Spoilers from last night’s episode of Game of Thrones in this article.
When Jon Snow came back to life in the second episode of this season of Game of Thrones, I literally jumped off my sofa and started clapping. I love Jon Snow. I think Kit Harrington does a great job playing Jon Snow. I think Jon Snow is a great man and excellent soldier who deserves to be the King of the North.
But I also think Jon Snow is not a very good leader.
Before I defend my opinion of Jon’s leadership qualities, let’s look at what else happened on Game of Thrones last night.
The biggest reveal of the night was the return of Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. Last we saw him, he had fallen off a cliff after a duel with Brienne of Tarth and was left for dead by Arya Stark. As Jon Snow and Benjen Stark proved this season, being dead is a mostly temporary state in Game of Thrones and in last night’s opening scene, we saw Sandor helping a group of religious folks build a church.
Sandor’s return is not too surprising. Anyone, like me, who spends hours each week combing through Game of Thrones theories on the Internet knew that most people agreed he wasn’t dead. (In the books, Sandor is believed to be alive but it’s not confirmed.) Apparently a priest, played by Deadwood alum Ian McShane, found Sandor near-death and brought him back to his community where he’s been helping out ever since.
The Hound’s past couldn’t escape him for long, as a group of soldiers found the community and murdered everyone. Without his church buddies to support him, what will Sandor do now? Earlier, he said the only thing keeping him alive after his fall was “hate,” and most of that is directed at his brother, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Could he end up going back to King’s Landing to take on his brother in a Clegane vs. Clegane battle? (The Internet certainly thinks so.) Either way, it’s great to have the Hound back. Despite being a mostly cold-blooded killer, he’s still pretty likable and doesn’t just murder people for the hell of it. He usually needs a reason, such as having a really bad craving for chicken.
Speaking of King’s Landing, we didn’t spend much time there but we learned a crucial bit of information: Margaery Tyrell is not a full-blown religious nutjob. Last week, Margaery helped convert King Tommen to the Faith and it seemed like she had switched sides. But last night she revealed her true allegiance to her grandmother, Olenna. After the High Sparrow threatened possible violence against the elder Tyrell, Margaery convinced her to leave King’s Landing and gave her a picture of a rose (Olenna’s known as the Queen of Thorns), signaling that she’s conning the High Sparrow. Margaery’s great at manipulating people, but the High Sparrow can pretty much stare into a person’s soul and understand everything about them. How much longer can she keep up her ruse?
Olenna also gave Cersei Lannister a dose of reality last night. When the former Queen arrived to help formulate a plan against the Faith Militant, Olenna told her that all this was her own fault and she’ll have to dig herself out alone. Her brother/lover isn’t in King’s Landing, her uncle hates her, her own son chose the Faith over her and now the Tyrells won’t stand at her side. Cersei will probably be haunted by Olenna’s big roast bomb at the end of their conversation when she said, “You’ve lost Cersei. It’s the only joy I could find in this misery.” Could things get worse for Cersei? Well…probably yes.
Another welcome return this week was Bronn, Tyrion Lannister’s one-time companion and now best buds of Jaime Lannister. The two of them led an army to Riverrun, the home of Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully. To recap the situation in this part of Westeros: The Blackfish is Catelyn Stark’s uncle and their family controls Riverrun. After the Red Wedding, Walder Frey and his sons took over the city and Brynden went on the run. But he recently returned and won it back.
When Jaime and Bronn arrive, they find the Freys threatening to kill Brynden’s nephew Edmure if he doesn’t surrender. Brynden calls their bluff and they remain at a standstill. Jaime takes charge and arranges a meeting with Brynden.
It doesn’t go as expected for Jaime. Brynden only wants one thing: Riverrun. Anything less than that is unacceptable. He also clearly hates the Lannisters and Freys after the Red Wedding and is itching to kills as many of them as possible if they attack. Jaime now faces a dilemma: risk his men or drag out the Riverrun situation, which means leaving Cersei alone for even longer. At least Bronn’s around to continually deliver the biggest laughs of the show. His best last night was when Jaime was in the middle of saying, “A Lannister always pays his debts,” and Bronn interrupted and said, “Don’t say it. Don’t fuckin’ say it.”
Elsewhere, Yara and Theon Greyjoy are going to Meereen to meet Daenerys Targaryen, which shouldn’t be too surprising. And Arya got stabbed, which was shocking but there’s nothing really to note beyond that and next week will probably be a big episode for her. So now it’s time to get to why Jon Snow isn’t a great leader.
Last night showed three scenes of Jon, Sansa and Ser Davos attempting to recruit allies for their attack on the Boltons. In the first scene, Jon and Tormund Giantsbane convinced the other wildlings to join the fight by saying that Ramsay will come for them eventually. In the best scene of the night, Jon and Sansa’s plea to Lady Mormont of Bear Island falls on deaf ears until Davos steps in and offers a strategic justification for her support. And finally, the whole trio strikes out when attempting to get the Glovers to join the cause.
(Shoutout to Lady Mormont for that hilarious scene. She didn’t want to hear any of the Starks flowery bullshit.)
These three scenes all exemplified a major flaw in Jon Snow’s leadership: his terrible political skills. Throughout the show, Jon’s been unable to get people to join his various causes. When the wildlings attacked the Wall a few seasons ago, Jon said he could convince Mance Rayder to stop the war. He didn’t succeed, but Stannis was able to bail him out. As Lord Commander, he unsuccessfully persuaded the Night’s Watch to let the wildlings past the Wall and he ended up getting stabbed for it. And then this week he couldn’t convince anyone besides the wildlings, who pretty much owe him everything, to join his cause and was bailed out by Davos and later Sansa, who wrote a letter at the end of the episode to someone (well, almost certainly Littlefinger) for more troops.
Jon is a great soldier and military leader, but as a politician he’s lacking. It shouldn’t be that surprising since that’s a pretty consistent Stark trait. Ned lost his head in season one because he trusted the Kingsguard to ally with him instead of the Lannisters. Rob Stark got stabbed because he thought the Freys were totally cool with him breaking his vow to marry into their family. The Starks are great warriors, but they aren’t as adept in the intricacies of Westerosi politics as the Lannisters or Tyrells.
The saving grace for Jon is he has Sansa by his side. Through her time in King’s Landing as well as with Littlefinger, she’s learned all the dirty tricks the nobility of Westeros use to get their way. When Jon is unable to recruit soldiers for their cause, Sansa decides to dismiss her honor momentarily to get Littlefinger’s help.
Jon is a great man and hero, who will probably succeed in his battle against Ramsay and destroy the White Walkers, but he can’t do it alone. Unlike Daenerys who can convince thousands upon thousands of people to join her cause, Jon just doesn’t get how the game’s played. He thinks people will share his morality on life and help him because it’s the “right” thing to do. But the people who do the “right” thing in Westeros end up with their heads cut off or their throats cut. Most people are more pragmatic than Jon and last night he was unable to adapt to win their support. Luckily he’s not the only one leading this army.
Jon Snow is a great soldier, an honorable man and a hero. But he would not be a great king. While a lot of fans want him to eventually sit on the Iron Throne, he would not be the best choice.
Having said that, I can’t wait for him to chop Ramsay’s head off in a couple of episodes.
Joseph Misulonas is an assistant editor for Playboy.com. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.