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The Real Story Behind This Jon Snow Twist On Game Of Thrones

One of Game of Thrones' biggest cliffhangers has an even bigger story behind it. Spoilers ahead!

When Jon Snow (Kit Harington) apparently died at the end of Thrones' fifth season, viewers were left with an enormous question: was Jon Snow, one of the show's biggest heroes, really dead, or was the show just stringing its fans along? Of course, we all know that Jon Snow eventually returned, but pulling that twist off required Harington — as well as everybody else in the know — to keep one of the world's biggest secrets for a terribly long period of time.

Now, thanks to James Hibberd's exhaustive oral history of Game of Thrones, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, we know the full story behind this infamous pop culture cliffhanger. Unsurprisingly, keeping Jon Snow's not-death a secret was a nearly impossible feat, but as Hibberd tells it, the cast and crew of Game of Thrones eventually pulled it off. From Harington's sworn secrecy to the ways they tricked the cast — and the fans — here's how Game of Thrones pulled off its huge Jon Snow twist.

Only Kit Harington could know about Jon Snow's big twist

According to Hibberd's book, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss approached Harington just a few days into the filming process of season five, and immediately, Harington was nervous. As Harington recalled, "I got quite nervous. It could have been the walk that said, 'Yeah, listen, dude, you're dead, you're not in next season.' Or, 'You're going to take a season off, but you might be this or might be that.' I didn't know if I'd be recast as a CGI wolf, and I'd just be a voice-over, and I thought that would be really sh**. Or I would be dead as a zombie guy, and that would be sh** as well. I didn't know what."

Ultimately, Benioff and Weiss told Harington that he would die during the season five finale but return in season six with a hugely expanded role, and that he couldn't tell anybody, even his family. However, there was one exception: Harington's real-life future wife Rose Leslie, who played his lover Ygritte on the show. Harington told Hibberd that after he was sworn to secrecy, "Dan turned to David and said, 'he's going to tell Rose, isn't he?' So she was allowed to know."

However, Harington's oath of secrecy came with its own huge challenge, in that he had to trick all of his fellow actors on set. "I went back into the room with all the Night's Watch guys," Harington said. "Going on, knowing this thing — they had all seen me go on this walk — I had to say, 'Yeah, I'm dead.' I had to lie to all my friends. I felt really wrong about it." His co-star Kristofer Hivju, who played Tormund Giantsbane, was "shocked when [he] read the scripts," saying that "Kit was like, 'This is my last year. I'm going to do different projects." Hivju was definitely fooled: "He was so definite. He was lying so good to everyone."

Kit Harington's lie stunned the cast and crew of Game of Thrones

Apparently, Harington's acting chops were just as good on set as they are on screen, as all of his co-stars believed him wholeheartedly, which resulted in some pretty harrowing interactions. According to Harington, his on-screen sister figure, Sansa, took it one step further. "Sophie Turner [who played Sansa Stark], bless her, wrote me a really long letter about how much she loved working with me. That made me chuckle. She bought it hook, line, and sinker." Benioff backed up his star, saying, "Even Emilia [Clarke, who played Daenerys Targaryen] called him, and he was keeping up the pretense."

However, one cast member simply didn't buy Harington's ruse. As Harington recalls, Liam Cunningham, who played fan favorite Davos Seaworth, wasn't so easy to fool. "Liam Cunningham didn't believe it, though," Harington told Hibberd. "He told me to f**k off from the start." Cunningham agreed, saying, "Yeah, I told him to f**k right off. 'You don't need to tell me the truth, but f**k off.' I just didn't see them doing two Ned Starks. He was much too valuable. I never doubted for a second he'd be back."

Perhaps the worst moment of Harington's ongoing lie was when he filmed the actual death scene and he had to "say goodbye" to his castmates. "I had to do a fake goodbye speech," Harington recounted. "I couldn't do a big weepy 'I love you all, this has been amazing.' I said, 'It's been great, guys, thank you,'" and I got the f**k out. So I gave the game away there a bit. Some of them bought it, some of them didn't." Harington really hated this moment, saying, "It was like being at your own funeral. It was awful. It was the worst acting I've ever done, and that's saying something."

Rumors about Jon Snow's fate swirled for months

Naturally, every single Game of Thrones fan across the world — including former President Barack Obama — wanted answers about Jon Snow's fate, but producers remained tight-lipped about whether or not the world's favorite Stark bastard would return. Ultimately, the cast received scripts for season six, though Harington was always referred to as "Lord Commander" rather than Jon Snow; still, the actor and producers had to keep Harington's return a secret until season six premiered.

"Kit wasn't able to do anything," Cunningham recalled. "It was a nightmare for him." Harington agreed: "I was put in a different apartment [instead of the cast hotel]. But I'd go stir-crazy if I stayed in all the time. I went out for meals with the cast. It's not life or death."

"It was dangerous to have dinner with Kit anywhere," Carice van Houten, who played Melisandre — the Red Priestess who eventually brought Jon Snow back to life — remembered. "The guy has to eat. But we tried to hide him." Unfortunately, their best efforts didn't always work; paparazzi caught Harington filming season six's Battle of the Bastards.

Jon Snow's resurrection was perfectly timed

Eventually, the timing of Jon's resurrection was up for debate. Co-producer Dave Hill recalled, "There was some talk about putting [the resurrection] at the end of the first episode of season six because it's such a great premiere ender. But [executive producer Bryan Cogman] made a great point, that we really want to milk Jon Snow's death, otherwise he's only been dead for fifty minutes. At the same time, his body would start to decompose, and story-wise we had a lot of pressing action that took place with him that season, so we didn't just want him lying on a table for three episodes. Plus, Kit probably would have murdered us."

Ultimately, Harington returned during the show's second episode thanks to Melisandre, which was a huge relief to both Harington and Jon Snow, who left the Night's Watch after killing his traitorous men. "He was done with it," Harington said. "He'd seen the other side, seen what's there, and comes back and realizes he needs to live his life and get out of there: 'This place has betrayed me and everything I stood for has changed.' He's also had to kill a child, and that's what really does it — he kills Olly [Brenock O'Connor], the underage kid [who betrayed Jon], and can't see the point in being up there anymore. At the heart of it he knows by staying at the Wall he can't help the kingdoms. 'I'm going to die if I stay here, I'm going to die very quickly.' Then he gets brought around to a different mission."

If you want to relive Jon Snow's dramatic death and subsequent rebirth, the entirety of Game of Thrones is available to stream on HBO Max now.