I will preface this by saying that my analysis will come from the books only
, since this theme as well as the interview is regarding the author, George R. R. Martin's belief, and the show has in my opinion butchered this important plot point - by cheaply resurrecting Jon Snow with Mel for fan-service.
Gandalf Should Have Stayed Dead
I have commented and basically banged-on about this for a few years now. George R. R. Martin doesn't believe that you should be "upgraded" or return newer and better than before you died. His resurrected characters are "worse for wear" and they "lose a part of themselves". Believe me, only the unsullied^ show-watchers want Jon Snow to be resurrected, I will outline this later.
Martin outlines his beliefs in the interview with John Hodgman#:
JOHN HODGMAN: ...
One of the areas where I think this is interesting, but also kind of troubling as I read on, is with regard to death. We talk about how Wonder Man can be brought back. Without giving much away, I can say that there are characters in the book who you do not expect to die, and who do. Your characters are extremely fragile. It is one of the things that was most exciting to me as a reader, to realize that these characters who you're following very closely could be maimed, and that those scars would stay. They could be psychologically maimed and transformed by those scars, and that would stick to the book. And they could die. However, as magic seeps into this world, which is of course part of this unfolding story, not even death is really permanent anymore. What do you think about that?
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: I do think that if you're bringing a character back, that a character has gone through death, that's a transformative experience. Even back in those days of Wonder Man and all that, I loved the fact that he died, and although I liked the character in later years, I wasn't so thrilled when he came back because that sort of undid the power of it. Much as I admire Tolkien, I once again always felt like Gandalf should have stayed dead. That was such an incredible sequence in Fellowship of the Ring when he faces the Balrog on the Khazad-dûm and he falls into the gulf, and his last words are, “Fly, you fools.”
What power that had, how that grabbed me. And then he comes back as Gandalf the White, and if anything he's sort of improved. I never liked Gandalf the White as much as Gandalf the Grey, and I never liked him coming back. I think it would have been an even stronger story if Tolkien had left him dead.
My characters who come back from death are worse for wear. In some ways, they're not even the same characters anymore. The body may be moving, but some aspect of the spirit is changed or transformed, and they've lost something. One of the characters who has come back repeatedly from death is Beric Dondarrion, The Lightning Lord. Each time he's revived he loses a little more of himself. He was sent on a mission before his first death. He was sent on a mission to do something, and it's like, that's what he's clinging to. He's forgetting other things, he's forgetting who he is, or where he lived. He's forgotten the woman who he was once supposed to marry. Bits of his humanity are lost every time he comes back from death; he remembers that mission. His flesh is falling away from him, but this one thing, this purpose that he had is part of what's animating him and bringing him back to death. I think you see echoes of that with some of the other characters who have come back from death.
In my opinion, the how part is not important, nor is the why. It is important only that it happens. That's the way that it is. That's Martin's belief, and the scope of our story.
Martin believes that the actual "death" a character goes through has power. The power of story-telling is bringing the readers along on a journey through the character's arc, often ending and culminating with their death.
Bringing them back, negates that power. (at least in Martin's belief).
But what about ol' Johnny boy?
Jon Snow's arc doesn't seem finished quite as yet - my belief is that he is Azor Ahai (or will at least be some important factor in the upcoming War of Ice).
The facts are that Jon Snow is severely injured, perhaps dead. If he is dead (most likely), he may need some sort of resurrecting; possibly by Melisandre, otherwise with the help of Val. Will it be a straight-up "kiss of life"? Will it involve some sort of Old Gods or weirwood magic? Who knows.
There are three possible paths for him at this point:
- He dies, end of story. Character arc fulfilled. Done.
He dies. Gets resurrected by Melisandre. Then what - Is he new and improved or is he "worse for wear"?
- New and improved: not possible, GRRM don't plat that way.
- Worse for wear: very possible, however there is a loophole - Melisandre has a vision within her flames of Jon Snow:
The flames crackled softly, and in their crackling she heard the whispered name Jon Snow. His long face floated before her, limned in tongues of red and orange, appearing and disappearing again, a shadow half-seen behind a fluttering curtain. Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again. But the skulls were here as well, the skulls were all around him. Melisandre had seen his danger before, had tried to warn the boy of it. Enemies all around him, daggers in the dark. He would not listen.
-A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five - A Dance With Dragons, Chapter Thirty-One (Melisandre I).
This could mean that in the while that he's "dead" he may actually be warged into Ghost, thereby preserving his mind.
- He doesn't die, but is only mostly dead. Meaning that Val (the healer on the Wall) has a chance to patch him up nice like, all the while preserving his mind.
It's also important to remember that Aemon Targaryen tells Jon Snow that "cold preserves":
Fire consumes, but cold preserves. The Wall [preserves]
-A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Four - A Feast for Crows, Chapter Twenty-Six (Samwell III).
So it's entirely possible that whilst Jon is "dead", his body doesn't decay and decompose (at least not nearly as much as elsewhere).
This, in my opinion, is a determining factor of this whole process of losing part of one's self:
- Beric Dondarrion: had a severely damaged body - he had been lanced in the chest by Gregor, smashed by a mace on the side of his face, hanged by Amory Lorch, stabbed in the eye by Gregor, shot in the back with an arrow by one of the Brave Companions and finally killed by Sandor in their trial by battle.
- Lady Stoneheart: had a severely damaged body - "her flesh becoming soft and the color of curdled milk due to her corpse being submerged in river water for days. Half of her hair is gone and the rest is white and brittle. In addition, her wounds have not healed with her face covered in scratch marks and her throat still slit open"
They had been dead (in Beric's case, many times) as well as dead for long periods of time.
^ unsullied is a term used online to refer to non-book readers.
# I don't see how much more we can get out of that interview, even though you've linked to it within your question; but seeing the full text within context helps to elaborate on the reason for Martin's beliefs.