The Crazy 'Game of Thrones' Theory That Could Resurrect a Fan Favorite
The results of our Game of Thrones "dead character" bracket were clear: the world craves the return of Ned Stark, father of Westeros' most noble denizens, taken too soon in Season 1. Hell, even actor Sean Bean is down for a comeback.
"It would be bizarre, but it would be great!" Bean told Vulture in 2014. "I've definitely got some unfinished business that needs to be resolved there. I'm obviously not Jon Snow's dad. And you need that to be revealed at some point, don't you?"
Yes, Sean Bean, you do. And thanks to a tiny moment in last week's third episode, "Oathbreaker," Game of Thrones plot logic may actually provide a way.
Game of Thrones obsessives clutched their couches in anticipation of such a reveal when Bran flashed back to a young version of his father warding off Ser Arthur Dayne and Lord Commander Gerold Hightower outside the "Tower of Joy." Ned's "heroic" victory at the Tower was a Stark dinner-table staple, and a moment fans were pining to see. As the story goes, Ned would run up the tower stairs to find his sister, Lyanna, dying and clinging to a baby. The father? Probably Rhaegar Targaryen. The boy? Jon Snow -- a bastard Ned would claim as his own.
That didn't happen. Instead, creators/episode writers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff cut the scene short. Before Bran peeks upstairs, the Three-Eyed Raven yanks him out of the vision. The pacing decision opened the door for another revelation: the psychic lad, with enough force, can push through the vision barrier into reality. Before reverting back to his physical self, Bran screams out to his father... and Ned hears him.
Bran's been on an ill-defined path since falling out a window all those years ago. Though tied to Westeros' mystical spine, his multi-season trek to the Weirwood tree felt auxiliary, an excuse for a few more Hodor GIFs. Even us Jojen fans -- yes, we exist, and we have a Facebook group -- wondered if Bran and his merry band of believers were anything more than living Wiki pages for Game of Thrones' magical aspects. Bran learns the rules of warging so we can imagine how other characters might use the power. His "greensight," a telepathic looking glass to the past, serves to foreshadow the future and dredge up secrets from the past (Hodor!). The shortest distance between two plot points is Bran's magic.
"Oathbreaker" ups the ante. Not only can Bran sift through Robert's Rebellion for clues, his voice can bellow through the fabric of spacetime. The moment deserves a flag whether greensight visions are constructs projected from the Weirwood tree network's downloaded memory -- who will pull an Edward Snowden on the Children of the Forest? -- or literal breaches of dimensions, akin to Matthew McConaughey's black hole experience in Interstellar. Whatever is actually going on is some nerd-ass shit -- and it has implications. Chekhov's time travel device sits atop the Game of Thrones table.
"But Game of Thrones is a fantasy show!" As if George R.R. Martin gives a hoot. When the author's story "Portraits of His Children" won a Nebula award in 1986, fans debated over the validity of a win. Was it a fantasy story or a tale of madness with swords? Martin would later write, "Stories of the human heart in conflict with itself transcend time, place, and setting. So long as love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice are present, it matters not a whit whether that tall, lean stranger has a proton pistol or a six-shooter in his hand. Or a sword ... Fantasy? Science fiction? Horror? I say it’s a story, and I say the hell with it."
If Weiss and Benioff share the sentiment, a science fiction concept like time travel could sit comfortably next to fire-breathing dragons and Lord of Light-enabled resurrections. Who knows, maybe that insane theory that Game of Thrones takes place in a postapocalyptic world ravaged by nuclear winter could be true. Martin's background in sci-fi, and his penchant for genre-bending, makes Bran's subtle discovery all the more interesting. And Martin isn't one to shy away from picking apart his older material and reassembling it as something new. "Oathbreaker" isn't the first time a Martin character traveled through time to whisper in someone's ear.
In his 1985 short story "Under Siege," Martin tells the story of a futuristic mutant assigned to warp back into the mind of a Swedish soldier in order to influence the outcome of the Siege of Sveaborg and, in broader terms, the Finnish War. While a machine's involved, there's no flying TARDIS or electrified DeLorean popping out into the 19th century. The highly evolved man plugs in straight to the mind of his past proxy (similar to Assassin's Creed's time travel logic) and influences action like a conscience. The voice in the back of your head? Could be a time traveler.
There are risks involved. As one of the future engineers explains, “The longer you stay in rapport, the stronger your influence grows on the host, and the more likely it becomes that your presence will be felt. Few hosts can deal with that perception.” The line echoes the Three-Eyed Raven's warning to Bran in "Oathbreaker." "Stay too long where you don't belong, and you'll never return." Ol' Three-Eyes insists that his student can't influence the past ("The ink is dry"). Still, he urges Bran to stop reaching out to his father. Perhaps because he did the same thing when he was a young man? Something forced Three-Eyed Raven to live inside the Weirwood for 1,000 years, "watching the world from a distance."
Bran is antsy to figure out life, and his ability to manifest before his greensight subjects should only grow stronger -- a deadly combination. A scene teased in a Season 6 trailer (now suspiciously removed by HBO) shows him toe-to-toe with the Night's King, a seemingly reckless move that could see the White Walkers descending upon his posse sooner than later. But if Bran's on the Luke Skywalker path -- OK, Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, for the storytelling snobs -- he won't wait for Three-Eyed Raven to wrap up training before he declares himself a professional greenlighter. He'll use his time travel powers to alter the entire history of Westeros.
Reddit is on top of this, obviously. User NegativeKarmaSniifer speculates that Bran will whisper into the ear of the King Aerys II Targaryen and transform him into the Mad King -- a fuck-up worthy of George R.R. Martin's cynicism. I'd like to propose a happier twist, one that revives our bracket favorite and speaks to something grand at the same time. Imagine Bran willing himself back to the Tower of Joy, or even the Stark family's early days at Winterfell, to deliver Ned a Back to the Future-like warning: "Winter is coming." If Ned avoids King's Landing, he can reveal Jon Snow's true identity, unite him with Daenerys Targaryen, defeat the incoming White Walkers before they have the upper hand, and restore Westeros to its former glory. It undoes the entire show, but hey, that's the cost of time traveling. Never stood in Lost's way.
Or maybe the Three-Eyed Raven is right. If Game of Thrones spins a political message, the time travel element teaches an essential lesson: learn from the past, don't try to undo it. Tragedy entombs Bran's greensight ability. Any attempt he makes to correct history's dry ink could butterfly-effect his own existence. Or worse, it could keep Westeros in an infinite loop, stuck in time, forever at war (see Stephen King's The Dark Tower for reasons why this isn't that insane). Part of me wonders if Bran is destined to run parallel to the rest of the show, fuddled by his save-the-world-quick scheme and destined for the Three-Eyed Raven's fate. The exact fate, even -- there's not enough evidence in the show or book texts to suggest Bran and his mentor aren't one and the same. All too weird? Never forget that Martin writes just as much sci-fi as fantasy.
But let's be more optimistic. There's a chance that tangible, world-changing time travel exists in the Game of Thrones universe. Perfect. Now bring back Sean Bean. The actor known for dying grisly deaths deserves a resurrection of his own.
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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment Editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. He loves to warg. Find him on Twitter @misterpatches.