Game of Thrones is a series built on a mountain of history. Ask anyone who’s read the books and they’ll tell you a thousand interesting (but mostly useless) facts about ancient kings, Westerosi legends, magical barriers, and mythical heroes.
But the world’s history hasn’t mattered in the last few episodes. Game of Thrones is, thematically, the story of those that were ignored and oppressed by the old system of rule rising up to take control of Westeros’s future. The old world is coming to an end, and whoever ends up on the Iron Throne will get to choose what kind of future the world of men deserves.
Which is why Bran is going to die, and it will probably happen sooner rather than later.
Westeros is going through a time of change
Let’s set the stage a bit before we return to poor, doomed Bran.
Jon Snow has lived most of his life under the shadow of his status as a bastard, a living reminder that Ned Stark was unfaithful to his wife. Or at least that’s what we, and most characters, believed — until Jon’s true lineage was discovered.
Tyrion faced many of the same struggles. “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes,” he told Jon in the show’s first episode.
Daenerys has faced men who refused to recognize her authority or power due to her gender along every step of her journey. She gained an army in Essos not by buying slaves, but by freeing them. As she’s said more than once, she’s here “to break the wheel,” a reference to keeping the powerful from rising up on the backs of the less fortunate.
Just last episode we saw the culmination of Brienne’s quest to become a knight, an honor that wasn’t traditionally available for a woman. “Fuck tradition,” as Tormund said. Jaime performed the ceremony himself, as he is perhaps the character who best understands all the reasons she deserves the honor.
Game of Thrones has always been a show about those who suffer under the suffocating rules of the old world, despite all the talk about saving the living from the the army of the dead. The characters who are the most capable of destroying the Night King are also the characters who want to build a better world, rather than just saving the one that exists in their present.
Every possible “happy” ending for Game of Thrones will change Westeros in substantial ways. If the series ends with Daenerys Targaryen on the Throne, rather than Jon, she will have taken the kingdom and will set the precedent that women can join the line of succession. If Jon and Dany rule together, as Davos suggested, then the idea of a man and a women ruling with equal power will set its own precedent. Any other leader taking the throne, outside of Gendry, would mean the system of succession has been thrown out entirely. On top of that, Sansa has suggested they could break up the Seven Kingdoms entirely, and allow each its own system of rule.
The Seven Kingdoms’ foundations are crumbling. Traditions have to die in order for new, better options to be presented to the people. And that’s why it’s time for us to say goodbye to Bran Stark.
Why Bran has got to go
His powers as the new Three-Eyed Raven mean he can see into the past and through the present using the eyes of the ancient Weirwood trees. He can remember all the way back to the making of the Night King, whose creation itself represents one of Westeros’s darkest moments during the war between the Children of the Forest and the First Men. He can see, for the purposes of the show, every significant moment the continent has known over thousands of years. He knows the world’s history, and can explain every custom.
He is the living embodiment of tradition.
Bran’s Westeros is that of royal lineage passed down through male heirs. Of male knights made only by the king, and bastards shipped off to the wall by families who resent them so that they may take an oath never to have children themselves. Westeros won’t be able to escape its past as long as Bran is alive.
He will always be there to shape the world and bend it toward a familiar arc, not out of malice for the idea of a new world, but because of his inability to see past the world’s current traditions. The Three-Eyed Raven even makes sure Jon knows of his true lineage and claim to the Iron Throne; this isn’t a disinterested observer.
Bran isn’t an enemy; he’s just a living echo of everything that came before. But that time is nearly over.
Bran isn’t the Night King — who wants to destroy Westeros’s past and present — but the two of them are inexorably linked. They are two sides of the same, old coin. Together they make up the true memory of Westeros. They represent both the living and the dead, encompassing all of the continent’s sins and successes.
This is why the Battle of Winterfell has the potential to be one of the series’ most poetic and important moments: Both characters have to die for the show to pay off the themes it has been setting up throughout all eight seasons. There can’t be a new world while either survive.
Both characters could die, together, if Bran’s plan is successful and he’s able to lure the Night King to the Godswood. That would mean Death has been defeated, and Bran has become a willing offering to save the world; Westeros’s past sacrificed to save its future.
The memory of Westerosi tradition — just like the memory of Bran himself — would persevere in the minds of the living. Human memory, fallible and imperfect, would act as a guide for the new world, or perhaps a warning about what not to do.
If Game of Thrones is about fighting for a better future, then it also has to be about destroying the traditions and history that would keep that from happening. And Bran, for better or worse, has literally become that history. He’s as much a threat to the new world as the Night King, albeit in a very different way.
Which means both of them will need to die before the series ends.
The third episode of Game of Thrones season 8 will debut on HBO Sunday, April 28 at 9 ET.