UPDATE: Before “The Bells” we thought Jon Snow might walk away from the Realm at show’s end to find happiness beyond the Wall, rather than accept an Iron Throne he didn’t want. But we didn’t think he would be dealing with the fallout of Mad Queen Daenerys burning King’s Landing to the ground. Just as Varys worried, her “coin” landed the wrong way, and hundreds of thousands died needlessly as a result. Could Jon walk away from the Seven Kingdoms after watching that destruction and leave Westeros in the hands of a monster? It seems almost impossible he would, but that doesn’t mean he won’t still leave if someone – himself included – kills her first.
Daenerys cannot rule, that much is clear, but her descent into madness should also show Jon the perils of power. If it could corrupt someone like Daenerys it could corrupt anyone, and since he’s a Targaryen himself he might not even trust himself to avoid a similar fate.
Jon might still seek out a life of peace beyond the Wall, but he might also view it as the safest place he can go to keep the Realm safe.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” What if you refuse to keep playing though? What happens if you choose to walk away from power and responsibility? You’ll live, and you might find happiness. It’s a bittersweet possibility Game of Thrones could set up for Jon Snow.
As long as Cersei lives and rules, Jon will be there to fight her. Sansa and Cersei cannot co-exist in Westeros, and he’ll always protect his family. If Cersei loses, though, and he survives, Jon will still find himself in a difficult position no matter what. If Daenerys dies, either in battle or because someone betrays her, Tyrion and Varys will try to place him on the Iron Throne, which he doesn’t want. Even if everyone agrees Daenerys should be queen, their relationship is likely ruined forever. The world will learn his secret, and his mere existence will always be a threat to her, whether they want to be together or not. Neither will ever be truly safe so long as the other lives.
The only “good” outcomes for Jon are terrible, unless he leaves it all behind.
Jon has never wanted power. He didn’t ask for the role of Lord Commander or King in the North, but he’s a natural leader people believe in and want to follow. He’s never relished that though; he certainly doesn’t want responsibility, even if he’s good at. Daenerys said to him everyone enjoys what they’re good at, and he answered, “I don’t.”
There’s nothing Jon wants less than to be named King of the entire Seven Kingdoms. Especially if it will come at the expense of the woman he loves and swore an oath to. But he’s also not the type to walk away from responsibility. It took losing his life and rising from the dead to make him abandon the Night’s Watch. He immediately followed that by leading the fight against Ramsay. But his entire journey leads him to walking away entirely now.
Jon’s brothers in black killed him for saving the wildlings, and his own people hated him in the North for bending the knee to Daenerys. Though he brought them the allies (and dragons) they needed to fight the White Walkers, they didn’t trust him. Jon always does what he thinks is right and best for others, no matter the personal cost. That’s why Jon would make the perfect leader, and yet it’s brought him nothing but pain. Power has certainly never brought him peace or happiness, just more wars to fight like Alliser Thorne predicted before Jon executed him. “I fought. I lost. Now I rest. But not you, Lord Snow, you’ll be fighting their battles forever.”
Jon doesn’t have to die to rest though, or fight everyone’s battles forever. There’s a place he could go, one far away from King’s Landing and the Realm’s problem, to find peace. The wildlings admire and respect Jon, and they would welcome him beyond the Wall. They are the Freefolk, and they don’t play the game of thrones. Jon experienced true happiness for a brief moment in those untamed lands, with Ygritte in that cave. “Let’s not go back. Let’s stay here awhile longer,” she told him, “I never want to leave this cave, Jon Snow, not ever.”
But they didn’t stay, because responsibility called him away. Jon was still a loyal man of the Night’s Watch. As Maester Aemon once told Jon, “Love is the death of duty.” Duty led to Ygritte dying in his arms as she reminded him they never should have left that cave. Her words echoed this season when Jon and Daenerys flew off to steal a quiet moment together in front of that waterfall.
“We could stay a thousand years. No one would find us,” Daenerys said, but the White Walkers were coming, just like there’s also some battle to fight, at the Wall or Hardhome, or at Winterfell or King’s Landing. Even if Jon wins this one for the Iron Throne, what he and Daenerys had is gone forever. And if the Realm wants to give him something he doesn’t wants and declares him King Aegon, Sixth of His Name, there will always be another war to follow. Then another. And then another.
It’s not easy to walk away from the life you know. Jaime couldn’t do it with Cersei, and that’s why he’ll likely die with her in King’s Landing instead of living a happy life with Brienne. Jon still has a chance to though, even if the circumstances that lead to it will make it a bittersweet choice. It’s an ending the show hinted at it during his recent goodbye with Tormund.
When he sent Ghost off to live beyond the Wall, Jon said, “He’ll be happier up there.”
“So would you,” said Tormund.
“I wish I was going with you,” answered Jon.
He still could, if he finally knows the one lesson the show has been teaching him this entire time: when you play the game of thrones you win or you die, but you don’t find happiness.