Looking For Meaning In Jon Snow’s Goodbye To Ghost

The last episode of Game of Thrones certainly left a great deal to digest. With only two episodes left the board seems to be stacked for an intense finale. Daenerys is on the brink of self-destruction. Varys is in full protect the realm mode which could mean a possible murder attempt. Tyrion is trying to convince himself that Daenerys is the best option to take the Iron Throne from his sister. All while Cersei holds all the cards. In one fell swoop, she has injured the Dragon Queen worse than anyone else thus far in the series. And while it seems Cersei may be on borrowed time, is this a similar situation where she wins even in defeat? She’s exposed Daenerys in ways that didn’t seem possible, and with a glass of wine in hand, she’s poised to make a major statement. If Daenerys storms King’s Landing and destroys it the people will reject her. If she stands by after the murder of a dragon and her best friend the people will see her as weak. She is clearly in a no-win situation yet all anyone wants to talk about is the damn Starbucks coffee cup.

It’s been infuriating seeing just how many sites used their time to talk about a clear error within the show. Yes, a coffee cup made its way to Westeros and yes it’s kind of funny when you think about. Game of Thrones isn’t the first show or movie to make a mistake like this and it won’t be the last. Watch The Matrix and you can see a cameraman reflected in a door handle. Watch Braveheart and you can find fighters wearing watches and sunglasses. These things are going to slip through the cracks but for them to dominate the conversation for the week is frustrating. There are plenty of more poignant and important matters at hand to discuss. How about Arya leaving with the Hound on a suicide mission? What about Jamie’s rejection of redemption? What about Daenerys’s begging Jon Snow not to reveal his true identity? These are all more exciting subjects to discuss and dissect than a misplaced coffee cup.

Ghost 3

There has been one other hot topic that has come out of “The Last of the Starks” and that concerns something worth talking about. Jon Snow and his farewell to Ghost. Or as some see it, lack of farewell. I am in no way making excuses for Jon’s behavior. As goodbyes go, his departure with Ghost was kind of lame. I mean, this is your pet. Your buddy. You can’t spare him one pet goodbye or an explanation? You’re better than that Jon. But, I think the lack of goodbye ties into something a little deeper and a lot more emotional.

Ever since the first episode, the bond between Jon and Ghost has been special. Ghost was a clear extension of Jon.  An albino pup in a litter of grey wolves. If there isn’t a more clear representation of Jon Snow being the bastard among the Stark children I don’t know what is. From there the bond between the two was special. At Castle Black, Ghost was constantly by Jon’s side even bursting out of a room to save him from the first White Walker attack. Ghost traveled beyond the Wall when Jon went undercover with the Wildlings. Ghost laid by Jon’s dead body to protect his master from any further harm. Jon Snow and Ghost have shared every step in this journey together seemingly as one.

So why give Ghost to Tormund? Why does Jon give away an extension of himself so freely?

Maybe it’s not as free as we’re lead to believe. We know from our experience in Westeros that Stark men don’t do well when they go South dating all the way back to Jon’s grandfather and uncle who were burnt alive by the Mad King. And while Jon Snow may not be a full Stark, he has that Stark blood which means the odds aren’t greatly in his favor. Especially when you’re going to King’s Landing with the intention to rage a war against the current holder of the Iron Throne. That ups the odds for death even higher.

Jon Snow is a smart man, for the most part… usually. He is also a fiercely loyal man even to the point of self-harm. With the bond between him and his direwolf is it possible to see this not as a goodbye but Jon opening himself up to something far more layered and complex?

Jon is going to die in King’s Landing. Whether it’s by doing something heroic and self-sacrificing or at the hands of Daenerys once she learns of his “betrayal” is yet to be seen, but when the dust settles Jon Snow will be dead. It seems that his entire character arc has been leading him down this path towards something tragic. He’s Jon Snow, he wears his heart on his sleeve and outside of Ned Stark, he’s probably the noblest character in the entire series and nobleness isn’t well served in Game of Thrones. I think to some degree Jon knows this too. I think he knows the chances of him returning to Winterfell are slim and none at this point. Even if they are victorious there’s a good chance his romance with Daenerys continues and he stays by her side. No matter what Jon’s time in the North seems to be up.

Ghost 1

With Ghost being an extension of Jon Snow maybe this isn’t a goodbye as much as it is the closet Jon can get to a happy ending. Jon has spent his life doing things for others or the greater good. Not once has he done something for himself. He didn’t stay in the cave with Ygritte when given the chance because there was a job to be done. He stayed committed to the Night’s Watch when Robb went to war because of duty and swallowed his loyalty. And now he marches to King’s Landing for his queen, not for himself. Jon Snow has given everything to everyone at great cost. A cost of self. Sending Ghost North with Tormund isn’t a dismissing of his closest ally, no, it’s Jon allowing a part of himself to be happy. Tormund’s right, Jon belongs in the North. He always has. Even after betraying the Wildlings he’s able to win their trust. He’s reunited the loyalties of a number of families to the Starks. He saved he helped save the world from the White Walkers. The North is his home. It’s a part of him. Maybe the best part of him, and that’s why he leaves Ghost behind. To allow apart of himself to remain home no matter what happens in King’s Landing. That some part of Jon Snow will be where he belongs.

It’s tragic. It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking. It’s all the things we’ve come to know from Game of Thrones. Yet, there is a degree of bittersweetness here. Sure, Jon should have petted Ghost before leaving (and I don’t buy the CGI excuse for a second because a giant squished a little child warrior one episode prior), but there’s a degree of pain in the separation. Jon has done nothing for himself this entire series, and this one act, of giving Ghost to Tormund is the most selfish we get to see him. He can’t say goodbye to Ghost because it’s too difficult. There’s the self-admittance of impending death and selfishness in the behavior. Instead, Jon chooses to nod to his friend as if saying, this is for both of us. Go live your best life beyond the Wall, in the North, maybe even visit the fabled cave. But most of all, be free of it all.

Jon Snow deserves nothing more but he’ll never admit that or follow through on it. At least he’s given Ghost the chance… despite how painful it is to say goodbye. 

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