On Bran, the Children of the Forest, White Walkers, Hodor, and Time Travel in ASOIAF.
The amount of revelations revealed in the maybe 25-30 mins of screen time Bran’s storyline had on Sunday were mind-boggling. Not only do we get the origin story of the mysterious White Walkers, we also learn they are capable of reaching out into Bran’s visions, the extent of their power, and perhaps most crucially, the introduction of time travel (from a certain point of view) into the saga.
As is typical in ASOIAF, even the White Walkers aren’t (or weren’t) truly evil. Ambiguous morality extends even to the supernatural, as we learned this week how exactly the Walkers were created, and for what purpose. Yes, they were once men, converted into the Others by the children using what I assume are dragon glass daggers, as well as their own magic, to combat the threat of the First Men who had crossed over from Essos. Like the Others, we find out the Children aren’t as innocent as they might seem, but of course they have their reasons for the actions - in this case creating some type of biological weapon in the form of the White Walkers, who I’m assuming they eventually lost control of. The scene where the man is stabbed and his eyes turn blue almost looks surreal and very fairytale-esque amidst the trees and weirwoods and monoliths - it’s a visually stunning, chilling moment. And just an observation, I can’t help but draw a comparison to the origin story of the orcs in Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium - an account from the Silmarillion states that the orcs were actually once Elves, but tortured, mutilated, and corrupted by Morgoth, who created them in mockery of the Elves and similarly utilized them for his own nefarious purposes.
The extent of the powers of the Night King is really put on display here. Somehow, he has the ability to tap into Bran’s visions, actively interact with them, and mark him. Amazingly, as soon as he marks Bran, he and the other WWs are outside the Children’s Cave in a matter of seconds, even displaying an ability to extinguish fire (albeit it isn’t dragonfire…). The Walkers make their Season 6 debut with thrilling intensity, and this set piece in the Cave is one of the best action moments the series has seen. Meera particularly gets a chance to shine here, as she’s the one who has to get Bran out of there and fend off numerous wights attackign her. It’s mentioned that the Walkers broke the protective spell surrounding the Cave the instant he touched Bran, so it raises the question that, if Bran were to cross over the Wall to meet up with Jon and Sansa, that the protective spells supposedly imbued within it would fail, and it would come crashing down, leading to the invasion of the Others. It’s an incredible theory, and many readers do expect at one point to see the Wall destroyed. It would be a hell of a way to end the season.
It’s always the innocents who die in war, and this particularly brutal season of deaths continue with the untimely endings of Hodor and Summer. With the rate at which Direwolves are beginning to get killed off, and the circumstances in which they are, I’m starting to think budgetary reasons, as opposed to narrative ones, are responsible for the deaths. Poor Summer. It only makes sense that he ends as soon as Winter comes. But it’s Hodor’s death, and the circumstances that lead to both it and his inability to talk, that’s probably the saddest moment in the entire series. It’s the moment when you realize that the only reason Hodor actually exists in the story is to protect Bran and Meera and barricade himself against a door that makes it all the more heartbreaking.
The circumstances that led to it however, have earth-shattering revelations that could seriously have enormous ramifications on the story we’ve been apparently told for the past 6 years. After seeing Bran reach out to his father a couple episodes back, but only in the form of the wind, I mentioned that I didn’t think time travel would play a huge role in the series. But seeing how Wyllis effectively became Hodor, in this timey-wimey fashion that would make the likes of Steven Moffat and Christopher Nolan proud, really changes a great many things. Effectively, the writers introduced the Bootstrap Paradox to this universe, in which things from the future - events, people, actions - can exist in the past without having been created yet. It wasn’t some accident or injury in Hodor’s childhood that caused his disability - it was Bran’s actions well into the future. I’m still trying to comprehend exactly how this mechanism works, and I’m guessing The Winds of Winter should clarify it, since this plot decision came from GRRM himself, but I think I have an idea how this transpired. Bran was with Bloodraven (or the 3ER) in the past, witnessing the events in Winterfell (great scenes with young Ned, Benjen, their father Lord Rickard Stark btw) and he received the cries for help to warg into Hodor from Meera while he was still in the past experiencing the vision (similar to Inception whenever the dream levels begin to crumble). But since Bran is youthful and inexperienced, he warged into the young Hodor in Winterfell, while experiencing the PAST, instead of in the present like he should, and somehow, this causes young Wyllis’ brain to convulse in seizures, constantly repeated the command Meera gave him “Hold the Door, Hold the Door, Hold the Door, Hol Da Door, Ho Da Door, Hodor.” It’s such a tragic, saddening way to both kill off a character and condemn to the life he’ll lead at the same time, but it’s some brilliant storytelling.
It’s arguable actually, that Bloodraven knew this was coming, and expected this whole event to transpire, which explains why he brought Bran back to Winterfell, as opposed to some other location. He knew Wyllis would have to become Hodor in the past, so that his past self would receive the command from his future self to barricade himself against the Door so Bran and Meera would be able to escape. It appears to be this command he constantly repeats throughout his life, possibly subconsciously, that order to Hold the Door, leading up to his eventual and tragic death protecting his friends. As Kinvara said in this episode, “Everyone is what they are and where they are for a reason.” - and as tragic as it may be, Hodor’s only reason for living was to help his friends.
The introduction of the Bootstrap Paradox into this universe can really affect the way we as observers see the story unfold. As Bloodraven commented, “the ink is dry”. The past has already been written, and simply can’t be changed. That means Bran can never go back in time to save his Father, or Robb, or Catelyn from their deaths, or even prevent Jaime from tossing him off the Tower in Winterfell. He could however, have had a role in the events leading up to these specific incidents. The internet is abuzz with theories, some leading from plausible to outrageous. Throughout the books, people recall hearing whispers in the woods, in the flames, in the atmosphere in general. What if Bran was the one trying to talk to Aerys, trying to get him to see sense, but the voices in the head simply drove him mad instead, similar to how Hodor suffered the irreparable brain damage due to Bran’s actions? What if the voices Melisandre and Kinvara keep hearing in the flames about a Chosen One, Azor Ahai, The Prince That Was Promised, etc was Bran trying to tell them something? What if the words Varys heard as a child were Bran’s? What if Bran convinced Rhaegar to fall in love with Lyanna, thus leading to the conception of Jon, fulfilling the prophecy? What if Bran was constantly intervening throughout history, influencing the creation of Wall, teaching his distant ancestor, Bran the Builder, what he had to do? The possibilities are endless, and incredibly exciting… and slightly worrying. Time travel is an incredibly difficult plot device to write. In the hands of capable writers, it’s an exciting, mind-blowing, and ultimately satisfying way to tell a story. Under incompetent writers, it can be convoluted, confusing, and lead to gaping plot holes. I’m not sure if this the way things will go down, since time travel as a device has always been more tied to science fiction instead of fantasy, but with this series, anything is possible. All we know is if the Winds of Winter expands upon the events and sequences shown so far in Season 6, it’s going to be a bloody brilliant book.