Game of Thrones: Unraveling the Complex Pack of Lies Behind Jon Snow’s – Vanity Fair
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Now that Season 6 of Game of Thrones has solved the question of Jon Snow’s return (for the most part!), it’s time to unravel the behind-the-scenes mystery of what everyone at HBO knew, and when did they know it. Thanks to a new interview with Kit Harington, fans now know that even some members of the cast were, at one point, as much in the dark as they were about the show’s big resurrection. Yes, Harington even lied to his co-workers all to preserve the surprise of Jon Snow’s return. So was the two-year cover-up worth it?
Harington tells Entertainment Weekly that he knew Jon Snow as coming back as early as the summer of 2014, before the cast even shot a frame of Season 5, which ended with Harington bleeding out into the snow. So the actor was almost a year into a cover-up that involved lying to everyone on set when he told Variety last June, “I’ve been told I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m not coming back next season.” (He’s since warmly apologized for those lies.)
But in this age of rabid online fandom, is it actually possible to be as popular as Game of Thrones and keep a secret this massive? Even when it’s mostly actors (natural-born liars) on the front line of the cover up? The Walking Dead is about to find out. But the truth, sadly, is probably not. And though Game of Thrones certainly benefitted from the off-season buzz around Kit Harington’s whereabouts, the plot twist itself probably would have packed a more surprising punch if Jon had died in Season 5, Episode 9 and Ser Davos had brought Melisandre in to help by the end of Episode 10, leaving less time for fan speculation and for on-set photos and wild rumors to tip the hand for the big surprise. .
It’s possible that show creators Dan Weiss and David Benioff had to make Jon Snow’s death a cliffhanger because they expected George R.R. Martin to reveal the resurrection in his as-yet-unpublished book, The Winds of Winter, which picked up right where previous book A Dance of Dragons left out with—that’s right—Jon Snow’s apparent death. That book was supposed to come out between Seasons 5 and 6, and to have the TV version of Jon Snow come back before the hiatus would have spoiled the novel’s big surprise. But even Martin hasn’t been very precious with Jon Snow’s potential return. “Oh, you think he’s dead, do you?” the author said of Snow way back in 2011 and, more recently, “If there’s one thing we know in A Song of Ice and Fire it’s that death is not necessarily permanent.”
The HBO series, on the other hand, took the business of guarding Jon Snow’s resurrection much more seriously. Harington lied to his own castmates for a year—with mixed results. He still has the heartfelt goodbye letter Sophie Turner wrote him when she bought the lie that Snow was done for, but Harington says Davos actor Liam Cunningham never believed it and “told me to f-–k off from the start.” Harington admits the lie took a toll on him. “At first I thought I would find it fun. But I had to lie to a lot of close friends and cast members and crew. The longer it went, the more I felt like I was betraying them. So I did end up letting people in, slowly.” We can bet Emilia Clarke was at the top of that list. She was the first co-star to publicly hint last June that we may not have seen the last of Jon Snow.
But despite the many lies and half-truths the actors told in the off-season, by the time filming for Season 6 started everyone in the cast knew (and most of the public suspected) that Jon Snow was coming back. The Game of Thrones crew still tried their level best to keep the news under wraps. The words “Jon Snow” were never used on set. Instead everyone called the character “LC” as in “Lord Commander.”
Despite their best efforts to keep the twist on lock down, a set photo of Snow alive, well, and in costume did leak out last September. “I just want to point out that guy’s an a–hole,” Benioff recently said of the photographer who infiltrated the set. “You’re not cool for doing that, you’re an a–hole.” He was even more frustrated by the Game of Thrones fans who wanted to read all about it. “It’s crazy enough to be the person crawling through the bushes in Northern Ireland with a telescopic lens taking pictures—there are crazy people out there. But the idea that people want to go to sites and find out those spoilers … it’s like if there was a website called Last Pages of Great Books, would you read that?”
But coming down so hard on fans thirsty for plot details is a little misguided for a show that helped build its world-wide popularity on the backs of devoted book readers. For years the discussion around the show has been rife with “spoilers” based on the book knowledge those fans possessed. Is it any wonder the line might be blurry when it comes to the fate of Jon Snow—something book readers have been debating since 2011?
Weiss and Benioff have, from time to time, demonstrated a somewhat tense relationships with the books they so clearly love. There have been some hints of behind-the-scenes conflict between the show runners and George R.R. Martin as the show strays further afield from the novels. And, according to Cunningham, Weiss and Benioff “think it’s a good idea if the actors don’t” go reading the novels.
For the first time, Weiss and Benioff may have thought they could get ahead of an audience that often knew every twist and turn of the story. They were wrong. The show runners have since found out that Game of Thrones is simply too big and the internet too invested for them to pull off a secret of this magnitude. And while it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to let the internet dictate the creative choices of their series, it’s also true that lying to an audience about a plot twist doesn’t tend to sit well with dialed-in fans.
J.J. Abrams, who undertook a similar lie-to-the-audience approach with 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, has since expressed some regrets. His concealed plot twist—that Benedict Cumberbatch was actually playing Khan Noonien Singh, not someone named John Harrison—landed with a thud. Hardcore fans who suspected the truth all along resented the lies and newcomers to the franchise couldn’t have cared less. “I do wonder if it would have seemed a little bit less like an attempt at deception if we had just come out with it,” the director has said.
There was similar audience pushback when The Walking Dead took elaborate steps to trick its audience into believing Steven Yeun’s character, Glenn, was dead for a few episodes in the middle of the latest season. The series went so far as to remove Yeun’s name from the opening credits (something even Game of Thrones didn’t bother doing with Harington). Despite the negative reaction to Glenn’s implausible escape from death, the AMC series doubled down with a Jon Snow-esque cliffhanger of their own at the end of last season. This latest mystery—which will also require a Herculean effort to keep secret—was met with resounding frustration from the show’s intensely loyal fanbase.
Weiss, Benioff, and Harington did everything they could to side-step the question of Jon Snow’s return. For the first time in the show’s run, all three opted to skip last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con panel. But with curiosity around the show at a fever pitch, side-stepping wasn’t really a sustainable option. And while the lying may have been fun at first, it clearly took its toll on the cast.
Maisie Williams went from cheekily crushing rumors last July, to calling the whole process “heartbreaking” in January. And you can hear the weariness in Natalie Dormer’s voice when she says she had to learn how to shout “He’s dead!” in French to inquisitive fans when she was filming in Paris.
But the secret weighed heaviest on Harington himself who was at the forefront of the cover-up campaign. With film and stage projects to promote, the actor couldn’t avoid talking to reporters entirely. In September of last year he may or may not have slipped up by telling the Dutch-language Belgian weekly television magazine Humo, “Let’s just say that Game of Thrones will remain a part of my life for a while, I’ll probably be in my thirties when it’s over.” Harington‘s true intent may have gotten lost in translation, but if he did mess up, can we blame him? The actor couldn’t go anywhere—not the bathroom, not his local grocery store—without someone asking him about his inevitable return.
In the end, there hasn’t been a hugely satisfying narrative payoff to the months—actually, years!—of lies. Jon Snow was dead for less than two episodes and he came back exactly the same way both book readers and show watchers expected. Even those paying only slight attention could see that Melisandre—whose Lord of Light has resurrection powers—arrived at the Wall in the nick of time. It wasn’t really a shock or twist at all.
In the wake of the resurrection reveal some cast members, like Maisie Williams, are maintaining a rather pert approach to the whole cover-up. While Sophie Turner tweeted out a quasi-contrite, “Soz for the lies n that” and Carice Van Houten chimed in with “Happy now?” Williams tartly added, “Trolled u :3.”
Is it really a troll, though, if we never believed the lies in the first place?
Game of Thrones: Unraveling the Complex Pack of Lies Behind Jon Snow’s – Vanity Fair