The last ten minutes of ‘The Door’ showed the deaths of many characters, including four mainstays, marked a turning point in both the literal and thematic plot of one of the more important characters on the show, moved the whole story of Game of Thrones a giant leap forward in terms of its mythology, its genre and its narrative momentum, while also revealing a key incident from the past.
A lot happened.
And because a lot happened, it takes time to parse out all the various implications of what was shown on past events and future events in the series.
To help us along, the showrunners have confirmed a couple of things: firstly, as suspected, Hodor’s death came directly from GRRM. The consequences of this are enormous, but more on that in a bit.
Secondly, Littlefinger actually did not know about Ramsay, and was sincere in his pleading to Sansa. The implications here are that he is likely telling the truth about the Blackfish and House Tully’s potential to save the day in the attack on Winterfell. It also continues to thread the line of Littlefinger as a character who is never truly on one side or the other. In all likelihood, we won’t know if he has any true allegiance until right near the end. And while this is hugely significant for both Littlefinger and Sansa, it’s worth making a note of for now as something that will become relevant later on.
For now, it’s worth returning to Hodor’s death, and audiences are mostly reading this as confirmation that Bran can’t change the past. The ink is dry, the Three-Eyed Raven said, and his urging for Bran to save his friends by warging through young Wylis into the older Hodor is an act that confirms the present timeline, rather than changing it.
I’m not sold on this just yet, but it requires a bit of discussion.
Firstly, the Three-Eyed Raven is keen for Bran to not interfere in the past. The first time Bran did, he gave the White Walkers access to where they were hiding and left Bran with the Night King’s mark. The second time brought about Hodor’s tragic end. So clearly, interfering is bad, the series tells us.
But, the Three-Eyed Raven did insist Bran influence the past with Wylis/Hodor, ostensibly so that he can live on at Hodor’s expense, and have a positive influence on the coming war.
There is a parallel here with the Mad King, who much like Hodor, was – near his end – stuck repeating the same phrase over and over: ‘burn them all.’ Considering the speculation that the Three-Eyed Raven is a Targaryen and that he is aware of the dangers of meddling with the past, there’s the possibility that the Mad King was mad out of the same short-circuiting that happened with Hodor. Therefore, he was never going to burn all of King’s Landing, Jaime became the kingslayer needlessly, and much of what led to the previous war was predicated on lies.
Additionally, it’s possibly the ‘them’ the Mad King was referring to was his glimpse at the Night King and his army, but much like ‘holding the door’, this statement makes no sense until placed into a later context. I suspect that will come much later.
This is all foreshadowed in episode 3 of this season, when Bran witnesses his father living a different version of the past to what was told: he didn’t actually kill Ser Arthur Dayne and there was little heroism in what happened at the Tower of Joy. Other than setting up the potential revision that might come from seeing who is actually in the Tower of Joy, this coupled with the possible revelations about the Mad King suggests an entire overhaul over who was on the side of good in the past.
So, if all of this comes to pass, then we have to speculate what Bran’s role is now and why he needed to learn so much from the Three-Eyed Raven. Clearly there will be a moment to come where he will be tempted to interfere in the past, where it will appear to be the right thing to do. In this case, it won’t be to save himself but someone else, as he’s already learned that lesson.
But bear with me here:
According to the rules of the show so far (and by rules I mean the internal logic that it is suggested based on the events discussed above) if Bran does alter something in the past it is because that’s how things are in the present and how they should be in the future. That is, Bran ruined Wylis’ life in the past because he was already ruined in the present.
So for Bran to learn from this, he will need to not alter the past, so as to alter the present. It will be an act of sacrifice – of something or someone – to let the past be the past, and therefore change how the present is operating.
This is in keeping with the dominant theme of this season, that the stories and myths of Game of Thrones are separating from reality. Bran influencing Wylis to become Hodor is an act where the characters are trying to make reality into a story. Wylis becomes Hodor in order to let the story continue.
But stories in Game of Thrones are lies, and lead to tragedy. They shouldn’t occur. Bran will need to stop the stories from happening and as mentioned in episode 5 recap, let all the characters see each other for who they are, for what all their motivations are, to stop the manipulation of their lives for a story.
Game of Thrones is increasingly becoming a show where the characters are aware of what’s expected of them as characters, and they’re railing against it. It would appear Bran is the key to this for all of them.