Heir to the Throne: Discussing the Purpose of Jon Snow’s Lineage in the Song of Ice and Fire Story

One of the most important reveals in Game of Thrones was the true identity of Jon Snow, and what it meant for Daenerys’ claim for the Throne. Eventually however, things didn’t play out quite like what the viewers were expecting.

We THRONES
10 min readJul 12, 2023

It really is all about Dany and Jon”, George R. R. Martin told director Alan Taylor when they were filming season 2 of Game of Thrones. Now in 2023, knowing the complete story of the series, it’s easy to see what Martin was referring to. While it might have not seemed very likely at the beginning, in a show with a vast canvas of locations and main characters, Jon and Dany were the “big two” when it came down to it. Their stories of rising to power were very prominent in the first six seasons of the show, and in the last two seasons, when they were both well-positioned, the endgame accumulated to ultimately be mainly around them. Daenerys’ endgame was debated in length many a times, but there are still some voices among the audience that are not quite sure what was Jon’s ultimate role in the endgame, or at least thinks his role was downplayed compared to what it was building up to, and this is what we want to discuss in this very article.

Jon Snow surely had his importance during the run of Game of Thrones, since among other things he was the one who arranged the battle against the Army of the Dead and the Night King, and managed to unite armies across the Seven Kingdoms, as well as armies from across the Narrow Sea and Daenerys with her Dragons to fight a common enemy- which ultimately gave them the advantage to defeat the Army of the Dead. However, one of the other most important details about his character was presented in the ending of season 7, when he was revealed as the rightful son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, the Song of Ice and Fire, and the rightful heir to the throne. Some people thought this important detail was downplayed in the final season of the show and that it had no real importance, but we beg to differ. Another weird claim is that Jon’s resurrection in the sixth season was ultimately “pointless”, and the show hyping him up to be a “big player” came down to nothing in the end. But again — we don’t think this is the case.

First, we want to refer to the Spin-Off show, House of the Dragon, which firstly introduced the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy. According to the prophecy, an (Aegon) Targaryen should be the king of Westeros, in order to unite the Seven Kingdoms to fight against their common enemy from the North — the Night King and his Army of the Dead. Wait, isn’t that exactly what Jon Snow did season 5 and onwards? In a typical Game of Thrones fashion, he wasn’t the king of the Seven Kingdoms, but nevertheless, even more incredibly, he indeed did his part as Aegon Targaryen and united every one he could in order to fight the Army of the Dead, ultimately resulting in victory and saving humanity. While House of the Dragon was written only after the ending of the Game of Thrones show was well known, we see it as a nice touch and a respectful nod to the original show, which not only expands the cinematic universe of GoT in a very smart manner but also pays respect to the ultimate importance of Jon Snow in the show, all while cementing what we try to discuss here in the cannon of the televised version of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Strangely enough, a lot of viewers thought that the fact he is “supposed to be” the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, will result in him actually being the heir to the Throne in the ending of the show. Did we watch the same show?

BRYAN COGMAN: It was a subversion of the expectation. When you have your “main character” discover that he’s meant to be king, on any other show he would become king. That’s not our show. He was never destined for that. But the truth about his parentage does affect the dominoes of the season and how they fall. Being able to ride a dragon was a factor in the destruction of the Night King — not the ultimate factor, but in the war against the dead everybody had an essential part to play to get Arya to the right spot, and if you took away any one element, the Night King would have been victorious. And his parentage was a factor in the chain of events that led Daenerys to her eventual tragic ending.

Just like Bryan Cogman, one of the writers of the show said, the point of Jon being the rightful heir was never for him to become king. He summed it up so perfectly that we can practically end the article here. People thought Jon was The Chosen One, but he just wasn’t. There’s no such thing as Chosen Ones in the GoT universe. People thought the purpose of Jon being Targaryen was to put him on the Iron Throne. Once again, it wasn’t. Game of Thrones is not your typical fantasy story. Martin repeatedly said that his intention with A Song of Ice and Fire books was to subvert popular fantasy tropes, and in this context, one of the most popular ones is the “secret prince” trope. There was no way Martin, Benioff and Weiss would just give us lite version of Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. And yet, a lot of people expected The Chosen One to kill the Dark Lord and to take his rightful place as king. This was never what GoT is about since it always relied on the more realistic aspect of things, despite being a fantasy show.

Ultimately, Jon being a Targaryen was a curse. It ruined his relationship with Daenerys, pushed her to the dark side, which lead to the destruction of Kings Landing and The Iron Throne and the Targaryen dynasty. In other more conventional fantasy stories this secret identity would bring a character new powers or glory. Here, it ruined his life. In our opinion, It’s completely in line with Martin’s subversive style. The same style that asked a simple question- what if the main character dies at the end of the first book? Now he asked- what if being a secret prince is actually a horrible thing for you? What if instead of bringing you to glory it only brings death and destruction?

Another recurring issue in the reception to Jon’s arc in the show was the fact he was not the one to give the final blow and defeat the Night King himself. So what about all the Melisandre prophecies, the flaming Sword and Nissa Nissa? The most important thing is to first identify what belongs only in the books and what is on the show. You can’t expect theories that showed up in the books only to come to full closure in the TV series that has nothing to do with any of them. The show is an adaptation, and Benioff & Weiss chose very carefully what they wanted to include and what was left out. As for the show material, it is known that prophecies aren’t 100% accurate, but what Melisandre said did come true, if you think about it. Jon indeed ended the Great War. Yeah, Arya gave the final blow. But Jon united the North and the Wildlings, gathered Daenerys’ Dragons and armies for support and arranged the entire defence of the North and led the battle, right until the big victory. Again, the battle was not against the Night’s King specifically, but the Army of the Dead. And with that view Jon ended the war just as much as Arya, if not more so. Without him, Westeros would have been in ruins right now.

According to a lot of viewers, Jon was well positioned to become the King of the Seven Kingdoms after murdering Daenerys. He was the rightful heir after all, isn’t it right? As mentioned before, Jon’s true identity ultimately contributed to Daenerys’ demise. And also was perhaps one of the reasons Drogon didn’t burn him after he killed Daenerys. But Jon never wanted to be King, as he infamously made clear several times throughout the final season. It also wouldn’t have made sense for him to rise as king- he just killed the triumphant Queen, that still had support with the Greyjoys, the Unsullied, part of the realm and the Remaining Dothraki — why would they let Jon be king after he killed her? The point in the end was to break the wheel, not to continue with another war and dividing the kingdoms once more, repeating the mistakes of the past. And another point that was risen was why didn’t Grey Worm just execute Jon for killing the Queen, instead of letting him attend the trial? The answer is again, to break the wheel, like Daenerys initially intended. Tyrion Lannister told Grey Worm back in Season 6: “We make peace with our enemies, not our friends” To which Grey Worm replied : “I don’t make peace with the queen’s enemies. I kill the queen’s enemies”. Seems like a lot has changed since then, since Grey Worm learned that in order to obtain peace he needs to negotiate with the persons who wronged him, instead of mindlessly killing them and continuing the crashing of the wheel. Another war like that would have been a rather great catharsis for the ending of the show, but would it have made sense logically?

KIT HARINGTON (Jon Snow): There’s no trauma or cheer. He got closure. The closure doesn’t necessarily feel joyous. It’s just the end of something. There’s a satisfaction to that. It’s not a happy feeling. “At least this is done and I’ll continue to be hurt by this — forever. But it’s done and I need to let go of it now.” Everyone has told him he belonged in the true north and he’s finally going there. I don’t think he’s coming back.

Jon did what he thought was right, but it certainly did not go unpunished. In the new world they are trying to build, it’s not really a feasible option to give Jon the crown, not after what he did. After watching 8 seasons of GoT, I think it’s a little bit naive to think that if someone is “supposed to be” the king according to the line of succession, it will result in that manner at the ending of the story. The fact that he was the rightful heir is nice and all, but isn’t it exactly what they are trying to change? The family name that dictates who should rule over the common people, just by the laws of succession? In this new world, Jon could never be lord of anything anymore, at least not in the realms for the Six Kingdoms, and he was banished to exile in the Wall to pay for his crimes. King Beyond the Wall maybe then?

KIT HARINGTON: He’s gotta go back up to the place with all this history and live out his life thinking about how he killed Dany, and live out his life thinking about Ygritte dying in his arms, and live out his life thinking about how he hung Olly, and live out his life thinking about all of this trauma, and that… That’s interesting. So I think where we leave him at the end of the show, there’s always this feeling of like… I think we wanted some kind of little smile that things are okay. He’s not okay.

On a more positive note though, Kit also mentioned in another interview how he finds Jon’s ending, despite how tragic it was, to be the most true and fitting to his character.

KIT HARINGTON: I loved it. When I read it, that bit really made me cry. Instead of being chained and sent to the Wall, it felt like he was set free. It was a really sweet ending.

Personally, this interpretation really resonates with me as well. This is perhaps the most bittersweet part of the ending of the show. After rescuing the Seven Kingdoms from total annihilation and an endless night, he was not given the crown or the glory he might have been given in a more conventional fantasy story. Instead of being cheered at as a hero for all he has done for the realm, his slaying of the Queen will forever tarnish his name and he was ingloriously banished to exile in the Real North — yet as Kit mentioned, now he can truly be free and is truly released from the duties that haunted him during all his life. I definitely love the literary beauty of it. This is really in line with the GoT mentality we got accustomed to during the show and extremely poetic in my view, since neither Jon nor Daenerys who saved the realm from the endless night got to triumph at the end and enjoyed their due glory, since both committed acts that tarnished their names, highlighting the common theme of the show of how power corrupts and how nobody is really a pure hero.

BRYAN COGMAN: Ultimately this show is about this family, this family that has split apart, and finding a way to bring all that together again. I don’t think it’s an accident David and Dan ended the series with that montage of Jon and Sansa and Arya going on their separate ways on their new journeys.

And who knows, maybe we’ll get to see the rest of Jon’s journey beyond the Wall in the speculated “Snow” sequel series.

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