History of Thrones is our series where we examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros.
Now that HBO has announced their first Game of Thrones spin-off pilot will take place thousands of years earlier, during the Age of Heroes, we’re turning our third raven eye to that mythical and mysterious period that began to shape the Seven Kingdoms into what we know it as today, to see what we can learn about the story going forward. However, be warned—if you think legends reveal too much about the truth, you might consider them spoilers.
You can find all other History of Thrones entries here, including the event that started the Age of Heroes, The Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest, as well as the war with the army of the dead that ended it, the first Long Night.
BRAN THE BUILDER, LEGENDARY FOUNDER OF HOUSE STARK
Winterfell. The Wall. Storm’s End. Oldtown’s Hightower. These are among the most famous and important places in Westeros. They are the type of monuments that guarantee their builders’ names will live forever in the Seven Kingdoms. And one man was responsible for all of them. Maybe. They might have all been built by multiple men with the same name. Possibly. Confused? It’s hard not to be when trying to decipher myth from reality and legend from flesh, which is all we can do when looking at the time period in Westeros known as the Age of Heroes. And no figure from that era stands as tall as the man also credited as the founder of House Stark and first King in the North, Bran the Builder, whose story might not be over just yet.
After the First Men and the Children of the Forest signed their Pact ending their long, destructive war, mankind was able to spread across Westeros and flourish. This time period, when the Realm as we know it began to take shape, is remembered as the Age of Heroes, a time traditionally placed 10,000 years before Aegon’s Conquest. But written history didn’t start until much later, after the Andal Invasion, and some maesters believe the events thought to have taken place during the Age of Heroes happened more recently, and that the entire era was much shorter than the 4,000-year span typically assigned to it. Without any records beyond some old runes, what we know of the Age of Heroes was passed down orally, which inevitably blends myth and truth. Distinguishing which parts of those tales are fact and which are fiction is nearly impossible, especially when it comes to Bran the Builder, whose exploits are so grand they defy belief.
Stories from the Reach say he was a descendant of Brandon of the Bloody Blade, who himself was said to be a son of the legendary Garth Greenhand (the only other figure from this period who compares in stature to Bran the Builder). While Brandon of the Bloody Blade is said to have driven Giants from the Reach, Bran the Builder is said to have worked with them (as well as the Children) when he led the construction of the Wall after the White Walkers were defeated during the First Long Night. He’s also said to have founded the Night’s Watch, and the land south of the Wall given to the sacred order is known as “Bran’s Gift,” since he is credited with having bestowed it to them. He’s also thought to have constructed Winterfell itself after the Great War (possibly on the exact location where the Night King was ultimately stopped – hence “winter fell“). That’s why he’s also the founder of House Stark, who would go on to unify the Kingdom of the North into a single kingdom under their rule.
Any single one of those accomplishments alone would be enough to ensure children in Westeros would forever know his name, but some tales also say that as a child he helped Durran Godsgrief build Storm’s End, one of the oldest and most prestigious castles in the Realm that was designed to stop the gods wrath. There are even stories that say he built King Uthor of Oldtown’s first stone Hightower. If all of that is true that means Brandon had his hand in four of the most important places in Westeros, covering nearly the entire continent, while also founding House Stark and the Night’s Watch.
It’s all so much for one man to have accomplished in a single lifetime that it is hard to believe, which is why most don’t. Maesters believe other men also named Brandon, including the Builder’s own son with the same name, were responsible for some of those actions, or that the real men responsible have been lost to time and their exploits have been blended into the myth of Bran the Builder. The Starks did come to rule the North as the Kings of Winter, and were the only kingdom that held back the Andal invasion to keep the old ways they adopted from the Children. It makes sense the song writers would have wanted to flatter them over the years by making the legendary founder of their House sound even more impressive than he was. And why let facts get in the way of a great story?
Just how much Bran the Builder really did, and whether he was really some great hero or just a collection of kings and men who time and lore have morphed into one, will be one of the most interesting stories a prequel series could answer, since we know how important House Stark becomes. But it’s possible we’ve been following Bran the Builder’s story already on Game of Thrones, because one theory says that while there have been many Brandon Starks over the years, they have all been the same man. Kind of. Still confused? Don’t be, because when the current Brandon Stark can wade through time and minds to influence events of the past anything is possible.
Is it possible the Bran we know now has traveled back through time and taken over other Brans? Did he lead the construction of the Wall and of Winterfell knowing the danger that still remained? Is it even possible he is the legendary hero reborn, the way some think Jon Snow or Daenerys might be the prince that was promised returned? Bran’s abilities are so powerful nothing can be truly ruled out.
Westeros as we know it began to come form during the Age of Heroes, and no man is more responsible for shaping it than the great hero Bran the Builder. Maybe. But finally learning who he was–or how many he was–might not be as important as finding out his story still isn’t over.
What do you think? What’s fact and what’s fiction about Bran the Builder? And do you buy the theory the current Brandon Stark has a connection with him? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.