(Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers for the May 1, 2016 episode of “Game of Thrones,” as well as what might be considered book spoilers.)
The prodigal son Bran Stark is back on this week’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” and he’s got a new friend: an old man who’s been living in a tree north of the Wall with the last surviving Children of the Forest.
Sunday night we got a look at what kind of things the Three-Eyed Raven can do, as he guided Bran through a vision of Winterfell decades before. Bran saw his father, uncle Benjen, and aunt Lyanna — whose kidnapping by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen would spark Robert’s Rebellion and the overthrow of the Targaryen dynasty in Westeros. Bran also saw a younger Hodor, who was able to say things other than “Hodor”!
But we didn’t otherwise get much in the way of info on who the Three-Eyed Raven, played by Max von Sydow, really is.
However, this old dude has a pretty detailed backstory in the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels as well as some ancillary materials like the “World of Ice and Fire” reference book and the tie-in novella “The Mystery Knight,” and I’m gonna go through some of that with you now.
I make no guarantees that all of this will end up being applicable on the show — which has thus far been reluctant to put much focus on events prior to the series and has removed a lot of stuff involving House Targaryen from the overall plot. Aside from Danaerys, of course. We’re in uncharted territory here, and honestly the backstory of the Three-Eyed Raven is maybe not super important.
But if you’re curious, read on.
In the canon of the book series, the Three-Eye Raven is actually the Three-Eyed Crow. In the real world, his name was Brynden Rivers. Brynden was the bastard son of King Aegon IV Targaryen, and he was born more than 100 years before present events. Brynden was nicknamed Lord Bloodraven because of a large raven-looking birthmark on his neck and face. Brynden was an albino, with white photosensitive skin and red eyes.
Brynden is what is known as a “greenseer,” which mean he had the ability to see the future in his dreams as well as dream as another person. Greenseers are also wargs, which allows them to enter the minds of other beings and control them. Bran also has the “greensight,” as did Jojen Reed, and this is why they knew to go north of the Wall to seek out the Three-Eyed Crow/Raven in the first place. These prophetic dreams are tough to crack, and Brynden can help.
Brynden fought alongside his half-brother King Daeron Targaryen when House Blackfyre, an offshoot of House Targaryen, rebelled against the crown and served on Daeron’s small council. He served as Hand of the King for both Aerys I Targaryen and Maekar I Targaryen.
A mysterious figure, Brynden was the subject of numerous rumors, many of which referred to him as a sorcerer and an ambitious schemer.
After Maekar’s death, there was a question of succession. Aenys Blackfyre wanted to participate in the Council that would determine the new king, but Brynden had him beheaded upon arriving in King’s Landing. The next king, Aegon V, took exception to that maneuver, and had Brynden arrested. In lieu of imprisonment or death, Brynden chose to join the Night’s Watch.
Brynden would, then, travel north to the Wall with Aemon Targaryen — yes, that’s the Maester Aemon we know and love. Within a few years, Brynden became Lord Commander of the Watch. After a few years at that post, he disappeared while ranging beyond the wall, and he was presumed dead.
But he wasn’t, obviously.
We’ve found a particularly interesting fan theory that’s come up since the events of the May 22 episode, “The Door.” You can find out about it in our gallery of fan theories below.