Bringing people back to life is nothing new in fiction. If you are a fan of comic books, you know it’s practically a right of passage in the world of superheroes. Often, it seems like the decision to revive a dead character is a last moment decision born from regret about letting the character die in the first place.
For instance, DC Comics killed Superman back in the 1990s. It was on the news everywhere, they released a special Superman death issue. It was a huge deal that, in terms of marketing, probably netted great monetary rewards for the company.
But once the dust settled, where were they? They were without Superman, that’s where. So they immediately moved towards “fixing” that problem by bringing him back.
When Jean Grey died in the Phoenix Saga of X-Men in the late 70s early 80s, they kept her dead for several years. When she was brought back (actually you learned it was never her in the first place that died) readers accepted it but at the same time were likely aware that it was creative boredom that brought her back.
There have been several opinions debated today about the resurrection of Jon Snow, recently deceased Stark bastard and Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Some claim it was a missed opportunity to focus on the remaining characters while sticking to the “anyone can die mantra” Thrones is known for. Others say it was straight up pandering. Still others say it creates a continuity problem similar to Star Trek’s now infamous “teleport anywhere” problem in which the good guys can just keep resurrecting their dead until they win.
Interestingly, they saw no such concern with the White Walkers who do PRECISELY that.
But first, on the question of pandering. The accusation is obviously wrong on its face. Pandering is what my Superman example was, or any other situation in which writers do mental gymnastics to “fix” a problem they created. See the rebooted Battlestar Galactica for tons of examples.
In this case, the resurrection was specifically the story of Jon Snow. It didn’t just happen to happen to him while the rest of his story unfolds. This IS his story.
This would be like claiming Peter Pan’s infinite boyhood was “convenient” given the age of Wendy and her brothers. It wasn’t “convenient. It’s the damn plot!
This often happens when people point out “conveniences” in a story. They forget why it was a story worth telling in the first place. No it wasn’t “convenient” that the good guy happened to get the right combination with only 5 seconds left before the bomb exploded. The reason the story is worth telling is because he got the code 5 seconds before the bomb exploded as opposed to just being a guy that defused a situation with no tension or simply got blown up.
To call it pandering is ludicrous. The prophecy and visions that the Red Witch has been lavishing onto Stannis were meant for Jon Snow. THAT’S why the Lord of Light allowed his resurrection.
Which brings me to the next point, the question of whether or not it is a continuity ruiner.
This is also a preposterous claim. Jon Snow has a sword that can shatter a White Walker with one swing. Why not just give everyone Valerian steel? Oh, there’s limitations on its availability? Well, dragons seem to be overpowered compared to others and we already know that 3 dragons hundreds of years earlier allowed the conquering of all of Westeros. So why not just have more dragons? Oh, they are almost extinct?
This is a very normal situation and doesn’t leave it open-ended like Star Trek’s teleporting issue does. Why didn’t the Red Witch resurrect Stannis? Well, firstly she was surprised anyone can resurrect anybody, so it may not have occurred to her, even looking past the fact that she was hundreds of miles away when he died. But more importantly, why should she have? The visions she had were all wrong she thought. So what need to resurrect him was there?
Why don’t they resurrect everyone all the time? Why should they? You get places faster when you run. Why don’t you run all the time? You could give every bit of your excess money to charity every month but don’t. Yet you know it could save people’s lives. Why don’t you? It’s a silly question. They resurrect people based on their belief that a resurrection is needed and that there is a character in a position to do it.
Now, finally, to the question of whether it is bad storytelling, regardless of how long they had been planning it. I’d say this is the most reasonable objection because it simply has to do with the overall story and whether or not a dead Jon Snow served the overall narrative better.
Opinions can be varied, but I certainly believe the show is better as a result of not only killing him, but resurrecting him later. Resurrection stories have powerful symbolisms and meanings, but much more importantly, the North had fallen apart. Ned Stark and much of his family is dead. The Night’s Watch is in tatters, The Wildlings are dubious of their place south of the Wall. And much as Jon Snow was able to earn respect on an individual basis, a powerful symbol was needed to unify the clans.
Jon Snow’s resurrection serves as the catalyst for unification at the Wall, as the white walkers march southward. His status as having been resurrected himself puts him on equal footing with the enemy they face and gives the people who must eventually face them something that is often sorely lacking in the Game of Thrones universe: hope.
So, was Jon Snow’s resurrection a cheap plot device? Pandering? Bad storytelling?
No, Jon Snow’s story is one of the oldest stories there is: the resurrection of a savior to battle against death itself.
If that’s not good storytelling, our entire historical understanding of good stories must be reevaluated.