Bran is the Night King
This theory has recently gained new momentum. It is not exactly a new theory and was around before, at least since season 6, but was reforged in much more detail just before season 7 premiered.
So, time paradox, right?
Exactly. A time (or temporal) paradox is a term associated with hypothetical time traveling. It’s getting even more complex, because there are varieties, one of them (the relevant one) being the:
- causal loop, which is the most generic form and happens when a future event causes an event in the past which will in turn cause the event in the future that caused it. Yes, it sounds weird and it is - in some ways.
The theory basically states, that Bran is responsible for the existence of the Night King in the same way he is responsible for the fate of Hodor. We remember, as seen in famous season 6 episode The Door, Bran’s reckless and inexperienced use of his supernatural abilities is the cause for Hodor’s mental state in present time.
He traveled back in time and showed Hodor - by warging into Hodor’s past presence Wylis - an event of the future: The dreadful cave scene during which Hodor died at the hands of wights while saving Bran and Meera by holding the door. Young Wylis’ mind from the past collided with Hodor’s present personality, showing the younger incarnation his own horrible death. That was enough to destroy parts of his mind, creating the inarticulate and simple-minded but otherwise sane Hodor.
So what Bran did was a classical causal loop. He traveled to the past and caused an event, that was going to happen in the future (the situation in the cave), to alter the past (Hodor’s mental state) and thus everything that followed. Of course, we know this was not his intention, it was a dreadful accident, nevertheless, it happened and became reality by the mechanics of a temporal paradox.
Before we go into more detail, what evidence do we have?
Time travel and its consequences has traditionally been a very popular science fiction theme, but it has been used in fantasy before.
Bran is not the common warg as his abilities are far stronger and much more powerful. For example, Bran has no problems to warg into humans (which is very special and impossible for most wargs) and he can actually take influence on the past. We have seen this on at least three occasions:
The famous Hodor scene that explains how the stable boy Wylis became Hodor. It’s a classical time (or temporal) paradox, in which an actor alters something in the past, which in turn has influence on everything that follows, including the present time.
When Bran calls after his father Ned at the famous Tower of Joy scene in episode 3 of the sixth season, Ned actually reacts as if he had heard the call.
In season 7, it is suggested in one of the flashback visions that Bran interacted with King Aerys II during the events of Robert’s rebellion. He whispers “Burn them all” and it is indeed possible that the already mad King misunderstood the words and took them as an order to burn the city, while their real meaning was to burn the army of the undead (we know, fire is one safe way to kill them).
Bran claims he can see everything past. Sansa explains to Arya, he has visions.
The Three-Eyed Raven explains to Bran that «he will never be able to walk again but instead will fly». Many believe it meant that Bran will, at some time, warg into a dragon. Possible? Sure, but maybe it was really meant he will fly through time.
Bran himself said he is no longer Bran, but the Three-Eyed raven. If the theory, we are discussing here, holds true, then present-time Bran is in fact an incarnation of the Night King, trying to free himself from being trapped in a temporal loop, which he caused himself while trying to kill his own past being (the Night King) in order to save Westeros - an event, that is likely going to happen near the end of season 8.
The ability to have impact on the past is very important for this theory. It is essentially the core of it, because it states, Bran created (or became) the Night King after getting trapped in a causal loop. To explain this in more detail, here is what the theory would require to happen in one of the remaining six episodes:
Bran travels back in time to stop the NK and to save Westeros which is about to fall to the armies of the undead (possibly a result of Cersei’s betrayal). For some reason, he fails and interacts with the Children Of The Forest, who will in turn drive a piece of Dragonglass through Bran’s chest, converting him into the night king.
Remember the vision Brandon had about the creation of the Night King? The Child of the Forest explained the conflict between men and her species and stated they had to do this. The Children are known as creatures who were able to use at least some kind of arcane magic. According to history, they used magic to destroy the land bridge that connected the southeastern Westeros province Dorne with the continent of Essos about 11.000 years ago. Given such powers, it is unclear why they failed in defeating the first men and had to sign the Pact.
The event described above would then be Bran’s third and last time travel with the intention to stop the Night King. He tried twice before, each time traveling deeper into the past, but he always failed:
he tried to drive King Aerys II into burning the armies of the Night King. He failed, the Mad King misunderstood the words and the consequences are well known.
Further in the past, he became Bran the Builder, who built the great wall in the north and founded Winterfell stating «There must always be a Stark in Winterfell»
These first two attempts are, of course, the results of his third travel, which will happen in the future (some episode in Season 8). In this third travel, which is essentially the cause of all the weirdness, but did not yet happen (still with me, yes?), he travels even further into the past, long before the great wall was built, to a point in time at which the first men were in conflict with the indigenous population of Westeros, generally known as the Children of the Forest. During this conflict, the Children used some form of magic to create the Night King as it was seen in season 6.
How could he fail on his last travel?
There are multiple ways how he could fail, becoming the Night King in the process. First, we must assume men were still seen as enemies by the Children when they created the Night King, because the intention behind that creation was a defensive one to help them in their conflict against the first men.
It is also safe to assume that Bran did not meet the Children in person, but did warg into one of the first men. The person who becomes the Night King is clearly not Bran, but Bran must be somewhat connected to him, because when the dragonglass blade penetrates the chest of the victim, Bran actually shows a physical reaction - he grabs onto his chest as if he was feeling pain.
So what I believe happened is that Bran traveled back in time, warged into one of the first men who somehow became a prisoner of the Children. He tried to explain everything, probably telling weird things about himself being from the future (that’s why they gagged him) and was chosen to be the vessel for the Night King. He then failed to travel back, because he stayed for too long in the past. Remember what the Three-Eyed Raven said about staying too long?
It’s beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long, you drown.
I would go as far and say: He had to fail. This would be consistent with Three-Eyed Raven’s «The past is alredy written, the ink is dry» statement. This essentially means, the past cannot be changed at all. Everything that happened, happens and will happen was always set to happen in exactly that way. The fact that Bran caused it with his own actions in the future doesn’t matter, once the past has been written once, there is no way to change it.
All this defeats logic
Yes, in our reality, it does. It’s a logical contradiction, because time travel does not exist. But if it did and we were indeed able to travel back in time in order to alter our presence, nothing would be illogical at all. Of course, the assumption that time travel is real defeats everything we know about physics related to space and time, but that has nothing to do with the lack of logic.
It’s a common misconception that science fiction or fantasy must lack all logic. If written well, it does not have to be illogical, it just requires to accept a different reality, in which our laws of nature do not always apply. Hence, the fiction.
Time paradoxes have their own special problems, of course. Just consider the following:
Someone decides to travel back in time to kill Adolf Hitler and stop the madness that happened more than 80 years ago. If he or she succeeds, then every single event related in some way to Hitler would instantly be wiped from spacetime. Everything after that successful assault would never happen and our brave person would never have a reason for traveling back in time.
But what if he or she fails? What if Hitler only gets injured and traumatized from the assault - and what if this trauma causes him losing his mind and becoming the evil and mad person he was? In that case, our brave person becomes the cause of everything that happened and gives himself the reason to travel back in time with the intention to correct it, but since it is impossible to change the past, he is destined to fail over and over again. A causal loop.
We cannot explain this logically, because it doesn’t fit in our reality. Time travel is not possible (as far as we know) so everything related to it cannot be fully explained. This is one of the reasons, why parallel (or alternate) realities (or universes) are popular among science fiction authors. They are an easy way to make things believable, by setting different laws (of nature).
Now, if this theory holds true and Jon is indeed the Azor
Ahai then both theories are consistent with
each other. Jon will then have to kill his little
stepbrother cousin Bran (whom he always very
much liked) in order to save the world, which would also be consistent with the legend1
and the bittersweet ending promised by GRRM.
Personal opinion about this theory
It’s one of the coolest theories we currently have for the final season. Built on very solid foundations, it is very plausible, despite its perceived “weirdness”. It’s based on facts and doesn’t need to invent new things as the existence of magic and supernatural abilities, like warging and greensight, are already confirmed reality, both in the books and in the show.
It also gives Bran a real purpose, converting him into one of the most important characters in the show. Up and until now, I’ve always seen Bran as somewhat meaningless - sure, he does and did cool things and gave us some of the best scenes in the show (Ser Arthur Dayne fight, Wylis becoming Hodor), but what’s the point of his time travels? So far, the only outcome has been background knowledge; we know who Jon Snow really is, we know how the Night King came into existence, and we know, why Hodor behaved the way he did.
I will conclude this with another hint from the final episode of the seventh season. After the NK breached the wall with undead Viserion, the army of White Walkers and wights was seen marching south from a bird’s eye perspective:
Now, if you carefully look at the formation of the undead army, does it look familiar, or what? If you do not recognize it, here is a hint: Google stark sigil :)
And what speaks against it?
The complexity and “weirdness” factor, primarily. It’s a bit hard to understand and I’m unsure whether GRRM or the producers would take such risk for a key element of the final season where all the mysteries around the Night King need to be resolved in a satisfying manner. A simpler and more logical explanation for the existence of the Night King is possible and, in fact, quite a lot such explanations do exist.
In the legend, the Azor Ahai had to sacrifice his wife for creating a powerful weapon required to kill the Great Other. Jon will have to sacrifice his little brother. ↩