The Gospel of Jon Snow: Christ Allegory in ‘Game of Thrones’

Spoilers for Game of Thrones up to Season 7, Episode 3

When a writer is trying to convey that a character is some kind of hero or redeemer, that character is often made to resemble Jesus Christ. This comes up in just about every great fantasy franchise; Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and most recently, Game of Thrones all employ this framing. Having a character who dies and is resurrected or undergoes some kind of great sacrifice in a manner similar to Jesus indicates to a Western audience that that character is a savior or a redeemer.

Christ Allegory characters are pervasive in all kinds of (Western) 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 subtle like Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption or extremely obvious like Superman in Man of Steel. 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. And although death and resurrection are the most important aspects of a Christ allegory, there are also other small details, such as humble birth, being friendly with children, converting water into wine, or any number of things.

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 analogue for Jesus.

Let’s start with their births. It is said that Jesus was born through immaculate conception to a humble family, the 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.” Both Jesus and Jon Snow were thought to be of low birth, but are secretly much more important than that.

Jesus is often depicted as befriending children. We catch glimpses of this with Jon — in the first season he says goodbye to Arya and gives her a sword, he serves as a mentor to Olly (even though that relationship finishes poorly), and is supported by the young and feisty Lyanna Mormont.

But these details are not nearly as important as his death; Jesus died and came back from the dead, and in the sixth season of Thrones, we see 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.) Also worth noting is where Jon was stabbed — in his side. While Jesus was on the cross, one of the Roman soldiers pierced his side with a spear to make certain he was dead.

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

traitor.jpg

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.

inri.jpg

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.

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 is 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 Harry Potter and 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.)

With that in mind, the Night’s King would be a stand-in for Satan (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.)

night-king-the-door.jpg
The Night’s King

And, perhaps I’m stretching with this one, but perhaps not — after Jon brings justice to his killers, he leaves Castle Black. When he first leaves, his plan is to remove the Boltons from Winterfell, but his greater goal — or mission — is to save the world from the coming night and the Army of the Dead. In a way, this is 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. 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. Now that Game of Thrones has gotten to the point viewers have been waiting years for — Jon meeting Daenerys — the idea of Jon being a savior is even more relevant. All the ways Jon parallels Jesus seem to indicate that he will sit on the Throne at the end.

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Andrew Rainaldi studies English at the University of Connecticut and strives to take an elevated, more analytical look at popular culture. You can read more of his writing on Television on Pop Cultural Studies, his personal blog and follow him on Twitter @PopCulturedWP

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2 thoughts on “The Gospel of Jon Snow: Christ Allegory in ‘Game of Thrones’

  1. I think Rainalidi is right, the character of John Snow has some elements of a “redeemer” – but there are also differences as larabbit points out. In the end he is a quite complex character for a movie that wants primarily entertain the audiance…

    What I found quite remarkable for a movie of this gendre, was the “High Sparrow” episode, which contained a lot of plausible observations of how a religious sect can appear “out of nothing” and gain a lot of secular power, if certain “side-conditions” are fullfilled.

    To me, George Martin has provided an interesting “hypothesis” for the rise of Christianity from an eastern sect to the state religion of the late Roman empire. Funny too, how the face of Jonathan Pryce resembled the face of the current catholic pope Franziskus… This is great entertainment!

  2. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. (Jon has had sex, carried out executions and he’s able to make rational decisions in order to look after his people.)

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