In the Game of Thrones, there is no place for a person like Jon Snow. Not lowborn enough to spend his life toiling away on a farm as a vassal to some lord, nor highborn enough to be that lord. When you’re a bastard in Westeros, the world owes you nothing. No lands, no marriage prospects, and no true family. With no promise of a future in which he could live a traditionally honorable life like his father Ned, Jon saw the Night’s Watch as his only hope for living a life free of the rigid political system of Westeros where his kind is looked down upon. The irony, of course, is that his position in the world would be very similar to a Brother of the Night’s Watch. But in Jon’s mind, this was his way out. Little did he know, a duty to something greater than himself would stifle his attainment of true freedom for years to come:
He was chosen as a Steward rather than the Ranger he always wanted to be because his brothers saw in him the potential to lead.
He was tasked with a near-suicide mission to infiltrate the Free Folk, earn the trust of their leaders, and discover their plans to relay back to his sworn brothers, because of orders which were passed down to him.
He was forced to betray his first love, Ygritte, because his vows to the Night’s Watch were incompatible with their future together.
He was given control of the Wall when Janos Slynt fled his post at the Battle for Castle Black without having any say in the matter.
He was elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch without giving his consent to run because his brothers knew he was the best leader among them.
He was murdered by his own men for doing what he thought was right in the position of power that he never wanted in the first place.
He was revived and made a servant to the Lord of Light without knowing what this would entail.
He had to unite the North to take back Winterfell from the Boltons to prepare for the Great War because no one else had his natural ability to bring people together.
He was declared King in the North by his people even though he wanted Sansa to rule.
He treated with Daenerys, a foreigner conqueror resisted by his own people because without her dragons and her armies the Great War would be lost.
He was chosen to defend Winterfell in the Great War because no man alive had his level of military expertise nor loyal following.
He was coerced by many of his closest friends and allies to embrace his true identity as the one true heir to the Iron Throne, giving him the opportunity to become the most powerful person in the Realm. Yet his internal identity conflict was never even considered as relevant by his most loyal companions.
He even killed his one true love Daenerys not only for the good of the realm but quite possibly, to save the world from the most brutal dictator in the history of humanity, because only he could.
When Jon first met with the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, he had to convince Mance that he had truly turned his cloak to fight with the wildlings. When asked point blank why he would break his vows, Jon responded: “I want to be free.” Mance saw right through this ruse, and after a tense back and forth, Jon came up with a better answer: “I want to fight for the side that fights for the living.” Over the course of the next two seasons, Jon actually convinces the audience that both of these statements were true; he lives, eats, and fights with the Wildlings and even falls in love with the wildling girl Ygritte. But Jon never truly lost his sense of duty to the Night’s Watch – he eventually chooses his duty to the Realm over his love for Ygritte, and at the Battle for Castle Black, he pays the price as his love dies in his arms.
Maester Aemon once told Jon: “Love is the death of Duty.” In the series finale, Tyrion contests that sometimes, it is in fact Duty which is the death of Love. After all of the terrible deeds he’s witnessed his true love Daenerys commit, it is this realization, which is reinforced by all of these previous life experiences, which leads him to fulfill his final duty to the Realms of Men, saving the world from quite possibly its most pressing threat – Dany herself.
And here, Jon fulfills the prophecy of the Last Hero, realizing his destiny as Azor Ahai reborn. The prophecy of Azor Ahai, the titular hero plunged his sword into the heart of his true love to forge the flaming sword Lightbringer, which was wielded to destroy the biggest threat to the Realms of Men at the time – the White Walkers. But in Jon’s time, what if the White Walkers were never really the biggest threat of all? What if the biggest threat to the Realms of Men was something else entirely?
When Jon killed Dany, Drogon appeared immediately and, after confirming the death of his mother, melted down the Iron Throne, ending the absolute monarchy of Westeros once and for all. What if, with Drogon acting as Lightbringer, the Iron Throne represented the one true enemy of the people? Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. If the Iron Throne could transform Daenerys Targaryen, who at the beginning of her journey was the most well-meaning person in the entire story, into the most dangerous tyrant in the history of mankind, then it is quite possible that the throne was even more of a threat to the survival of humanity than the Army of the Dead ever was.
All Jon ever wanted was to be free of the shackles of the Wheel that kept him at the bottom of society. His “exile” to the North, while most would see as an unceremonious end to his epic story arc, is actually what Jon wanted all along – to be free to choose to live the life he wants to, for the very first time. Bran is well aware of this, which is why he levied this “punishment” in the first place – purely for the optics of not allowing regicide to go unpunished while keeping with Jon’s best interests.
Jon spent his whole life in service to everyone other than himself; he even begged Melisandre to refrain from bringing him back from the dead if he were to fall in the Battle of the Bastards because he felt that this world would never allow him any peace. But now, the Realm is led by a group of highly competent and morally good people. There is no great struggle or serious threat looming – the audience is genuinely led to believe that Westeros is about to enter a time of prolonged peace. Now, resettling the Wildlings north of the Wall with his direwolf companion Ghost and good friend Tormund at his side, no one will ever bother Jon with the problems of the Realm again – for the first time, he is finally free to live his own life the way he decides.
Jon Snow isn’t the perfect character or human for that matter. He’s flawed, and he’s a simple man – a soldier rather than a leader in his own eyes. He’s made his share of mistakes. But in the final words that his onetime friend/enemy/mentor offered Jon:
“The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
I hope you all enjoyed the ending of Game of Thrones as well as the show as a whole. There were a lot of complaints about decisions made by the show runners after surpassing George R.R. Martin’s source material, but I urge you to not let the internet fully inform your opinion on this show or on anything for that matter. When it comes right down to it, this show was groundbreaking in many ways and offered an escape to many of its fans from the crazy world we all live in. And if you haven’t read George’s A Song of Ice and Fire series yet, now’s the perfect time to start as we await the next installment!