(Note: This post contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” through the Aug. 6 episode.)
Back in Season 6 of “Game of Thrones,” viewers learned some very interesting things about the visions Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has about the past thanks to his Three-Eyed Raven “greensight” powers. Fans got another tidbit of information in Season 7’s latest episode that hinted at how Bran’s powers could be manifested in the future, and what effect they can have on the show’s timeline.
In the Season 6 episode “Hold the Door,” we saw Bran look back into the past to see Hodor (Kristian Nairn) before he was Hodor — back then, he was named Wyllis, and he was just a regular kid working in the stables in Winterfell. While Bran’s consciousness was watching Wyllis in the past, his body was in the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave, which was under attack by White Walkers who were fighting their way inside.
To escape the attack, Bran had to “warg” into Hodor and take over his mind to control him. Since he was simultaneously controlling Hodor in the present and watching Wyllis in the past, Bran messed up Wyllis’ brain. The name “Hodor” comes from the phrase Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) was shouting at Hodor as she and Bran were escaping — “Hold the door.”
As Wyllis had a seizure in the past due to Bran’s time-travely interference, he repeated the phrase “hold the door” over and over again until he eventually mashed it down to the word “Hodor.” And of course, “Hodor” is the only thing Hodor was able to say for the rest of his life, which is why everyone called him Hodor.
“Hold the Door” changed the rules for “Game of Thrones,” though. It suggested the future could be an antecedent to the past, a major aspect of time travel stories. But when the future causes the past, it also suggests that all events are preordained. After all, if Hodor was already Hodor before Bran zapped his brain, then it was always going to happen — and all the choices that brought Bran to that point in order to make it happen must have happened that way.
That’s philosophically against what it feels like the show is going for, since so much of “Game of Thrones” is about unforeseen consequences, randomness, and luck. The show subverts expectations by making viewers feel like no character is truly safe. But if the future is already written and is just waiting to be acted out, it undercuts those “Game of Thrones” themes that suggest it doesn’t matter how special you are — all men must die.
So does that mean that Bran knows everything that will happen, and everyone in “Game of Thrones” is just playing their predetermined roles like a bunch of puppets? Bran’s dialogue in Season 7 suggests that’s not quite the case, either.
In Episode 4, “Spoils of War,” Bran reunites with Arya (Maisie Williams) at Winterfell. He notes that he had seen Arya at the Inn at the Crossroads through his magic abilities, and tells her he thought she was going to head to King’s Landing. Arya responds, “So did I.”
At the very least, this tells us that Bran’s magic vision isn’t infallible. Here’s a moment where Bran had an idea of what the future would be, and it didn’t turn out the way he thought. It raises the question of how Bran’s vision works.
It could be that Bran doesn’t really see the future — he sees possible futures. His power gives him enough information to see how things might play out, but leaves openings for things to be altered thanks to the free will of the people involved.
Another alternative: Bran doesn’t see the future at all. He can turn his gaze to various people and he pays attention to what they’re up to, but he’s really just making educated guesses based on what he learns. He thought Arya would go to King’s Landing because that’s what Arya was going to do, until she learned that Jon was King in the North. Bran wasn’t paying attention at the point where Arya got that new information, so he didn’t factor it into his expectations of Arya’s actions.
Either way, Bran confirmed in “Spoils of War” that the future isn’t set in stone, which is the state of things that “Hold the Door” suggested. And Bran sees a lot of stuff, but he’s not quite omniscient. When time travel again becomes a thing — and it probably has to, since Bran is putting some plans into action that aren’t clear yet — it won’t necessarily mean that “Game of Thrones” will boil down to just prophecies, fate and predetermined events.