The paradox of Jon Snow and Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones

In late 2022, at the first Game of Thrones Fan Conference, Kit Harington was one of the main attractions at the event, being generous and frank in the Q&A session about the series, while being mysterious about Snow‘s future. Fun, friendly and direct, he shared his opinion on many things, from the ending to his personal judgment of Jon Snow. I waited a few months – due to lack of time and to settle down – to recover some of the issues that made me return to the series. Taking advantage of House of the Dragon‘s forced hiatus, it’s worth looking back. Not only in Jon’s narrative whose sequel we are so anxious in knowing more about but in other characters as well.

At one point, a fan asks Kit to name a plot that Jon wasn’t a part of and that he liked. The actor didn’t even stutter: “I really like Jamie Lannister. I think he’s a cynic and an anarchist and I really like that, that story.” Interesting, right? Jamie and Jon are connected so let’s talk about the two men who “saved Westeros”, only to become the most hated and reviled men in the Game of Thrones universe.

Starks and Lannisters: Wolves and Lions, with Dragons Between Them

For insiders, we know that the antagonism between Houses Stark and House Lannister was like oxygen to members of each. The Lannisters were rich, political, and always close to Power., whereas the Starks were isolated, dark, but loyal. The physical distance of their domains never helped to put an end to mutual distrust, on the contrary, it only grew over time.

In the case of the GOT series, “Robert’s Rebellion” is quoted, but we didn’t see it happen. In simplistic summary, Robert rebelled against King Aerys II (Daenerys‘s father) after the monarch’s eldest son, Rhaegar Targaryen, ‘kidnapped’ Lyanna Stark, betrothed to Robert. To make matters worse, Aerys II cruelly killed Ned Stark’s father and older brother, who went to take satisfaction about the “kidnapping”. In a battle, Robert killed Rhaegar but still needed to take King’s Landing which was only possible because Jamie Lannister, who personally protected Aerys II, betrayed the king, stabbing him in the back. Lyanna was found dead and House Baratheon took the Crown.

Though Jamie ‘helped’ Robert, Ned always looked down on the Commander of the Kingsguard as a vow breaker because of the murder of Aerys II. Not even when Jamie alluded to doing so because he was disgusted by what he witnessed when Ned’s father and brother were killed did the Warden of the North change his mind. To him, Jamie was a Kingslayer, a man without honor. We’ll come back to this as Jamie and Jon are the two sides of the coin in the story.

Then, Twyin Lannister was the Hand of King Aerys II, a position similar to how we saw Otto Hightower in House of the Dragon. Like Alicent before her, Cersei was the Lannisters’ trump card so they would eventually be on the Iron Throne and when Robert Baratheon became King, Cersei (Jamie’s twin) married him, putting the Lannisters where they always wanted to be.

In this brief summary, we identify more than one point that unites the two heroes, both tragic, flawed, and with a passionate fan base. And more interesting, with opposite paths.

The things we do for love

Of all the iconic Game of Thrones quotes, the conflict between Love and Duty is at the heart of every decision, wrong or right. The Starks are for Duty first and foremost. The Lannisters relativize obligations according to their wishes and so we accompany each House in difficult decisions.

We confirmed in season 5 that Ned wasn’t as honorable as he said, or rather, he was even more honorable than what happened. It’s just that out of love he lied to everyone because Jon is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, the result of a love and legitimate union. Knowing that the information would cause his nephew’s death, Ned Stark never revealed the truth, not even before being executed. Jon was raised as his bastard child.

We could feel that Ned was being unfair to Jamie and we wouldn’t be wrong. Jamie put Duty before Love by killing Aerys II. The King was going to kill Twyin Lannister, but Jamie stood his ground without interfering to save his father. It wasn’t until the Mad King moved to kill the entire population of King’s Landing that Jamie, to save millions, threw his reputation in the trash and killed the King. What would Ned have done in his place? We won’t know why Jamie, who resented having to explain himself to a Stark, never spoke of what really happened. Maybe Ned didn’t believe him anyway…

The aversion between the two men was put to the test again when Ned Stark became Hand of the King. This happened shortly after Bran Stark was found unconscious at the foot of a Tower after a fall. What was there? Well, the truth is that Jamie and Cersei were incestuous lovers and all of Robert Baratheon’s children were his in name only, as the real father was Jamie Lannister. Bran witnessed their meeting and to save Cersei, Jamie pushed him from the tower claiming “the things we do for love”. “Someone” used Bran’s fall as a hook to fuel the conflict between Starks and Lannisters (hello Littlefinger!) and so we saw in Game of Thrones how the story unfolded from there.

During the Court’s short stay at Winterfell, Jamie and Jon bump into each other only once, with Jamie mocking Jon’s choice to serve on the Wall. In the first few seasons, Jamie was really rubbish, the cruel and cynical antagonist, a “typical” Lannister. Their only difference was their liking for their rejected brother, Tyrion. Gradually, we see another side of him and change our minds… that’s right, we fall in love with Jamie Lannister, who is more aligned with the Starks’ principles than his own family. What always makes him switch sides is his unconditional love for Cersei, which only breeds the worst in the brother-lover. The one who really changes her position is, ironically, Catelyn Stark.

Upon being captured by the Starks, Jamie sees the similarities between Catelyn and Cersei and somehow lets out a humanity that neither Twyin nor Cersei encouraged. His association with Brienne of Tarth, who accompanies him at Catelyn’s request, changes Jamie’s course, whose good deeds are never seen to be due to his fame as Kingslayer. All the other traitors understood each other, but he was left with the worst of the burdens. His transformation is slow, full of drama and tragedy, but he manages to be honorable to his House and loving to people. Never 100% respected or understood.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow has grown into Ned Stark’s most faithful heir, a man of courage and honor… for how long?

Jon Snow: The Bastard Who Was Prince

Jon Snow dreamed of serving on the Wall, but only the Lannisters warned him it wasn’t what he thought. Both Tyrion and Jamie ridiculed his dreams. He was a boy when he arrived in Castle Black, and he left as a legend.

Jon, who grew up without knowing his origins, found Ned his reason for living and his moral compass. His loyalty and sense of duty create more problems for him than they help him, but it is beyond the Wall when he meets the Freefolks and Igritte, with whom he falls in love, that Jon becomes a man. He is killed (literally) and brought back to life (also literally), recovers Winterfell from its enemies (aided by and helping Sansa), is named King in the North, and tries to prepare not only his people to deal with the threat of the Night Walkers but the entire Kingdom.

Daenerys’ arrival in Westeros couldn’t have been at a worse time. Cersei seemed to be fragile having lost all her children and taken the Crown for herself. She eliminated her enemies, but she has a more human Jamie at her side, which hinders her more than it helps. And Jon only cared about what was coming beyond the Wall. Unaware of the truth that they are aunt and nephew, Jon and Daenerys fall in love and what would be an unbeatable combination succumbs to political antics and Daenerys’ growing thirst for absolute power. In tragic karma, positions are reversed. Jamie breaks with Cersei over the Duty to save Westeros and Jon is placed in the same position as the Knight so many years before.

As the daughter of Aerys II, Daenerys struggled with the reputation of Targaryen insanity, but in a fit of rage, she destroyed King’s Landing, killing thousands of innocents (and her enemies as well). Already aware that Jon is not only more popular but also has succession priority over her, she sees him as a threat, and even more, she sees those who also know the truth as enemies. Pressured by Tyrion and the love he has for the Starks, Jon betrays Daenerys by stabbing her to death when she least expects it. Jon Stark is now a Queenslayer. As with Jamie before him, there is no thanks from anyone he saved, only contempt. “Saved” by Tyrion’s lip service from being executed, he ends his days where he began: serving the Wall and the Night Watchers.

“I think there were a number of things that we all could have done differently over the course of the show,” said Kit Harington at Game of Thrones Con. “Not just the last few seasons, but I think the story is right and I think John killing Danny, sorry, I think that’s the right ending.”

Opposite arcs: Jon is an exile, Jamie a hero

Even with the controversial conclusion, Jon Snow was the great hero of the series. Jamie Lannister’s redemption was exciting, a dream trajectory for lovers of good stories.

“He’s someone who [at first] is trying to deny his heart, is trying to fake or bottle up his emotions. I think Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau] is amazing, a brilliant actor and he was amazing in this role. And I think there was something about Jamie Lannister that connected to me,” said Kit summing up what we felt too.

Having Jon Snow, the hero, and Jamie Lannister, the antagonist, travel parallel paths is one of the smartest things about Game of Thrones. That parallel will be equally important for Snow, as in the future series, Jon will be in the same position we saw Jamie start out in: a man anguished by his choices, forever remembered as a traitor (even if he saved the world).

“There’s always this feeling that we wanted some kind of smile or knowing that things are okay,” says the actor about the last scene of the series, with Jon Snow leaving with the Freefolks for the North above the Wall. “He’s not well,” he explains. “He thought he got away with [killing Daenerys]. At the end of the show, when we find him in that cell, Jon is getting ready to be beheaded and he wants to be. He’s finished. Going to the Wall is his greatest gift and also his greatest curse because he has to go back there and live his life thinking about how he killed Danny, thinking about Igritte dying in his arms, and living his life thinking about how hanged Ollie. Living your life thinking about all this trauma,” he admits, unwittingly hinting at some of the themes covered in Snow. What’s more, beyond these guilts, Jon lives with shame when he thinks of Ned Stark.

“Ned would have disapproved [Jon betraying Daenerys], I think. I think Ned was all about duty and honor and you serve, you serve, you serve and I think that’s what Jon is confused about at the end when he’s in that cell with Tyrion and he says, ‘I don’t know if we did the right thing. ’ Kit assessed. “John’s main conflict is being honest or doing what’s right. He gets stuck because he can’t lie, he can’t do anything that isn’t honest. And yet, sometimes that’s the wrong thing to do.” “I think he wishes he could do the wrong thing, but he can’t. It just wasn’t built that way.”

A paradox that places Jon Snow and Jamie Lannister as two sides of the same coin, a typical Game of Thrones story.

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