'Game of Thrones': Here's Why Jon Snow Is Dead, Even If He Lives Again

Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
Fans want to know whether Jon Snow, played by Kit Harington, is going to return to "Game of Thrones." HBO
Game of Thrones devotees spent so many months certain that Jon Snow would return that it was a surprise when it didn't happen in the Season 6 premiere. Instead, we spent our time examining everything around him, his bled-out body just the black hole at the episode's center. As Melisandre went to bed, removing her magical glamour, and Arya went blind in the streets, one truth about magic in Game of Thrones became clear: It always has a cost. Snow will return, but at what price?

Death Is Less Permanent in Westeros

If it's not Gregor "the Mountain" Clegane returning as Cersei's Frankenstein monstrosity, it's Thoros of Myr resurrecting Beric Dondarrion after The Hound nearly cleaved him in half in Season 3. Then there's the darker half, with a mysterious White Walker king returning whole fields of the dead back to shuffling half-life. No one returns unscathed. The undead wights have no thoughts and know only violence. Beric Dondarrion loses a swath of his memories every time his body is jolted back across the mortal barrier. In George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, a resurrected Catelyn Stark tears around the countryside, stripped of all pity or human warmth, with not even her real name left to her.

Are we naïve to theorize that Snow will pop back up and immediately ride into vengeful battle with Ramsay Bolton, Alliser Thorne and every other Thrones monster we'd cheer to see die? Instead, isn't it more likely that Snow—who spent at least one entire episode cold on a slab—will come back broken?

Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
Apple's Siri is offering up its own theories when asked if Jon Snow is dead. Helen Sloan/HBO
The best precedent we've seen on Game of Thrones, Dondarrion and his memory loss, gives us a half-debilitated Snow, still valuable as a figurehead but far less a leader. Surrounded by Melisandre, Davos, Sansa and Brienne, he could be a significant fraction of what he was.
And the clock is ticking. When we left the Season 6 premiere, the wildlings, Dolorous Edd and Davos Seaworth, still squabble over Snow's body with the Night's Watch. We know the dead near the Wall return, and the longer his friends protect his body from the Watch, the closer the wight magic of the White Walkers gets to making Snow into something none of us hoped to see.
Becoming a wight would finally give Kit Harington the piercing blue eyes needed to properly smolder, but it would reduce him to a thrall. A terrifying shadow version of Snow emerges: one that could be killed only with dragonglass or fire, an empty creature and a mockery of the resurrection Game of Thrones groomed us to expect. It's unlikely to go down that way.

The Game of Thrones premiere felt formless—dropping in here or there to check up with old friends—but it also had a piquant eye for detail. Sansa stumbling on the oath of knighthood and Podrick, the dutiful squire, stepping in. Or the Meereenese woman misunderstanding Tyrion's garbled Low Valyrian, once again imagining him the cruel Imp. Arya learning that real power requires sacrifice and hiding your true self behind a mask, a lesson Melisandre absorbed long ago. It was an episode that dwelt on consequences and the gaps between intentions and reality. While the previews may play up battles and blood ("I choose violence," says Cersei in the first trailer), the Season 6 premiere proved Game of Thrones is still a show that's first and foremost about the aftermath.

If Snow won't return a shattered shell of himself, like Beric Dondarrion, or an undead monstrosity, like The Mountain or the wights, what baggage will he bring from the other side?

There's a book character cut from Game of Thrones, Coldhands, who might be illuminating. Undead but with his own agency, Coldhands guides Bran north of the Wall. Like Snow, he was once a living man, but without life he's little more than an agent of fate. If Snow's return fulfills prophecy, as Melisandre believes, then the miracle of his resurrection brooks no further illusion of that free will treasured by the living.
Snow may not have returned and immediately charged for the gates of Winterfell, an army of giants and wildlings at his back, but the Game of Thrones premiere proved that while we've busied ourselves asking if Snow will return, the writers have concerned themselves more with how. While he may bear some physical scars, the more fascinating journey will be the new motives and means of a man bound to the future history of Westeros, who must be ripped back from death at whatever cost. Based on what we've seen of resurrection in Westeros, the price will be steep.
However Snow returns, he has amply answered the question on everyone's lips over the past year: Is Jon Snow dead? Yes, and death will cling to him for the rest of his life.