HBO’s Game of Thrones

Is Bran Stark the Hero of Game of Thrones?

As they say in pop-culture parlance, “Hang onto your butts”. In only two episodes, Game of Thrones Season 6 has established—for anyone who may have forgotten in the last 5 seasons of letter writing, sword-poking and sexposition—that it is the most magic-filled series on television. This overt acknowledgement of the whole Fantasy part of this fantasy series may point to a new trend for what we can expect on Game of Thrones. It’s got to be hard to downplay all the magic stuff when a main character is performing ongoing feats of hair-based miracle working… But we digress.

While nearly every major character is gifted in some way, there are some characters that are just more magical than others. They function as center points of regional beliefs and as the nexus of converging plot points. While some may focus on the powerful possibilities of the followers of R’hllor or the ingrained abilities of the descendants of Valyria we want to introduce you to the most important character in ASOIAF. Period. The coincidentally-newly-returned-to-the-show…Bran Stark.

Beware Spoilers for all ASOIAF Books and Game of Thrones Season 6 Eps 1 and 2.

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Welcome back, Bran! But What’s His Deal?

After being gone for a season, Bran has made his return to Game of Thrones. He is one of our faves, so we are glad to have him back (still a tad annoyed by his omission for an entire season, but if it means the introduction of Max Von Sydow to the cast, we’ll take it). Given Bran’s return, it seems appropriate to discuss this character and his importance to the larger story. So what’s going on with Bran? What can we expect from him? And most importantly, how does weirwood taste?

 

Magical Ability #1—He’s a warg/skinchanger

Bran-Summer

What is warging? Warging is the ability to place your consciousness into a wolf. It is a type of skinchanging, which covers the ability to spirit into any animal (but wolves are the coolest). We’ve seen Bran display his abilities many times throughout the show. Most comfortably with his direwolf, Summer and even, distressingly, in his use of Hodor.

From what we’ve seen in the book, the ability to warg first manifests itself in dreams. While the warg sleeps, his or her consciousness escapes their own body and places themself into the body of the wolf for which they have an affinity. There have also been instances where wargs also experience prophetic dreams. Namely, Bran has dreamt of past and future events (in the novels, Jon has also done this). It is unclear whether this can be totally attributed to the ability to warg, or whether this is an aspect of another magic entirely (especially in the case of Jon Snow, whose parentage is still up for debate and the Starks are not the only family with inborn magic).

Eventually, the warg no longer needs to be asleep or unconscious to place themselves in their animals. Once they master this ability, they may move on to other animals to which they display an affinity. In the novels, there was a warg that could move into an entire herd of woodland creatures, depending on the characteristic (speed, sight, viciousness) he most needed at the moment. Just think, a thousand angry badgers vs a White Walker army.

Who else can Warg? Throughout the novels and the show, there have only been two named wargs: Bran Stark and Jon Snow. The other Stark children have also exhibited the ability to warg, to varying degrees.

Unfortunately, Sansa never had the chance to display this ability, as her direwolf was executed early in the first book (RIP, Lady). Shaggydog seems to function as a direct reflections of Rickon’s unexpressed frustration and grief over his family. (Full Disclosure: we are definitely on Team King Rickon!). Jon and Robb have both shown, in crisis situations, the ability to slip into their direwolves. Being the two Starks with the most battle experience, we have seen how their connection to their wolves has helped them as warriors. There are theories that both placed themselves into their direwolves at the point of their deaths, based on clues in the text. We have yet to see if that is the case with Jon and will pointedly ignore any detractors who point out that this ability didn’t do much for poor Robb.

Arya and Bran are the two Starks who showed ability to not only warg into their wolves, but into other creatures as well. Arya’s wolf, Nymeria, is wandering the countryside wreaking havoc (and, interestingly enough, taking out every Lannister she can find). In the novels, Arya has had dreams from Nymeria’s POV during these adventures. She’s also had similar dreams involving a stray cat while living as Cat of the Canals in Braavos (note: the show did include a quick shot of a cat running in the canal alleys during an Arya scene, which we will accept as a fan shout-out). Bran’s warging ability has also progressed as he can skinchange into Hodor, whether or not Hodor is OK with it (sad face).

The Starks are not the only wargs, we’ve seen this ability elsewhere on the show, courtesy of Orell the Eagle Whisperer in Season 3. As a skinchanger, Orell was able to place his spirit in the body of his eagle at will. In fact, warging and skinchanging are well known and accepted among the Free Folk beyond the Wall. In Westeros, however, legends of wargs/skinchangers faded into the mythology of the Northern families, and all but disappeared from the culture of the people in the South. Obviously, it’s significant that the Starks are all wargs. And even more significant that Starks without the company of their direwolf pals often struggle with basic tasks. Like survival.

So what? The ability to warg and/or skinchange will become important as the war with the White Walkers continues. Personally, we’re hoping for a little bit more than armies supplemented by herds of deer and angry bunnies. The Night’s King has an endless supply of White Walkers and we’re looking for someone to skinchange into the Westerosi equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Yes, that’s right. We mean a dragon and Bran seems the best bet for the job. Given that there are three heads of the dragon, Bran not having to actually ride one should, at the very least, save on the effects budget.

 

Magical ability #2—He has the Greensight

Bran-Greensight

What is Greensight? The Greensight affords its bearers the power to not only see the future, but the truth of the past. The ability seems to be rooted (haha) in the power of the Old Gods and is magnified by a connection to the network of weirwood trees in Westeros. People in this universe who have the greensight are called, unsurprisingly, “greenseers.”

This also explains why there’s a weird little elf child hanging around Bloodraven’s Weirwood cave. The Children of the Forest, also known as singers, were the original inhabitants of Westeros before the First Men (the direct ancestors of the Starks) had reached the continent. Throughout the novels we are made to believe that they no longer exist, until Bran’s encounter with Leaf in A Dance with Dragons. It is then that we discover that they’ve been hiding, waiting for the Long Winter to reemerge. Leaf is then, presumably, hanging around with Bran and Bloodraven because she is part of the ancestral magic in some form. An observer for her people, another teacher. Possibly it’s just her cave and she’s letting Bloodraven use it. Anyways, the magic that protects the cave definitely has something to do with the Children of the Forest.

What exactly do greenseers do? A greenseer’s main function seems to be to facilitate the retention of knowledge and memory collected by the land, from those who inhabit it. When greenseers pass away, their souls become one with nature. Specifically, they join with weirwood trees. (Think Avatar, except this came first.) The greenseers’ direct connection to this source of knowledge and power made them indispensable to those in Westeros who worshiped the Old Gods, especially the Children of the Forest. As Tyrion has recently proved with his book knowledge of Dragons, Knowledge is Power! Direct access to the truth (past/present, possible future) gives Bran a Hodor-sized leg up in the War against the Others (reminder: this is the War everyone should care about).

Who has the greensight? There is an exclusive club of people in Westeros who have what is known as the “greensight.” By exclusive, we mean we know of three people total—Bloodraven (aka Brynden Rivers), Jojen Reed, and Bran Stark. Bloodraven was considered the Last Greenseer, before Bran Stark began exhibiting his prodigious abilities. As of A Dance with Dragons, Bloodraven and his following of Children are training Bran to take his place (and Jojen is uh… well… functioning as MiracleGrow). Hopefully Bran won’t hole up in that cave for generations not talking to anyone like Bloodraven.

So What? Flashbacks!!! Have you been dying to see the Tower of Joy, Tourney at Harrenhal, Robert’s Rebellion, the first War for the Dawn, or basically any moment in Westerosi history? Well, Bran is here to show us (we already got a glimpse of one flashback in “Home”). Greensight is one of the coolest exposition delivery systems we’ve ever seen and one we’ve always thought it would work very well in a television adaptation of the novels. It’s like Westerosi YouTube and, for book readers, is the source of pretty much all the juicy details that still fuel all those internet theories we never stop talking about. We can’t wait for S6 Episode 3! That preview (here it is, go watch it) had some of us hi-fiving in a bar last Sunday. And this information may finally solve the R+L=J debate. If you don’t know what any of this stuff is, we promise you will care after the next episode airs.

 

Magical Power #3—He’s our hero (maybe our Last Hero)

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Who is the Last Hero? There are a few mythical/prophesied heroes in ASOIAF—Azor Ahai, The Prince That was Promised, and the Last Hero. Fans often speculate that these three will have a role to play in the next Long Night/Battle for the Dawn, just as they did in the original Long Night. There’s strong evidence that Azor Ahai and the Prince that was Promised may be the same person (or not), but the Last Hero role seems separate.

In the original Battle for the Dawn, the Last Hero set out in search of the Children of the Forest to assist the race of men in their battle against the White Walkers. He was successful in forging this alliance with the Children of the Forest, winning their support in the Battle for the Dawn. He even slew a White Walker with dragonsteel during the battle.

What are White Walkers? As dense as the books are we know very little about the White Walkers. What we do know is that they come from a place called the Lands of Always Winter (shown in season 4 of the show in a moment that shocked everyone, including book fans). They made their way south into Westeros 8,000 years before the events of the series, bringing with them the Long Night. According to Old Nan, the Long Night was a generation of endless winter that caused widespread famine. Women would kill their own children instead of letting them starve to death, and lords rarely ventured outside their castles (next level cabin fever). Old Nan describes the White Walkers as cold and dead things that hated fire, iron, and the sun. They rode dead horses and led armies of undead, known as wights, and nightmare inducing ice spiders large enough to ride (Dear HBO, NEVER SHOW THIS).

The Long Night came to end with the Battle for the Dawn in which the White Walkers were defeated by a combined force of First Men and Children of the Forest. Afterward, the Wall was erected and the Night’s Watch was founded to shield the realms of men from the Others (it is presumed that the Wall has some sort of magic that prevents the White Walkers from walking/climbing through…at least so long as the Night’s Watch is true, if you believe legend). Then, after thousands of years the White Walkers faded into legend but the Starks still have their words.

Is Bran the Last Hero of this generation? Given the trajectory of his story so far, both on the show and in the novels, many fans have speculated that the last hero of the upcoming “Great War” against the White Walkers is Bran Stark. He’s already gone beyond the Wall and is in an alliance with the Children of the Forest. And he’s probably going to be able to warg into dragons and direwolves and herds of really angry squirrels.

So What? The importance of a character like Bran being the hero in the hyper-violent and masculine Westeros is huge. It’s the cripples, bastards, broken people that are the most interesting and have the most heroic potential in Martin’s novels. Bran may have started his character journey with an accident that invoked pity and despair but he may well be what saves all of Westeros (and beyond) from the White Walkers. Bran fits all the descriptors of the Last Hero and even shares a name with the architect of the Wall. He is already friendly with the Children of the Forest, and having Bloodraven as your own personal Yoda can’t hurt. Bran’s knowledge and abilities will be be required if anyone is going to survive destroy the White Walkers this time around.

 

Got any other theories about the Last Hero, the Children of the Forest or Bloodraven’s endgame? Let us know in the comments!

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Hello, we are Fire and Lunch! Five years ago, a bunch of superfans came together to celebrate their favorite book series over food, and the rest is history. You can find our in-depth analysis (complete with POP-toy gifs) of Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, and other fantasy series on tumblr and twitter. If you’re into fast talking, intelligent discourse, and some pretty deep geek humor, check out our podcast, The Piecast.

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