Jon Snow isn’t exactly a cop — the fantasy realm of Game of Thrones doesn’t map perfectly onto our own social and political institutions. He is, however, involved in a system that does some pretty terrible things — while claiming that “he’s not like the other ones” and that the machine can be driven to better ends. I’m not going to go too deeply into the series, but there are definitely spoilers for the most recent season below. Because it’s here that we get to see Good Apple Jon Snow actually get involved in some really icky shit.
Who is Jon and what do we know about him? Well he started his career in Customs and Border Patrol, er, I mean “the Night’s Watch,” which supposedly existed to keep out the “wildlings” — you know, dangerous people who lived north of an arbitrary division. We also are told he’s a literal bastard, raised by Ned Stark with his family. This is a big thing in Westeros, and Jon can’t take over titles because of it. He’s frustrated by this, but determined to do something good with his life anyway.
Anyway, why were so many wildlings coming south? Turns out they were fleeing a major catastrophe that threatened all human life. The Long Night and the white walkers could be symbolic of a lot of things, but one option is certainly climate change. As people flee more and more climate-affected areas, we’re only going to see more and more massive migrations, and the fight for open borders and free movement will continue to be crucial. But the white walkers could could also be a metaphor for war as well, or self-inflicted human suffering more generally.
Here’s where Jon first shows us he means well. He temporarily works with the wildlings to survive and get south again. He does betray them, but he starts to see them as people, and later brings them all south in order to fight with them against the army of the dead. So, we see, he’s a “different kind of crow.” He even dies for it — temporarily. All of this is to show us that Jon is good and dedicated and kind, and not at all like the war-mongering shitheels down in King’s Landing. But soon, we get to see what happens when you try to stay human inside a violent machine.
This season, he’s caught up in a machine of conquest. Daenerys is reconquering Westeros for the targaryens, and is hell bent on taking back the Iron Throne. Like any imperialist, she’s ruthless and starts to make really fucked up decisions, going so far as to firebomb King’s Landing. Or was it a nuclear bomb metaphor? There’s a lot to say about the geopolitical messages in that episode too, but I do want to focus on Jon Snow, the bastard. Whatever this fiery sequence was supposed to remind us of, it shows that going absolutely scorched earth on actual people is still evil, even if your enemy is super evil too. It doesn’t matter if the tyrant you’re trying to overthrow is Cersei fucking Lannister, bombing her out is a bad call.
So Jon sees all this bombing, sees that Dany keeps going with the sack even after the bells are rung, sees his men start killing women & children. And like, he does halfheartedly kind of try and stop them? But at that point you’re already part of the machine. And he is complicit. He might actually be the best cop in the barrel — but he’s now a part of this much bigger thing that sacks cities and kills children. He is materially complicit in enabling this to happen. He helped lead these armies south. And sure, there’s a whole romance subplot going on, but even without that, it’s a good look at how a “kind” and “dedicated” person in the wrong environment can end up doing and participating in some horrible things. There’s a reason we say “all cops are bastards” — because either they stop being cops, or the company they keep will turn them into bastards. If it can happen to Jon Snow, it can certainly happen to lesser men.