[There are spoilers in this post—a lot of spoilers—for Season 7 of Game of Thrones]
While we wait for the next season of Game of Thrones, let’s do a thought experiment: think of literally one situation in which Jon Snow has shown that he is a competent leader.
I’ll help you out: he managed to not be an entire dick to the refugee Wildlings, and let them through the wall to escape the White Walkers. That’s it.
Time and time again, Jon Snow has displayed a stunning lack of competence in basically every area of Medieval Lordship. And yet the Nights’ Watch named him Lord Commander, and the rest of the Northmen chose him to be Lord of Winterfell and King of the North.
These are impressive titles, but make no mistake, Jon Snow has failed upward at every step. He has lost battles, taken foolish and grievous risks, and gravely misjudged his enemies. Jon Snow has one tactical plan for every situation: run directly at the person, army, or undead zombie horde that is threatening him. He famously Knows Nothing. And yet, every time he fails, an incredible savior appears to bail him out of even the most dire situations. Not even death can stop his momentum. Soon he will fail his way into the Iron Throne. It is known.
When Daenerys talks about breaking the wheel she is putting a name to a mechanism we should recognize well: a force that propels the vain, the incompetent, the sadistic, and the downright mad into power, all on the basis of their highborn name. That the people of Westeros think Jon is a bastard does not matter. That he is quite possibly the stupidest, least observant man in all of Westeros does not matter. The accident of his birth is the only requirement for “greatness.” With the season seven finale, the show has confirmed what the internet figured out years ago: Jon is the son of Rheagar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Therefore something something his blood something something rightful heir. Fate, really.
Fantasy novels are the realm of fate and prophecies but the fate of the “rightful heir” is apparent and ubiquitous in real life too. Privilege is the contemporary watchword for a great range of these situations, where unimpressive men benefit far beyond their merits. Failing upward is a powerful phenomenon of a system that orders itself around men of a certain class (upper) and race (white). From sexist Silicon Valley blowhards picking up a second career on the wingut welfare speaking tour circuit to the boss’s son who parties it up in the VP office, we all know that failing upward is a true (infuriating) fact of life.
The purest manifestations of this phenomenon are George W. and Jeb Bush. Turned out there was a limit to how high the Bush name and fortune could propel Jeb(!), but the principle is so sound that his claim to the throne—even in an ostensible democracy—was never at issue.
If it seems natural and inevitable that Jeb Bush would run for president, we likewise
find it believable and inevitable that Jon Snow will end up on the Iron Throne. Based on fan reactions, a great many people found it believable and satisfying that Jon would fail his way into Daenerys’ bed as well. This is a sad state of affairs, where we have so internalized the mechanisms of how power maintains power that we mistake foolish risk-taking as heroism, titles conferred as leadership.
Let’s review the facts. In the last two episodes of season seven, Jon managed to:
Despite this series of abject failures, Jon gets bailed out every time. As of the season seven finale his fortunes are better than ever. It has been clear since the first book of the series that we are meant to root for this character, and are being set up to accept him as our better, as King of Everyone and Everything.
Unlike in real life, the plot of a novel series is completely under the writers’ control. Does GRRM (and Benioff and Weiss) realize they wrote Jon to fail conspicuously upward, or is Jon’s arc a subconscious byproduct of a system that crowns these unimpressive men so consistently that we mistake privilege for leadership? I have to believe it’s the latter. Otherwise, we would have seen a wink or a nod, anything beyond Ygritte’s reductive “you know nothing” catchphrase. Sir Apropos of Nothing, this ain’t.
I could be wrong. Nothing would please me more than if the final season of Game of Thrones reveals Jon Snow’s utter incompetence and provides some biting commentary on his unfitness to rule. The Dullard King is not nearly as compelling a character as the Mad King, but it would certainly be satisfying to finally see the plot armor come off GRRM’s favorite child.
Alas, the way the series is going, Jon’s fate will remain decoupled from his actions, justified by his birthright instead of any discernible merits. More likely, Daenerys will die through some tragic consequences of her actions and Jon will ascend the Iron Throne tripping backwards over her dead body. We’ll cry for Daenerys, we’ll cheer for Jon, and the wheel will remain unbroken, rolling ceaselessly upward on the road to the Red Keep.
 The fate of women and how they suffer consequences of both their actions and the actions of men who do no such suffering is another huge topic we don’t have time to get into here, in a blog post mostly about how inept Jon Snow is