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Inspired by this question and the resulting discussion.

Is there a canonical explanation (in the books, show, from George RR Martin, etc) of why a character's personality and memery changes when they die

and are resurrected by a red priest (ess)

and what affects the degree of change?

For example:

Season 6 spoiler

Jon Snow has been resurrected and seems to be pretty close to his normal self. Though some would speculate he may be slightly more vengeful and less honorable.

Later book spoiler(most likely not in show)

Catelyn Stark is resurrected as Lady Stoneheart. This character is vengeful and doesn't seem capable of showing mercy (as opposed to early Catelyn who saves Jaime to rescue Sansa, etc).

Early book and show spoiler

Beric Dondarrion is resurrected multiple times. Each time he comes back he may be a little less, however he does seem to be a slightly more grim version of himself.

Here's an interview with George RR Martin that describes the changes that occur.

I'm looking for a reason for the difference in the degree of change in personality and memory between people (from an in or out of universe source). Is it the amount of time that the person was dead, the condition of the body, how quickly decay set in, the circumstances of the death, or something else?

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    Jon and Lady Stoneheart were both betrayed and suffered brutal deaths at the hands of people they trusted. Even if they had just miraculously survived rather than being brought back, you'd expect that to scar them and change their personalities. – Torisuda May 12 '16 at 16:37
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    I feel like any answer to this is going to be very opinion-based, given how little we know about the process works. – TenthJustice May 12 '16 at 16:41
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    Getting killed is the sort of life-changing event where it is impossible to return to being the person you once were (literally). Try getting killed and then brought back to life. Will you still be the cheerful character you once were? After all, you're only human, not the child of a god. – thegreatjedi May 12 '16 at 16:51
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    @thegreatjedi but there seems to be more at play then that. In the books Dondarion says that each time he comes back he's less. As in the process of resurrection isn't 100% complete. I'm asking if there's a canonical reason for why the degree of change is different from person to person. – kuhl May 12 '16 at 19:51
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    Because the No-Faced God doesn't like when people steal from him and always gets his due. Arya's coin, I always saw it as a token, perhaps a guaranteed death token. What if it isn't? What if it's a price-free resurrection? The Faceless God requires his followers to give up themselves, perhaps by doing so they may come back unaltered since all which would be taken was already given willingly in life. – Broklynite May 12 '16 at 21:27
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"Every time I come back, I'm a bit less. Pieces of you get chipped away."

-Beric Dondarrion

I think that is what changes your personality. That unshakable feeling that you're not whole. He also experiences severe memory loss.

"Can I dwell on what I scarce remember? I held a castle on the Marches once, and there was a woman I was pledged to marry, but I could not find that castle today, nor tell you the color of that woman's hair. Who knighted me, old friend? What were my favorite foods? It all fades. Sometimes I think I was born on the bloody grass in that grove of ash, with the taste of fire in my mouth and a hole in my chest. Are you my mother, Thoros?" -Beric Dondarrion

As for Lady Stone heart. She had been dead for a long time.

"When we found her by the river she was three days dead. Harwin begged me to give her the kiss of life, but it had been too long. I would not do it..."

so Lord Beric put his lips to hers instead, and the flame of life passed from him to her. And... she rose. May the Lord of Light protect us. She rose.

-Thoros of Myr

It is true that she is vastly different from the person we know, but it is probable that she would have been just as crazed and vengeful if she had survived the Red Wedding.

"However, death has changed Jon. Despite his honourable convictions and previous commitment to the Night's Watch, his experience being murdered by his own men and then revived has made Jon far more cynical and nihilistic. No longer believing in himself and his ability to face the coming threat, due to being murdered for doing what he thought was right - Jon abandons the Night's Watch, despite knowing full well how dangerous the threat looming beyond the Wall really is."

-Game of thrones Wiki

This is likely for the same reasons Beric Dondarrion was different. He doesn't feel whole anymore. But also likely because he was bertrayed by the people he thought he belonged to and is questioning the meaning of honour.

"Coming back to his senses, Jon is accosted by Davos and Melisandre. He reflects on his perceived failure in spite of doing the right thing..."

-Game of Thrones Wiki

It is also not hard to imagine that death changes you in other ways. Feeling the life leave your body etc. and then being resurrected and realising that there is no other side, only darkness after death.

Both Beric and Jon attest to that.

Put simply, the resurection process changes people becuase they lose memory, don't feel whole and generally are traumatised by their experience.

  • +1, nice answer! Do you have any sources for this info or is this an educated guess? – kuhl May 12 '16 at 22:41
  • I would also like to add that Lady Stoneheart had been dead for days, that combined with the the traumatic circumstances in which her death happened are probably why she had changed much more than Beric or Jon. Howmuch they change and/or forget might be linked to how long a character has been dead. – Madgarr May 13 '16 at 7:30
  • @Madgarr That is spelled out directly in the quote. – Matthew Stevenson May 13 '16 at 9:12
  • @MatthewStevenson Wow sorry, I completely forgot when I got to the end. Apologies. – Madgarr May 13 '16 at 14:06
  • @Madgarr No problem. – Matthew Stevenson May 14 '16 at 2:55
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Preface

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.
-http://www.maximumfun.org/sound-young-america/george-r-r-martin-author-song-ice-and-fire-series-interview-sound-young-america#transcript

How?

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:

  1. He dies, end of story. Character arc fulfilled. Done.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.

  • That's a good reason for why it was written that way, and if there isn't an in universe answer I might accept this. It doesn't answer the whole question, is there something that Martin is using to remove part of the person and is there a reason for why the degree changes from person to person? – kuhl May 12 '16 at 23:35
  • The degree seems to be the amount of time, as well as the number of times one has been removed from this world. Additionally, much of Martin's magic happens "off-screen", meaning that it is not overt and in your face. Leaving a lot intentionally unexplained and vague seems to be part of Martin's story-telling technique. – Möoz May 12 '16 at 23:43
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    I upvoted as soon as I read Mel bringing Jon back is cheap, because nothing more true has ever been said about asoiaf or the series. I always said if he's dead, he's dead; this is how this story works and must keep working. Just as GRRM says in this interview. If he really is Azor Ahai and this cheap trick even a drunk not-really-believer can pull of (Thoros!), the entire story just becomes unbearably dull, IMO. – user1129682 May 18 '16 at 8:58
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    However, Jon isn't dead dead, yet. We only have account of injuries that suggest to us there is no way of surviving. They could burn him barely alive and have special magic work then. Or Ghost walks by and he wargs into Ghost, or, he directly wargs into another human. We know this has happend before, don't ask me for reference though. Warging into Thorne, who gets burned for treason and then Jon steps out of the fire, Dany style. He might warg into Olly (for age reasons) and get one of Mels necklaces to reapper as Jon. There are so many better plot twists available than ... this. – user1129682 May 18 '16 at 9:02

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