The Gospel of Jon Snow: Christian Allegory in Game of Thrones

*Spoilers for Game of Thrones up to Season 6, Episode 3. And also, y’know, the Bible, in case you don’t know how that ends.*

Christ Allegory characters are pervasive in all kinds of fiction. There are a bunch of qualifiers for a Christ figure but one is clearly the most prominent: where there’s death by heroic sacrifice, followed by a triumphant return, there’s Christ allegory. (Just about every superhero has died and come back, so the idea is used a great deal in the comic medium.) But there are other qualities. Perhaps they’re loved by children, or spend time in the wilderness/desert, or are exactly 33 years old. It’s common that they have the initials J.C. (as noted in this video by Cracked.com.) They can be of the literary variety, such as The Grapes of Wrath‘s Jim Casy, or in action movies such as John Connor from Terminator.  Some can be as subtle as Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption or as heavy-handed as Zack Snyder’s Superman.

Most of the Christ allegory characters at some point are dead or thought to be dead, only to come back. Alternatively, they can die a painful death in which they sacrifice themselves for the good of all mankind.

My point being that Jon Snow – the bastard of Winterfell and once Commander of the Night’s Watch – is not only one of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire’s main characters, but an allegory for the Messiah.

Let’s start with the birth. Jesus was born through immaculate conception to a humble family, son of a carpenter. Jon was born as a bastard son to the most honorable lord in the Seven Kingdoms. However, the Season 6 finale revealed he is actually the son of a prince (Rhaegar Targaryen), despite everyone in the realm thinking he’s just a bastard. Jon’s birth is important to the story, and so far, we haven’t overtly been told why. He’s referred to as “bastard” so often you’d think it was his name. Various characters make a point of this, with Alliser Thorne mockingly addressing him as “Lord Snow,” and Janos Slynt criticizing his every word because he’s a “traitor’s bastard.” Here, we have two characters of humble birth who transcend this origin.

But Jon’s birth is not nearly as important as his death; Jesus died and came back from the dead, and with the sixth season of Thrones, we have seen Jon Snow die and come back from the dead. Now of course, it would be superficial just to acknowledge that Jon was dead and is now revived, but we need to look a little closer at the circumstances of his death. Jon, like Jesus, was betrayed by some of the men he lead, including one he had taken under his wing to learn as a disciple. (Fittingly enough, the mutineers were hanged, as opposed to everyone else we’ve seen executed at the Wall, who has had their heads cut off. Judas hanged himself after betraying Jesus. Perhaps the distinction here is that mutineers are hanged, whereas insubordinates or runaways are decapitated.)

Let’s bring attention to this sign that made millions of viewers gasp in the episode where Jon gets killed: “Traitor,” it reads.

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Sometimes I still see this sign in my nightmares

If you’ve ever seen a crucifix in a church, you might notice that on some there is a sign hanging above Jesus, which reads INRI, translating to “Jesus, King of the Jews,” which was used to mock Him during the Crucifixion. Jon doesn’t actually get crucified, but the Traitor sign does hang above him as he bleeds out into the snow.

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Now, all the superficial details lay the groundwork for signifying that yes, Jon was killed in a Christ-like manner, but it doesn’t quite answer why George R.R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would portray him this way. When writers make a character who is a Christ allegory, they’re trying to indicate something important about that character.

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So why was Jon killed? Simply put, because he encouraged the Night’s Watch to love their neighbors, so to speak. By welcoming in the Wildlings, Jon shows that he cares about the lowliest of the world, and will fight for those who can’t quite fight for themselves. Jesus is commonly quoted as encouraging that all people love one another, (Love your neighbors as you love yourself) and to an extent, Jon is doing the same thing.

And Jon’s fighting the White Walkers, who embody death. Jon says, “The Long Night is coming, and the Dead come with it.” While St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reads, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (Corinthians 15:26, later quoted in The Deathly Hallows. Since this is St. Paul’s letter, Jesus did not actually say it, but it still represents an important part of the Christian tradition.)

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With that in mind, the Night’s King would be a stand-in for Satan, or sin (or perhaps just death). Looking at his character design, one can see that his head is adorned in spikes. Since he’s called the Night’s King, those are more likely to be the symbol of a crown, but could be interpreted as devil horns. (He certainly looks demonic.)

And, perhaps I’m stretching with this one, but hey, let’s try it – Jon says at the end of the most recent episode “my watch has ended,” meaning that his death has relieved him from his obligations on the wall, as it says in the Night’s Watch vow. Then, he is seen leaving Castle Black, and going out into the world. He likely has something he plans to accomplish out there, say, a mission, perhaps to spread the word about the impending doom that is forming beyond the Wall – similar to what is seen as Jesus tries to expand his ministry, and in Acts of the Apostles, as early followers of Christ spread out across the world trying to spread the Good News, forming the early Church.

But what does this all amount to? What’s the value of Jon being like Jesus? What’s the value of any character being like Jesus? Christ allegory is an important storytelling device which indicates who the story’s hero will be. For Christians, it’s so much more, as it justifies what makes the character heroic. What’s found at the heart of many stories is the same as what’s found at the heart of the Bible – a savior with a quest for the redemption of mankind.

[An updated version of this post appeared in Areo Magazine. Feel free to read it here.]

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9 thoughts on “The Gospel of Jon Snow: Christian Allegory in Game of Thrones

  1. Interesting! I’ve thought about Jon Snow as a Christ allegory character, but had missed some of the clues you list here. I particularly find the use of the Traitor sign interesting. I hadn’t put that together. It will be interesting to see where the show goes from here.

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  2. This may be a stretch, but I also saw similarities between the scene from the “Battle of the Bastards” where Jon Snow is rising from the crush of soldiers and the story of the ascension, where “Jesus was taken up to Heaven in his resurrected body, in the presence of eleven of his apostles, occurring 40 days after the resurrection”.

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    1. There’s absolutely a basis for that interpretation. There’s a lot of overcoming death-imagery in Jon rising out of the pile of bodies (I’m getting claustrophobic just thinking about it again). And Jon is certainly finding disciples in people like Davos and Tormund and Sansa and Melisandre. And while we didn’t see anything quite like Jesus, in this case Jon, taken up to Heaven in this episode, we might definitely see something like that by the end of the series.

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  3. I just watched the end of the season and it occurred to me that instead of Jon being related to the Targaeryans, he could have had a virgin birth. Perhaps that is what Lyanna whispered to Ned…. thus the allegory remains.

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    1. Yes, it is a little unclear at the moment. The only confirmed thing we have is that Lyanna is Jon’s mother, but we’re not sure who the father is. It’s probably Rhaegar, but we’ll have to wait and see. Even if Jon wasn’t born through some kind of immaculate conception, the allegory still remains viable; Christ allegory in fiction rarely is one-to-one, and there’s bound to be some differences.

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  4. Another similarity is how Jesus was raised in Galilee which is in the northern part of modern day Israel. It was referred to as the Kingdom of Israel. However, he is descended from King David. This royal line is the line of the Kingdom of Judah, Southern Israel. Jesus is almost made King by his followers when he feeds the 5,000 according to John 5. This was in the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel. One distinction here is Jesus denies being King while Jon Snow accepts it. Jon, like Jesus, is raised in the Northern Part of the realm. However, they are the heirs to the entire Kingdom through the Southern Kingdoms which claim total dominion.

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