Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones seventh season and theories about its eighth.
Despite Bran Stark’s long-awaited return to Winterfell on season seven of Game of Thrones, it almost felt like he had disappeared from the show again. Dead-eyed and enigmatic in speech, this season’s Bran was not the character we’ve always known, and his work on the show amounted to little more than a few vague, inconsequential conversations. Even his one useful moment, his vision of the Night King and his army near Eastwatch, led to the show’s absurd wight hunt–the most inane plot ever. Not exactly a banner year for those of us on Team “Actually, Bran Is Important.”
And yet, despite his relative futility throughout season seven, Bran’s scene with Sam in the finale, where the two pieced together the truth about Jon’s birth, gives us a clue as to what role he might play in the show’s endgame. Truth be told, it should be a whole lot more important than anything he did this season, or ever before. While Bran may not be able to fight the White Walkers himself, he could be the only one who can learn how to defeat them. If he knows where to look for the answers.
When the Night King attacked the hidden lair of the Three-eyed Raven, the old tree-man spent his final hours “uploading” visions into Bran for him to look at later. Whereas Bran had only been there for two seasons (one unseen), the Three-eyed Raven said he had spent a thousand years waiting for Bran to arrive. That’s a lot of downtime to spend searching through the past for interesting moments, but not enough to share them all.
Which is why it made sense that Bran had not seen Lyanna and Rhaegar’s marriage before Sam told him to look for it. He has only had a very small amount of time to both learn how to use his powers and then start digging through history–this on top of the fact that his mentor was killed before he could complete his training. Bran simply didn’t know or think to look for an event he never imagined had taken place. The only story he had ever been told was the lie Robert Baratheon’s Rebellion had been fought on: Rhaegar had kidnapped Lyanna Stark. Who looks for a wedding when they “know” an abduction took place?
But Sam’s prompting was enough to bring Bran to his aunt’s wedding day, which was what he needed to bring Game of Thrones‘ biggest revelation to light: that Jon Snow is really Aegon Targaryen, the trueborn son and last surviving child of Rhaegar Targaryen, making him the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
Bran is powerful beyond comprehension, being able to see through time, but he still needs to see those events to learn from them. That requires him knowing that they took place.
Which brings us to season eight, and what his role might be therein. The White Walkers have passed the Wall. The fight that Bran had been preparing for just got moved to a much bigger, more dangerous venue. He thought he had to be ready for the Night King when he got to the Wall, but a dead dragon really blew a hole through that plan.
So now Bran has to start looking for lessons he didn’t think he needed. Sure, maybe he should have been looking for them anyway, but there are limits to his powers. The Three-eyed Raven and Jojen both warned him about staying in his visions or other beings’ bodies for too long, lest he be lost in them. That’s the basis for the theory that says Bran is the Night King himself. But if he isn’t, it does explain why Bran can’t live in the library of past events like a college student cramming for a final exam. He has a finite amount of time to travel back in the past, so he can’t just go walking around looking for relevant moments.
But now he knows what he needs to do. He needs to go back 8,000 years ago to the first Long Night, when Azor Ahai and his sword Lightbringer led the First Men and the Children of the Forest to a final victory against the White Walkers at the Battle for the Dawn. That’s the legend, but the details around it are sparse.
What exactly happened there? What did Azor Ahai do? How were the living able to stem the White Walker invasion before that? Because the original Great War did not take place only in the frozen lands of the North, the White Walkers pushed the living south for a generation, when darkness consumed the land.
Is there some lost fact or location hidden deep in an old dusty book somewhere? Like in a bag of them Sam stole from the Citadel, maybe?
Winter has come to King’s Landing. The Wall has been breached. The unthinkable has happened. The only good from any of that is now Bran knows what he needs to look for in his visions. Just like when Sam asked him to find Rhaegar and Lyanna’s secret wedding, the ever-studious young Tarly might be able to tell him where to “go” to find those answers.
The living beat the dead once before, and Bran seems to be the only one who can find out how. That’s why his role in Game of Thrones‘ endgame might be the biggest of them all. And if it’s not, his role will be the same as everyone else’s: Becoming yet another soldier for the dead.
What do you think awaits Bran in season eight? Share your ideas with us in the comments below.