Game of Thrones: In Defense of King Bran Stark

The most reviled decision on Game of Thrones gets a much-needed reevaluation. Bran Stark wasn’t the first choice for the throne, but he was the only real choice.

Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) on Game of Thrones
Photo: HBO

In the Game of Thrones finale, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) announces to the world that the new king of Westeros won’t be the last of the official Targaryens in Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). The new king won’t be the son of the former king, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). The Iron Throne (or whatever replaces the melted monstrosity) won’t hold any of the other brave warriors who battled the Night King and the armies of the dead to save the world from the long winter. Instead, the throne goes to the character with the best story, a pubescent child confined to a wheelchair that disappeared for an entire season, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright).

Cue the outrage. Kick off the debates. Let the hate flow throughout Reddit, Twitter, and every other social media platform available. What seemed like the worst possible decision at the time deserves a second glance, because what most people dismissed out of hand as a terrible choice doesn’t look so bad now. Bran Stark, first of his name, King of Westeros, has the potential to solve all of the issues that played out throughout Game of Thrones’ 8-season run and then some. The so-called dumbest choice might have been the only one that could save the empire.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” – Cersei Lannister

Throughout his life, Bran Stark has been a victim of the game of thrones. His father, killed by someone else’s ambition. His family home, conquered by formerly loyal friends looking to increase their power. His brother, assassinated in the most dishonorable way possible in Westeros, a guest slain under the banners of his own wedding. His older sister, used as a political pawn by multiple grasping, power-hungry people. His bastard brother, exiled and killed over control of the Night’s Watch. His little brother, killed fleeing captivity. His youngest sister, forced to sacrifice her childhood to become a cold-blooded assassin with no face. Thousands of people dead at every turn, all because some people want to wear a funny metal hat and sit in the only chair in the realm that stabs the person using it accidentally, rather than deliberately. 

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Bran Stark has seen what happens when men and women play the game of thrones. Even before his ascension, he knew the human cost of war. He knew the price paid by the small folk because lords and ladies decide to take up weapons to enlarge holdings or swell purses. He’s a true Stark; he carries no taint of the Valyrian madness that brought down Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and the rest of House Targaryen. He’s confined to a wheelchair, so he never took up arms and fought on the field of battle. He spent two seasons as far away from the squabbling politics of Westeros as possible, and to put it bluntly, he rolled through the biggest possible pile of aurochs dung and emerged without any of it on him. Everyone else at the table, from silly uncle Edmure (Tobias Menzies) to the up-jumped pirate Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham), has blood on their hands. 

The best way to save lives, both innocent and not so innocent, is to break the wheel. Ending the cycle of bloodshed in the pursuit of power wouldn’t be possible in the hands of someone who shed blood in the pursuit of power. One look at Bran, the “broken” boy in a wheelchair, makes it perfectly clear that he won the game of thrones by not playing it.

“Bran has no interest in leading,” – Sansa Stark

Sansa, unsurprisingly, provides the best motivation for Bran to take over as King. He doesn’t really seem to want the job. After Bran casts off his humanity and assumes the mantle of the Three-Eyed Raven, he’s a different person. Literally, he’s grown beyond his mortal shell and has a new outlook.

This is both good and bad. The bad reasons concern mostly around a lack of empathy. As Meera Reed reminds him, Hodor, Summer, and Jojen all died to protect him, along with most of the Children of the Forest. The reunion with his family should be a cause for joy, but Bran seems mostly unmoved by the reunion, if only because he knew that they were all still alive due to poking around in the time stream. However, it’s more than that.

Bran’s disconnect from the living world is going to be the thing that makes him king. He’s aware of the weight of his decisions thanks to the losses he personally suffered. However, he’s distant enough from most of the people that he won’t be tempted to revisit old conflicts to settle scores. When one of his allies inevitably starts plotting against him, like for example Sansa, he’ll be in a good position to stop it before it starts without staying his hand to spare a loved one. 

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To be charitable, Bran is above human concerns, not indifferent to them. To him, being king is a necessary evil to stop the chaos ladder and carnage, not a chance to fatten his purse or indulge his baser instincts. The person with the power of a god doesn’t need political clout.

“There is only one thing we say to Death: Not today.” – Syrio Forel

The most important part of maintaining any stable form of government is consistency. If you know what to expect from a leader, you can respond accordingly. There is no form of government quite as consistent as a thousand-year reign by an all-seeing immortal God Emperor, be it Leto Atreides II or Bran Stark. When the king is functionally immortal because he’s the Three-Eyed Raven, there’s no need to worry about a scramble for power in the wake of his death.

The Three-Eyed Raven died as a result of an attack from the Night King and his army of undead wights. Magic struck down by magic. With the defeat of the Night King and the disappearance of the dragons, it seems as though there’s nothing around that can actually threaten King Bran. Bran can see the past and sees visions of the future; there’s not a threat in Westeros or Essos he won’t see coming should Valyrian steel or dragonglass be a threat to his life. Who can plot against a leader with the power to literally crawl inside someone’s mind and pull out their most closely-guarded secrets? What plot would survive the moment Bran wargs into one of the conspirators to cut a few throats or light a well-timed fire?

Bran has the ability to reign for an infinite number of years, should all the cards flop his way. The only limit to his reign would be complacency, growing distance from the teeming masses of small folk, the invention of democracy, or the return of the supernatural (and let’s not kid ourselves, if Bran can scramble a human brain, he should have no problem turning a dragon’s brain into head cheese). 

“I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark, but I remember so much else now.“ – Bran Stark

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When Tyrion announced his support of Bran being made king, he said Bran had the best stories. The world at large took that literally, and started listing every character that had better stories than Bran. It wasn’t a literal statement; Tyrion seems to be the only one who has an understanding of what Bran is and what that means for the Seven Kingdoms. A time-traveling psychic with access to every event in history, as seen through the eyes of the people who were participants? 

That’s the key to good stories; Bran knows them all, and should he wish, he could pick up the nearest history book and start making corrections. Or he could use his knowledge to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors, revive the lost secrets of old Valyria, and usher Westeros into a thousand-year reign of peace and prosperity the Seven Kingdoms haven’t known in recorded history. Bran has limitless power, and ample opportunity to exercise it with the support of his small council. 

The fortunes of Westeros were changed by one man, the quasi-legendary Age of Heroes Stark ancestor Bran the builder, who created The Wall and the Gift for the Night’s Watch , raised Winterfell, helped build Storm’s End, and established both House Stark and the title of King in the North. Bran’s Wall fell thousands of years after his death, his Gift abandoned to Wildling raiders. Bran the Builder worked in stone and wood, and it is the destiny of all mighty works to fade into the mists of history. King Bran Stark has the opportunity to build something truly special; a peaceful, prosperous kingdom where Lords and small folk alike can prosper.