Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers. Big, fat, Valyrian steel-strength spoilers.
Honor-bound. Headstrong. Passionate. Traitor. King.
These terms describe Jon Snow—resurrected bastard, black brother, Wildling lover, and Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch—who was collectively lauded as “King of the North” in Sunday’s Game of Thrones Season 6 finale. They also characterize King David, arguably the Israelite nation’s most famous leader.
Like King David, Snow—now a true contender for the Iron Throne of Westeros, as we recently learned he’s both Stark and Targaryen—has undergone a searing, complicated journey in his quest for kingship. Per Midrash, David’s conception is also fraught with tension. In Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg writes:
In spite of his piety, Jesse was not always proof against temptation. One of his slaves caught his fancy, and he would have entered into illicit relations with her, had his wife, Nazbat, the daughter of Adiel, not frustrated the plan. She disguised herself as the slave, and Jesse, deceived by the ruse, met his own wife. The child borne by Nazbat was given out as the son of the freed slave, so that the father might not discover the deception practiced upon him. This child was David.
Until last night’s episode, Jon Snow was known as Ned Stark’s bastard son. Likewise, Jesse believed David to be a bastard, proof of his own weakness. Due to this, David was ostracized, sent to tend the sheep, alienated from his own brothers. Raised as an outsider, it is laughable to consider him a candidate for kingship. The same applies to Jon Snow, raised as a Stark yet not quite a Stark. Catelyn Stark does not smile upon him; Sansa, his half-sister, torments him. Deeds, not birth, will bring him honor. David is in the same position.
And so David and Snow embark upon great deeds. David successfully vanquishes Goliath, then serves King Saul as loyal soldier and harpist. Similarly, Jon Snow joins the Night’s Watch, serving the Lord Commander as loyal soldier.
And their loyalties are tested as both are forced to play a traitor. In Snow’s case, Qhorin Halfhand orders Snow to kill him so that Mance Rayder will count him a friend. In David’s case, Saul’s pursuit leads him to seek refuge with Achish, a Philistine king and Israelite enemy (I Samuel 27:1-3). David tells Achish that he raids Israelite cities and brings him booty to prove it. In truth, David gathers this booty by raiding Israelite enemy nations (I Samuel 27:8-10). Similarly, Jon is ultimately loyal to the Night’s Watch, returning to aid them even though it costs him Ygritte, the Free Folk woman he loves.
Both David and Jon Snow break their vows. As a member of the Night’s Watch, Jon must remain celibate. He falls in love with Ygritte, a Wildling, and in a memorable interlude featuring hot springs and a cave, he makes love to her. David takes a woman who belongs to another, Batsheva, Uriah’s wife (II Samuel 11:4). David and Jon are both punished for their forbidden love: Snow watches Ygritte die in his arms, killed by a fellow black brother. David’s child by Batsheva dies and for the rest of his life, David’s family is tainted by tragedy, resulting in the rape of his daughter and the deaths of three of his sons.
Jon is murdered by men he trusts. Similarly, David is nearly stoned to death by his companions (I Samuel 30:6). (David, of course, is not resurrected; especially not by Melisandre, the Woman in Red.)
Both Jon and David are also stubbornly honorable, caring too much for family even when it is not in their best interests. In “The Battle of the Bastards,” this season’s riveting penultimate episode, Jon rides out to rescue Rickon even though it throws his battle plans into disarray and enables Ramsay Bolton to trap Snow’s army. Similarly, David refuses to kill Saul, his adoptive father, even though Saul is hunting him and his men (I Samuel 26:8-9). Additionally, at a later date, David refuses to sanction the death of his son Absalom, who is seeking to take the throne from him. This leaves more clear-headed people (like Sansa and Joab) to step in and save the day.
Perhaps the greatest parallel between David and Jon involves the sacrifice of others dear to them for the sake of their causes.
Saul’s son and rightful heir, Prince Jonathan, makes every sacrifice on behalf of David. Jonathan makes a covenant with David, giving him his own princely raiment, a symbol of handing over the kingship (I Samuel 18:2-4). Jonathan intercedes for David with his father (I Samuel 19: 4-6). He devises tests to discover whether it is safe for David to remain in his father’s company (I Samuel 20). He helps him to flee, saving his life. When David is in exile, he finds him and comforts him, implying that he will mislead his father and lie about David’s whereabouts so that Saul will never find him (I Samuel 23:15-18). In this scene, Jonathan expresses his deepest wish: “You shall be king over Israel and I shall be your second-in-command.”
In the most recent Game of Thrones finale, Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, informs Sansa that his ultimate goal is to sit on the Iron Throne with her by his side. She tells him this is “a pretty picture” but does not give her support. Instead, she remains silent when Lady Mormont argues that her half-brother, Jon Snow, should be acknowledged as a Stark, and King in the North. Just like Jonathan did for David, in Snow’s time of need, Sansa gave up her pride and dignity in order to enlist the support of Littlefinger and bring the Knights of the Vale to his aid. Jonathan could have chosen to inherit his father’s throne, setting aside his friendship with David, just as Sansa could have pursued a vision that did not include Snow, making her Queen in the North. But she chose to step aside. Only time will tell if this moves pays off.
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Related: ‘Game of Thrones’ Author George R.R. Martin Predicts Future of Jewish State
Olivia Friedman teaches Tanakh, Oral Law and Jewish Thought at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.