Who Is Jon Snow in Game of Thrones?

By James T. Cains

Jon Snow is the illegitimate son of Ned Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, and is about 17 years old when Game of Thrones begins. Illegitimate children in the North are given the last name “Snow,” because they do not have the right to be a formal heir to a noble house. Ned has always treated Jon as a son, though, as he feels is his duty. Jon is close to most of his siblings, especially Ayra Stark, and has also formed a bond with Theon Greyjoy, who is Ned’s ward. However, Ned’s wife Catelyn resents Jon’s presence in Winterfell, because he is a constant reminder of the one time that Ned was unfaithful to her. Ned once told King Robert Baratheon that Jon’s mother was a serving girl named Wylla, but he wouldn’t explain further, adding to the mystery surrounding who Jon’s mother really is. Jon, of course, has no memory of this mother.

Jon joins the Night’s Watch

Because of Jon’s status, he chooses to join the Night’s Watch, which is stationed at the Wall and protects Westeros from the wildlings and other creatures that inhabit the far north. Before Jon leaves for the Wall, he gives Arya a sword, which she calls “Needle.” Jon leaves Winterfell with his uncle Benjen Stark, who is First Ranger of the Night’s Watch, and with Tyrion Lannister, who is accompanying him to visit. Tyrion, who is an outsider himself in his own family, gives Jon advice: Wear his illegitimacy like a badge of honor so that no one can hurt him.

Although Jon has superior fighting skills to the others in the Night’s Watch, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont makes him his personal steward instead of a ranger. Jon becomes best friends with Samwell Tarly, an overweight man who lacks any kind of fighting skills, but is very good at reading and writing. When Jon is disappointed at not being made a ranger, Samwell points out that the Mormont may be grooming him for command instead. One night, Jon saves the Mormont’s life when two corpses reanimate as “wights” — a sign that the White Walkers are returning. Mormont gives Jon a sword made of Valyrian steel (the hardest substance known to exist) in return for saving his life.

When Jon hears that his father Ned Stark has been executed in King’s Landing, Jon rushes off to join Robb’s army and seek vengeance. However, Samwell and a few other friends follow and convince him to return to the Wall and fulfill his duty. A short time later, Mormont leads an expedition beyond the Wall to investigate the return of the White Walkers, with Jon and Samwell as part of the group.

Jon and Ygritte

Beyond the Wall at the Fist of the First Men, Jon joins the raiders of Qhorin Halfhand, another of Night’s Watch rangers from the Shadow Tower. They come upon a wildling woman named Ygritte who is part of the wildling army under the command of the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder. When Ygritte tries to escape, Jon follows and catches her, but they become separated from Qhorin’s group. Ygritte takes Jon to the Lord of Bones, who happens to have another prisoner: Qhorin. The rest of Qhorin’s raiders were killed while searching for Jon. Qhorin hatches a plan for Jon to infiltrate Mance Rayder’s army as a spy, but the plan involves Jon killing Qhorin to prove his loyalty. Jon doesn’t want to follow the plan, until Qhorin provokes Jon into killing him. Jon is then taken before Mance Rayder.

Jon manages to convince Mance to allow him to join his army and they march toward the Wall, driven by the army of White Walkers that are approaching from behind. During the journey, Jon and Ygritte grow closer, and Jon breaks his oath to the Night’s Watch when he and Ygritte become lovers. When they get to the Wall, Mance reveals his plan to attack the Wall from the front with his main force, while sending a small group over the Wall to attack from the rear. Jon and Ygritte join the group that will attack from the rear and scale the Wall.

Jon, Ygritte, and the rest of the advance party make their way toward Castle Black from the rear. They come across an old man on a farm. The wildlings order Jon to kill the old man to prove his loyalty, but Jon is unable to do so. Instead, Ygritte kills the old man. The other wildlings realize that Jon is still loyal to the Night’s Watch and try to kill Jon, but Jon manages to escape on horseback, wounded. Ygritte manages to catch up to him and, feeling betrayed, shoots Jon three times with her bow and arrows. Jon still manages to flee, badly injured, and makes his way to Castle Black.

Jon becomes a leader

Jon recovers from his wounds and tries to warn the others of the upcoming attack; however, the new Lord Commander doesn’t believe him, instead questioning his loyalty to the Night’s Watch, especially after Jon’s killing of Qhorin Halfhand. Jon’s warnings prove true when Mance Rayder sends his army to attack, with Ygritte attacking from the flank. Jon must take on a leadership role in defending the Wall and gains the respect of the other rangers as he comes up with a strategy to repel the invaders. His strategy works, and Mance withdraws his forces to regroup for another attack. However, during the battle, Ygritte is killed, dying in Jon’s arms.

Later, knowing that the Night’s Watch can’t withstand another attack, Jon devises a suicidal plan in which he will meet with Mance Rayder to assassinate him, under the false pretense of negotiating a peace. Samwell tries to talk Jon out of it, saying that the Night’s Watch needs Jon’s leadership, but Jon realizes that this is the only way. Jon meets with Mance and tries to negotiate, but of course to no avail, and Mance suspects Jon’s true purpose for meeting. However, before Jon can attempt to carry out his plan, the wildlings sound their war horns. Jon and Mance race to see what’s going on to find that King Stannis Baratheon and hundreds of his knights have entered camp, killing most of the wildling soldiers. Jon introduces himself to Stannis as Ned Stark’s son and asks Stannis to spare Mance for the time being. Stannis agrees. Later, Jon takes Ygritte’s body into the woods beyond the Wall and, as a final goodbye to his love, burns her body.

See our full list of Game of Thrones characters for information on other main characters.