“What’s wrong with the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire,” you ask? Well, let’s just take a look. As for what’s wrong, where do I begin? Why don’t I start with the fact that they’re all basically the same character? You can’t really expect any better when an author divides his attention among a thousand of them, which is why you need to limit the number of pivotal characters in a story. Every character in the story has, at most, a few personality traits to differentiate it from the cookie-cutter template that Martin applies to the lot of them.
I plan on suffering through several more of these character analyses, but I’ll start with the ever-tedious Jon Snow. No, I’m not talking about Dr. John Snow, the Victorian physician who discovered that drinking polluted water was a bad thing—oh, I only wish! Jon Snow is, amazingly, one of the least irritating of Martin’s characters. I shudder to think of analyzing any of the others, but that’s Future Hamish’s problem!
The Overlong Set-Up
Right, so as far as anyone knows, Jon is the bastard son of Lord Ned. Consequently, his stepmother hates his guts! Now, she’s the stereotypical evil stepmother, ostracizing the poor kid from infancy while coddling her biological children. What’s the problem with this? Well, we’re actually meant to root for the evil stepmother! We’re meant to empathize with a child abuser! Despite his stepmother, Jon Snow becomes very close to his siblings. Pretty much everyone seems to treat Jon like crap, which, again, wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t meant to like all these people as well.
The Wall Lies Ahead
Jon’s dream is supposedly to succeed his father as lord, which he can’t do because he’s a bastard. Keep this in mind, for it’ll make everything he does make even less sense. Early on, he receives a giant wolf as a pet, but that isn’t really very important as George R. R. Martin doesn’t know the meaning of the word “interesting.”
Jon Snow’s True Colours
The first real thing that happens in the story is that Jon’s younger brother Brandon gets thrown from a tower and crippled for life. Again, Jon is close with his siblings, and this is the point where his little brother needs him the most. However, his other dream is to volunteer himself as a prisoner in a penal colony, where he’ll be allowed no real connections to the outside world. He’ll also be forbidden from inheritance, so even were he legitimized, he still wouldn’t be able to succeed his father. Again, he actually wants to abandon his siblings and spend the rest of his life in the company of convicted rapists. Jon decides, for some reason, that now’s the perfect time! Packing his bags, he up-and-abandons his crippled brother in his hour of need. Time to add one more to the growing list of irredeemably unlikeable characters in this abomination!
Jon and Tyrion Waste the Reader’s Time
On the way to the aforementioned penal colony, Jon befriends Tyrion (played by Peter Dinklage in the show), who’s just visiting the penal colony because he’s heard it looks cool. So, these two main characters are friends now. Too bad this waste of time will have absolutely nothing to do with the actual plot! (he-he-he… “Plot”!) They’re never actually going to see each other again, and their two families will be at war soon anyway, so their friendship is just filler. Does Tyrion’s connection with Jon affect his motivations or actions in the story? Oh, I don’t think you know whom we’re dealing with!
Jon Arrives at The Wall
Well, that was a waste of time! Anyway, Jon finally arrives at The Wall. At first he has trouble making friends, but he soon becomes quite popular among the other recruits. When he hears that his family is at war with another house, he considers deserting (a crime punishable by death), but thinks better of it because pretty much no one in this story ever breaks the rules. The next day, Jon is sent on a mission north with a group of rangers… And that’s all that happens with him in the first book!
This is one of the many problems with having as many characters as Martin has; it takes forever for anything to happen. In any other book, this would have happened within a few chapters. Here, however, there are so many characters to follow that very little has time to transpire during the course of a massive volume. A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t actually have a plot, of course, so there’s not much for even the very patient to anticipate.
“My Dream is to Advance the ‘Plot’”
Alright, I need to talk about this glaring issue. Jon’s motivation for voluntarily becoming a prisoner is apparently because he wants to prove that he’s worthy of succeeding his father. Despite being close to his siblings, Jon doesn’t hesitate to abandon them when they need him the most. He wants to prove that he has honour by abandoning his family and befriending a bunch of convicted rapists?
Unlike an ecclesiastical order in the Middle-Ages, there’s really nothing to motivate him to choose the sort of life he does, one that requires him to never see anyone he cares about—or pretends to care—ever again. At least joining a medieval monastery was believed to bring you closer to a superstitious goal; the Night’s Watch penal colony offers nothing of the sort. In fact, the only reward it offers is that you’ll quickly die forgotten.
Jon Goes Undercover
So, alright… We have filler… Filler… Filler… Filler… Here we are! Jon and a small group fight some enemies and take a woman called Ygritte prisoner. Instead of killing her as per his orders, Jon sets her free. Later, she and her people capture him along with his leader, whom he is made to kill in order to prove his loyalty to their cause as a turncoat. Again, that’s about it. That’s really all that happens in Book Two.
A Blatant Tolkien Rip-Off
More happens in the third book than the second, but that’s only by the very low standards of this plodding series, and it’s not very interesting. Jon meets the enemy leader and convinces him of his loyalty to the cause. Then he shags Ygritte only to escape soon afterward and return to The Wall. He arrives there barely conscious and shouts in his best Elijah Wood impression,
The “Sam” in question is an obvious rip-off of Samwise Gamgee. Mind you; he’s not a very good rip off of Samwise, but he’s an attempt at a rip-off nonetheless.
I feel I should take this opportunity to point out another of the numerous glaring problems with this story. Any two characters who are friends will almost never be in the same place, and even then they seldom interact. Almost every notable interaction is when one character is the prisoner of the other, and anyone they actually like is seemingly on the other side of the world.
Ygritte Dies and Jon Gets Elected
When Jon wakes up, he hears that his brothers have been killed; this has nothing to do with the plot. Soon the enemy attacks, but Jon and his comrades defend the tower, killing all the attackers, including Jon’s brief affair, Ygritte. More enemies attack, and Jon is put in charge of the defence—then he’s arrested—then he’s released—then another character appears with an army out of nowhere to rout the enemies. Due to the previous leader’s death, Jon is elected leader of the penal colony.
Pointless… Utterly Pointless.
In an unrelated story-thread, Jon’s brother Robb has him legitimized with the intention that Jon should succeed him as lord. Here’s what makes no sense, however; even if Jon’s no longer a bastard, he’s essentially a monk, so he still couldn’t succeed his brother, and Robb knows this! Funnily enough, Robb gets killed soon after, and no one even knew of Jon’s newfound legitimacy, so even if the other problems went away, this “plot-point” would still be entirely pointless! Moving on!
A Feast for Crows
Now we come to Book Four, and we’ve got a whole lot to talk about with this one: nothing! Jon doesn’t even appear in the fourth volume!
Lord Commander Jon Snow
In the fifth volume, we are subjected to an endless stream of the same boring politics that we get with all the other characters. Up till now, Jon has had perhaps the closest thing to a plot-line of any of the main characters, but now he conforms to the same unvarying soap-opera drivel as everyone else. No beginning—no end; just an interchangeable mess of boredom. Then he gets stabbed repeatedly by his own comrades.
The Night’s Watch
The idea of an ecclesiastical order standing watch on a giant wall in order to protect the world from ice zombies is an interesting one—certainly the most interesting idea in this series—but did you notice I’ve not made any mention of ice zombies? That’s because they have nothing to do with anything!
Just as the ice zombies aren’t important, Jon himself has very little to do with whatever passes for a “bigger picture” in this thing. Even if A Song of Ice and Fire could be said to have a plot—which it can’t—Jon Snow doesn’t have much to do with it.
“What a Twist!”
So, wouldn’t you know it, it turns out Jon Snow isn’t really the illegitimate child of Lord Ned; he’s actually Ned’s nephew and the son of a king. This would actually have been a really good twist if I gave a damn about any of this! It doesn’t matter if you have a good twist if you can’t get the reader to care about the characters beforehand. Not only are they all unlikeable, but so little time is devoted to each character that you can’t focus enough to become invested. If I cared about Jon, then this revelation would mean something. I’ve actually seen similar twists work beautifully in better stories. Because the characters are so horrible and monotonous, however, a good twist means nothing! If M. Night Shyamalan’s movies have taught us anything, it’s that you need more than a twist to hold a story together.
You Are Nothing, Jon Snow.
Despite the other characters being somehow more boring, Jon Snow certainly isn’t interesting. He exists to advance a non-existent plot by joining an order that he has no motivation to join. Had his stepmother threatened to kill him if he didn’t join (as Samwell Tarly’s father did him), then it would have made some sense, but Jon’s goals are incoherent. Like many of Martin’s characters, he just flits between various situations without ever really developing. The only thing that changes through all this is where he stands in the geo-political “game of thrones,” which does not a compelling character make.
Jon’s personality, apart from being mopey and unpleasant, consists entirely of his political situation; his character is really just that he’s the illegitimate child of a lord and the leader of the Night’s Watch. Despite having more of a character than pretty much any of the others in this story, he’s really not a very well-developed character.