Midway through Game of Thrones’ final season—back when all of our fan favorites were alive and on the same side—Tyrion Lannister takes a moment to make chitchat with Brandon Stark, the crippled boy he once invented a saddle for. Tyrion remarks that Bran’s new wheelchair is fitting for the Lord of Winterfell (what with Jon Snow surely going off to live happily ever after with Daenerys Targaryen). Bran, however, states what all audiences long assumed: he doesn’t want to be Lord of Winterfell. He doesn’t want much of anything, he claims.
And why should he be? Always sitting in the back with either a blank expression as he wargs into the past or any animal that flies by—or even worse getting that slyly condescending smile across his face for no apparent reason—the onetime little lord of the manor seemed perfectly content with being the Three-Eyed Raven. Whatever the Seven Hells that means. So we needn’t ever really worry about Brandon Stark’s future again, right? With the Night King dead, he is fine just relaxing in the corner and playing on his proverbial Xbox.
… What if though, we all got played by the ultimate schemer?
As you know, Bran Stark became the unlikely King of the Six Kingdoms of Westeros after accepting the crown from a vote of his peers (and giving the North away to his sister in an Elizabethan like twist). Once again expectations were subverted with even the framing of the scene, ready to suggest Sansa Stark was at the center of attention, but it was really the brother no one paid much attention to ever since he became “broken” beneath a Winterfell tower during the first episode of the entire series.
While as a viewer I would argue Tyrion’s journey has been the most compelling story of anyone sitting or standing among that circle of the Westerosi gentry class, and certainly more so than Bran’s—Arya, Sansa, and mayhaps even Sam’s stories have also been more fascinating—but like a good hype man and campaign manager, Tyrion understands the art of the spin. He paints Bran the Broken’s life story as one of perseverance over a disability even the walking Dead itself. He then asks Bran if he would wear the crown, and with the faintest of that condescending smile, Bran deadpans, “Why do you think I came all this way?”
It is in that moment where we have to consider everything we thought we knew about Bran this season and beyond.
While the exact extent of Bran’s Three Eyed-Raven superpowers is nebulous, it seems they largely allow him to visit any event in Westeros’ past (but he must watch as you or I watch a scene of Game of Thrones in real-time), as well as to warg into animals. What is less clear is how much of the future he can glean as more than just shadows. Yet even if he cannot really see a future which is not written—and in Game of Thrones Season 8, he revealed that he did not know how to defeat the Night King, or whether dragonfire would work against him—he can view events happening anywhere in the world in near real-time. He goes back in time eight thousand years to see how the Children of the Forest created the Night King, but he also knows that Jaime is on the King’s Road and should arrive in Winterfell by tomorrow.
That ability is one of Tyrion’s selling points for Bran to be king. He would know all of Westeros’ kings intimately, and how they succeeded or failed, and likely could also predict any threat to his people (or his crown) as they were brewing. This would give him the uncanny ability to thwart dangers whether in overt or subtle ways… just like he did to Daenerys Targaryen.
Aye, in retrospect it seems while Daenerys worried about the lack of love from the Stark redhead and the Northmen, this whole time she should’ve been more concerned with the quiet boy in the back of the room. It is Bran Stark who truly put in motion Daenerys’ downfall. Like a Three-Eyed raven, rewind the tape back to the season 7 finale and season 8 premiere. Bran Stark has known for a year at that point the truth of Jon Snow’s parentage (he glimpsed in the season 6 finale). Jon is really the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. The first person he confides this to though is Samwell Tarly. At the time, it seemed simply because they were both history nerds, however if he could follow the events of anyone who interests him in nigh real-time—like say that nice geeky Night’s Watchmen chap who let him through the Shadow Tower way back in season 4—then there is every reason to believe he knows Sam has further information that can prove Jon Snow’s parentage.
This whole time, viewers have assumed this information would be used to install Jon Snow on the Iron Throne at the end of the series, either alone or as the husband of Daenerys Targaryen. But it turned out to be the inciting fire that would come to consume Daenerys’ mind with fear and paranoia. And Bran knew that it would. He understood this information would destabilize Daenerys’ claim and blossom insecurities that in hindsight were always there. That is why he chose the exact moment where Dany broke Sam’s heart to insist on Sam telling Jon Snow about his parentage. He didn’t want Jon to hear it directly from him—lest it appear like he wanted anything out of it—and he didn’t want Sam to do it until after he likely could see Dany and Jorah talk about how they needed to greet and hug the man who saved Jorah’s life.
Only after Dany put an epic foot in her mouth by revealing she roasted Sam’s family did Bran practically throw the Tarly into the crypts, whereupon Jon Snow learned a bitter truth told in a horrifying way. Jon did not use it as a stepping stool to the Throne, but he also therefore didn’t use it wisely at all. Unable to keep a devastating secret to himself, even as he knew it would have unwanted world-changing effects, he told the one person he shouldn’t: Daenerys Targaryen.
If Bran cannot see the future, he at the very least can study the entire Targaryen line in the past. He probably glimpsed Aerys II’s slow descent into madness, and cross-referenced it with the violent entitlement of Aegon the Conqueror, and all the other Targaryens in-between. Then he could look at Daenerys and see something he didn’t like. But rather than telling Jon she might go crazy—an insight Sansa and Arya kept spouting on his willfully deaf ears—Bran instigated her madness by having Sam light the spark that Dany would then let consume her. Once she knew Jon Snow was her nephew and had a better claim on the Iron Throne, Dany’s rationality slowly crumbled. She began to view the Northerners’ resentment as something worse than annoying; it became insidious.
When Jon Snow got credit for riding her dragon and leading her armies, she rightfully was angry, but she also became paranoid. As that paranoia ate away at her, the damage was already done. Bran didn’t seem to genuinely care one way or another if Sansa Stark and Arya knew the truth or if anyone else did; he wanted to get that information into Dany’s mind. When Jon Snow asked with a glance if he should tell Bran’s sisters the truth, Bran said “it’s your choice.” Bran seemed more interested in simply undermining Daenerys, be it through that information or also in the way he omitted telling her that Cersei was laying a trap for Dany’s smaller fleet near Dragonstone during a war council… a war council Bran attended but did not volunteer any information on the movements of an enemy he could’ve been spying on at that very moment.
It’s worth wondering whether Bran could see the formation of an incredulous surprise attack with giant scorpions that might fell one of Dany’s dragons and push her further into disqualifying herself from being considered a sane and reasonable choice of monarch. He might’ve even known Jon Snow, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut around Daenerys, would also not keep it shut around Sansa and Arya, thereby ensuring that the information would spread like an even greater blaze to Tyrion and Varys. It’s your choice to dig the grave, Jon. All of which would further threaten Daenerys’ claim on the Iron Throne and therefore further destabilize her. She is not the first Targaryen to give into nihilism, and it is debatable that Bran Stark has watched how all the weaker ones fell (we know he watched her father cry “BURN THEM ALL”), and could’ve easily learned how to nudge Daenerys onto an accelerated track.
The ultimate consequence of course was Dany burning most of the citizens of King’s Landing to ash. In turn the few Westerosi who supported her claim turned on her. Many had speculated Jon Snow’s parentage foreshadowed his ascension, but it instead forewarned her descent. It also allowed Jon the ability as a Targaryen to get past her dragon and to stab his queen, the woman he loved, in the heart. Afterward, Jon Snow was destroyed and became too politically toxic to ever be king. But that might’ve been the point all along.
In one of his final moments in the series, Bran Stark claims to Tyrion that “I don’t want to be king.” But we think he doth protest too much, because he also claimed he did not want much of anything earlier in the season. There is an argument he definitely wanted to keep Daenerys from becoming Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. And even if it was out of a larger altruistic understanding she was always doomed, she likely wouldn’t have snapped during her war with Cersei if she didn’t know her lover was her nephew and political rival, and that one of her advisors agrees that he should be king and is conspiring against her, and if she had been warned that Euron Greyjoy’s Invisible Fleet was waiting to kill her dragons and possibly kidnap dear friends and important confidantes. Bran either precipitated or simply allowed those events to happen by choosing when and when not to speak.
Bran claims to not want to be king, but he fully expects Tyrion or another lord to suggest him as such. As he says, “Why do you think I came all this way?” As Tyrion notes, Bran knows the Westerosi and their history better than they know themselves. We could clearly see how he manipulated Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Who’s to say he hasn’t been playing some banana warging games like this elsewhere? Bran acts innocent and coy, but I say he’s been playing the game of thrones better than any of them since at least the end of season 6!
Does that mean he’ll be a bad king? It’s hard to say. It would suggest he is more observant and perceptive of human interaction than his father ever was or by extension Jon Snow, who like his father found himself condemned at the end for treason, albeit with a friendlier punishment. Bran also will be able to usher in a version of peace and tranquility better than any Lannister who’s sat on the throne since Robert died, and Robert was a lousy king too in his way. Bran likewise made sure his only rivals are very close family. He didn’t bat an eye at giving the North to his sister Sansa, and let’s explore for a moment sending Jon Snow to the Wall.
We know that Grey Worm and the Unsullied wanted Jon Snow dead, and Sansa and Arya petitioned for Jon to be set free and returned home to Winterfell. Instead King Bran Stark apparently came up with a “compromise” where Jon would be condemned for life to return to the Night’s Watch, a seemingly useless organization now that the White Walkers are gone. But let’s return to the final scene of the series. It is Jon Snow leading what’s left of the Free Folk beyond the Wall… and winter is ending. Not only is winter ending relatively early by Westerosi standards (it’s been maybe a year in show time since it began in season 6?) but it’s ending in the True North. The ends of the world that the rest of Westeros refers to as the Land of Always Winter. Yet when Jon Snow and the Free Folk descend into the woods, grass is popping out of the snow for the first time in millennia.
If you recall, this land was once a paradise when the Children of the Forest created White Walkers to kill humans. They unintentionally also destroyed their home, which the White Walkers turned into a frozen hell. Now that the White Walkers are gone though, it would seem spring has finally sprung. Is it possible Bran had this dream of spring? It seems likely given the final book’s title is A Dream of Spring, and George R.R. Martin probably has always had Bran in mind as his final king. The first chapter of the first book after the prologue is told from Bran Stark’s vantage. Bran is the character who introduces us to this world.
And the other title Martin originally imagined for the seventh book was A Time for Wolves, so if spring really comes Beyond the Wall—possibly melting the Wall—this means that it really could be a spring time for Wolves. Bran Stark rules the Six Kingdoms; Sansa Stark rules the North (and you can bet that’ll stay hereditary!); and Jon Snow could become the King Beyond the Wall in a kingdom that will have new fertile land. Each of them has the opportunity to rebuild their worlds in the Starks’ image and with potentially much greater resources for the North and True North. But only if you knew of the world before now could you have seen any of that coming.
And the only man who could has a crown on his head and two siblings with similar titles. A time for wolves, indeed.
Listen to our Game of Thrones season 8 discussion on the Sci Fi Fidelity podcast: