We called it. That doesn’t mean we buy it. Still, let’s try to make more sense out of it.
The way Tyrion Lannister told it in the Game of Thrones finale, Bran Stark has the best story in all of Westeros — a story that will help the common folk and the nobles unite behind King Bran the Broken. Ironically, and perhaps in part to keep the ending a surprise, Game of Thrones itself became utterly disinterested in telling Bran’s story — relegating him to season 8’s most persistent background character.
By the time the finale rolled around, then, it was hard to remember that Bran was far more than the kid who overcame adversity, learned to fly and became the nation’s institutional memory, to use Tyrion’s participation-trophy language. The reaction to that kid’s elevation to the throne, therefore, was a collective “meh” when it could have been a collective “holy crap, they put an actual time-traveling psychic in charge of six kingdoms! And he knew it was going to happen! Did he somehow make it happen? There’s a lot to unpack here!”
Whatever else you made of the grand sweeping arcs of Seasons 7 and 8 — personally, I felt the showrunners stuck the (King’s) landing on the compelling tale of a doomed dragon queen and the men who loved her, and grew impatient with entitled calls for a different ending — we can at least agree that Bran was given short shrift.
As with the U.S. in 2016, we’re really not sure what kind of creature this electoral college just handed power to, or what he’ll do with it next. Could whatever force of fate that put him on the throne still be working to some sinister purpose, perhaps involving Drogon?
We may never be able to score an actual interview with him, but here are 10 key questions for the new leader of the Six Kingdoms.
1. What’s it like in your head?
In Seasons 1 through 6, we saw all Bran’s visions. We saw his early dreams, haunted by the Three-Eyed Raven he was to become. We traveled to the past with him, and saw how he could use then to influence now. Through his eyes, we saw the origin of the Night King. We shared the heartbreak of Hodor’s origins and the drama of Jon Snow’s birth.
But as soon as Bran returned to Winterfell at the start of Season 7, the showrunners made a conscious decision to shut us out of his head. According to the actor Isaac Hempsted-Wright, they were going for a Dr. Manhattan-from-Watchmen vibe for his character: He knows and sees everything now, so that’s going to make him seem distant and unconcerned with human affairs.
What kind of things was Bran seeing, though? We had only his minimalist, stalker-ish statements to go on. “I saw you at the crossroads,” he told Arya. He unnerved even Littlefinger by quoting a key line from his past: “Chaos is a ladder.” But there were no more attempts to represent the kind of chaos going on inside Bran’s head. None of the Watchmen-style back and forth across time that made readers sympathetic Dr. Manhattan, no Kubrickian vision in trippy colors. The only message was: You wouldn’t understand.
No wonder we all settled into a routine of deriding Bran as the creepy college kid who got too deep into drugs. Is that what it’s like, your grace? Are you an acid casualty? For that matter …
2. Are you immortal?
Neither the audience — nor, apparently, Tyrion and the rest of his small council — have the first clue about King Three-Eyed Raven. Or as fans of the dark historical fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell might now call him, The Raven King. (That character brought ill-understood magical forces to an alternate-history Britain; if putting Thrones‘ Raven on the throne is the showrunner’s deliberate nod to Susanna Clarke’s best-selling novel, the BBC adaptation of which is available on Netflix, I doff my geek cap to them.)
One thing we don’t really know about him, but which the George R.R. Martin books suggest: is this Raven immortal? In A Dance With Dragons, Bran learns that the greenseer in the tree north of the Wall with this title is named Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers — a Targaryen bastard and an expert in dark magic who has lived at least 125 years.
So could Bran live that long? Could his powers help him live forever (presuming he isn’t killed by White Walkers like the last Three-Eyed Raven)? Did the nobles of Westeros accidentally elevate a ruler who will never vacate the throne? Will there never be another election for king?
That may not be a bad thing in itself. It could hasten the development of Westeros’ nascent democracy, once people get used to the idea, perhaps with the Hand of the King becoming an elected Prime Minister. Bran would offer some serious Queen Elizabeth II-style continuity.
Then again, he could be a dictator who intends to remain the only person who selects his Hand. That’s why it’s good to find out these things before you elect someone!
3. Can you warg into dragons?
Warging, in Game of Thrones‘ language, is the ability to jump into the mind of other creatures, discover their location and (sometimes) control their actions. Bran has done it with direwolves and he’s done it with Hodor. Fans have long wanted to know if wargs like Bran could enter the consciousness of a dragon. A throwaway line at the end of the Small Council meeting suggests that he can. If so …
4. What do you want with Drogon?
Dany’s remaining dragon, now orphaned, was last seen flying her corpse out beyond the sea. He may have returned to Dragonstone, the ancient Targaryen home, or to his birthplace in Essos. Presumably, Bran is about to find out.
But what then? Having a dragon at your disposal seems to be the Thrones equivalent of Tolkien’s Ring — a powerful, highly corrupting influence. Will Bran be content to just keep one eye on Drogon, making sure he remains far from Westeros? Or is there some magical power moving through him that intends to control this dragon and lay waste to more cities?
Speaking of which …
5. Why didn’t you tell anyone about King’s Landing?
This issue has been raised before: Bran knew exactly where he needed to be in the Battle of Winterfell. He seemed to be proceeding according to a plan. Did so many people need to die in order to fulfill it? Okay, maybe Theon needed to sacrifice himself in order to give Arya time to stick the Valyrian blade in, but what about all those Unsullied and Dothraki?
The question becomes even more urgent when we consider that Bran probably knew in advance that Dany was going to burn King’s Landing and its civilian population to the ground. He had plenty of opportunity to talk to Jon about it, who would have told Tyrion and Varys.
Between the three of them, surely they could have reined in the dragon queen’s worst tendencies one last time; not overtly plotted against her as Varys did alone, but certainly made extra sure she knew that the plan involved no firebombing of innocents. Even if fate is sealed
If you know in advance that a crime is about to be committed but you don’t tell anyone, you are just as guilty under the law. Does Bran have the blood of King’s Landing on his hands?
6. When did you know you were going to be King?
So Bran knew he was going to be king before he traveled to King’s Landing for the post-Dany leadership conference. When was the first time he saw it?
Does his time-travel greenseeing have limits, or was he simultaneously living his future on the throne when he returned from beyond the Wall? That might help explain why he was such an asshole to Meera Reed.
7. Do you understand the magic that made you?
Enough of the (relatively) softball questions. Time to get down to the philosophical nitty-gritty. Bran was lured north of the Wall by the Three-Eyed Raven, who haunted his dreams. He was groomed to take over the role, and the Children of the Forest were on board. But why him, and to what end?
Considering that the Children of the Forest created the Night King in the first place as a way to punish the world of men, should we perhaps be a little concerned that they were mixed up in your creation? Not for nothing did the “Bran is the Night King” theory refuse to die.
8. Do you have free will?
I’ve always wanted to ask this unanswerable late-night-dorm-room question in an interview setting. King Bran would be the only interviewee for whom it would truly make sense. If there is some sinister Children of the Forest plan at work here, then of course Bran’s going to claim he has free will, or give one of his usual zen-like noncommittal answers. Still, let’s get him on the record.
9. Is there another reason you chose Tyrion?
Bran’s very first act as king was to ensure that Tyrion Lannister served as his Hand. “He’s made many mistakes,” said King Raven. “He’s going to spend the rest of his life fixing them.” That seemed nicely fitting, and apparently it got Tyrion off the hook as far as Gray Worm was concerned.
But this seems pretty damn decisive for a kid who claims he never wanted to be king. Are there other, unspoken reasons? Tyrion happens to be a man with a passion for dragons. He’s one of the few people in King’s Landing who’s seen one up close, and one of the few in the world who has ever petted one. He also has a track record of blindly following Dany, oblivious to the oncoming storm.
If you did have some sinister design that involved Drogon, Tyrion is exactly whom you would want at your side.
10. What’s your tax policy?
Martin wrote the Song of Ice and Fire series in part as a political reaction to Lord of the Rings. What he said in a Rolling Stone interview explains why, and is worth quoting at length.
Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine?
None of these questions were answered by the show, either — although it is to the showrunners’ credit that we leave Bran’s Small Council arguing about the kind of piddling issues they’ll confront going forward. In this case, whether the rebuilding of the Westerosi navy should be funded before the rebuilding of the brothels. That’s certainly in the spirit of what Martin meant.
But let’s have more specifics going forward, and let’s not pretend that Tyrion will have all the answers or will never be overruled. Where does King Bran stand on taxation? If the people are going to be taxed, shouldn’t they get something out of it beyond the feudal protection of their liege lords? If the lords of Westeros are going to be taxed, should it be at a greater rate than the people, considering they’re the one-percenters with all the cash? How will he enforce the system while avoiding corruption? What’s his trade policy with the newly independent North?
If Bran actually has the answers, and if whatever system he sets in place works for Westeros, then seven hells — maybe we should think about running him as a presidential candidate in 2020.