This post will be talking Game of Thrones, the Television show. It’s best you not read this unless you’re caught up on the current season, or have read the books. Oh, I guess if there’s anyone reading this not familiar with Lord of the Rings, I’ll be spoiling a wee bit of info about that excellent fantasy series too. Just sayin’
Okay, Halloween is right around the corner, with long cold nights, demanding children, and the undead. So a perfect time to talk about Bran Stark’s storyline on Game of Thrones.
He’s a Stark, Therefore AWESOME, right?
But, I’m worried about Bran’s future path. There’s some serious dark vibes about a child with mind-control powers being taught magic by a wizened old hermit in a cave littered with skulls. This doesn’t seem to be Hogwarts.
But before I talk about Bran, I want to talk about the Witch-King of Angmar from Lord of the Rings. (Sorry for the total lack of segue.)
In the Lord of the Rings epic, the evil Sauron commanded the forces of orcs (a LOT of orcs) and trolls, but his elite forces were the Nazgul, the Ringwraiths. The nine black riders who pursue the hobbits from the Shire to Rivendell were once nine kings who had accepted rings of power from Annatar (Sauron in a pleasing disguise), but over time the rings took hold, turned them into the shadowy living dead, and bound them into service of evil.
The greatest of these nine kings became known as the Witch-King of Angmar, Angmar being the rough northern land where he ruled. (I assume it was his kingdom prior to becoming a ringwraith, but I guess the point is academic. Hey Tolkein academics, school me on this!)
I’m sure he started out a pleasant fellow. Observe how nice and wise he appears:
But appearances can deceive. Or as they say in the Stock Market: past performance does not guarantee future earnings. Old Angmar might look gentle and sweet above, but after some time with his demon-battery ring, he ends up like this:
So, Angmar’s story is about a guy who ends up turning to the dark side when granted power from a mysterious being. Stuff like that happens all the time.
So what does that have to do with Bran?
Maybe nothing, but to me there are similarities between young Bran and the Witch-King that bear discussion.
His Grace with the Terrifying Face
Straight up, they’re both Northern Kings. What? I hear you say. Bran’s not a king!
Really? Who became King in the North when Robb Stark died? Robb had no son or heir. Since the North and the northern lords (at least most of them, the non-skeevy ones) had declared for Robb Stark, when Robb died Bran had a legitimate claim to the lands north of the Neck. (And technically, the Riverlands as well since the lords there declared for Robb.)
Okay, nearly everyone thinks Bran’s dead, and the dream of northern secession has mostly faded away, I guess, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s actually alive. And there are a handful of people that know it. Theon, the Boltons, and Sam Tarly. (And Jon Snow, at least on the television show…)
Besides, everyone thinking Bran is dead just makes me think more of the undead Witch-King. Because if Bran returned to the inhabited lands, wielding mysterious power, it would almost be like he was back from the dead! Sort of. If I really stretch this…
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Bran’s currently made it to the secret lair of some ancient lich-like guy, who called Bran to come north with some kind of promises. Bran’s weak and vulnerable. He’s not asking for references, or trying to get a gauge on the morality of the person referred to as the Three Eyed Raven. All we know is that this wizened nigh-mummy hangs out in tree roots, in a cave littered with skulls, served by non-humans.
The Children of the Forest certainly don’t look like orcs, and the cave isn’t like the lava-filled caverns of Mount Doom, but we just don’t know. Raven Three-Eyes might not have an agenda that’s altogether heroic and sweet. I think it’s worthwhile to keep that possibility on the back burner, or not lose sight of it, or whatever the appropriate metaphor would be.
Bran’s a Sweet Kid
I hear you. Arya was a sweet kid at one time too. Ask the Hound, dying slowly from his wounds and denied mercy from Arya, if she’s a sweet kid now. People change.
But Bran’s already been changing. In the first episode of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark takes a moment after beheading an unlucky Night’s Watch deserter to discuss with Bran the ethics of the situation.
Ned: You understand why I had to do it?
Bran: Our way is the Old Way.
Ned: The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
Now, Ned is talking about a specific situation of northern law, but in general, he’s saying that a person does his own dirty work. Otherwise, it’s too easy to initiate distasteful behavior if there are no personal consequences. It’s one thing to have others carry out the unpleasant tasks, things that might gnaw at your conscience. It’s meaningful to do it yourself.
Bran does not follow the Old Way.
He makes Hodor do his dirty work, and has Hodor live with the consquences without thinking what that means to Hodor.
Hodor Hodor Brodor Hodor
The show has gone out of its way, particularly in the fourth season, to show that although Hodor is a giant, he is a gentle giant. When Bran and the Reeds were captured by the Night’s Watch mutineers, Hodor was chained and bullied, while not offering any resistance or retaliation. Rast the mutineer marveled at this, since he recognized the physical power that Hodor had without understanding the pacifist nature inside Hodor.
Bran is a child, and doesn’t know to respect the pacifist nature inside Hodor. When the Night’s Watch attacked Craster’s Keep to capture or kill the mutineers, the Bolton bannerman Locke attempted to abduct Bran. Bran used his mind-control “warging” ability to possess Hodor. Bran, controlling Hodor’s body, brutally killed Locke.
Bran, upon “exiting”, calmly ordered Hodor to carry him back to the others. Hodor, confused, was horrified at the sight of a dead man and his own hands covered in that man’s blood.
Bran didn’t seem to share any of the emotional consequences of killing someone, he left that all to Hodor.
I’m not going to cry any tears for Locke, and I also don’t think it’s correct to insist that crippled Bran extricate himself from the situation in some other way, but I do feel for Hodor. My fear is that Bran doesn’t respect the boundary between himself and others. If he could control Hodor, could he control others?
That’s typically a problem that comes up in stories with people who are gifted with mind-control. Should they wish it, they could win every argument. Get exactly what they want. Indulge all their whims. Unless they have a serious moral grounding not to do so.
George RR Martin wrote a series of books (some he authored, some he edited as a shared universe) called Wild Cards. Wild Cards is a science-fiction/superhero genre series where humans, through the introduction of an alien virus, develop mutations and comic-book inspired superpowers.
One of the “Aces” of the universe, a metahuman with miraculous powers and no physical deformities, was Puppetman. Puppetman had the ability, much like Bran, to control others, to see through their eyes, and to force them to do horrible things that they would have rather not done.
Puppetman was a villain. A monster. He became a monster while he was a child, before he could develop a conscience or a moral compass.
I’m hoping that doesn’t happen to Bran, but I can’t rule it out.
Are these allegations solid? I don’t know, and there appears to be evidence against it. Bran might very well be in the company of the righteous.
Bran is assisted in getting to the Far North by the Reed children, Meera and Jojen Reed.
Their dad, Howland Reed, was one of Lord Eddard’s bannermen and saved Ned during Robert’s rebellion. (I hope hope hope that we get to see this in flashback in Season Five. Super hope.) So they have some decent credentials. But we really don’t know what their agenda is either. Meera appears to be following Jojen’s lead, and he is guided by mysterious and prophetic visions. We know he’s seriously committed to his cause, since he didn’t flinch when walking into the wight-trapped ice that would be his doom.
It’s hard to assess the morality of a zealot.
Hey! I hear you say. The wights guarding the cave, trying to prevent Team Bran from getting inside (and the fact that the cave was anti-undead magically protected) kind of puts Bran’s old guy mentor in the good camp, right?
That is a compelling argument. It appears that the Three Eyed Raven isn’t part of Team Other. Doesn’t necessarily mean that mean he’s good, though. We just don’t know much about the Children of the Forest and their relationship in regards to humanity, or the Others.
We just know that the Wildlings are on the move south, to get away from the Others. And those Others seem to be on the move. Imagine if the White Walkers are on the move to get away from something even worse?
Bran’s story in HBO’s Game of Thrones has nearly caught up with the books, so I’m keenly interested in what Bran’s course will be. All we know from the Three Eyed Raven is that Bran will never be able to walk, but he will fly.
People who watch the show and read the books are excited by this prediction. Will Bran be able to warg into one of Daenerys’ dragons? Or possibly become a dragon-rider? (With the help of a saddle similar to the one designed for him by Tyrion?)
I’m reminded of another northern king, known for a winged mount.
We Have Met the Enemy, and They are Us
This is all speculation, but I would not be surprised if Bran Stark, whose journey we follow more or less sympathetically (it’s a bit more engaging in the books), actually turns out to be a problem to be dealt with by characters we eventually identify as protagonists in the end-game. GRRM is kind of sneaky about turning our sympathies towards earlier established villains, or making charcters that would otherwise be the traditional heroes far from blameless. It would not shock me if this happen to cherubic Brandon Stark as well.
I have hopes for Bran, but I can’t pin all my hopes on him.
But who cares what I think? What do you all think?
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, and New Line Cinema’s Lord of the Rings.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
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© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved