Cross-Franchise Character Analysis: Jon Snow and Aragorn, the Hidden Kings
Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are both good franchises, with George Martin saying he was heavily inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though both of them have different goals and takes on morality and practicality, there are some very blatant comparisons to be made between the two as well that I find interesting. For simplicity sake, I'm going to refer to the characters from the movies and TV series rather than the books (apologies to any hardcore readers out there).
When Jon Snow was revealed to be the heir to the Iron Throne, many saw an immediate parallel to his arc and Aragorn’s (though Jon also parallels Frodo but that's another conversation). Both characters are exiles from whom little is expected of. Both serve in ranger-type units on the outskirts of a civilized world. And both struggle with the burden of responsibility. Yet, how each man handles these responsibilities is radically different.
The Bastard King, The Rightful King
Jon Snow begins the series as the bastard son of Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell. Though he is cared for by his father, he is sent off the Wall in the north to join the Night’s Watch to help defend against supernatural forces that have been long time threats. Yet no one has seen them in a very long time and the only threats that are there are the Wildlings, wild tribes that live on the other side of the Wall and constantly fight with the Night’s Watch.
While at first skeptical, Jon eventually sees the rebirth of their supernatural enemies, the White Walkers, and tries to rally the Night’s Watch against this threat. During this difficult time, he has a forbidden love affair, fights several battles, and eventually is made the commander of the Night’s Watch. Jon comes to see the White Walkers as the true threat to the world and is willing to bend and break the rules in order to preserve his people. He even forms a truce with the Wildlings and brings them in south of the Wall. For this he is murdered by dissatisfied comrades but is is later resurrected.
Jon later reunites with his half-sister, Sansa Stark, in efforts to retake their family lands from House Bolton, who participated in the murder of their brother and King Robb Stark. Jon does so reluctantly as he knows that the real threat is up north, but recognizes he has to fight this war in order to prepare for the larger one. After retaking Winterfell, Jon finds himself being made the new King of the North, much to his own chagrin. However, he dedicates his new position to prepare for the White Walkers, which many still don’t believe him about. He goes as far as to ally himself with Daenerys Targaryen, the last survivor of her line that originally controlled the throne and who has returned from the east to retake all of Westeros.
He enters into another forbidden love affair, letting go of his crown, but obtains the support he needs. The war with the White Walkers comes and Jon is among the leaders who leads the allied forces to victory. However, he then discovers that he is not the bastard son of Ned Stark, but the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, being the son of Daenerys’ dead older brother, Rhaegar. His true name is Aegon Targaryen.
Jon comes to accept his lineage but rejects the crown, both out of love for Daenerys and disdain for throne itself. After Daenerys burns the capital, Kings Landing, to the ground, Jon kills Daenerys, finally recognizing her as just as much a threat as the White Walkers. Though his life is spared, Jon is sent back into exile, where the show then implies that he eventually left even that to join with the Wildlings, the only people who truly accepted him as Jon Snow and don’t push any responsibility on him.
The Lost and Exiled King
Aragorn is the last of the line kings from the ancient kingdom of Numenor, a long-lived race of people that once ruled Middle-earth until its capital/island’s destruction and the later division of its descendant kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. His people operate as rangers in the far north, protecting Middle-earth from threats there. When the One Ring of Sauron is revealed to be found, the ring that once terrorized the world, Aragorn volunteers to help in a quest to destroy it. However, there are hopes by many that he also take upon himself the role of High King, something which he promptly rejects and as Elrond says, “has chosen exile.”
Over the course of the journey though, Aragorn finds himself increasingly thrust into the role of leader, from the Fellowship after Gandalf's death, to the battle at the Black gate. People see the potential he has and want him to lead. And it is said often that Sauron has long attempted to kill off that line because he considered the lineage a major threat to his domination and return.
While Aragorn accepts the role of leader out of necessity, he still continues to reject his lineage. It is not until he needs reinforcements from the Army of the Dead that he finally begins to embrace the role, because they will only obey the King of Gondor. It’s out of need, but Aragorn is finally cornered in such a way that he feels there’s no other way. After the ring is destroyed, Aragorn eventually accepted the role of the New High King, including taking on the new name of Elessar.
"What really sets the course for the characters’ choices is their upbringing: one knowing and being groomed for kingship, and the other having no clue and was never prepared for it."
The Roads Taken and Not Taken
The similarities are strong with these two. Both are exiles who turn out to be heirs to old kingdoms. Both have a natural charisma that draws people and is tested time and again in battle. And both are focused on a outside threat that threatens all the smaller realms of their worlds. That's where the similarities end.
Jon was never raised as nobility, but as a bastard: an outsider. He had no reason to ever expect any throne, let alone position of authority. But he did learn humility and putting others before himself. Therefore, while having a natural talent for it, he’s also extremely uncomfortable with it. He not only dislikes it, but turns it away the first chance he gets if there is someone better qualified or if the threat has ended. For him, there is no honor in titles or lineage because it's impractical and is more for personal ego than anything else. This is most apparent in that his bloodline ultimately becomes of little consequence beyond causing Daenerys distress and anxiety over her own claim, which was now made inferior to Jon’s. If people want him to be king, it's because of his character and not his genetics. And ruling as the King of Westeros ultimately comes of nothing when he returns to exile, leaving Westeros for the northern wilderness. Jon may have been the rightful heir to the commander of Castle Black, the King of the North, and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, but he always saw himself as a soldier and an outsider: never as royalty and never accepts that part of it, even when he has to wear the role.
Aragorn was also an outsider, but has known at the same time that he was the heir to the throne and was attempted to be groomed for it. So there was no surprise there, no false or sudden expectations. In fact, he is more comfortable as a leader the more times it's thrust on him and often times conflicts with other leaders when he feels they’re making a mistake. When he eventually takes on the crown, Aragorn accepts the role not only as a duty to the world, but as accepting a part of himself he’s long denied.
Aragorn has to rise to the occasion and move beyond what he sees himself as or wants to be, for the good of Middle-earth. And it initially comes at great cost to him when his lover, Arwen, is thought to be dead. It definitely wasn’t something that was handed to him on a platter. Aragorn is also more rounded with the aspects of leadership such as determining intentions of others and diplomacy, whether they be nobles, soldiers, or civies. To be fair to Jon Snow, this could also be because he was older than his Game of Thrones counterpart.
What really sets the course for the characters’ choices is their upbringing: one knowing and being groomed for kingship, and the other having no clue and was never prepared for it. Both come to a crossroads at some point of whether to accept that part of themselves or not, and one does while the other does not. Either way, it makes for a good mirroring on the hidden king trope.
© 2019 Jamal Smith