“The things I do for love.”
One wonders if Jaime Lannister ever pondered the consequences of his decision to push little Bran Stark out of that Winterfell window all those years ago. (He was probably too wrapped up in a dangerous liaison with Cersei to give it any more thought.) But that act of malice was the first note in a legendary song that is still being sung, one that is hurtling toward a grave crescendo.
It’s easy to overlook Bran. He’s an outsider to the politics of Westeros and spends most of his screen time in exile or care, his geography and agency dictated by territorial battles between warring factions. His disability renders him incapable of battle, so he’s forced to accrue followers by pure messianic zeal.
This is made possible by the visions of the Three-Eyed Raven that have plagued Bran since his fall. So vivid that they tempt the young Stark into the unknown, away from the logical route back to his family. With disciples and sceptics in tow, Bran’s route beyond the wall is paved in casualties, and you wouldn’t be alone in wondering if it was all worth it. His spiritual mission defies the true grit of Game of Thrones, and wades into the more unknowable supernatural elements that remain mysterious but potentially world-changing.
While Bran’s spiritual journey may seem fairly insignificant in light of the incest, intrigue, and betrayal that provide most of the show’s appeal, it’s starting to become clear that Bran’s transformation into the last greenseer has been worth it in light of the anguish.
The major human conflicts in Game of Thrones have resolved themselves, making way for the greater threat: an unstoppable wave of White Walkers led by the Night King. Based on previous carnage, it would seem that no amount of steel or dragons will stop the undead legion, which clouds the show’s conclusion in a hopeless fog. This has systematically derailed the major campaigns of Game of Thrones and forced each subset of characters down a single path to survival. All the while, Bran has been waiting in the wings, trying to figure out where he fits in the puzzle.
Bran’s greensight and warging abilities are bestowed to him by the human manifestation of the Three-Eyed Raven, a mentor figure he meets under the Weirwood tree at the crux of his northern adventure. So far, they’ve allowed him to see critical flashpoints in the past where the “ink has already dried.”
Yet, as history is written by the victors, Bran has managed to upturn some of the facts that have been buried by word of mouth and hearsay. Jon Snow’s Targaryen lineage is the key revelation, but Bran also knows how the Night King and his army of White Walkers came to be. They’re a defense mechanism created by the Children of the Forest to stop the First Men, of which the Stark family are descendants. Bran’s curious use of the sight has turned him into a target for the icy antagonist, leading him to murder his mentor, the Three-Eyed Raven.
Despite being warned against it, Bran would then go on to defy his late mentor by meddling with the past, sacrificing Hodor to save his and Meera’s skin. In this, we see a selfish angle to Bran that undermines his importance. His powers have served to isolate him into a husk of his former self.
Without the raven to guide him, his disregard for his mentor’s warnings could squander his power. Bran has proven that he knows more than he lets on, with most of his season 7 screen time pointing towards a sinister change in disposition, a possible sink into nihilism that is a consequence of his omniscience. We are yet to learn if Bran wants to be part of the problem or the solution, as he alienates Meera, Sansa, and Arya with his apathy.
He appears to understand the responsibility of his newfound power, but as an audience, we’re currently unaware if he has set anything else into motion in his spare time, and what the ramifications of those actions are. Is Bran simply willing to enable the cycle of war? Perhaps he did it in the first place by whispering corrupting sweet nothings to the Mad King, initiating Robert’s Rebellion and creating wildfire caches that would, coincidentally, later be used by Cersei to destroy the Great Sept of Baelor.
OK, that last one sounds a little tin-foil-hat-y, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to think that Bran is the puppeteer behind this entire saga. Enamored by the possibilities of the past, Bran may have become tortured by the impossible cycle of chaos, and eventually, may accept the futility of attempting to change what has already been written. In the same vein, he could attempt to go back and influence the course of history for the better.
There are plenty of fan theories that position Bran as being Bran the Builder, the man who built the wall and Winterfell, founding House Stark and co-opting the magic of the Children of the Forest to keep the Walkers at bay.
There are similar theories that suggest little Bran is the Night King himself, with fans tracing the Stark lineage back to secret Nightfort pacts between humans and walkers. Either theory suggests that Bran will time travel warg into his ancestry. Both are difficult to champion, but there is a strange kinship with our main antagonist that is begging to be explored.
The Night King can counter Bran’s visions and his actions are often premeditated, yet we still don’t understand his true intentions. He seems keen on recruiting children, but we don’t know what caused their invasion after years of wallowing. Was it all Bran’s fault when he reached out to him, and if so, will his fate in the final season be that of a sacrificial lamb, given over to the walkers like Craster’s children to keep the evil at bay?
Theories aside, one thing is for certain. Bran’s muted, existentialist display of power this late in the game completely disrupts the typical hedonist power fantasy pursued by most Game of Thrones characters, who use might and magic to crush and conquer without hesitation.
Instead, Bran appears comfortable keeping his incredible knowledge to himself, and his lack of agency has never been more worrying than it is right now. Even when there is a consensus between the warring political elite, Bran serves as an unsettling force of nature that the blood-soaked warriors and silver-tongued spiders of Westeros can’t quite parse.
Unlike his peers, will Bran be the one to break the wheel instead of just letting it spin? We’ll find out when the final series premieres this Sunday, April 14.