Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.
After a nearly 20-month hiatus, the premiere of Game of Thrones‘ season 8 is almost here. With just six episodes to go, HBO’s beloved medieval fantasy drama has more than enough loose ends to tie up before it comes to a close. But one of the show’s most compelling unanswered questions revolves around how Bran Stark‘s ability to see into the past will affect its ultimate endgame.
As is the case with most stories in which time travel factors into the plot, the specifics of how time operates in the Game of Thrones universe can be confusing. Not to mention that in Thrones, there is added ambiguity created by the fact that when Bran uses his greenseer powers — the ability to perceive visions of past, present and future events — his body isn’t actually traveling anywhere despite the fact that we as viewers see his physical person in the flashback.
Based on what the original Three-Eyed Raven told Bran about time travel, “The past is already written. The ink is dry,” time in the Game of Thrones universe seems to operate in a closed loop. This means that Bran cannot change the past through time travel, he can only fulfill it.
The Game of Thrones sequence that best demonstrates this principle is the ending of the season 6 episode, “The Door.” As the Night King’s army of wights descends on the cave under the giant Weirwood tree, Meera screams for Bran to warg into Hodor while Bran is experiencing a vision of the Winterfell courtyard decades before the events of the present. The Three-Eyed Raven tells Bran to listen to Meera and he wargs into Hodor in the present while in the presence of Wylis, a.k.a. young Hodor, in the past. This causes Wylis to fall to the ground in a seizure-like fit and begin repeatedly echoing Meera’s order to “hold the door!” His words then slur together as he witnesses his own death at the hands of the wights until all he can say is “Hodor.”
In very broad terms, that means that there was no first time around. The version of the past that Bran “changed” was actually the only version of the past that ever existed. Basically, there was never any chance that Bran shattering Hodor’s mind by warging into him from the past wouldn’t happen.
Although it might seem confusing, a self-fulfilling time travel loop is a popular narrative device for a reason: it’s one of the only ways for the concept to really make sense. However, it still creates somewhat of a paradox as it produces a universe in which the past is dependent on a future that is dependent on the past — i.e., Hodor’s mind can’t be shattered unless Bran wargs into him from the past, but Bran would have never needed to warg into Hodor if his mind hadn’t been shattered in the first place.
As for how Bran’s abilities will influence Game of Thrones‘ ending, there are those who believe his fate has always been directly entwined with the fate of Westeros as a whole. While some fans think that Bran himself could be the Night King, others speculate that his meddling in the past will turn out to be what drove the Mad King insane.
Of course, there’s also always a chance that Bran learned his lesson after the whole Hodor fiasco and will now exclusively use his powers to reveal game-changing truths — like the one about Jon Snow’s parents — whenever it’s convenient for the storyline. Talk about a deus ex machina.