First off, let me warn you that this entire post is laced with lethal doses of spoilers, and they’re going to start dropping immediately. What follows this sentence is a fun .gif of the character Hot Pie, and if you don’t want any aspect of past, present, or future Game of Thrones ruined for you, do not go beyond Hot Pie.
WARNING: YOU HAVE PASSED HOT PIE. WE CAN NO LONGER GUARANTEE YOUR SAFETY OR SANITY. MINDS ARE AT GREAT RISK OF BEING BLOWN.
Okay, so before last night’s episode (gushing review here), we knew that Bran Stark could warg into animals and humans and control their actions. We also knew he could go back in time using his greenseer skills to observe past events. There was one vague hint in the Tower of Joy scene—when young Ned seemed to hear him calling out as he climbed the tower steps—that perhaps Bran could affect the past in some way, but the three-eyed raven quickly dismissed that notion, and that was that.
Then last night happened, and suddenly it seems that Bran can actually combine his two skills. While the cave of the three-eyed raven was being attacked by White Walkers, Bran was simultaneously greenseeing in Winterfell, years ago, observing young Hodor and young Ned Stark. That’s when he heard Meera’s voice calling to him from the cave, begging him to warg into Hodor. Bran was able to do that without leaving Winterfell, but he also (we think) warged into young Hodor. That changed the poor kid from a normal boy named Wylis into a simpleton who could only repeat a shortened version of the phrase “hold the door” for the rest of his life, in preparation for the moment at the cave when he would hold off the Wights and give Bran and Meera the crucial time they needed to escape.
It’s important to note that we still don’t know exactly what happened. Did Bran actually change the past and ruin Hodor’s life in order to ensure his safety in the future? Was there someone or something else influencing the outcomes? Or were these historical moments set in stone, as the three-eyed raven would have us believe, and we’re just witnessing the fluidity of time, where past, present and future have equal influence?
We’re going to ignore those questions for now, and accept that Bran was responsible for creating Hodor, and does indeed have the power to combine warging and greensight in order to change the past. If that’s true, then the entire scope of Game of Thrones just got blown the f*** up, and Bran became the most important character in the story—by far. Everything we’ve seen to this point can be called into question, and Bran’s potential influence on all past events is limitless. He might literally be the architect of an entire world—and I’m not using the word “architect” lightly, as you’ll see.
Let’s explore the possibilities of this theory, starting with the idea that first blew my mind last night:
The Voices in the Mad King’s Head Belong to Bran
I should mention that every idea I’m conveying comes from the geniuses at the Game of Thrones subreddit, which is a wonderful community that has enhanced my viewing/reading experience. In this thread, user Lycosnic points out that in one of the Season 6 trailers, we saw a scene that very much looked like Jaime Lannister killing Aerys Targaryen, the “Mad King,” in the moment that earned him the moniker “Kingslayer.” We already know that the only way we can see these past events is through Bran’s eyes—just like the Winterfell scene, and the Tower of Joy—so we can safely guess that Bran will be the vector by which we’re conveyed to the Iron Throne.
We also know that he and Meera are making a desperate escape attempt from the cave, heading for the south, and that if Bran does revisit the Mad King’s death, he could simultaneously be in the midst of a ferocious battle, at the Wall or elsewhere, against the White Walkers. I’ll let Lycosnic take it from here:
We’ve now seen Bran’s ability to influence the past (or, confirm it, depending on how time travel paradoxes are solved in GOT). We’ve seen the link between the past and present BREAK Hodor’s mind, turning him into a simpleton. I don’t think madness is a far stretch from this.
If you remember Jaime’s testimony, the mad king just kept repeating “burn them all.” What if he didn’t mean King’s Landing and the rebels? What if Bran somehow either accidentally or purposefully lets him see the army of the dead? Someone could be yelling something akin to “burn them all” just like tonight’s “hold the door.”
If that seems a little crazy, go back and re-watch Ned Stark’s death scene. This link will take you to the 4-minute mark of the video, and pay close attention to Ned’s reaction in the moments before his death. It sure looks like he’s hearing or seeing something, doesn’t it?
Knowing what we know now, how could he be hearing anything but Bran’s voice? And why couldn’t the Mad King’s voices have come from Bran, or somebody in Bran’s world?
That’s Just the Beginning
Once we know that Bran can travel back in time and influence the future, it opens a whole world of possibility. Take this theory, from an anonymous message board user:
You know it’s true. Bran will go back in time to build the Wall, and when people will ask the guy’s name, he’ll just say “Bran.” Thus, Bran the Builder, who will be the inspiration for his name when he’s born in the present time. He’ll be the one who’ll establish, in the past, that there must always be Starks at Winterfell, because he must ensure that he comes to exist in the present.
For those not up on your ancient Westerosi history, Bran the Builder) lived 8,000 years before the present moment, one of the invading First Men and the founder of House Stark. He built Winterfell, and the Wall and possibly Storm’s end.
The idea here is that Bran Stark the time traveler may have embodied some, if not all, of the many Brandon Starks in the book—of which there are many. There is nothing definitive connecting the two Brandons besides their name, but considering George R.R. Martin’s penchant for dropping hints in seemingly unimportant textual asides, re-read this passage from the first novel, Game of Thrones:
“I could tell you the story about Brandon the Builder,” Old Nan said. “That was always your favorite.”
Thousands and thousands of years ago, Brandon the Builder had raised Winterfell, and some said the Wall. Bran knew the story, but it had never been his favorite. Maybe one of the other Brandons had liked that story. Sometimes Nan would talk to him as if he were her Brandon, the baby she had nursed all those years ago, and sometimes she confused him with his uncle Brandon, who was killed by the Mad King before Bran was even born. She had lived so long, Mother had told him once, that all the Brandon Starks had become one person in her head.
“All the Brandon Starks had become one person in her head.” Perhaps because they were all one person, in some sense, in real life? Whether or not that’s true, nothing in Martin’s oeuvre is written by accident.
And what about this conversation, between Ned and Arya in King’s Landing, full of potentially ironic foreshadowing:
Arya Stark: “He wants to be a knight of the Kingsguard. He can’t be one now, can he?”
Eddard Stark: “No. But someday he could be lord of a holdfast or sit on the King’s council. Or he might raise castles, like Brandon the Builder.”
This seemingly throwaway passage was important enough to appear in the TV show, where you’d have to imagine Benioff and Weiss would have cut it if it weren’t way more important than it looks on the surface.
Update, one day later: Read this passage from A Clash of Kings, also via Reddit:
Here’s the second half of the theory from the aforementioned message board poster:
The Last Hero is probably just a guy he’ll warg into from the future, and he’ll use him to beat the Others the first time around and make peace with the Children of the Forest because he will know that he needs the religion of the Old Gods to be maintained in the north so that men can learn to Warg—otherwise he can’t, in the future, go back to the past and set things in motion. Bloodraven tells him that he has to become him, because Bloodraven knows that in his earlier days, the future Bran is the one who controlled him and taught him the ways and sent him to the Children of the Forest to hold the place until he, Bran, could come to him so that he could learn it.
More history: The Last Hero is the unknown man who sought out the Children of the Forest—who we know now created the White Walkers—the first time the Whites invaded. He lost all his men during his journey during the long winter, but he finally found the Children and won The Battle for the Dawn, defeating the Whites and sending them into far exile. Incidentally, this was when the Night’s Watch was first formed.
Like the passage on Bran the Builder, this information comes from Nan:
Now these were the days before the Andals came, and long before the women fled across the narrow sea from the cities of the Rhoyne, and the hundred kingdoms of those times were the kingdoms of the First Men, who had taken those lands from the children of the forest. Yet here and there in the fastness of the woods, the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—
She is interrupted before she can finish—and she never finishes, of course—but the fact that the legend comes from the same source has to be noteworthy.
Bran May Be Azor Ahai, the Prince That Was Promised
This character, who goes by at least five different names, is the legendary hero promised by R’hollor, and defeated some great darkness—it’s unclear whether he’s connected with the Last Hero, but the stories are very similar. And it’s important that we have had already had many characters prophesied to be Azor Ahai—Stannis Baratheon, Daenerys Targaryen, and Jon Snow among them. The idea is that he will be “reborn again as a champion” after a long summer when a dark force descends on the world. These circumstances fit with the present, obviously, and if the prophecy is real, you have to imagine it will be fulfilled by somebody we already know. After last night’s revelations, Bran Stark has to be the frontrunner.
What Does It All Mean?
If Bran is not just capable of greensight and warging, but is actually a time traveler who was also Bran the Builder, the Last Hero, and Azor Ahai, the promised savior, what does it portend for the story? On the surface, it gives him massive influence over the entire world. Could the whole thing be his creation, or at least highly subject to his influence? If he has that kind of control over events we’ve already seen, does it undermine the agency of the other characters, who would now be essentially just acting out a script that Bran writes and directs?
Or would this version of Bran have less control than we think? Will it be ambiguous whether his works are positive or negative? One theory making its way around at the moment is that in the same way that he broke the magic of the cave when he allowed the Night King to touch him, perhaps he’ll also break the magic of the wall when he finally moves south. Jon Snow’s parting warning to Dolorous Edd—”don’t tear it down”—might actually foreshadow the collapse of the Wall. Hell, even if he played a role in driving the Mad King to insanity, he might be responsible for the war starting in the first place.
There’s so much we don’t know, and it’s possible that Bran is just Bran, and that he’ll decide the best course of action is not to change the past—beyond perhaps providing some solace to his father at the moment of his death. That would restore a sense of order to the story, and end the speculation that he’ll become a kind of living God who can bend fate to his whim.
Regardless of how it plays out, we’re standing at the brink of a wide chasm of narrative possibility. At this time yesterday, Bran was a gifted boy struggling to find his purpose after a life-defining tragedy. Today, he’s expanded into something almost beyond recognition, and we can only guess at where—or even, if—his limits begin.