When we think of the character of Jon Snow, many things come to mind: Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The bastard son of Ned Stark who is actually a secret Targaryen. A good leader. A loyal friend and brother. Fond of reminding Daenerys that she is his queen. Dour. White wolf named Ghost. Etc.
But there is one element of Jon Snow which is frequently overlooked, and it is actually a relatively core part of who he is as a person: his incredibly dry sense of humor.
Portrait of Jon Snow as a Hilarious Young Man
We learn about this side of Jon in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. When Arya finds herself in the lower levels of the Red Keep while escaping the Gold Cloaks, she is reminded of a memory from her younger years in the Winterfell crypts. She was down there with Sansa, Bran, and Robb when Jon jumps out of a corner covered in flour, hoping to scare his younger siblings by pretending to be a ghost. Jon and Robb burst out laughing as Sansa runs off screaming, a very young Bran begins to cry, and Arya marches up to Jon and pummels him with her fists for scaring “the baby!”
Elsewhere, we learn that Jon and Robb would pile up snow over the gates of Winterfell to drop on any unsuspecting guests who comes to visit. Clearly, Jon had a sense of humor when he was younger, especially when he was paired with Robb.
Jon’s bond with Arya is made clear to us right from the beginning of A Game of Thrones. As Arya struggles to let go of her identity while becoming a Faceless Man in Braaves, she recalls “Jon Snow’s smile.” This implies that Jon frequently makes Arya laugh. We even see him do this, as in the scene where he gifts her the sword Needle and advises her to “stick them with the pointy end,” which is dryly funny in and of itself.
On Game of Thrones, that’s pretty much where the scene ends. In the book, it keeps going, with Jon telling Arya, “Be careful you don’t cut yourself. The edges are sharp enough to shave with.” Arya scoffs at this, replying with, “Girls don’t shave.” Jon is fast to shoot back: “Maybe they should. Have you ever seen the septa’s legs?”
Jon amongst the Night’s Watchmen
But where we truly see Jon’s dry humor at work is after he joins the Night’s Watch. Where at Winterfell he was treated as an outsider, at the Night’s Watch he is treated as an outsider due to being raised in a lord’s castle. He gains the mocking nickname of “Lord Snow,” and we see him using humor as something of a survival mechanism.
The man in charge of training new recruits, Ser Alliser Thorne, seems somewhat threatened by Jon and his abilities. When Ser Alliser sees Jon offering advice to another recruit, he tries to take Jon down a peg, sneering at him that “I’d have an easier time teaching a wolf to juggle than you will training this aurochs.” Jon’s response is quick and dry: “I’ll take that wager, Ser Allister […] I’d love to see Ghost juggle.”
This reply leaves Ser Alliser lost for words for a moment, which encourages Jon to continue using humor to protect himself. When Toad complains to Jon that “You make us look bad” because Jon’s fighting skills are superior to the majority of the Brothers, Jon wittily claps back with, “You looked bad before I ever met you.”
You would think that after many replies like this, members of the Night’s Watch would know to be careful around Jon and not walk into these sorts of traps. Yet we see Janos Slynt make the same mistake later when he tries to assert his authority over Jon by saying that he was once the Lord Commander of the City Watch in King’s Landing. “And now you’re here. Must not have been very good at your job,” Jon says, accurately.