Recent seasons of HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones have not been especially kind to everyone’s favorite know-nothing bastard Jon Snow. In between staving off ambushes from White Walkers, fending off wildling raids and being stabbed literally to death by his own soldiers, the show’s writers somehow managed to insert another bit of drama into Jon’s tipsy-turvy life in season 6: emotional conflicts with the only family member he has near, his half-sister Sansa. And oh yeah, being resurrected from the dead. And his coronation as King in the North. And that pesky aunt of his on her way to invade Westeros. You know, that aunt of his who also happens to own three dragons?
So yeah, Jon’s got a lot on his plate as we head into Thrones‘ final two seasons. Since HBO’s announced they’ll each be shortened, with season seven and season eight consisting of 7 and 8 episodes, respectively, Jon is sure to have even more turmoil coming his way. For a character that has to be considered the show’s central focus, Jon’s history is actually rarely explored onscreen. The showrunners know their audience hungers for answers about his life and history— and they make expert use of this knowledge to toy with us. They do this in many ways, but most prominent among them is a technique mastered by the original novels’ author George R.R. Martin: hinting at, but not confirming, information that is both vital to the plot and compelling to the audience.
Since the remainder of the show seems poised to explore Jon’s character in even greater detail, now seems like a great time to reflect back on the secret-filled history the newly-crowned king has forged on the show already. Some secrets are more surprising than others— we all know Jon’s true parentage after last season’s Tower of Joy reveal— but others will come out of nowhere to surprise even the most hardcore Game of Thrones fan.
Be prepared for some spoilers from the show. Here are fifteen things you probably don’t know about Jon Snow.
15. He Can Mentally Connect With Animals
Jon’s always had an especially strong relationship with his snow-white direwolf Ghost. The runt of the litter, and initially overlooked when the “true-born” Stark children picked out their puppies, Ghost quickly grew into Jon’s most loyal and intimate ally. The direwolf can rip enemies to shreds with his teeth and claws or simply terrify them into retreat and submission with equal intensity. He’s also a fully capable fur blanket in the snowy lands beyond the wall.
However, like his half-brother Bran and some other characters of Stark lineage, Jon’s relationship to his direwolf stems beyond that of a normal human-canine relationship. Jon is actually a warg, though one less developed than Bran, and can morph into Ghost’s consciousness and see the world through the wolf’s eyes. This ability is explored far more in the books, but even in the show Jon often dreams of the real-time experiences of Ghost. As an untrained and inexperienced warg (called “skinchangers” in the books), don’t expect seasons 7 or 8 to explore this in too great of detail— there are too many coming invasions to focus valuable screentime on.
14. He May Be A Legendary Hero Called Azor Ahai
Westerosi lore tells of a legendary hero from thousands of years before the main events of the series who helped to protect humanity from the first invasion of White Walkers. This hero, called Azor Ahai, apparently ended a period known only as “The Long Night” by stabbing his loving wife with a legendary sword called Lightbringer, granting him the power necessary to defeat the White Walkers, though only temporarily. Azor Ahai, for all of his mythologized and legendary power, was not able to permanently extinguish the army of the dead, the White Walkers.
A prophesy, coming to us courtesy of the drunken red priest Thoros of Myr, tells of a legendary hero called the “Prince that was Promised” that many fans believe to be a reincarnation of Azor Ahai. Many consider Jon the most likely candidate for this role. All of the past events of the series, including major plotlines like the War of the Five Kings, the struggle for the Iron Throne and all of Dany’s scattered conquerings, simply pale in comparison and weight to the invasion of the Walkers.
13. His Sword Is His Greatest Asset Against White Walkers
Most show-watchers probably know a bit about the history of Jon’s prized hand-and-a-half sword Longclaw. The traditional blade of house Mormont, sworn to the Starks of Winterfell, Longclaw was originally given to Jon as a gift from Jeor Mormont, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch under whom Jon worked as a squire. Mormont’s son, Jorah (i.e. the guy always calling Dany “khaleesi” in between confessing his love for her) was exiled from Westeros for trading slaves. Without a male heir, Jeor gave the sword to his most promising pupil, knowing its true value in the fight agains the White Walkers invading from the north.
But why is Longclaw so valuable against White Walkers? You may recall from the show that only two known materials can kill Walkers: Valyrian steel and dragonglass, known outside of the series as obsidian. Longclaw is one of few remaining swords in the world forged from Valyrian steel, lending it unparalleled strength and sharpness. With both dragonglass and Valyrian steel being incredibly rare in Westeros, every item counts. Longclaw has already saved Jon from a White Walker once; I’ll venture a pretty safe guess that it’ll do so a few times again.
12. He’s A Teenager For Much Of The Series
Few people realize Jon is as young as he is. In the series premiere, he’s supposed to be 16 years old, eventually progressing to age 21 by the time of his crowning as king after the Battle of the Bastards. In the books, he begins the series at age 14, though HBO could hardly expect us to believe, even during season 1, that a whisker-faced Kit Harrington would ever pass as this age, hence his characters’ rounding up to 16.
Elected at 19 as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon has likely had by far the most varied of experiences in his life from a young age on the show outside of Daenerys. Think about it: he’s supped with lords and queens, climbed The Wall with a high-born dwarf who’s now Hand of the Queen for an incoming Targaryen invasion, slept with a wildling woman, protected The Wall against an army, been elected both Lord Commander and King in the North, been murdered and subsequently resurrected, and survived (even won) a fight with a White Walker.
11. He Was Not The Youngest Lord Commander Of The Night’s Watch
At 19, Jon was an incredibly young choice to lead an institution as historically distinguished and vital to the realm as the Night’s Watch. However, the typical reasons 19-year-olds aren’t generally elected to high offices don’t really apply in Westeros or at the Wall. First of all, Jon is of noble birth, which matters greatly in Westeros, whether for right or for wrong. Secondly, the Night’s Watch is only made up of a few hundred men; they all knew Jon and knew of his courageous acts, and they respected him far beyond his years. Lastly, Jon had more experience with White Walkers than perhaps anyone else in the Watch, which everyone knew would likely be valuable in the coming war. He was perfectly suited for the role, both as a military leader and as a diplomatic communicator.
Jon received the blessing of the previous Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, personally squiring for him and assisting him with everything from battle and marching plans to sending letters and serving breakfast. Mormont personally prepared Jon to take upon the role, seeing leadership potential in him from his very first days at the Wall. Despite his young age, however, at times of past crisis the Wall has elected Lord Commanders even younger than 19. This is elaborated on far more in the books, but suffice it to say Jon is among the younger Lord Commanders to be sworn in, though not the youngest.
10. Jon Is Probably Part Wildling
If a story told by Jon’s lover Ygritte is to be trusted, all modern Starks can trace their lineage back to a wildling named Bael the Bard. Bael was actually a king of the wildlings who, after being insulted by the Lord of Winterfell hundreds of years ago, decided to take revenge in an extremely odd way. Disguising himself as an ordinary singer, Bael crossed the Wall and made his way down to Winterfell, where he charmed the Stark Lord so greatly that Bael was presented with an offer: anything the Lord could offer Bael, he could ask for.
Bael asked for the most beautiful rose in Winterfell. Lord Stark presented him with a flower, but in the middle of the night, Stark’s daughter disappeared. The Stark family, which was dwindling in size at the time and was desperate for children, launched an all-out assault to find its only surviving daughter. One day she turned up, however, holding Bael’s bastard baby in her arms. Thanks to the Stark family’s precarious and desperate position, Bael’s bastard grew into the new Lord of Winterfell. Since then, according to Ygritte, anyone claiming Stark blood also claims relation to Bael, ancient King of the Wildlings.
9. He Nearly Died Long Before The Series Began
A little-known story illustrating Jon’s early history is conveyed by Catelyn Stark, his adopted mother who never got over her husband Ned’s supposed extramarital betrayal. Of course, we as viewers know Ned’s bastard is really his sister’s son disguised with bastard status to keep him safe. Catelyn, however, never got over Jon’s presence in Winterfell. She viewed him as a constant reminder of the betrayal, and though no one can really blame a wife for some brief animosity toward her husband’s lovechild, after a few years Catelyn really should have understood that Ned’s betrayal was not in any way a fault of Jon’s.
Anyways, as a boy Jon came down with a life-threatening pox. Catelyn confesses to her daughter-in-law that she stayed up and prayed for Jon all that night out of guilt for previously wishing him dead. By what could easily have been his deathbed, she finally realizes the boy isn’t responsible for his father’s deception. Jon eventually recovers, and though Catelyn never brings herself to love Jon or to treat him as her own son, she does at least let go of the grudge she harbors against him. She later comes to regret this vendetta even more after the death of Robb at the Red Wedding.
8. He May Not Be A Bastard After All
Last season’s long-awaited reveal of Jon as the lovechild of Lyanna Stark of Winterfell and Rhaegar Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone, introduces the possibility that the primary characteristic determining Jon’s identity, his bastard status, may be a lie. Throughout GoT lore and history, Targaryens are infamous for their marriage practices. This is most obviously demonstrated by their penchant for incestuous marriages between brothers and sisters. Both Rhaegar and his younger sister Daenerys are products of one-such marriage— that of King Aerys II “The Mad King” Targaryen and his sister-wife Rhaella. The Targaryen dynasty was in fact founded upon such a marriage, as Aegon the Conquerer and his two sisters set a precedent for keeping bloodlines pure.
Almost as common for Targaryens, however, was practicing polygamous marriages (i.e. being married to two people at the same time). Rhaegar, as crown prince, certainly was afforded the leniency to bend rules that would apply to just about anyone else. Despite already being married, could anyone have stopped the renowned warrior, scholar and musician if he were convinced to marry a second time? Rhaegar could almost certainly have married Lyanna before (or because of) Jon’s conception, and it’s perhaps likely due to certain prophecies that Rhaegar gave particular credence to.
7. Maester Aemon May Have Known Of Jon’s True Parentage
A popular theory circulating Game of Thrones message boards is the idea that Maester Aemon, the 90-something-year-old Targaryen who’s served as the maester at the Wall for generations, somehow knew of Jon’s true parentage. Aemon, a brother of multiple former kings, actually turned the Iron Throne down himself in his youth, preferring to serve his Black Brothers in the Night’s Watch. All maesters are forced to give up their rights to land, titles and inheritances upon taking their vows, instead promising to serve the realm instead of any particular family within it.
If Aemon knew Jon’s true father not to be Ned Stark but instead to be Rhaegar Targaryen, he would also have realized Jon to be his great-great nephew. Indeed, some of the elderly Maester’s lines from early seasons seem vaguely to predict a reveal of Jon’s real mother and father, such as when he gives Jon what at the time seems like a semi out-of-place speech about mothers, sons and newborn babies. Was he hinting something, even then, about Jon’s history?
6. He Will Likely Ally Himself With Daenerys In Season 7
A lot’s going to need to be packed into the final two seasons. Conflict between the two remaining Targaryens on the show, Dany and Jon, seems unnecessary as it would slow the show’s progress down too much. Indeed, a union between the North and the invading forces Dany’s assembled seems almost too good to be true against evil Cersei and the few houses still allied to the Iron Throne. We’re not sure where in Westeros Dany will land in season 7, but my bet is that it’ll be Dragonstone, the island off the coast of King’s Landing where the original Targaryen invasion launched from. Wouldn’t it, militarily speaking, make sense for Jon to invade from the North, with split forces commanded by Dany attacking from the south and the eastern sea?
Tension between Jon and his sister Sansa could make his relationship with Daenerys particularly crucial. Sansa’s closeness to Littlefinger, a secretive and weasel of a man responsible for Ned Stark’s death, only exasperates this theory. Many foresee a coming marriage between Jon and Dany, especially in light of important prophesies the show has borrowed from the books. If you don’t believe this theory and think there will be some tension in the relationship between Jon and Dany, stay away from the images recently leaked from the set of season 7.
5. His Closest Companion Is A Wildling
Think about it: his sister Sansa has just deceived him by concealing the presence of the knights of the Vale at the Battle of the Bastards, his other siblings are in far-off places and are believed by Jon to be dead, and his sworn Night’s Watch brothers plotted his murder and, you know, stabbed him. As the new King in the North, Jon finds himself in the precarious situation of being a bit short on allies.
Many of the minor Northern lords just refused to serve with him against the Boltons. He won the kingship thanks to fan-favorite and rising star Lyanna Mormont, but she is, in the end, a young girl with fewer than a hundred of her own warriors under her control. So Jon’s closest and most reliable companion becomes Tormund Giantsbane, the red-haired wildling whose new role in the series, outside of making flirtatious and seductive eyes at Brienne, seems to be serving as Jon’s second-in-command and wildling envoy. Despite starting the series as an adversary beyond the wall, Tormund has proven himself time and time again in recent seasons as a fierce friend to Jon, fighting alongside him both against the White Walkers in season 5 and against Ramsay Bolton in season 6. The friendship may not last long, however— Tormund is speculated among fans to be among the characters most likely to die in the upcoming season.
4. We Still May Not Know His True Parents
Season 6’s Tower of Joy reveal of Lyanna Stark handing a baby to her brother Ned implies that the child is Jon; the scene cuts directly to an image of his face. The words Lyanna speaks to Ned, however, are inaudible. We can sort of piece together what she’s saying, but it’s kept intentionally unclear by the show’s producers.
What the scene utterly lacks, however, is confirmation of Jon’s father. Nowhere is Rhaegar Targaryen mentioned. It’s implied he’s the father of Lyanna’s child, but could it be possible that Robert Baratheon really is Jon’s dad? They were engaged to be married prior to the events of Robert’s Rebellion and he clearly was in love with her. HBO released a graphic immediately after the season’s finale that confirms Rhaegar to be Jon’s father, but so far nothing inside of the show has confirmed it. Fans have a variety of theories about how Jon’s birth could have been complicated, all of which carry powerful implications for the show. You can bet HBO will keep toying with us on this issue moving forward, but likely we’ll receive confirmation one way or another soon.
3. He’s Almost As Honorable As Ned
Okay, so yeah, he broke his Night’s Watch vows and slept with Ygritte. But wouldn’t you, if captured in an icy wilderness with people trying to kill you, have taken a bit of comfort with this feisty redhead?
Outside of his secretive nightly rendezvous with the wildling woman (and an especially steamy scene in a cave beyond the Wall, one of my favorite in the entire series), Jon is actually an incredibly honorable young leader. One of the main themes explored in Game of Thrones is temptation, with some characters giving in to it and others resisting for the betterment of themselves, their family or the realm. Throughout the course of the show, Jon is faced with many instances in which he’s tempted greatly by opportunities he’s wanted his entire life. For example, in season 5 Stannis Baratheon promises to legitimize Jon as a Stark and make him Lord of Winterfell, two things he’s deeply desired since birth, in exchange for his loyalty and an oath of featly. Jon turns him down, however, as he’s already sworn vows to the Night’s Watch that he can’t leave behind. Jon also resists the foolish temptation to ride south to help his family in season 1, with Maester Aemon counselling him on the hopelessness of this endeavor.
2. He’ll Likely Ride One Of Daenerys’ Dragons
Many popular fan theories place Jon on the back of Rhaegal, Dany’s green-and-bronze dragon, during what will likely be climactic clashes with Queen Cersei Lannister and the White Walkers. Rhaegal, named after Dany’s brother and Jon’s father Rhaegar Targaryen, was born in the Dothraki sea with her other two dragons and seems a likely match for Jon. As one of the few remaining Targaryens, he’s an ideal fit to jump on board with Daenerys’ invasion and eventually see battle on the back of one of the dragons.
It would only be fitting, right, for Jon to ride the dragon named after the father he never met? Assuming Dany and Jon commandeer two of the dragons, there’s still a third reptile left. Tyrion or Bran, perhaps? Hopefully Ghost doesn’t get jealous— otherwise Jon could be facing an interesting moment in his character development in which he may have to choose between his history as a Stark and the power afforded by his Targaryen heritage.
1. He May Not Even Be Alive In The Books
Much has been made about the divergences in previous seasons from George R.R. Martin’s source material, the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. For the most part, the show parallels the novels, but one major plotline is still unresolved at the end of A Dance with Dragons, the most recent instalment in the five main releases making up the series so far: the status of Jon, who has just been betrayed by the other members of the Night’s Watch. Martin leaves it deliberately unclear whether Jon survives the stabbing from his sworn brothers.
While it’s likely Jon will survive (Martin couldn’t possibly do this to us, could he?!), what’s more interesting to speculate on is whether he’ll be reborn in the same way he was in the show, with the Red Queen Melisandre raising him from death. Could he possibly come back another way? And perhaps, as is hinted, could part of Jon’s personality or soul be lost in the process of dying? He sure seemed different during season 6’s Battle of the Bastards, as if dying again against Ramsay was something he welcomed.