What an episode huh? For an episode that casually dropped such a huge answer, it left us with far more n the way of questions. As it seems, the Children of the Forest created the Others out of men, as a last ditch effort to combat annihilation at the hands of men. This will likely be the same relationship in the books, and it’s one that throws into question a lot of what we know about the the ancient history of Westeros.
But it’s also a relationship Martin has written before.
[Spoilers for Tuf Voyaging by GRRM]
The Guardian Connection
In Martin’s short story from Tuf Voyaging titled Guardians, the space trader Haviland Tuf comes to the planet Namor, who’s inhabitants are being plagued by killer sea monsters who are terraforming the planet. Tuf offers his services to the so called ‘Guardians’ of this world, who are at a loss for how to deal with the threat. Being ecological engineer, Tuf wants to fully understand why the sea monsters have suddenly appeared and started attacking, but is pushed by the Guardians to go to war prematurely, so he wages bio-war on the leviathans, engineering his own creatures specifically to counteract the sea monsters.
This strategy works for a bit, but then the sea monsters gain a resistance.
In the end, it turns out that the reason these sea monsters have suddenly appeared and begun terrorizing the planet is that the population had been eating a race of sea clam called the mudpots. Though seemingly benign, the mudpots are actually telepathic hive minded bottom dwellers who biologically engineer sea monsters to eliminate predators. As it turns out, it’s the mudpots are the titular Guardians of the planet Namor. Only by engineering a psychic kitten named Dax (no I’m not kidding), is Tuf able to communicate with the mudpots, and thus a truce is brokered between the mudpots and the humans, putting an end to Namor’s sea monster apocalypse.
Now our story has taken a slightly different route, but the same concepts are still at play. Mankind is still preparing to go to war against an what appears to be certain doom before truly understanding why the enemy is doing what they are doing… and after thousands of years, why now? In Tuf voyaging, and I suspect ASOIAF, mankind is being killed by their lack of understanding, not their lack of preparedness to kill.
In ASOIAF the Others have turned against their creators. Exactly when and why this turn occurred is unknown, but it’s definitely one of the big mysteries that remain in the series. The other major difference is that the Others have seemingly been dormant for thousands of years. On a practical level, the Others could build their army of the dead out of wildlings in a matter of days, particularly considering how insanely effective their recruitment methods are. So we have to wonder what it is which provoked the Others seemingly within a generation of the events of our story.
Though I think I have a pretty good answer for this in Mirror Mirror Beyond the Wall, I should add that Bran must be considered as a key suspect now. The show has not backed away from the introduction of time travel and the subsequent time paradoxes it creates, and it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the Three Eyed Raven awaited Bran so very long only to have his chosen one arrive just in time for the war to come. Given that the story is filled with suspicious and seemingly self-fulfilling prophecies, it’s worth considering whether Bran may be the lynchpin of a great self-fulfilling conflict. The root of a time paradox that history has been hurdling towards for ages.
For many this idea may seem convoluted, but a time paradox is an interesting commentary on the self-fulfilling nature of war. Essentially: Our enemies are preparing for the war to come, because we are preparing for the war to come that our enemies are preparing for.
The Bad Wolf is a Time Traveling Body Snatcher
Bran’s powers only ever escalate.
He has appeared 3 times this season. The first had him watching the past, the second had him communicating with the past, the third had him mentally breaking Wyllis in the past by seizing his body in the future, from the past.
Let’s go over what happened in the show, because it’s a doozy.
In the show, Bran’s mind exists in at least two separate points in time and space. His mind is decades in the past watching his father leave home, and also in the cave of the 3 Eyed Raven at the time of the White Walker attack (we know this because he can hear Meera while he watches Winterfell). This makes it complicated to determine exactly when Bran did what, because Bran’s mind is simultaneously in more than one point in space-time. Even cinematic indicators are a bit unreliable, as Bran is inside Hodor’s mind in the present, while watching Wyllis’ breakdown in the past.
This means that the question of “when” is transcended completely. Bran telepathically subjugates Hodor from the moment he is broken till his death.
Martin has also written a story about time travel possession. It’s called Under Siege.
[Spoiler Warning for Under Siege]
Under Siege is a story about a dwarf living in a horrible society, who’s mind is sent back to the past to prevent that society from ever coming into existence (NOTE: in this story characters actually can change the present by changing the past). Yet the protagonist has anxiety about deleting his own existence, and so he combines his consciousness with someone else’ in the past (basically skinchanging), changes time, and remains combined with his host forever.
There are several connections in ‘Under Siege’ to what just happened in ‘The Door’:
- Bran’s mind goes back in time.
- Wyllis is broken in the past by Bran
- What Bran does from the past effects the present, but also permanently transforms the past.
- Bran can likely skinchange people in the past. (the horror of human skinchanging was foreshadowed in the Varamyr chapter.)
But has Bran learned his lesson and decided to never warg again? Is Bran going to never touch the past again or warg a person ever again, and spend the rest of his life only using his powers to listen in on important which he can pass on to the able bodied?
Maybe. But probably not. Time travel has been introduced. Time loops are part of this now.
“It is beautiful beneath the sea. But if you stay too long you’ll drown.”
– The Three Eyed Raven
The Three Eyed Raven, Jojen and Meera have all warned Bran about losing himself in another time, place, and identity, and that Chekhov’s gun hasn’t quite gone off yet. Many thought the Night King vision was the culmination of that, but gladly it turned out not to be something so conceptually shallow. I think (but really I hope) that human skinchanging and time travel are only just beginning to be explored.
The concepts are loaded, and allow Martin to explore more of Bran’s inner feelings of inadequacy through escapism, while also exploring the complex and often abusive relationship between the ruling class and the ruled, and the soldier and the general. And beyond that time travel explores the paradoxically self fulfilling nature of war and propaganda.
Bran Ex Machina
In the next episode, it’s likely that we will encounter the mysterious wight slaying horseman from the trailer. Before the season began I actually suspected this would be Hodor, but that’s clearly incorrect. The two current competing theories on this rider are that it will be Coldhands or Benjen. Right now I’m on team Benjen, simply because the Coldhands of the books is very likely being animated by Bloodraven, and the Raven is now dead.
So if it were Coldhands, it would have to be a version of Coldhands animated by Bran.
But if it is Benjen, where has he been all this time? Has he really been hanging out for 5 years in the haunted forest just to pop back up again at just the right moment to save Bran? This seems kind of implausible. Whether the savior horseman in the show is Coldhands, or whether it’s Benjen, or whether it’s both, we may actually be looking at Bran’s second attempt. Just as Bran went into the past and telepathically subjugated and broke Hodor so he would be forced to save Bran and Meera at the exact moment he was needed years later, I suspect that Benjen may be the same way (though perhaps slightly less broken).
We can see that while Meera tries her best to escape with Bran, Bran’s mind is still time traveling and watching the past, while listening to Meera’s distress in the present. So we now have a week to figure out which is the more likely scenario: A rider with the skills to kill wights just so happened to be out there and will just so happen upon Bran and Meera? or that the time traveling Bran, knowing where and when he needs to be saved has set up a rider to arrive at the exact moment he would need it…
Given that time travel and human skin changing is now a potential in Bran’s story, there are some pretty major implications, and it’s worth taking into consideration that Martin is a huge fan of Heinlein and is on record as stating that ‘All You Zombies’ is what he considers to be the last word on time travel paradox. I haven’t read the story, but I’m a huge fan of the movie, so I was happy to hear Martin share the appreciation of this paradoxical story. If you want your mind blown, read the story, or even just read a summary.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” – (Bran, ADWD)
Bran cannot change what has already happened, but moving forward we have to wonder, how much of what has already happened has Bran caused?
“You could have been a knight too, I bet,” Bran told him. “If the gods hadn’t taken your wits, you would have been a great knight.” (Clash of Kings, Bran II)
In a scene from ‘The Door’, the Red Priestess Kinvara speaks to Varys about predestination, and how everyone is where they are for a reason, and then taunts him with the idea knowledge of the voice that spoke from the flames on the day he was castrated. She asks him if he would like to know what the voice said, or the name of the one who spoke. And in the original leaked audition, she even asks if he’d like to know where it lives.
Then the scene cuts to Bran.
“Now I am become Time who bringeth all to doom, the destroyer time come hither to consume”
– The Bhagavad Gita
The Three Eyed Raven claims to have waited for Bran for a thousand years. Jojen has called Bran “the only thing that matters.” We watched Hodor being broken for 55 episodes before realizing that Bran had done it all along. What else will we find out that Bran has done? Did Bran shape Benjen’s disappearance? Is Bran the Lord of Light? Who else will Bran become?
We’ll just have to see where this goes, when it goes there…