Game of Thrones theory crafting is more like poker than blackjack. To win at blackjack the best strategy is to count cards, you’re reading the deck, trying to play probabilities on what card could come out next. With this story I think you need to be more like a poker player, which is not reading the cards, but reading the people, or person, and in this case that person is the author; George R.R. Martin.
I’ve worked with George since 2006, but he doesn’t tell me secrets, so this is just my own conjecture. I do however read everything he writes (multiple times), and most interviews he has done. There are certain things he brings up over and over again. He set out his work to be a reaction to Tolkien, which is not to mean he dislikes Tolkien, but that Tolkien’s world is very archetypical where the good guys are all pretty and the bad guys all wear black hats (ugly, dark, etc). He liked to criticize the assumption of Aragorn’s success at a ruler, pointing out that just because he was a good person would not make him a good ruler, maybe he would have poor tax or agriculture policies. He likes to to use the real world comparison of Jimmy Carter, someone Martin believes was the best person to ever be President in his lifetime, but who was completely ineffective in the position. He then says sometimes bad people make good leaders or rulers. I always assume he means someone like Nixon who was a bad guy, yet effective (ended Viet’nam, opened China).
He has said unequivocally multiple times that he means to turn common fantasy literature tropes on their head. He has also said that he wanted to show just how hard a medieval setting was on people, especially the peasants.
You can find all of the above in interviews he has done.
So once we understands what sort of story he is writing we can maybe figure out what sort of ending we have coming. Warning, if I’m right, what is posted below may be SPOILERS for the ending, but at this point they’re just theories, not fact.
Did you know dragons were not even included in his original idea? A friend of his named Phyllis suggested he add them. Could Daenerys be the ultimate key to the plot if dragons weren’t even in the story when he first thought of it?
Do you think GRRM is writing a novel where the exiled princess strives for 7 books to get what she wants, gets it, then is a good ruler and lives happily ever after? Does that sound germy?
Hinging around Daenerys is the “prince who was promised” prophecy which might also be the Azor Ahai prophecy, but might not be. There have been connections, but originally the two terms were not from the same source.
The main prophecy is that “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt.” Daenerys was stormborn, and there was a red comet when she was “born again” as mother of dragons, certainly that was smokey. But you know George R.R. Martin also has said multiple times he is a fan of unreliable prophecies, and unreliable narration. Things don’t always mean what the characters think they do.
Later Daenerys herself sees many visions in the house of the undying, one of which is a vision of her brother Rhaegar, with his just born son Aegon. He says (in her vision) “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”
Melisandre later ties these two together by calling Stannis the Prince who was Promised and Azor Ahai reborn.
Is Daenerys the hero? I don’t think so. She is too impulsive, too ruthless, she sees the world in black and white, and it wouldn’t be a very germy thing to do would it? Azor Ahai, if he is a real thing and needs to happen and hasn’t already happened, is supposed to save all mankind. Would Daenerys save all mankind, even the slavers, even the traitors, even the usurpers?
There is also his sword, supposedly his sword is called Lightbringer and burns with fire, it is forged with the blood of a loved one. Of course Beric plays with a fire sword, but that is a trick, and Melisandre faked it with Stannis as well. People surmise that her dragons, quickened with the aid of Khal Drogo’s pyre, represent Lightbringer. I don’t think so, again because dragons weren’t originally part of the story. Daenerys doesn’t use a sword of course, so if it can’t be her dragons can she still be Azor Ahai?
What would be the most germy thing to do? For Daenerys to fail in her quest, for her to die, or for her to sacrifice herself maybe for the kingdom she has coveted. Not for her to rule at the end.
People, including Melisandre on the show, often think Jon is Ice and Daenerys is Fire and theirs is the song of ice and fire. Melisandre is notoriously bad at prophecies and even the actress who plays her has said as much in interviews. Jon isn’t ice just because he is named Snow and lived in the North. Jon is half Targaryen and half Stark, if anything, he is ice and fire, it isn’t his pairing with Daenerys, it is just him. Jon also has shown to be a wise a measured ruler. He has wisdom, patience, and empathy Daenerys sometimes lacks. He also doesn’t want to rule, or lead, at every stage he has it thrust upon him. He is certainly born again several times. Longclaw could work as Lightbringer though he hasn’t plunged it into any loved one’s chests.
It is still a little on the nose, and not very germy. Instead of the exiled princess we have the secret prince who has thrived in a life of relative adversity and shown his true worth. Jon may be the hero, he may be a savior of humanity, he may be Azor Ahai, but there are better candidates.
Most people like Tyrion, he is GRRM’s favorite character, and the one he feels the most affinity for. We, the audience, are supposed to like him. There is evidence through comments Barristan Selmy made, among other sources, that point to Aerys Targaryen haven’t had a relationship with Joanna Lannister (Tyrion’s mother) This has lead people to believe that Tyrion is also a secret Targaryen and he gets to be one of the dragon riders with Daenerys (of course, now she only needs 2).
This can’t be true for a variety of reasons. The timeline doesn’t match up for Tyrion’s birth, Gemma Lannister tells Jaime straight away that Tyrion is Tywin’s son, and it would be completely uninteresting and not germy at all. So we have the exiled princess and the secret prince and then another secret prince who every reader likes and every character underestimates who gets to have secret dragon affinity and etc. It complete detracts from Tyrion’s character arc, it diminishes the drama around the death of his father and the tragedy that represented for both characters, and he is already friends with Daenerys and on the same side. Consider the dramatic punch of Luke finding out he was related to Darth Vader vs Luke finding out he was related to Leia. Tyrion is already her hand, it would be utterly uninteresting to find out he is her half brother too.
Tyrion will continue to be a wise and clever character with a sense of humor we all appreciate, but he is forever a Lannister, thought it is not impossible he sits upon the pointy chair. The bottom line though is that he is defined by his relationship with his father, and you can’t take that away from him.
Jaime and Cersei
It is said when a Targaryen is born the gods flip a coin to see if he is crazy or not. I give you Jaime and Cersei. They might very well be Targaryens, Aerys’ bastards. This makes much more sense. Cersei is portrayed much more crazy in the books, the show has made her more sympathetic. This would be a completely germy thing to happen. There is plenty of evidence, all the evidence people thought pointed to Tyrion points to these too. Gemma Lannister infers Jaime is not much like his father.
Targaryens are known for incest (check), madness (check on Cersei), beauty (check). If Aerys knew Jaime was his bastard it would explain why he made him kingsguard at an inappropriately young age, to disinherit him and keep him close.
This makes both Cersei and Jaime more interesting characters and enhances the drama of the story. It would mean they’re fighting against their half sibling, that Jaime just recently tried to gallop at her and skewer his half sister with a spear. It would mean Jaime killed his own father (stabbed a loved one with a sword through the chest, where did I hear that before?), which is interesting and provides a sense of symmetry with his half brother Tyrion.
I believe that Jaime Lannister is the actual hero of the novels, I didn’t originate that theory, you need to read all about it here, and I mean read all about it. The bullet points are that there are tremendous similarities between Westeros and the Norse Pantheon. Jaime represents the god Tyr in Norse Mythology, the one handed god of war, who binds the wolf Fenrir (sorta like pushing a boy from a wolf house out a window to cripple him). There are tons of other parallels, I highly recommend reading the link.
This theory has been growing more popular, such as in this link as well, showing even more reasons Jaime is the one.
There is another prophecy in the stories concerning Cersei, told to her when she was a child. She would marry the king, have three golden haired children (not by him), and bury them all, and then her little brother would kill her. It has all come true except the last, and she has always assumed Tyrion will do her in, but Jaime is slightly younger, and in love with her (or was).
If Lightbringer is a thing, Jaime could have already forged it by sliding it into his father’s chest, or he could forge it still by taking his new Valyrian Steel sword Widow’s Wail (much fancier) and killing Cersei with it. Or, as in the second link above, it could be his golden hand.
This would also be a totally germy thing to happen. People hate Jaime in the beginning, hate hate hate him. He pushed Bran out a window, he can’t be good. Only by now most people feel differently. He has changed, our opinion of him has changed, GRRM is such a good writer he has made us like a guy who attempted to murder a child, that is the sort of challenge he would set himself to. I’m going to take this one guy, and make him the protagonist of my first book, then kill him off at the end to shock people but the writing will be so good they will come back for more, and I’ll take this other guy, make people hate him, but then change their minds because the writing is so good. That sounds like him to me.
Tellingly GRRM has repeatedly defended Jaime in interviews. He has said that from Jaime’s perspective if you are found out by a stranger boy and if you let that buy go you get your head chopped of, your sister gets her head chopped off, and your three children get their heads chopped off, wouldn’t you also push the stranger boy?
Jaime and Cersei have the only long term love relationship that is possible on the show to fulfill the Azor Ahai/Nissa Nissa death sacrifice prophecy. Jon and Daenerys can’t fall in that kind of love so deeply in so short of time and have it feel earned. For Jaime to go from hated, to hero, from loving Cersei, to killing her, from swordsman, to maimed, that is an dramatic arc for the ages, and when you start looking at other characters no one else comes close to having the same growth as a character (Jon and Dany are the nearest but it doesn’t compare).
I believe that ultimately Daenerys and Jon are the long-con form of Eddard Stark, there as interesting characters but ultimately red herrings for who you’re really supposed to be focused on.
Bran also has a vision of Jaime armored like the sun, shining and golden, and if this is really a tale of light versus darkness, then that is a pretty good indicator of who is the light.
So who is the dark?
It has to be Bran, it has always had to be Bran. Bran is not the B plot, he is not the side action, he is not the background character. Bran has the very first chapter in the very first book. When Jaime pushes Bran out the window that tells you, right there, the central conflict of this story. At that moment you think Jaime is evil and Bran innocent, and GRRM wanted you to feel that way, and then he wanted to change your mind.
If Jaime represents good, light, humanity, then Bran represents evil, darkness, supernatural. Or perhaps “good” and “evil” are too black and white of terms for this grey world. But the rest would be true.
I’ve been convinced for years that Jaime is the hero of this story, and because of the necessary symmetry with Bran I was convinced that Bran was the bad guy, but how. I figured eventually we would learn the Three-Eyed Raven was in cahoots with the White Walkers, and we did learn the Children created the White Walkers, but with the Walkers seeming to attack the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree fort I grew less sure. True, it could have been a false flag sort of operation, a shill, like Dooku in Star Wars, it could have been a show for Bran’s sake to push him towards some shift of allegiances… but that never felt like it could fit to me. I then thought maybe Bran was helping them unwittingly, but that didn’t sit right either. The whole Hodor death episode made me question myself, question if Bran really was the bad guy, I had been so sure… but then we had this recent beyond the wall episode where the Night King kills Viserion. I thought, this doesn’t make sense. The Night King was not stymied by a frozen pond, he can freeze water. It didn’t look like he was waiting, it looked like he was baiting a trap, a trap for dragons, and that is what he did. But how, how could he have known all that would transpire, he would need to have such greenseer abilities, abilities no one we know about has, except Bran. This sealed the deal, Bran is connected to the White Walkers, only Bran could have given them that information to capture the dragon, only Bran could see Daenerys was coming, would come. Only Bran.
Some people think that the Night King marked Bran that one time he touched him during a tree warging exercise and that he just happens to have the same sort of powers as Bran and now he has a connection like Voldemort to Harry Potter and can subconsciously use Bran for intel. I don’t think so. I go back to why, why was the Night King able to touch Bran? Because magic? That is a weak explanation. Because convenient to the plot the Night King had the same sort of powers as Bran and could piggyback into his vision? Weak. The only thing that makes any sense in a way that isn’t cheap is that Bran and the Night King ALREADY had an connection. Because, you see…
Bran Stark IS THE NIGHT KING.
That is why the Night King was able to touch Bran, because he remembered he was there.
Hodor has already showed us how this can happen. Bran can travel through time, he can warg while there, he can affect past events in this way. Hodor also showed us it was a closed loop, predestination, or, in the words of the three-eyed raven, the ink is dry. This is one of the types of time travel common in science fiction. The best example of it you might know is 12 Monkeys. The idea is you go back in time to stop something only to discover your actions are what cause it to happen in the first place and you were never able to stop it.
Wait, time travel, is this Star Trek or Game of Thrones? Time travel is actually a very germy thing, but more on that later.
So the idea is that Bran goes back in time with the idea that he will stop the first white walker from ever being created, he is warned by the three-eyed raven that he could possibly get stuck back in time, and we also know that people who are wargs who die while warged into something stay stuck in that body or creature. Bran either stays too long in the past and is stuck there, or Bran is killed in the present while warged into the past and is stuck that way. But he is that gagged and bound man the Children turn into the Night King, a weapon they made against men. Then, the story, so they say, is that they regretted it and now fight the walkers, but it could be that they were willing to wait thousands of years for the white walkers to wipe out mankind.
So Bran is possibly dead in the present, but alive in the past, and if he wants to save himself or the world he must wait thousands of years for himself to be born again.
The complexity of this, the symmetry of this, it is a beautiful thing, which is why I feel it has to be true. We do know this is how time travel works in Game of Thrones because of Hodor. We also know that GRRM, while being best known as a fantasy author, has in the past described himself as a science fiction author. He used to write for the Twilight Zone, and he likes time travel stories. A very famous Robert Heinlein story about this exact sort of time travel called “All You Zombies” is one of his favorites. It was made into a movie a few years ago called Predestination, which had very limited theatrical release. One of the places it played? GRRM’s movie theater he bought in his home town. Later GRRM nominate the film for a Hugo award, he liked it that much, and it deals with the exact same sort of time travel that gave us Hodor, and would give us this Bran theory.
Recently someone asked George if he was going to create this grey world why did he end up with the white walkers who were so obviously the bad guys, and he said “Wait and see in the final two books.”
Which is a rather obvious way to say that things are not what they seem.
Finally, lets talk about the Catspaw blade. It always seemed fishy that this was the knife used to try to kill Bran, this magical Targaryen blade with dragonglass on the hilt and made of valyrian steel (aka, a white walker killing knife). In the books it is pinned on Joffrey’s stupidity, but maybe something else in in play here, maybe future Bran was trying to kill himself and thought, because of the Night King connection, the knife would be used. Someone, for some reason, put this knife in play back then so it would be available here today in the future for some purpose (possibly to kill a white walker or the Night King), otherwise it reeks (sounds like leaks) too strongly of coincidence. So Littlefinger gives it to Bran, and Bran gives it to Arya, and what does he say “You’ll need it.” Now from anyone else that may be a meaningless line, but when someone who can see the future tells you you will need something, that is advice you need to hold on to. So if Bran knows the knife will be needed in the future is he the one who put it in play in the past? Could be another time loop.
The Night King
Let’s pretend for a moment this is all wrong, if the Night King isn’t Bran, who is he?
Thus far he hasn’t been explained in the least. We see that the Children made him, but not anything about who he is or why he does what he does. Even Sauron, who had the most simple of motivations (conquer/destroy Middle Earth) had his motivations explained in the beginning. Darth Vader’s origins were explained, incorrectly, by Obi-wan in the first movie, and then truthfully in the second. Voldemort was explained all throughout the Harry Potter series, but the Night King? Nothing.
I’ve seen people claim he is an old Stark, maybe the first Stark, or an old Targaryen, or a sorcerer from Essos who came over 8,000 years ago, the first Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch (that one purely because of a name similarity in the books). What kind of cheap ending would we have if any of those were true? There is only 7 episodes left, how could they possibly cover all this ground giving him a back story at the end in any fashion that would make it earned? You’d literally need to hire Morgan Freeman to do a voice of summary explaining the Night King as the final credits rolled. Hasn’t it always felt unnatural how the white walkers were never delved into narratively? We have never learned much about them, which is not something you typically find true for an antagonist in a story of this caliber.
The Point of Hodor
Do you think GRRM invented time travel within his universe only to provide an explanation for Hodor? Think of all that went into explanation, you have to have Bran with his warging powers, the three eyed raven, the weirwood tree based time travel, just to explain how Hodor’s mind was broken and he got his nickname?
On the other hand, if we’re right about Bran, how would it feel if we didn’t have the Hodor explanation. It would feel like the ending was bolted on, that it wasn’t earned, that George had written himself into a corner and invented time travel to get himself out of it. It would feel like a rampant case of deus ex machina. But, by creating the Hodor arc, he tells us two things. The first thing is he tells us, before the Night King reveal, is that time travel exists, allowing a smart reader begin to deduce things or, at the very least, to look back after reaching the ending and see how the foreshadowing was there all along. The second thing it does is show that time travel was not a lazy invention of the writer at the end, but always key to the plot, because Hodor is introduced at the beginning of the story. This is just basic writing craft.
Consider any X-Men movie featuring Jean Grey/Phoenix, such as the most recent X-Men: Apocalypse featuring our dear Sansa Stark, Sophie Turner as that character. They talk about her immense power earlier in the movie, show her having bad dreams where she shakes the whole house, so that in the end when she kicks the bad guy’s ass it feels earned. If they had left all that out and just made her power manifest at the end it would have felt cheap and unearned (especially to people unfamiliar with her character from other movies/comics).
Introducing time travel to explain just Hodor does not make sense from a plotting standpoint, and having time travel at the end in some important way doesn’t make sense from a writing quality standpoint unless it was introduced earlier. Since we know GRRM is a quality writer we can deduce that time travel will be used again, in an important way, before the story ends.
What are the Night King’s Motivations
So if the Night King IS Bran, why does he do what he is doing? This we don’t entirely know for sure. But we do know that this is a closed loop system, time travel like in 12 Monkeys, you cannot change the past. The Three-Eyed Raven tells this to Bran when he says “The ink is dry.” So we know the loop goes something like this. At some point in the future the Night King does something that causes Bran to travel back in time to when the Night King is created, warg into him, and become stuck there. Bran, then being the Night King, has to wait 8,000 years for himself to be born, and then do the exact same things that the Night King originally did, until Bran wargs, and then, and only then, will we see some resolution. The story cannot possibly end until after present day Bran time travels back.
Bran as the NK could just be acting according to the script he knows, knowing the ink is dry and following along. He could have changed over 8,000 years of waiting and become evil. I don’t necessarily think so though, I think that still is too cheap of a motivation. The best villains think they’re heroes. Bran could be acting as an existential threat to Westeros knowing that only such a threat is what will bring peace and cohesion to the seven kingdoms. Palpatine engineered an outside threat (Dooku and the Separatists) in order to seize and consolidate power. This would be the same sort of thing only for less nefarious goals. Bran could be trying to save or protect the kingdom from something else and every action he takes is one which, he knows as a greenseer, was necessary to bring about the outcome he desired. If you can see the future and see all the possibilities and see the choices necessary to bring each possibility into fruition, then you might do things that don’t make overt sense initially (like chasing your own younger self out of the Three-Eyed Raven’s lair). He could be trying to stop Daenerys and her dragons, dragons are the nuclear weapons of Westeros and the world might be better without them, maybe they need to be destroyed like the Ring of Power. Perhaps his goal is to destroy the Wall because the Wall or it’s magic is what has thrown the weather in Westeros out of balance.
In the movie 12 Monkeys, which everyone should watch if they don’t remember it and want to understand this sort of time travel. Bruce Willis (spoiler alert) goes back in time to try to stop the release of a virus that decimates humanity, and through his actions ends up contributing to the virus being released. His motivations are pure, but he still causes disaster.
Bran may not yet realize the ink is dry and he may be trying to kill his younger self in order to stop his younger self from going back in time and contributing to the creation of the Night King, not realizing that by trying to stop the time travel he will cause it.
Time travel is complicated, and without Hodor none of this would make sense, but with Hodor it does.
After the present day timeline progresses past the start of of the time loop, which is Bran going back in time to stop the creation of the Night King, anything could happen, and it is here where you will see the prophecy about Azor Ahai, if it is real, come to fruition. Someone may need to kill Bran Bran, or NK Bran, and it will likely be either Jon or Jaime. Or perhaps both, one killing one Bran, the other killing the other.
The Lord of Light
Backtracking for a minute here. Why did Jon’s Wight Search Party go to the arrowhead mountain where the Night King was waiting with a dragon trap? Because the Hound saw that location in the flames and the dead around it. If R’hllor, the Lord of Light, is a real thing, why did he want them to go up there and get caught in a trap? Why send the Hound that vision? And who is R’hllor anyway but an unsubstantiated invention of the red priests as an explanation of their power?
What if the Night King sent that vision, sent all the fire visions anyone has ever gotten? What if the Night King is responsible for the seeding of the prophecies people believe are necessary to kill him? Because he wants humanity to have the tools to stop him?
Have you forgotten what Melisandre sees in her flames? At one point she sees Bloodraven and Bran and calls them servants of The Great Other (one of the few times another possible deity opposing the Lord of Light is mentioned). For many years people have thought that Bloodraven himself (the Three-Eyed Raven’s true name) was sending those visions. If it was within his power, it would be within Bran’s and would be within the Night King’s.
Either the Night King sent the vision of the arrowhead mountain to bait his trap, Or R’hllor, another character yet to be properly introduced and had his motivations explained did so for nebulous reasons. Why send the vision at all? Hardhome was near Eastwatch, Jon wanted to go near Eastwatch, they could have met up with the Brotherhood players any other way, the vision was unnecessary to the plot, unless it was necessary to the plot, so we could start to attribute it to the Night King.
Some may say, does that mean the NK resurrected Jon? Jon he wants to kill? Remember, the Night King could have easily killed Jon multiple times. The guy calmly and methodically shot a dragon out of the sky with an icicle. If he wanted Jon dead, he would be dead. There could be a few explanations for this. One is that yes, the Night King is the god R’hllor and provides the priests their power of resurrection. The second is that Bran, as a greenseer and warg, with 8,000 years of waiting on his hands, learns how to harness the magic of the world and teaches it to the red priests through their visions, but he doesn’t power it. The third is that while Bran/NK may be sending the fire visions, the priests figure out magic by themselves, and much in the way humans used to attribute acts of science to acts of god, the priests attribute acts of magic to acts of god. George has said frequently that he likes using unreliable narrators. Just because a character believes something to be true, doesn’t make it true.
If this is not true in addition to providing motivations and explanations for the Night King, we also have only 7 episodes left to explain the gods of Westeros as well. That does not seem like enough time. I also think it is more germy for the gods in Westeros to be mere inventions of men, rather than actual interested and active deities in the Greek or Roman sense.
How the Story Will End
I don’t know. The pieces are falling into place but we don’t have enough information to make a confident prediction yet. I am incredibly confident about these things though: Jaime and Bran are more important than people think, time travel will be used again, and the wall is falling down. Who rules the Seven Kingdoms when it is all said and done? What if it was Sansa and Tyrion? They’re still married after all. Though Jon is probably the most likely candidate. Who rules will be seen as one of the least important resolutions of the finale.
The Season 7 finale airs tomorrow, if Bran starts doing any warging or time traveling it will be a clue that they’re setting this up for the final season.