*Note: This essay/book chapter excerpt was published in The Daily Beast on April 13, 2019. It can be found online here.
“Jon Snow” and “strategic genius” are certainly terms that don’t seem to go together.
While Jon is one of the most beloved of characters in Game of Thrones, Ned Stark’s bastard son is often viewed like his “father”—a hero, but not a very smart or strategic one. Viewers see this in everything from Littlefinger’s sneering appraisal of him to Jon’s performance in the Battle of the Bastards, where he easily fell into Ramsay Bolton’s trap. Indeed, even the first love of his life, Ygritte, a fiery Free Folk, perhaps best sums up how Jon has generally been perceived: “You’re brave. Stupid, but brave.”
But just as the Bastard of Winterfell’s actual birth history turns out to be more than once presumed, it’s time to reevaluate how Jon Snow is viewed as a strategic leader. Far from just having great hair and sword skills, Jon Snow shares many of the attributes that have made the real world’s great supreme military commanders so successful, particularly one of the most revered in U.S. history, George Washington. Jon Snow serves as a reminder that the qualities of just one man can shape the course of an entire war. As the sellsword-turned-knight Bronn once put it, “Men win wars. Not magic tricks.” Ultimately, leaders make decisions, and decisions make history. And Jon Snow’s personal characteristics suggest that he just might be bound for greatness as a strategic leader.