Over the course of Game of Thrones’ eight seasons, Bran Stark has gradually evolved from being one of the show’s more peripheral characters to being one of its most central and significant. For a long time, many viewers might have had little interest in his long quest to travel north and become the Three-Eyed Raven.
In fact, Game of Thrones itself left him hanging out offscreen for the entirety of season five because he was just sorta doing his own thing: learning how to travel through time and space, projecting himself into other life forms, and becoming a creepy human database storing the complete memory of the universe, no big deal.
Now, with all that homework out of the way, Bran is poised to be a major player in the impending Battle of Winterfell, featuring the Army of the Living against the Night King and his Army of the Dead. But … how exactly will that work?
We know the Night King wants to kill Bran, and season eight’s second episode, “A Knight for the Seven Kingdoms,” saw Bran planning to use himself as bait to lure the Night King into a vulnerable position. But the episode remained a little fuzzy on what’s supposed to happen next — while seeming to imply that a new encounter between Bran and the Night King (they’ve “met” once before, in season six’s “The Door”) could result in, uh, the end of the world.
There are multiple guesses and theories — supported by evidence from both the TV show and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels, on which the show is based — about how Bran and the Night King might come to a final confrontation, and about what that confrontation could mean with regard to how Game of Thrones ends.
But to understand these theories, you need to understand how Bran and the Night King are connected to begin with. So let’s break that down — and then we’ll walk through some of the speculation for how these two characters and the link between them could impact the fate of Westeros.
Understanding where Bran’s power comes from is essential to understanding his strategy to defeat the Night King
The basics of how Bran’s power works are rooted in his heritage as a member of House Stark. One reason the Stark family is so powerful, and their connection to Winterfell so storied, is that they are a clan that stretches back centuries. Notably, they’re descendants of the First Men, who were among the original inhabitants of Westeros.
The First Men co-existed alongside the Children of the Forest, who wove their ancient magic and their worship of nature into their culture — and taught their secrets to many of the First Men, including the Starks. This is why, centuries later, some of the current generation of Stark children possess innate abilities that are rare among humans, but were common to the Children of the Forest.
Among these abilities is “greensight” — the ability to see into the past and present and receive limited visions of the future. There’s also the ability to “warg,” or essentially share a consciousness with other beings. On Game of Thrones, Bran has both of these abilities. And in Martin’s novels, most of the Stark kids also have these abilities, including the ability to warg into their direwolves.
Both in the books and on the show, Bran’s powers are the strongest; so much so that he recognizes early on that he has special abilities that are uncommon even to people with the greensight. This realization is what prompts him to embark on his long and difficult quest to become the Three-Eyed Raven. Essentially, Bran is a modern-day, human greenseer — someone who can both warg and have prophetic visions.
The original greenseers were leaders of the Children of the Forest. And it was they who carved faces into weirwood trees — the huge red-leafed trees we’ve seen at Winterfell on multiple occasions.
Those faces in the weirwood trees are important, because the First Men believed they were the reason the greenseers knew so much. Westeros lore holds that the faces in the trees stored knowledge and magic and could “see” what was happening around them.
Basically, the weirwood trees functioned as ancient surveillance cameras networked directly to the Children of the Forest. They were apparently so powerful that during the numerous wars between the First Men and the Children of the Forest, the First Men made a point of cutting down the weirwood trees and destroying the faces in order to disempower the greenseers by cutting off their access to the magic and knowledge of the trees.
In current-day Westeros, the faces in the remaining weirwood trees still preserve and store human memory — not unlike the way Bran himself now preserves and stores human memory.
In the books, the connection between Bran and the faces in weirwood trees is explicit: He can only greensee into the past if the event happened in close proximity to a weirwood tree, implying that he is somehow relying on a direct transfer of power between the weirwood faces and their ability to “see” others’ memories and his own. On TV, this connection is less explicit, but Game of Thrones implies it in many ways, by frequently showing Bran needing to touch a weirwood tree to enhance his own warging ability.
So, to sum up: Bran is connected to the ancient Children of the Forest through House Stark and through magical trees with faces that let him access universal human memory. Now, let’s talk about how all of that connects back to the Night King — and the two major theories surrounding how the Night King’s connection to Bran might play out in Game of Thrones’ final episodes.
The Night King and Bran share the same power source
In the season six episode “The Door,” Bran learned that the Children of the Forest actually created the Night King. In that episode, Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest, told Bran that they were driven to create a new creature who could help them wage their fight against men because the First Men kept cutting down the weirwood forests — which wiped out the Children along with the trees. Ironically, the First Men were destroying the “memories” of the faces in the trees, much as the Night King now wants to destroy the memory of all humanity.
In Bran’s vision, he saw how the Children of the Forest created the Night King: by driving a blade of dragonglass into the chest of a human who’d been bound to a weirwood tree. (It’s unclear whether the blade also penetrated the weirwood tree itself, but it seems likely.)
So Bran and the Night King are connected to each other by the magic of the Children of the Forest, as well as to the weirwood trees that contain both magic and memories. This is why the Night King was initially able to psychically track Bran before he grabbed him by the arm and marked him in “The Door,” instantly sensing and seeing him (and the previous Three Eyed Ravens) when Bran warged into an animal nearby.
The Night King’s origin story also explains why he seems so villainous: In a nutshell, he was killed and forced into this form without his consent, and he’s still pissed. He’s especially mad at the Children of the Forest — which makes Bran, with all his connections to them, his primary target.
All of this leads us to the first popular theory about how Bran will take out the Night King.
Theory No. 1: Bran will unmake the Night King by reversing the magic that created him
Bran’s plan for the Battle of Winterfell, as outlined in season eight, episode two, is to lure the Night King into a vulnerable position — namely, to hang out away from the main battlefield, near the castle’s weirwood forest, known as the godswood, and wait until the Night King shows up. Many fans believe that the reason he has chosen this particular location is that it is significant to the Children of the Forest, to the Night King, and to Bran himself.
Since the Night King was made by shoving dragonglass into his chest while he was pinned to a weirwood tree, perhaps he can be unmade in the exact same way — by somehow pinning him to a weirwood tree and driving a dragonglass dagger into his chest in order to reverse the original ancient spell.
After that, the theory holds, all of the White Walkers the Night King has created should be destroyed. This speculation derives from the fact that if you kill a White Walker, all of the wights they “sired” die. And by extension, it is natural to assume — as voiced by Beric Dondarrion during season seven’s big White Walker confrontation scene in “Beyond the Wall” — that if you kill the Night King, all the White Walkers he sired will also die, causing all the wights they sired to die. So if Bran “unmakes” the Night King, he could presumably take out the Night King’s entire army of thousands in one stroke.
Seems pretty simple: Just tie the Night King to a tree, stab him, wipe out his entire army. Piece of cake, right?
Obviously, it’s going to take an extraordinary amount of luck to actually pull this off. But Bran seems pretty confident that the Night King is so hellbent on getting to him that he’ll be more careless than usual. To be fair to the Night King, there are good arguments for why we maybe shouldn’t trust Bran regarding the Night King’s motivations — chief among them being that all his knowledge of the Night King comes from the Children of the Forest, who aren’t exactly unbiased. But the other dominant theory about Bran and the Night King contains an explanation for why the Night King might be really eager to see Bran face-to-face.
Theory No. 2: Bran is the Night King
You read that right. Before you double-take too hard, there are a couple of things to keep in mind: This is actually a hugely popular fan theory, one of the most widely propagated since the R+L=J theory of Jon Snow’s parentage, which was taken as assumed fact by fans and ultimately borne out in the series. There’s also a striking amount of evidence for it in both the show and Martin’s books.
One of the very first things we learned about Bran, all the way back in Game of Thrones’ very first episode, is that he’s not the greatest at following orders: His mother warned him to stop scaling the Winterfell castle towers. He didn’t, and suffered the consequences. Keep that in mind.
Bran’s ability to warg is very powerful, but it’s not without risks. Repeatedly throughout the series, Bran has been warned that if he tries to warg too often or stays too long in the body of another being, his consciousness might get stuck there, leaving him unable to find his way back to his own body.
The first warning comes in season four, episode two, when Bran’s pal Jojen tells him that spending too much time warging into his direwolf, Summer, is “dangerous.” More warnings occur throughout season six, when the previous Three-Eyed Raven warns Bran repeatedly about the consequences of warging too much. “Stay too long where you don’t belong and you will never return,” he says in “Home.”
So already we have a lot of foreshadowing that Bran is potentially going to get stuck in someone else’s body and be unable to find his way back to his own. Could said body be none other than that of the man who was tied to a weirwood tree and turned into the Night King himself?
Many fans believe that Bran could get stuck in the Night King’s body accidentally for entirely unselfish reasons. This strand of the theory holds that in his quest to defeat the Night King, he wargs back into the past in an attempt to undo the making of the Night King at the moment it happens, only to be unable to escape the Night King’s body.
From there, some fans believe that over time, being stuck as the Night King turned the character into a vicious, bitter villain who wanted only revenge and an end to humanity. One way this theory plays out is that the Night King, after finally coming face-to-face with Bran — i.e. himself — might suddenly remember who he is and halt his army all by himself, ultimately allowing himself to be destroyed.
Other fans believe that Bran intentionally warged himself into the Night King’s body, and that the entire scheme was designed as a long game lasting several millennia. This theory holds that Bran decided to keep the humans of Westeros from destroying themselves and all of civilization, by giving them an outside force to unite against. In this strand, the theory plays out with Bran choosing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, by committing to spending many thousands of years as an ice zombie purely to offer himself as a target later on to prevent civil war in Westeros. (It’s a nice idea, but I’m pretty skeptical of this one.)
There’s also a subtheory that Bran didn’t get stuck in the Night King’s body but still managed to influence him significantly. This argument speculates that he only warged into the Night King’s consciousness once — but that once was enough. There’s some evidence for this in the season six episode “The Door,” when we see how being warged into by Bran, even temporarily, robs Hodor of his wits and ultimately leaves him fixated on a single purpose for the rest of his life. If Bran was able to warg into the Night King and get him to fixate on a single as-yet-undetermined goal, that might explain why he seems so certain of what the Night King is going to do.
Ultimately, the “Bran is the Night King” theory seems to inevitably end in Bran’s death — but there are many fans who feel that his death, in particular, is thematically necessary to the integrity of Game of Thrones, and might even allow the story’s entire universe to essentially reset itself and start again. Hopefully, that won’t mean we’ll all have to watch our favorite characters be obliterated — but no matter what, finally getting to see what happens could be spectacular.