Warning: If you are not caught up with “Game of Thrones,” there are spoilers ahead.
Season five of “Game of Thrones” charged on this week with it’s third episode of the season. Amidst the episode’s drama of religious extremism, dwarf kidnapping, and torturous betrothals, one scene stood out as the culmination of an entire character’s development so far. We’re talking, of course, about Jon Snow.
In Sunday’s episode, Jon had to demonstrate his ability as the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch when Janos Slynt dismissed his authority and refused to follow an order. Faced with insubordination and the breaking of Slynt’s vows, Jon ordered him taken outside and beheaded him.
As straightforward as this moment may have seemed to show watchers, it is guaranteed that fans of the book series’ were losing their collective minds. This is, across the board, one of book readers’ favourite Jon Snow moments.
Let’s break this down to see why.
Last episode, Jon was elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, an honour usually awarded to a wizened ranger or a respected lord. Many brothers of the Night’s Watch believe him to be untrustworthy due to his time spent with the wildlings. Others simply view him as an inexperienced boy.Jon’s election was unusual, but wholly deserved. He was raised among highborns, and has more education and fighting skills than many of his fellow Night’s Watch brothers. Jon helps train the men (and boys), and was able to hold off the wildling army when Castle Black was attacked.
Jon has also never sought out power, which, if fantasy and hero archetypes hold true, means that he is the most worthy of that burden. He is one of the few characters that lands on the good side of the coin more often than not. Jon is loyal and honorable, like the man who raised him: Ned Stark.
So here he is, holding his first formal meeting as the new Lord Commander, and he’s trying to do the right thing. Despite his tense history with Ser Aliser Thorne, Jon names him First Ranger – an honour. Then it’s Janos’ turn – he is given command of Greyguard, a crumbling fortress in need of men and repair. Janos refuses, throwing a blubbering and indignant fit.
At this point in the book, chapter seven of “A Dance with Dragons,” the quarrel is stretched out a bit.
“He still sees me as a boy, Jon thought, a green boy, to be cowed by angry words. He could only hope that a night’s sleep would bring Lord Janos to his senses. The next morning proved that hope was in vain.”
The next day in the story, Jon gives Janos one last chance, telling him to pack up his horses and go. Janos laughs off the order, sitting comfortably amongst his comrades, still not taking the Lord Commander seriously. At this point, Jon instructs his stewards to take Janos outside and hang him.
From here, it becomes chaotic.
Janos is pale and shocked, many men get to their feet, unable to believe that the order has been given. Jon is aware of all the brothers surrounding him who have elected him to this position, but also of the many who did not want him as their leader. Stannis stands nearby with his knights, watching.
Janos is brought outside, still protesting and in bragging of his importance and connections. Suddenly, Jon has a change of heart.
This is wrong, Jon thought. “Stop.
Emmett [his steward] turned back, frowning. “My lord?”
“I will not hang him,” said Jon. “Bring him here.”
“Oh, Seven save us,” he heard a man cry out.
That smile that Lord Janos Slynt smiled then had all the sweetness of rancid butter. Until Jon said, “Edd, fetch me a block,” an unsheathed Longclaw.
This is it. The moment. The moment when Jon goes from boy to man, from sworn brother of the Night’s Watch to Lord Commander. He knows the eyes on him might not respect him, might not believe that he deserves his title. But it’s his duty to command and his duty to uphold the rules of the Night’s Watch. Jon has shouldered his burden of power, and found that he can carry it. He is the bastard of Winterfell, a Stark at heart. Remember this scene?
Ned Stark believed that “he who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” Jon knows what he must do, and how he must do it.
Janos Slynt twisted his neck around to stare up at him. “Please, my lord. Mercy. I’ll…I’ll go, I will, I…”
No, thought Jon. You closed that door. Longclaw descended.
Jon glanced back at Stannis. For an instant their eyes met. Then the king nodded and went back inside his tower.
Not long ago, Jon denied Stannis what he wanted – for Jon to swear fealty to him and rule over Winterfell. These two leaders don’t always see eye to eye, but Stannis is a fair and pragmatic man. With this choice, this action, Jon has earned his respect. Stannis gives the nod to end all nods of approval. It’s like the ultimate fist-bump of Westeros.
There is also a coincidental link between this scene and Sansa Stark. Janos Slynt was the leader of City Watch in King’s Landing before being sent to the Wall. When Joffrey ordered Ned Stark beheaded, Janos was one of the men who grabbed him and held him at the execution block.
In the chapter of “A Game of Thrones”immediately following Ned’s beheading, Sansa is the point-of-view character. She is forced by Joffrey to attend court and sees Janos there. The book text reads:
Sansa stared hard at his ugly face, remembering how he had thrown down her father for Ser Ilyn to behead, wishing she could hurt him, wishing that some hero would throw him down and cut off his head.
Jon, without knowing it, is Sansa’s hero.
This scene in Sunday’s episode was sandwiched between Sansa’s dramatic engagement to Ramsay Bolton and a rather promiscuous brothel raid, but it stands out as one of the most significant moments so far. For book readers, this was a long anticipated moment from “A Dance with Dragons,” and boy was the wait worth it.
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