Power of Stories- What did Game of Thrones Want to Say with ‘Bran the Broken’?
Bran Stark or The Three-Eyed Raven becoming King of Six Kingdoms was probably the most surprising moment in the last season of Game of Thrones. And even book readers were shocked when they heard that this is how George R.R. Martin plans to end his book series. But why Bran? What did the story want to say with it?
If I’m allowed to talk about my personal experience with the story, I must say that I thought that the endgame ruler would be predictable. Either Jon or Daenerys, maybe Sansa or even no one. And when I say no one I don’t mean Arya Stark, but no ruler at all, but separated kingdoms. Over the years there were many memes how Hodor or Hot Pie will end up on the Iron Throne. Game of Thrones was unpredictable show by its nature so it was normal that some people thought that even endgame ruler will be unpredictable, yet I wasn’t one of those people. There are not so many feasible characters for the role right? So you can imagine my shock when I heard leaks that Bran Stark will be the first elected king of Westeros. Wait, what? How? Why? But once I started thinking about it after the final episode, it all made perfect sense and now I can’t imagine any other person in his position that would fit themes and messages of the story this well.
A lot of popular and mainstream fantasy stories glorify the idea of birthright. Rightful heir coming to take the throne is a trope we saw in many stories, from The Lion King to Lord of the Rings. In Game of Thrones we also had right of conquest, so the fans endlessly argued for years and decades what is more important. Is Dany still the rightful heir or Robert’s right of conquest is more important and we established a new continuity with Baratheons? So that means that Stannis is the one true king, but can Renly use right of conquest against his own brother? And if the right of conquest is more important does that mean that the Boltons are now the legitimate rulers in the North? Or Jon should be king of them all because he is Rhaeger’s son? It’s a mess. But a very intentional mess. It’s there to show the flaws of this whole system. It’s irony that even fans get caught in this debate, trying to figure out the right answers, while completely missing the point the story was trying to make.
Birthright and right of conquest are there to glorify bloodlines and wars, fire and blood. That is the wheel, that spins on and on, crushing those on the ground. It is the story of Aegon the Conqueror, the story of the Iron Throne, that shaped society and values in Westeros. The original tyrant that bend Westeros to his will. “Aegon built the wheel”, Tyrion said in Season 7. So once King’s Landing is destroyed is another war for the Iron Throne, it is Tyrion who thinks about the ways to truly build a better world. “Westeros needs to be saved from itself”, Varys told him in Season 5. But how to save the land that is built on the story of Aegon the Conqueror, that worships values that he represents? Well, with different story.
“Power resides where man believes it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.”, said Varys. Power is a story. Just like the realm itself, as Littlefinger said in his iconic speech- “Do you know what the realm is? It’s the thousand blades of Aegon’s enemies, a story we agree to tell each other over and over, until we forget that it’s a lie.”
Tyrion’s speech in the final episode is the answer to this dilemma. “What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories.” Stories are what bulit kingdoms and nations, religions and identities. And the better society can be built on better story they will glorify. Because our stories tells us about our values. When Tyrion asks- “And who has a better story than Bran the Broken?”, he is not asking the watchers in front of their TVs which character was the most interesting to watch. He asks which story is the best to build the values of world upon. The story of Bran the Broken replaces the story of the Iron Throne, the story of Aegon the Conqueror. The last Aegon Targaryen kneels before Bran the Broken in the final episode, just like once Torrhen Stark knelt before the first Aegon. It’s the end of a cycle, one story replaces the other.
“He is our memory, the keeper of all our stories.”
Game of Thrones’ effort to create a story that breaks all known habits of the genre- or cliches, if you will- was not made only for the sake of having an original story never before told. Throughout it’s seasons GoT showed us the most realistic aspects of war and power- one that created events that no other show would dare to do, where characters suffer the consequences of their actions and things roll out as they naturally would in a real situation. When it reached this point, of providing an answer to perhaps the most burning question of the entire show, the writers were facing a crossword. It was either giving this specific story-arc an epic conclusion, with one of our main hero’s claiming his throne like basically any other fantasy epic ends, or keeping the show in it’s realistic path and making an actual solution to the burning problem of the show, the same “wheel” mentioned time and time again. By doing that, though, they risk providing an answer that might seem a little anticlimactic to many viewers — whereas the first solution probably would have echoed much favourably among the fan base. It was a trade-off, one that the writers of GoT faced many times before- but since this time it’s actually the conclusion of one of the main issues that we followed in the show’s entire run it perhaps has more weight regarding what people have expected from it. An epic ending like the one mentioned before would have been perhaps very fun to watch- but would it really have solved the problems and questions the show always asked? The realm needed a change, a narrative that will unite the people and have a peaceful impact on them — not another war hero ascending to lead the people.
What about the Three-Eyed Raven then? Some people tend to raise questions like “if he can see the future why didn’t he prevent Daenery’s from burning King’s Landing? How can he be a great ruler after something like that?” etc. The way I see it, the Three-Eyed Raven’s ability to see the future is more from an inspection element, and not to a manner when he has to act in order to correct things he doesn’t like. That brings us to some Science Fiction paradoxes that has nothing to do with the GoT story. What makes a difference is only the bottom line, and not anything inbetween. On the Dragonpit assembly scene, after Bran is chosen to be king, he asks Tyrion “why do you think I came all this way?”. The Three Eyed Raven, in his previous form, allured Jojen and Meera Reed to bring Bran to his cave in order that Bran becomes him and carry the torch as the next Three Eyed Raven. Since then, Bran perhaps can see what happens in the future, even knowing he’ll become King afterwards, but he never wishes to change the natural order of things.
When Jon bids farewell to all the remaining Starks in the series finale, he apologises for not being there from Bran when he needed him- to which Bran replies “you were exactly where you were supposed to be”, similarly to what he tells Theon when he apologises for what he did to Bran- “Everything you ever done brought you were you are now. Where you belong. Home”. Seems like according to the Three Eyed Raven’s philosophy, whatever should have happened happened, and what matters is where it brought everyone- to the point everything aligned in the ending of the series. In that manner GoT fiddles a bit with the idea of predestination- the past is already written and so is the future, mutually influencing each other. The first example we witnessed for that was in the famous Hodor episode, where something Bran supposedly did in the future already made effect in the past, “before” it happened. Despite all the hardships the characters endured throughout the season, according to this perception everything happened as it should have. Everyone landed right where they needed to generate the only outcome that is really feasible. If you explore that aspect a little further, one perspective also seems to suggest that the fact Bran is not completely human — but more of a divine entity with supernatural powers, says a lot about the fact he was the one chosen to lead the Six Kingdoms. It was well established that the ruling in the six kingdoms will be done by the council, and not decisions made solely by the ruler, but perhaps humans will always need a touch of divine presence to watch over them — otherwise they will constantly keep devouring each other?
“Bran becoming king is a victory for the still and considered people of this world, who too often get sidelined by the commotion of those who are louder and more reactionary. He doesn’t shout to make himself heard, but instead waits and chooses his words and actions very carefully. In that, I think Bran presents a valuable reminder to us all in this day and age where sensationalism is rife and anybody can voice an opinion to millions, to sit and consider things a little more carefully.” — Isaac Hempstead Wright
In choosing Bran as the one ruling the Six Kingdoms, replacing the centuries-long Iron Throne monarchy, the characters of the show try to truly break the wheel, once and for all. Heritage and war bravery will no longer determine who will rule over the people- but someone of their own kind, a story they could connect to. Bran was a perfect choice for this status since he can serve as a myth- a boy who got crippled at a young age and wasn’t held to as high expectations as his siblings ever since. He knows the history of everyone and everything, and he overcame his disability to the best way that he could — ascending to the very top. Surely a story that could inspire younger generations in Westeros, and make them connect or even believe in their ruler, rather than just accept him for being a part of the right family. Or a war hero.
It’s a first step towards better world. Idea that kings are not born and they don’t have to win a war. Will it work? Who knows. Tyrion said “ask me again in 10 years”. But it’s about feeling of hope for better future where we left this story.
Dream of a better world, a dream of spring.