimed the Iron Throne. The Blackfyre Rebellions – the attempt by another bastard to put the Targaryens aside – all ended in failure. Rhaegar had to have known this.

What I rather suspect is that Rhaegar acted not to create a Targaryen heir – having already done so with Elia Martell – but to create a messianic figure who would not rule, but save the world of men from doom. What we know of Rhaegar through the books is that he had an obsession with prophecy and Targaryan legacy, but also that he was an upright and honorable man, beloved by those that served him. While it is not impossible that Rhaegar could have simply acted out of lust or irresponsibility, I don’t think the story is moving us in that direction.

By the same token, Jon has not so far shown a jot of ambition. Jon’s arc has established him as the one player in the game who a) knows the real enemy of the realm (the Night’s King), and is prepared to resist him, come what may. His interactions with Sansa demonstrate that, whatever his missing from him, the motivations to care for and protect others is still there. This is what drives him, not conquest and domination, for which he has no taste. Assume, then, that Jon will not be Jahaerys Targaryen, but rather Jaheerys Whitefyre – a bastard who will serve as a powerful figure/martyr for whatever realm of men survives the Winter, but not as its king.

Next – Danaerys Targaryen

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