Season eight of the Game of Thrones has begun. It's the long-awaited finale, the end of the story we have all long been eagerly waiting for even as we fear the impending winter. I'm sure it has occurred to many more than my wife and I to binge watch the previous seven seasons in preparation for the last season of warmth before the story ends and the cold of winter sets in for good.
George R.R. Martin is famous for not allowing us much hope in his characters. The heroes all die. Some storytellers are incensed for the way he plays with the hopes of his readers. He certainly hasn't set out to tell the conventional story, where good wins and evil loses, though we all keep hoping good wins out. To be fair, his villains die too though their life expectancy seems to last longer. In the game of thrones, the good die young. If Tolkien opened the horizons of the fantasy genre with a grand mythopoeia celebrating Christian virtues, hopes, and desires, Martin has explored fantasy's dystopian counterpart, a world full of nothing but sex, violence and the reign of death. Yet even amid all this grand dystopia the great eucatastrophe strikes in the resurrection of Jon Snow, the greatest of all oath breakers.
Eucatastrophe is code for gospel. Tolkien coined the term using the Greek prefix eu meaning good, and catastrophe meaning destruction. For Tolkien eucatastrophe was essential to mythopoeic fantasy. It also reflected the gospel, the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ.
Of course, Jon Snow makes an unlikely messiah figure, but then so did Jesus of Nazareth. Jon the bastard child of Ned Stark of Winterfell became a fan favorite early in the series. Dark and brooding, never really accepted he got the runt of the litter when they discovered the dire wolves. His lot in life made decisions for him that he never found satisfactory. Despite numerous warnings against "taking the black" the bastard son, like many an illegitimate medieval noble son taking the cowl, felt he had no choice but to take the monkish vows and join the Night's Watch, a group of celibate soldiers keeping guard on a wall keeping the uncivilized hordes of the north out of the southern kingdoms. The oath they took was for life, and not easily fulfilled. Of course, knowing that he comes back to life in season six after his oath is fulfilled in season five takes a bit of sting out of the dagger of betrayal piercing his heart. Still, the resurrection of Jon Snow in season six not only allows the continuation of his character for fans but also frees him from his vows to the Night Watch allowing him to pursue the good of his people without the restrictions of the law. His death and resurrection illustrate the eucatastrophe of the Christian's life that occurs in baptism.
Paul explains how our relationship to the law changes through baptism in the opening passages of Romans Seven:
"Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." -Romans 7:1-6
Bo Giertz explains further,
"The profound thing that happens when one is incorporated (embodied) into Christ is that one not only dies to sin in order to live for God. One also dies to the law. This also happens by dying with Christ in baptism. This death has the same effect as physical death, Paul says. The law ceases to apply when death intervenes."
Jon needed to die before he could do any good. Only in death could the chains of the law embodied by his oath to the Night's Watch be broken. When he comes back to life, he leaves the black. Giving his friend command of the Night's Watch, he explains, "My watch has ended." And, "I pledged my life, and I gave my life." Yet, when he is unshackled from the chains of the law Jon's character comes into full bloom, and he begins to meet his full potential. As long as he was bound by the law, he could do no real good.
Our watch ended when we were baptized. We died to the law. We were freed from the shackles of the law. No more obligations. Now free of obligation we do good in the love of him who conquered death, "The first enemy and the last enemy."