The Kit Harington Apology Tour
Lainey included a video on my recap this week of Kit Harington apologizing for lying for a year about the fate of Jon Snow. You can see it here. And by the way, it wasn’t just us—Harington had to lie to EVERYONE. In the wake of Jon Snow’s resurrection, there have been thinkpieces about the “problem” of death on television, how it’s cheap and a gimmick and is ruining everything. There’s been a lot of bitching on Twitter and social media. The “problem”, as I see it, is twofold.
The first problem is that of treating the fans like idiots. It’s the internet age. People snap photos of celebrities at airports, on sets, and everywhere else and post them online. It’s extremely easy to figure out if an actor is still involved with a show. In a few weeks The Walking Dead will begin production on its latest season in Georgia. When a certain actor doesn’t show up, we’ll all know who Negan killed with his bat in the finale (if casting notices haven’t ruined it already). You’re not going to keep a secret that big for that long anymore. Don’t even bother trying.
The second problem, though, is a narrative one that I think people are overlooking in the haste to churn out hot takes. And that problem is that Game of Thrones doesn’t have a death problem. Jon Snow’s death, and subsequent resurrection, is not a gimmick, or cheap. It was set up and foreshadowed for YEARS. Jon Snow’s murder at the hands of his brethren was, by the time it happened, a foregone conclusion. And so was his resurrection. It was the payoff of dozens of hours of carefully crafted storytelling.
It’s just that the show, from a marketing angle, mishandled it. “Jon Snow is dead-dead,” said everyone from the showrunners to the actors for nearly a year. They acted like we thought he was going to stand up and brush it off and say, “It’s just a flesh wound.” But what the “Jon Snow is dead-dead” angle never addressed was resurrection. I don’t think anyone actually thought he would survive, but we all thought he would come back. And the space between those two things is where the “problem” grew.
The template for any show attempting a resurrection storyline is series two of the BBC’s Sherlock, which ended on the cliffhanger of Dr. Watson witnessing Sherlock’s (supposed) suicide. Like Jon Snow, Sherlock Holmes’s death and resurrection is a fundamental element of his narrative, and so the creative team behind the show made the decision to not waste time lying and confirmed at the end of the episode that yes, of course Sherlock is alive. But HOW? That one question fueled a two-year internet investigation that turned the show into a phenomenon.
We shouldn’t have spent almost a year with the term “dead-dead”, or listening to actors lie and now issue apologies for lying. (Kit Harington seems embarrassed to have to do it.) Let us instead speculate on the how and when and the who. You know what Lainey and I have been talking about all week? The significance of Ghost’s reaction to Jon’s revival. We’re picking apart how a dog reacts to seeing its owner come back to life. He seems to recognize Jon right away—animals know, man. They’re intuitive. Does this mean there are no “pieces missing”? Is this the same Jon Snow as before? And if so, what does that mean about Jon’s journey back from death? What can we infer from Ghost’s reaction?
This is a MUCH better conversation than, “Ugh, I can’t believe they’re still lying about this.” All they had to do, last summer when Jon Snow ate it, was say, “Yes he is dead, but we all know death doesn’t have to be permanent in Westeros.” And then watch as the fans spend months constructing elaborate schemes for how Jon could come back. Instead of stonewalling, encourage speculation. Invite participation.
There isn’t a death problem on TV. There is, however, a “we think you’re idiots” problem. Thrones and The Walking Dead have treated viewers like idiots, but this is the savviest viewing audience that has ever existed. We know when we’re being bullsh*tted. And in treating us like idiots, producers and networks force actors into the uncomfortable position of lying to the very people who make their jobs possible. I’m excited for the possibilities of Jon Snow now that he’s finally done something interesting. I’m just sorry Kit Harington has to waste time apologizing for it.