Brandon Stark has never explained what it means for him to be the Three-Eyed Raven. With a blank stare and a flat, inhuman delivery, he only offers vague replies that leave everyone, characters and viewers alike, confused. Fortunately Game of Thrones’ “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” offered the best insight yet into what he has truly become, when Sam Tarly explained Bran’s importance beyond his powers: Bran is the keeper of all history, the memory of the world.
“That’s what death is, isn’t it?” Sam said of Bran. “Forgetting. Being forgotten. If we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore. Just animals. Your memories don’t come from books, your stories aren’t just stories. If I wanted to erase the world of men, I’d start with you.”
It was a description the show has previously tried, and failed, to convey.
Bran is potentially the most powerful warg in the world, and he had prophetic dreams and visions long before he entered the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave. Combined with his mastered ability to see through time itself by touching a weirwood tree, he is something far beyond any other man. (All of which is why he might be able to warg into a dragon—maybe even a dead dragon.)
Yet his transformation from a young apprentice into a dead-(three)-eyed weirdo was so abrupt it felt unearned and unexplained. In season six, he was still himself despite having gone through a series of devastating events. He was marked by the Night King, learned he was responsible for destroying Hodor’s mind, and became the Three-Eyed Raven before he was ready. Though we understand that all of that would logically change him, the depiction of his metamorphosis in season seven was jarring. In terms of his own timeline, it had only been a few days since we had seen him last, yet suddenly he was no longer human.
The problem was that Game of Thrones failed to show what actually happened to Bran in season six. Right after the Night King touched him, we only saw the Three-Eyed Raven bring him into one last vision, when young Wylis’ mind broke from experiencing his own death in the future. But in the episode’s behind-the-scenes vignette, show co-creator David Benioff said a lot more happened in that moment. “As soon as the Three-Eyed Raven realizes there is no more time, he’s got to try and upload all of this knowledge into Bran.”
In the next Inside the Episode, D.B. Weiss went further: “Bran had to absorb the entire history of the world in imagery. They talk about the Three-Eyed Raven, it’s not just a title that you get. There’s a part of him that’s no longer Brandon Stark, but is the Three-Eyed Raven, and the Three-Eyed Raven is not entirely human.”
Those quotes help explain Bran’s sudden shift, despite the short timeline, but none of that was clear in the episodes themselves. What we saw Bran go through was nothing like what Benioff and Weiss described. The closest we’ve ever come to the show referencing that life-altering “upload” was when Bran told Sam he “remembers everything.” But even then, Bran had yet to learn about Rhaegar and Lyanna’s marriage. Clearly he didn’t actually “remember” everything; he merely had access. That’s the difference between having a book on your shelf and having memorized every word of it.
That’s what made Sam’s quote about the Three-Eyed Raven’s purpose so critical to understanding what makes Bran dangerous to the Night King. After Bran said the Night King wants to “erase this world,” Sam put Bran’s role as the keeper of the world’s history the into a far greater context.
The lives are men are fleeting, but mankind endures by building on their experiences, both the failures and the successes, of those who came before us. If we lose those memories, what are we? Like the archmaester told Sam, we’d be dogs who can only think of their last meal and their next. Targaryens who can’t learn from the mistakes of our fathers, and Starks who don’t remember the lessons of our parents. We’re people who risk being wiped out of existence by the Night King.
Bran stopped being human when he became the Three-Eyed Raven. He became mankind’s memory. It makes sense that he became strange in the process; it just took the show a long time to make that clear.