How Ygritte Changed The Course Of Jon Snow’s Life On ‘Game Of Thrones’

This post is dark and full of spoilers.

It’s a favorite Game of Thrones storyline (that you can stream on HBO Now) — a young and naive Jon Snow (Kit Harington), sworn to protect The Wall as a member of The Night’s Watch, and Ygritte (Rose Leslie), a young and spirited member of the Free Folk who sparks a monumental change in Jon. While his fate has been the biggest topic of discussion following last season’s finale, he met it by making a bold decision — make peace with the Free Folk, let them south of The Wall, or fight them as part of the ever-growing army of White Walkers come winter.

While there’s the obvious appeal of survival in numbers, it was a decision that also came out of his love for Ygritte. Sure, the words of Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) that promised “everyone you’ve ever known will be dead” carry some weight to them, but Jon’s time with Ygritte humanized those north of The Wall. With her, he found the kind of love and acceptance he never found with his step-mother, Caitlyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), and after her death, a chance to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ned Stark (Sean Bean), to do what he feels is right, despite the consequences that may, and do, result.

“We’ve been here the whole time!”

A failed execution on Jon’s behalf leads to Ygritte being held captive, though it does nothing to stop her from claiming the upper hand. This was her land, after all, as she reminds him that the Free Folk were here first, before anyone built The Wall. Knowing the proud history of his father’s house, Jon tells her that he’s the son of Ned Stark and, like her, has lineage back to the First Men — a revelation that very likely saves his life.

“You’ve never seen a warg before?”

Thanks to a sacrifice by Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong), Jon is welcomed by Mance, The King Beyond The Wall, who’s also quick to notice that Jon and Ygritte have a thing for each other, and he’s taken into the Free Folk camp as one of their own. As he begins to learn their ways, Ygritte gets to keep her smug sense of superiority over him, teasing him over his obliviousness to her everyday world of cannibals and giants.

“You swore some vows. I want you to break ’em.”

After a quiet moment in a cave when Jon finally gets to show her he knows something, she tells him “let’s not go back,” confessing that she never wanted to leave the cave. Through their shared vulnerability, they enjoy the only moment of tranquility they’ll ever have.

“You didn’t stop being a crow when you wandered into Mance Rayder’s camp.”

As their tranquil moment passed, Jon and Ygritte suit up to begin their ascent up The Wall, and Ygritte tries to leverage Jon for his loyalty to her, and only her. She tells him she knows of his secret, that he’s not loyal to the Free Folk, yet she doesn’t intend to reveal that secret. In her mind, they were two anonymous soldiers in the rival armies of other men, but they know they have each other, and to her, that’s everything.

“You starin’ at my ass, Jon Snow?”

It’s easy to understand what Jon saw in her. Smug as she acts, she can be downright charming.

“Does a king live there?”

Once they’re over the wall, Ygritte’s naivete comes into play as she spots a windmill and assumes that it is some kind of kingly palace while Jon uses the moment to give her a stark reminder (… sorry) that his duty still comes first, essentially warning her of his pending betrayal. To Ygritte, however, it simply remains part of this romantic gesture, explaining, “You are mine, and I am yours, and if we die, we die,” with an almost-whimsy, though it’s a certainly practical view in the world of Game of Thrones.

“You know nothing…”

After Jon’s true loyalties are revealed before he escapes, Ygritte tracks him down, putting three arrows in his back while overcome with heartache. Jon offers up a confession, finally telling her that he loves her, and the only reason he was able to ride away alive because she loved him back.

“… Jon Snow.”

Once the two meet again during the Battle of Castle Black, Ygritte hesitates with Jon Snow in her sites, only to have that moment be one of her last. Jon, of course, rushes to her aid, and in those final moments, she muses on about her wish that they had stayed in that cave together. Jon tries to comfort her, telling her they can go back before she utters her familiar catchphrase with her dying breath.

“I was hoping she’d turn ya.”

In the morning after the Battle of Castle Black, Mance laments his disappointment in Jon’s betrayal, and his pick-and-choose approach to which vows he follows. Though, with their now-fractured trust, he makes his proposition — he doesn’t want to conquer, he wants his people to live. He reminds Jon that “winter is coming,” and he wants his people safe behind their Wall when it arrives. Again, his words certainly play a part in Jon’s change of heart, but it isn’t until he takes Ygritte’s body north of The Wall, “the real north,” to burn it that you see a change come over him.

“All she ever talked about was killing you.”

“She loved you,” Tormund tells him, while being kept in chains. When Jon asks if he’d heard that from her, he gruffly replies, “All she ever talked about was killing you. That’s how I knew.” Before long, Jon removes Tormund’s chains, and the two broker an alliance to bring the rest of the Free Folk back, letting them through the tunnel, saving them from the coming winter.

Jon’s efforts to end one of the oldest conflicts in Westeros to try and help fight an even older one — with the living facing White Walkers — is reminiscent of his father. Like Ned Stark, Jon confuses doing the right thing morally with the right thing politically, and though it gets him labeled a traitor and (maybe/probably/not really/who knows) killed, it was his love for Ygritte that let him see the Free Folk as people, worthy of a fighting chance.