"When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone."
Those are the words of Melisandre, the Red Priestess of Asshai who has loyally served Stannis Baratheon during his war to win the Iron Throne of Westeros. She refers to a figure of legend named Azor Ahai, who fought thousands of years ago and saved the realms of men from total decimation. As she predicts, the ancient hero will one day be reborn — and many readers of "A Song of Ice and Fire," the George R.R. Martin novels "Game of Thrones" is based on, believe that hero is already here.
Unfortunately, that hero might also be dead.
Season five's brutal finale, "Mother's Mercy," ended on a killer note with members of the Night's Watch tricking and stabbing Jon Snow in an epic act of betrayal. The episode ends with Jon bleeding out in the snow, with little hope for his survival. But there's at least a glimmer of hope on the show, and there's even more than that in the books, depending on how you interpret Melisandre's prophetic words.
Jon's death comes during his final chapter of "A Dance with Dragons," the fifth novel in "ASOIAF," and the most recently published book in the series. (Book six, "The Winds of Winter," does not currently have a release date.) He's not lured out of his office with the promise of Benjen Stark, as he is on the show. Instead, he's lured into drastic action by another bastard: Ramsay Snow, referring to himself as "Ramsay Bolton, the Trueborn Lord of Winterfell" in a letter he sends to Jon.
In Ramsay's letter, the bastard son of Roose Bolton reveals that he's killed Stannis Baratheon and crushed his army after "seven days of battle." He's furious because two people have run away from Winterfell: his precious Reek, as well as his bride, a woman named Jeyne Poole posing as Arya Stark. (Sansa fills this role on the show.) Ramsay instructs Jon to turn over Jeyne and Reek if he wants no harm to come to the Night's Watch. "Keep them from me," he warns, "and I will cut out your bastard's heart and eat it."
Them's fighting words.
The Night's Watch are not permitted to involve themselves in the affairs of the realm, but Jon forsakes these vows and recruits a significant number of volunteers to march down on Winterfell "and make [Ramsay] answer for those words." But before Jon can put the mission into action, there's a commotion elsewhere on the Wall...
...as Wun Wun the giant is tearing people apart after some sort of disagreement, including Ser Patrek, a knight who wears a silver cloak covered in blue stars.
Jon attempts to calm down Wun Wun, but before he has the chance, he's assaulted by one of his sworn brothers:
When Wick Whittlestick slashed at his throat, the word turned into a grunt. Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers. "Why?"
"For the Watch." Wick slashed at him again.
Jon manages to ward off Wick's second attack, but when he tries to draw Longclaw, "his fingers had grown stiff and clumsy. Somehow he could not seem to get the sword free of its scabbard." That's when the second knife hits.
Then Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks. "For the Watch." He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger stayed where he had buried it.
Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger's hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking. "Ghost," he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…
That's the last appearance of Jon Snow in "A Dance with Dragons." That's the cliff that book readers have been hanging from ever since the summer of 2011, just weeks after the first season of "Thrones" drew to a close. Imagine living with that mental image of Jon sustaining knife wounds to the throat, stomach and back, not to mention a fourth body part he can't even identify. It's horrible, and even more vicious than what happened on the show.
And still, book readers believe Jon Snow will rise again.
We return to Melisandre's prophetic words: "When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone."
Parse out the specific imagery of the prophecy and apply it to Jon's death scene. The red star becomes the star-studded Ser Patrek, red with blood. The traitorous Night's Watch become the gathering darkness, garbed in their black robes. Jon's belly wound is described as "smoking" in the cold night air. The salt is the biggest stretch, but imagine what the tears running down Bowen Marsh's cheeks might taste like.
If you put a lot of stock into the specifics of Melisandre's prophecy, then the language surrounding Jon's death certainly makes it sound like Azor Ahai is about to be reborn in the form of Eddard Stark's bastard son — assuming he is Eddard Stark's bastard son. Many fans believe Jon is actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, which would only fuel the prophetic fire further where waking "dragons out of stone" is concerned.
Is it a reach? Sure, yeah! But it's hope. Jon still has so much business left on the table, that it's hard to fathom how the story continues without his direct involvement. Stranger circumstances have occurred in the books, and people who suffered worse deaths than Jon have been known to return from the dead. If Thoros of Myr can breathe life back into Beric Dondarrion's lungs, why can't another Lord of Light disciple like Melisandre do the same for Jon?
That's the hope that many book readers have held onto over the past four years, and for now, it's sturdy enough. Does that hope extend to "Game of Thrones," though? The circumstances surrounding Jon's demise in the books are significantly different than they are on the show, so who knows. But we can hope. For now, that has to be enough.