While much of the Game of Thrones cast has morphed from the innocence of the first season to the militarized cynicism of its seventh, none have undergone as striking a transformation as Isaac Hempstead Wright’s Bran Stark. The precocious little spider monkey whose climbing excursions effectively caused the War of the Five Kings has become a stoic, omniscient weirdo after his travels beyond the Wall. Everyone else is enjoying the brief and bittersweet pleasures of reunion; Bran is trying to continue being a human being rather than Westeros’ first computer filing system. That has meant changes for both Wright and his now one of the most fascinating on the series as we reach the beginning of the end. At a joint AT&T and HBO event, Paste sat down with Wright to talk Game of Thrones, memes, and what he can see of his future.
Paste: I heard that you were a bit of a meme aficionado. Have you been browsing Twitter after each episode?
Isaac Hempstead Wright: I’ve seen a lot of memes. Amongst the abuse I got after episode three [“The Queen’s Justice”]—so much hate after that. “Oh Bran, I hate Bran now. He’s changed so much.” Guys, chill the fuck out. It’s alright.
Paste: Do you contribute to the discussion secretly?
Wright: I don’t, I’m purely an observer. But all I do with my girlfriend is send memes to each other. She got so excited when she found one of me. “Isaac, you’re in a meme!” Yeah, I’m in a meme. [Bran] has become very meme-able. I’ve seen some great ones, like one where Meera goes, “My brother died for you, Hodor died for you,” and Bran says, “New phone who dis?”
Paste: Has this character change affected you professionally? A big acting step up?
Wright: It was really interesting to do, because in many ways, for me at least, Bran has been playing either a child or a teenager. Obviously with some unique and weird bits, but as I’ve grown up, it’s basically just been me in a different time period. There’s things you can bring into it, with this and other parts, but now there’s nothing you can possibly—I’m not arrogant enough to think I know everything. We had a couple meetings with the producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and we modeled it on Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. We called it “Dr. Branhattan.” This idea of existing at all these different times and tuning into all these moments.
Paste: I know you’ve also learned from Max von Sydow’s performance as the previous three-eyed raven. How are you doing it differently?
Wright: I didn’t want it to be just like Max von Sydow because that three-eyed raven had been sitting in that tree for a thousand years. Bran hasn’t. He’s not that old. He’s just been given all this craziness now. There’s no point in trying to pretend that he’s immediately become wise. He’s obviously become wise, but he hasn’t had time to sit there and go through all the history. The way it works, this whole vision thing, isn’t that he knows everything immediately. He has access to everything. So where that raven has sat there for a million years and has everything at his fingertips, Bran doesn’t yet. So we didn’t want him to be this, “Oh, I know everything and I’m all stoic” sort of guy. He’s still a kid, just with a unique power.
Paste: He and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) are really the only ones dealing with the world by sitting and learning quietly.
Wright: Yeah, it’s really nice. It’s nice being one of the representatives of the intellectuals of Westeros. People using knowledge as power.
Paste: In the past you’ve said that you plan on pursuing a PhD in the future—is that still important to you?
Wright: Somebody put this PhD thing on Wikipedia—I’m not doing a PhD. I am going to university for joint honours in music and maths. Music theory mainly. I just did my Grade 8 Music Theory this year.
Paste: Have you gotten to do your composition theory stuff yet?
Wright: Yeah, I’ve been composing—I’m friends with Ramin Djawadi, our composer, and I’ve been with them on some of the tours they’ve done of all the music. Whenever we’re at an event, we just sit in a corner and talk music.
Paste: Did you and Kristian Nairn [who played Hodor in the series] bond over music?
Wright: We’ve always been music pals. I managed for the first time— it’s taken me ages—to go see him DJ. Awesome. I’m not really into house music, but it was really good.
Paste: Electronic music can get pretty close to classical though.
Wright: Oh, definitely! Steve Reich! I mean, Aphex Twin, even.
Paste: Going on to university, what lessons do you think you’ll take from your experience on Game of Thrones?
Wright: I think one of the most important things, with Bran anyways, is learning from massive mistakes. Bran basically killed everyone he held dear. But he didn’t sit there and wallow and go, “Oh, I’m useless” and cry in despair. He also didn’t just brush it off. He took from it that he needed to be wiser and accepted that this was destiny. There’s no point getting upset. Which is a bit of a grandiose way of putting “learn from your mistakes.”
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.