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What Bran’s Time-Bending Moment Tells Us About the ‘Game of Thrones’ World

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HBO

Rest in peace, Three-Eyed Raven. You were a bad teacher of greenseeing, my dude. If the fate of the world hinged on my ability to pass on my knowledge, I’d tell my only student, “DON’T LET THE NIGHT’S KING TOUCH YOU,” five times a day. In retrospect, it’s kind of the only rule a young greenseer needs to know. A rule that important should be treated like the Fight Club rule. But despite that massive flaw, the Three-Eyed Raven was one of the story’s most fascinating and mysterious characters.

Spencer asks, “Who was the man in the tree?”

The Three-Eyed Raven was born Brynden Rivers in 175 AC (about 125 years before the events of the show) in King’s Landing. He was one of the many bastards of King Aegon IV, better known to history as “Aegon the Unworthy.” Aegon was, above all else, profligate; he ate too much, he spent too much, and he fucked too much. His innumerable dalliances resulted in a vast brood of bastards, and those born to highborn mothers, like Brynden, were known as “Great Bastards.” The King legitimized all of his bastards on his deathbed, creating a succession crisis that resulted in five civil wars, the effects of which are still being felt in the realm today.

Lord Brynden is best known for his actions during the first of these conflicts, known as the First Blackfyre Rebellion. During the decisive Battle of the Redgrass Field, Brynden, who remained loyal to his half brother King Daeron II, and Brynden’s personal militia of archers gained the strategic heights on the Weeping Ridge. The hail of arrows they unleashed slew the usurper Daemon Blackfyre (another of Brynden’s half brothers) and Daemon’s two sons. As the rebel army began to flee, Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers (another Great Bastard), led a cavalry charge at Brynden and his archers. Bittersteel got close enough to hack out one of Lord Brynden’s eyes, but it was too little too late. The war was effectively over once Daemon and his sons were killed.

The loss of his eye added to Brynden’s already intimidating appearance. Owing to his pallorous white skin, the blood-red birthmark staining his face, and his reputation for sorcery, he was called “Bloodraven.” His influence was seen in every shadow; popular gossip held him to blame for a long drought around 211 AC. After serving as Hand to two kings, he was sent to the Wall in 233 AC (with a young Maester Aemon!) for reasons that remain unclear, and eventually rose to Lord Commander. He disappeared on a ranging beyond the Wall in 252 AC, roughly 50 years before Bran finds him under the weirwood tree.

Robert asks, “If Bran can mess with time, what other plots does that explain?”

It’s important to note that the Three-Eyed Raven flat-out tells Bran that it is impossible to change the past. “Through the trees, I see them still,” says the Raven — who is known as the Three-Eyed Crow in the books — of his own attempts to contact long-lost loved ones. “No word of mine has ever reached them. The past remains the past.” But it appears that Bran is more powerful than even Lord Brynden knew. The books only hint that Bran has this ability, so seeing it on the show sends my mind reeling.

As to the question — one theory floating around posits that a time-traveling Bran is responsible for numerous events, including Aerys II becoming the Mad King and the construction of the Wall. I don’t subscribe to this for reasons that are too involved to discuss here. But the bottom line is: world-building. What makes this story effective is the seamlessness of its world-building. Overuse of a time-traveling mechanic would unravel those seams. Why would Bran go back in time to build a Wall that’s already built in his timeline? Why would he try to stop the Mad King from killing his grandfather and not try to stop Ilyn Payne from beheading Ned Stark? To paraphrase Looper, if we start talking about time travel, we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with weirwood branches. And that would ruin the story.

Mallory Rubin asks, “Is it worth living in a world where ‘Winter Is Coming’ and Summer is no more?”

Mallory answers: Greetings, cherished skinchangers. It’s the Mother of Dragons, searching for some catharsis in the form of a quick guest entry. Are you holding up OK after the hauntingly beautiful death we witnessed on Sunday night? I speak, of course, of Summer’s sacrifice, in which Bran’s direwolf/bestie catapulted into a pod of wights in order to give his human a few extra precious seconds to escape the Three-Eyed Raven’s den of doom. Hodor’s demise has sparked more outcry than Lady Crane’s latest rhyme, and rightly so — but Summer deserves as many fond remembrances.

Never forget how Summer ripped out the throat of Bran’s would-be assassin, nor how he allowed Bran to share his skin and mind. Summer was Bran’s fiercest shield and most loyal companion, but he was also the vessel through which Bran began to use and understand his powers. Summer helped set in motion a series of magical happenings that we now realize could determine the fate of Westeros, but Bran will have to face the next stage of his journey absent the courage that his wolf’s familiar warmth long provided.

Bran still has Meera, and for his sake, I pray that another champion comes to his aid. But he no longer has his greatest protector. Summer was more than a wolf. He was a friend, brave and true. We shall never see his like again.

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HBO

Andrew asks, “If the White Walkers were once a weapon used by the Children of the Forest against the First Men, did that also create the ridiculously long winters?”

I think that’s a fair assumption. I would go a bit further, though: I think the Children may have inadvertently created winter. It was summer when the Children created the White Walkers under the heart tree among the standing stones. When Bran uses his greenseer powers to visit the same location thousands of years later, it’s winter, and the White Walkers are gathering their army there. The birthplace of the Others must be somewhere very far north, somewhere they can gather their strength in eternal cold, far from the eyes of men. How could it ever have been so warm so far north unless winter as we know it didn’t exist at the time?

Early in the books, when Bran is unconscious after being pushed from the tower by Jaime, the Three-Eyed Crow comes to him in a dream and takes him high into the sky. “Teaching you how to fly,” he tells the boy. From that soaring vantage, Bran sees ships plying the waters of the Bite between the North and the Vale. To the east, past the vast green of the Dothraki sea, he sees Asshai by the Shadow, the very end of the known world, where “dragons stirred beneath the sunrise.” When he finally turns his eyes north, he spies the Wall “shining like blue crystal.” Beyond that, he sees the Haunted Forest, the frozen waters of the Milkwater, and endless plains of ice. Farther and farther north he looks until he comes to a “curtain of light at the end of the world” past which lies “the heart of winter.” What he sees there terrifies him. This is where I think the Children created the White Walkers.

Ben asks, “Are the White Walkers actually evil?”

They were created to kill humans and they can raise the dead, so, from our perspective, it’s hard to view them as anything but evil.

Matthew asks, “Is there any meaning behind the fact that the White Walkers were created with dragonglass?”

It certainly helps explain why obsidian kills them.

Dean asks, “Are the Children of the Forest extinct now?”

Perhaps not. In the southern Riverlands, between the Trident and King’s Landing, is the God’s Eye, the largest lake in Westeros. During the war between the Children and the First Men some 12,000 years ago, on the small island in the middle of the lake, the Children cast the spell that shattered the Arm of Dorne, the land bridge linking Essos to southern Westeros. If that slowed the advance of humankind, it certainly did not stop it, and the war raged for roughly another 2,000 years. Exhausted, both sides came to an understanding, and the Pact, the peace accords between the Children and the First Men, were agreed to on that same island in the God’s Eye. Faces were carved into the island’s weirwood trees so that the Old Gods could bear witness. Ever since, the island has been known as the Isle of Faces. No one* ever visits this island. According to the folk tales, the Isle’s only inhabitants are caretakers known as the “the Green Men.”

*One person that we know of (allegedly) has, but it’s not worth getting into now.

David asks, “Why didn’t they send Rickon to Howland Reed?”

The swamp keeps of the crannogmen of the Neck are built on movable man-made islands. Howland Reed’s seat, Greywater Watch, is no different; its location changes so often that even ravens can’t find it. Additionally, the Neck is full of snakes and creatures called “lizard-lions,” which sound suspiciously like alligators. Without a crannogmen bayou guide, wandering around in the bogs of the Neck is just a really bad idea. (PS: I need the Ned Stark–Howland Reed friendship origin story. How did those two dudes meet?)

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HBO

Arielle asks, “What’s the deal with the Iron Islands? They seem so easily convinced by everyone! First they were all Team Yara, and now Team Euron?”

If you need to win over a crowd with a speech, never speak first. That’s the lesson of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Euron’s kingsmoot win. The Ironborn are out of practice with the whole democracy thing. The last kingsmoot was held either 4,000 or 2,000 years ago (the scholars disagree), but, either way, it makes no difference. The tradition had been relegated to cultural memory.

Chris asks, “How is it possible that Yara had the loyalty of enough Ironborn who were willing to disregard the will of the Drowned God that she could take what appears to be the entire fleet — on, like, 30 seconds’ notice — but not enough to win the kingsmoot?”

The easiest but also least interesting answer is that there were many, many, many more people in attendance at the kingsmoot that weren’t shown because extras and CGI are expensive. It’s easy to forget that Season 1 presented the entire battle in the Whispering Wood as, like, eight horses galloping across a field. We’re spoiled now. Game of Thrones costs north of $10 million per episode to produce. That’s a $4 million increase from the second season. Most of the budget for “The Door” was likely spent on the extended white walker attack, which featured a direwolf in action (RIP) and multiple explosions.

That said, I counted the ships (more CGI!) that Yara and Theon purloined and came up with about 70. If we round that up to an even 100 and assume the ships are medieval-style cogs run by skeleton crews of 10 per ship, we get a force of 1,000 men. That’s a lot, assuming they were all at the kingsmoot, but it’s not unrealistic to think it wouldn’t be enough to swing the election considering the above rationalizations.

This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 24, 2016.