There was a time when it was passable, even de rigueur, to cross Jon Snow.
He was, after all, the “bastard” of Winterfell—a pariah who’d all his life been subjected to a paddy wheel of punishment, but instead of becoming hardened internalized it, rarely losing his composure.
But during Game of Thrones’ third episode of Season 5, “The High Sparrow,” Jon Snow got mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore. You see, the emo swordsman was recently appointed Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, a perch typically reserved for people who can grow imposing facial hair. And his fellow warriors have a conflicted relationship with Snow, for even though he protected the Wall and slayed the Magnar of Thenn, he also broke his Night’s Watch vows when, after embedding with the wildlings, he went cave-diving on Ygritte, a ginger wildling woman. Now, he’s all about equality and is the only member of the Night’s Watch who refers to the wildlings as the “Free Folk.”
“He completely splits the Night’s Watch down the middle—those who support him and love him, and those who don’t,” Kit Harington, the Brit who plays Jon Snow, tells The Daily Beast. “I don’t really want to compare him to a real-life politician, but in American politics, he’s like certain people. They really love him or hate him at the Wall, and it’s the only democracy there is in Thrones.”
Wait. Were you going to call him Obama? I ask.
“You know what, I was going to… and now I’m going to not!” says a chuckling Harrington. “But he’s divisive, you know? And that’s because of the mercy he shows to the wildlings by referring to them as ‘Free Folk.’ He’s trying to change minds and change the way things have been done forever at the Wall.”
He pauses. “He’s trying to diplomatically and politically change people’s opinions for the greater good, but that’s never easy, and it’s going to put him at risk.”
Snow has, seemingly against his nature, transformed into a gifted politician. He has, thanks to the PR skills of Samwell Tarly, ascended to the perch of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. And he seems ideal for the post, jokingly assigning the “ginger” to dig latrines—much to the amusement of his fellow Night’s Watchmen—and appointing his frenemy Ser Allister as First Ranger.
“How he goes about being a politician is something we’re going to see this year,” says Harrington. “Does he force people to go his way, or does he ask them to? That’s what this whole season is for him—he’s deeply involved in politics in a way he hasn’t been before, and he’s too young for it, in a way. He doesn’t understand other men well enough to play the politician.”
And in “The High Sparrow,” Snow is faced with his first big test as Lord Commander. In a diplomatic move, he chooses to send Lord Janos to Greyguard, an abandoned castle along the Wall.
But Lord Janos, a supporter of Ser Allister who looks down upon Snow for his wildling affection, voices his disapproval. “I will no go meekly off to freeze and die,” he proclaims. “Give it to one of the fools who cast a stone for you. I will not have it! Do you hear me, boy? I will NOT have it! You can stick your order up your bastard ass.”
Bad move. With Stannis Baratheon looking on, Snow takes Janos outside and beheads him, his pleas for mercy falling upon deaf ears. “You see him not show mercy, which is an interesting about-turn,” Harrington says. “He has shown mercy more times in the past—with Ygritte and not beheading her, and with other people—but this time, he has to do something in cold blood which shows that he has the other side to him as well.”
OK. But throughout this season of Thrones, Snow is regularly taken to task for his support of the wildlings, which sort of hinges on the way he spared Mance Rayder from a fiery end, but also concerns his lovey-dovey relationship with Ygritte. But did Snow actually lose his virginity in that dark cave?
“We don’t strictly know he did get laid in the cave—I’d like to point that out,” says Harrington. “We know he did other things, but we don’t know if he fully went there.”
Cave penetration or not, the biggest question concerning Snow has always been his parentage. Last year Sean Bean, aka Ned Stark, confessed in an interview with Vulture that he thinks Ned is not the father of Snow, but that the well-coiffed knight is the offspring of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister. It’s a theory that’s supported by many George R.R. Martin acolytes, but one that the man behind Snow doesn’t buy.
“Well, I think it’s Ned, isn’t it?” says a confident Harrington. “I’m pretty sure it is. But, yeah, I’m just assuming until proven otherwise!”
For a long while Harrington, 28, felt he was being pigeonholed in films as a sword-and-sandals hero—from the Roman epic Pompeii to Seventh Son.
“They still do,” Kit says of the typecasting. “I really enjoyed filming Pompeii, but I could see that the industry was only seeing me in these roles. I’m not saying I’m never going to do a film that’s period, but while I’m doing Thrones it seems I’ve ticked that box, so I’m keen to try other things.”
And it seems, finally, like those “other things” have come Harrington’s way. Next year, he’ll star as the titular disillusioned American movie star in The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, a drama directed by wunderkind Xavier Dolan (Mommy).
“You know what? It is fucking amazing, and it is a thing,” Harrington says of Donovan. “I met Jessica recently, and we’re filming it next year. I hope it all comes together. I’ve seen all of Xavier’s work, Mommy being particularly amazing. He’s 25 and he’s got a box set of his work! He’s one of those people,” he chuckles.
There’s also his turn as Will Crombie in the big-screen adaptation of the TV series Spooks, where he’ll play “the British version of Jason Bourne—who’s just not quite as good.”
As far as Season 5 of Thrones, Harrington reiterates that Snow is in a very precarious position as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and his days in that station may be numbered.
“Where he is this season is he’s acutely aware of imminent danger—which is all around him,” says Harrington. “He’s not wrapped up too much in trying to get over Ygritte, but at the same time he’s in a place of severe loneliness. As he climbs the rungs of becoming a commander and leading other men, he starts to realize how isolated it makes him, and there’s a point at the end of the season where we see that very clearly. It’s the lowest place he’s ever been, and that’s going to push him to do quite extreme things in the future.”