Beyond The Wall

Why Bran Stark's Journey on 'Game of Thrones' Was Surprising All the Way to the End

game of thrones
HBO
This post contains spoilers up through Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 6. Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

All hail Bran the Broken. After eight seasons of scheming, betraying, and bloodletting, the ultimate "winner" of the Iron Throne -- or at least whatever was left of it after Drogon burned it down -- was one of the oddest, most mysterious characters on the whole series. Instead of a conventional, obvious pick like Daenerys or Jon Snow, inarguably the main protagonists of the show down the homestretch, Bran Stark, also known as the Three-Eyed Raven, ended up being selected as King and ruling the six Kingdoms of Westeros. (The North will remain independent with Sansa at the helm.) For most viewers, it was a surprise. For Bran, who can see the future, it probably made sense.

If you look at the totality of the series, the image of Bran leading a laid-back, banter-filled staff meeting during the closing moments has a certain poetic richness to it. In its less bleak second half, the series finale leaned hard into the importance of storytelling and the recording of history, so why not make the King a sentient Wikipedia entry? The son of Lord Ned and Lady Catelyn Stark, Bran had royal lineage, but his understanding of the past and his personal narrative made him the ideal leader for a broken world. 

Unless you love sporadic warging and cryptic philosophizing, Bran probably wasn't your favorite character. Most fans preferred his siblings Sansa or Arya, who showed him up with her archery skills way back in the pilot. "Keep practicing," says Ned to his son in that first episode, back when actor Isaac Hempstead Wright was still a little boy. Again, it ended up being a fitting moment: Bran eventually obtained power by virtue of not wanting it the most.

game of thrones
HBO

Yes, sometimes his plot-lines could feel disconnected from the larger narrative -- remember, there was a whole season where he didn't even appear -- but he was always a significant player in the larger game and essential to the show's often subversive take on fantasy storytelling. After all, Bran's most famous moment in the first episode of the series featured him being shoved out of a tower by Jaime Lannister after witnessing the king-slaying knight having sex with his sister Cersei. It was the shocking cliffhanger that drew in casual fans, who were likely unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin's books and perhaps curious about an HBO series initially presented as "The Sopranos with knights and dragons." It immediately established the show's abrasive tone.

As Bran's storyline played out over the years, his plots were often the most purely fantastical and quest-like. Where other characters existed as part of a quasi-realistic medieval historical saga set in a brutal, unforgiving moral landscape, Bran's sections often played like occasionally haunting, slightly stoner-ey dreams. They could be thrilling and strange, adventurous discursions into dark forests and snow-covered hills. They could also be incredibly ponderous, events that appeared to have little bearing on the more Machivellian struggles elsewhere on the map.

game of thrones
HBO

Ultimately, that disconnect from the main action made him a natural choice for the post-Daenerys leadership council assembled at King's Landing. Seeming at first like he might stand trial, Tyrion suggested Bran's name for King and all it took was a quick speech to bring almost everyone on board with the idea. "Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?" asked Tyrion, who also dubbed Bran "our memory" and "the keeper of all our stories."

Instead of pursuing power, Bran pursued enlightenment and wisdom. Almost constantly on the run, pulled on his sled or carried on the back of Hodor, Bran's storylines were filled with magic. He had visions of birds; he inhabited the bodies of direwolves; he was rescued by the Children of the Forest. He was trained in the mysterious art of "greensight," which allows individuals to see into the past and future, by Max Von Sydow, an actor you probably forgot was even on the show.

By placing Bran in charge, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have again used him to upend our expectations and challenge conventional notions of power. What type of leader will Bran be going forward? We know he won't have children, allowing another council to choose the next leader, but will he use his powers? Could his clairvoyance be a curse in ethically challenging political or military situations? 

Judging from his behavior in the finale and throughout Season 8, it's difficult to predict how he will rule -- and a little useless because the show is over now. (Though he did sound open to using his warging gifts to search for Drogon.) Most of the leaders in the history of Game of Thrones have been calculating and passionate, simultaneously ruled by their desire for justice and their hatred for their enemies. With his prophetic gifts and his aloof demeanor, it's easy to imagine Bran governing as a removed, above-it-all seer. A king of contradictions, he's a rebuilder who broke the wheel by falling from a window. Long may he reign.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.