Warning: Spoilers and speculation for Game Of Thrones Below
HBO’s Game of Thrones is in the home stretch now. The final episode of the penultimate season airs this Sunday. With only seven episodes left next season, David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been sprinting to wrap up George R.R. Martin’s disparate storylines in a way that makes sense. But the increased narrative pace has had an unintended side effect: fans have also sped up their attempts to outthink the story and reveal plot twists before they happen.
Theorizing has always been part of Game of Thrones. Asking the audience to look beyond the obvious is baked right into the source material with Jon’s true parentage. R+L=J (Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon Snow) has been kicking around the fandom for decades. Having that theory confirmed on the show only made viewers more ravenous to uncover other mysteries. If R+L=J is true, what else has Martin hidden within his sprawling epic? Questions like that are how you end up with people asking if Bran Stark could somehow be the Night King. That theory has not broken through to mainstream audiences thanks to a recent Reddit thread, though it’s been floating through the Song of Ice And Fire circles for years. With the season finale imminent though, what are the odds this speculation is correct?
First, let’s look at what the theory says. In order for Bran to be the Night King, time travel and warging shenanigans have to be involved. The theory states that Bran was, accidentally or otherwise, warged inside the body of the First Man while the Children of the Forest converted their victim into the Night King. The idea is that Bran stayed too long in the past and left part of his consciousness* in the Night King. Then, over the centuries the version of Bran trapped in the Night King’s body bided his time to make sure events play out they way they’re supposed to. Why? Because, as the old Three-Eyed Raven told young Bran, “The ink is dry.” The past and the future are a Möbius strip of events that cannot be changed, no matter how hard you try. The theory goes on to say Bran only became trapped in the Night King’s body after two earlier attempts to change the future — warning the Mad King about the threat of the White Walkers and building The Wall as Brandon the Builder — failed to take hold. Now, convinced the ink is well and truly dry, the Night King version of Bran has accepted his part in the unfolding story.
*A tidy way to explain Bran’s recent aloofness would be that he left a good chunk of himself in the distant past.
It’s definitely an intriguing theory. But it’s built on a scaffolding of assumptions. If any of those turn out to be false, the entire thing falls apart. While yes, we know Bran can affect the past indirectly, there’s been no evidence he can warg into those around him. Wylis’ conversion into Hodor had nothing to do with Bran directly, merely with Hodor hearing Meera scream “Hold the door” while Bran stood too close. Ned Stark hearing Bran yell “Father” was a whisper on the wind. It’s tempting to believe Bran whisper-screamed to the Mad King about building a wildfire arsenal to fend off the undead hordes, thus driving him insane, but that too is a fan theory. Finally, the idea that Bran somehow managed to warg into his ancestor Brandon the Builder in order to build The Wall and make sure there’s “always a Stark in Winterfell,” thus securing Bran Stark will be born in the future, is also a fan theory. Stacking fan theories on top of each other is a precarious proposition.
So why has this theory started spreading like wildfire despite it’s rickety structure? My guess is because the audience still has no idea what the Night King wants or exactly what his power set is. Having a blank slate bear down on humanity with an undead horde at his back and no motivation leaves a yawning void that begs to be filled. If the show won’t fill in the blanks, the fandom will, even if they don’t have all the details. A giant question mark over the Night King is just too tempting. But you could plug in just about any theory as to the Night King’s identity right now and it would make sense, simply due to a lack of information.
For example, why couldn’t the Night King be Rhaegar Targaryen? Sure, he allegedly died in one-on-one battle with King Robert during the Battle of the Trident, but no body was ever recovered. It seems strange that Robert wouldn’t take the lifeless corpse of his arch-nemesis back to King’s Landing to be paraded through the streets to help secure Robert’s rise to power. George R.R. Martin has said someone cremated Rhaegar but no one knows who, where, or when. So why couldn’t Rhaegar have sent a body double to the Trident in his stead? The helmet would obscure the identity of the fighter, anyone could be under there. Then, when Rhaegar discovered Lyanna died in childbirth, he went mad with grief. Determined to find a way to bring her back, his journey led him North where he discovered the Night King is an honorific passed down (think Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride) and Rhaegar inherited the throne. That would explain why the Night King hasn’t killed Jon Snow… it’s his son.