Various pieces on the internet have admonished Jon Snow for his actions in episode 9 of this season, Battle of the Bastards and not without justification. In many ways this was more a victory for Sansa Stark who not only anticipated some kind of trap or treachery from Ramsay Bolton but was prepared with a counter when it was most needed. And she warned, “Players only love you when they’re playing…“. I’m paraphrasing but she does know Ramsay better than anyone else, that he doesn’t go into any situation if he doesn’t already have the upper hand. Practically speaking, when Jon left the line and rode off towards Rickon he essentially lost the battle, falling head first into what was an obvious ploy. Once Rickon was killed and his own army charged in to save him, as the battlefield stood, the fight was over. Outnumbered, outmaneuvered and surrounded, Jon had killed his own army with their allegiance to him. I’ve read this described as an act of machismo or ego, that Jon Snow lost his temper and had some overpowering masculine urge to defeat Ramsay and that Sansa represents the superior tactician. Under the tutelage and influence of both Littlefinger and to some degrees Ramsay himself, the oldest Stark daughter is now a player in her own right, cold and calculating. “No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.” She’s gone through so much at this point that she doesn’t even trust Jon, which is a significant and slightly terrible thing. That mistrust and her now fully established self-reliance is what saved the day, from this point on Sansa is now affecting her environment rather than being affected by it. She’s ready, now more than ever, to take her place as a leader but what that required, and this is the terrible part, was accepting the fact that Rickon was already dead. She gave up on him, which was objectively the right thing to do, he was only leverage for Ramsay and by letting him go she took that leverage away. And this makes for a strong leader. Jon Snow did not take off across the field out of hubris or ego or vengeance, however. He mounted up and bolted into certain death because he did not give up. Because there are two different types of leader. He would not let go of Rickon and Ramsay knew it. He exploited Jon’s weakness perfectly but I disagree that this is only a weakness. Because once Rickon started running in an idiotically straight line Jon had two choices. What he could have done, which is watch his own brother be murdered and allow it to happen, and what he did.
Thrice this season a weak or evil person in a position of authority has done the wrong thing for what they thought were the right reasons, however self-serving and anyone serving under him has obliged without question. Edmure Tully surrendered Riverrun without a fight to save his only son. Euron Greyjoy murdered his brother, the King and somehow was elected to replace him. Ramsay Bolton murdered his own father and brother and did the same. And the common people just seemed to go with it, in spite of the horror of it all. But it’s argued that because of his irresponsible actions in the penultimate episode of this season that Jon is not suitable to rule anything since he was not able to be objective. I don’t think that’s unjustified, Sansa is the obvious and rightful heir to the north at this point under either the Bolton or Stark name and she’ll clearly make for a strong, capable matriarch. Her journey has been a horrifying one from effete, entitled child to the woman she is now and it’s been a very personal journey with a few exceptions. There are themes this season that I hesitate to call Feminist and are instead more anti-patriarchal that I support, nonetheless. Game of Thrones has been criticized repeatedly (in a lot of ways, rightfully) for it’s excessive violence towards woman and repeated use of rape as a plot point (especially when deviating from the source material). But at the same time the story has been gearing up towards Daenerys’s eventual coup since the very beginning and as most of the male characters have been getting bashed about the head and killed off, the female characters have been steadily rising to prominence. With Sansa now come into her own, the King’s Landing situation, when not frustrated by the High Sparrow, has been steered lately by either Cersei or Olenna Tyrell and most recently Margaery. Theon has surrendered his claim to the throne to his much more capable sister Yara. And in Dorne the women have gone ahead and just killed the male rulers and taken over but not much is known beyond that. Not to mention, Brienne of Tarth. So it’s safe to say that GoT has unique strong female characters in spades at the same time that it’s occasionally as misogynistic as you’d expect from a medieval era fantasy. And with all Sansa has learned I, again, think she’ll be more than capable of ruling Winterfell. But Jon’s journey has been very different, larger and full of terrors. And the endgame of Game of Thrones is not going to be about ruling effectively, it’s going to be about the Wall and what’s north of it.
“Maybe that’s our mistake: believing in kings.” Says Davos, to which Tormund replies,”Jon Snow is not a king.” What makes Jon another kind of leader, unique to the others in the story, is that men and women, including his former sworn enemies, have chosen to follow him rather than doing so out of fealty. And the reason is because he is the type of person who, when he sees his brother running for his life, running to him for rescue, drops everything and charges in and not because he wanted to beat Ramsay: in that moment he only wanted to save his family. At this point his army had every right to let it go. Davos could have taken over and said, hold fast. Wait for their charge. Nock arrows. If Ramsay had broken ranks and ran into the middle of the field alone would his army have followed? Probably. But would they have followed if the enemy were the Undead or some other supernatural horror? It’s no secret that Jon takes after his father, Ned Stark, a man so honorable-to-a-fault that it cost him his head. That’s what made him sprint across the field, that ironically undying sense of honor, of integrity, despite what he’s been through and seen. And what would that world be like without those characters? If it were only Littlefingers and Ramsays and Joffreys? Probably a lot more like ours. More to the point, Jon didn’t order anyone to follow him and he didn’t send anyone in his place. If the narrative in Game of Thrones has taught us anything at this point it’s that no one is safe, honorable or vile, heroic or practical so, all things being equal and with a choice between the two, I believe in the leader that inspires. Because that weakness, that unwillingness to give up and let the big bad world eat the things that matter without a fight, that’s the difference between a good leader and a great one.