It was a glorious moment of clean, unblemished satisfaction, which is a very odd thing for Game of Thrones to do. But it felt earned this time around, given the non-stop turbine of misery Ol’ Jonny Boy has been through these past 6 seasons. And yet through it all he has kept his dignity, remained a good man, and most importantly, cemented his place atop the vast majority of people’s favourite GoT characters lists.
But why is that? Why exactly DO so many people gravitate towards Jon Snow, who isn’t exactly the most charismatic of stallions or multi-layered of characters, in a show overflowing with both?
And I’m here to explain it to you, putting my Media degree to use for the first time since obtaining it. Trust me though, this is fascinating, and once you learn the science, you’ll see it cropping up everywhere.
So prepare yourself for that most glorious of things...
DEEP MEDIA THEORY!
Let me introduce you to this man, who looks like every picture of everyone's Grandad from the 70s.
If you want to get a jump on this article, you can read the exact template here. Basically, it’s a paint by numbers structure that boils all of these stories down to 12 steps. How common are these steps, and the characters that take them?
I’ll show you. Let’s break down arguably the three most popular franchises of the past few decades: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. You may think these three franchises are wholly different, but here’s your first of many spoiler warnings: they are all fundamentally the same.
Part One: The Hero
The "Blank Slate" Hero
This is on purpose.
All of these characters are designed to be avatars. Their purpose is to represent “you” in their world. They are blank enough to match your most basic belief of yourself - that you are a good person, and you always do the right thing. This is true of anybody watching the movie, regardless of nationality, race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. They are the eyes through which you see these otherwise alien worlds. Anything too quirky, and you stop putting yourself in their shoes, instead watching their adventures as a bystander. Plenty of storytelling methods take this second option (Breaking Bad for one), but big franchises aiming to appeal to everybody NEED this hero.
The Mundane Life
These places likely mirror your own situation - most people are bored in some way with their current life. Nothing depressing, just that inescapable human feeling that everyone else is having more fun than you. Yet more relatable traits.
It’s within these characters that you’ll find the character depth. As they don’t have to represent “you”, they can afford to bit a little off colour. I bet you can come up with far more words to describe any of the supporting characters than you can to describe the main one. They are the proverbial sizzle to the protagonists steaks, and that relationship should never be reversed. Don’t believe me? Just look at Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Jack Sparrow is a grade A supporting character, but utterly useless in the driving seat.
I’ve picked three examples here, but you can apply the same Blank Slate/Mundane Life/Special/Mentor/Allies/Enemy checklist to so many. Watch!
Part Two: The Journey
1. The Ordinary World
2. The Call To Adventure
3. Refusal Of The Call
4. Meeting With The Mentor
JS - There are two mentor figures early on in Jon’s story - Uncle Benjen and Jeor Mormont, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Both take Jon under the wing and teach him valuable lessons. And both die. Well, Jeor does. Benjen was presumed dead but has just turned up in S6 as a half zombie, unbeknownst to Jon at this point.
5. Crossing The Threshold
6. Tests, Allies and Enemies
8. The Ordeal
9. The Reward
10. The Road Back
JS - Jon goes through many roadblocks - getting caught by the Wildlings, climbing the Wall, and the attempt to save the Wildlings at Hardhome from the oncoming White Walkers. The chase scene is pretty easy to pinpoint - the epic escape from Hardhome when the Night King turns up with a massive army of the undead.
11. The Resurrection
JS - Ring any bells?
12. Return With The Elixir
But rest assured it is coming soon. And that means at this point, we are 11 for 11 on The Hero’s Journey steps. The checklist even still checks out.
● Jon Snow is unquestionably good, and that’s about it, making him a fantastic example of an avatar.
● Jon IS treated as someone special. Davos and Tormund even discussed as much in the latest episode. And, you know, R+L=J, if you know what I mean (DO NOT look that up, as it contains a potentially huge GoT spoiler).
● Sam, Ed, Ghost, and now Sansa, Brienne, Tormund and Davos make for quite the eccentric supporting cast
● The White Walkers are definitely evil, unlike the other villains in GoT who are all varying shades of grey.
Told you this was some deep media theory. But even now, I still haven’t given you the real reason why Jon Snow is the shows most popular character. In fact, you may have picked up on the fact that neither Luke, Frodo or Harry are really anyone’s favourite characters from their respective franchises. So why is Jon everyone’s favourite, if he is basically a carbon copy of them?
Part Three: The Reason
● Cersei Lannister is on trial
● The High Sparrow is manipulating Tommen Baratheon
● Margery Tyrell is up to something, as is her grandmother (plus her brother is still in jail)
● Arya Stark is leaving Bravos
● The Greyjoys siblings are trying to run away from their Uncle
● Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister are preparing to leave Meereen
● Jaime Lannister is in the Riverlands dealing with the Freys
● Bran Stark, Meera Reed and Benjen Stark are beyond the Wall, running from White Walkers
● Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne are trying to get back to Sansa Stark at Winterfell
● Samwell Tarly and Gilly are somewhere in The Reach with baby Sam and a Valyrian sword
● Littlefinger is running the Vale in place of Robin Arryn
● Edd is now the Lord Commander of the Wall
● The Hound is joining the Brotherhood Without Banners
● Davos Seaworth seems on a collision course with Melisandre the Fire Whore
● Dorne? I guess?
That’s a lot to keep up with, and while it is all very interesting, the stories are so complicated at this point that hardly any of them are as linear as Jon’s story. There probably are elements of the Hero’s Journey present in all of these stories, but they are all side quests and spin-offs essentially, so we aren’t getting the complete picture with any of them.
Plus, no one on Earth can really relate to all-conquering dragon Queens. Or tree psychics. Or fire magicians. Jon’s nearest competition is his sister Arya, but she has too much personality to be a true avatar. She’s the rebellious tomboy secret badass, easily swayed by whomever she feels will give her the tools needed to wipe all the names off her kill list. She’s far too interesting to be the “lead”.
In the Game of Thrones unique sea of chaos, Jon’s story is a lighthouse. Something your brain can relate to easily because it’s a story you’ve been told thousands of times through various other mediums (whether you knew it or not). Subconsciously, you start to like him more and more because he consistently makes sense to you. His lovable simplicity makes him simple to love, and brains crave things that are easy to understand.
Sure, you love other characters. I’m a Varys guy, for example. I’m even more so a Brienne of MoFo’ing Tarth guy.
So, why is Jon Snow your favourite character?
Because Jon Snow knows nothing.
And neither do you.