Books

Update: Bran Stark is Still the Villain No One Saw Coming

Brandon Stark is a villain. Make no mistake. If you are a Game of Thrones fan and have not already read my argument on How Bran Stark is the Villain No One Saw Coming, please do take a few moments and read the case to be made for his dark nature and what may be driving him.

Now that season 7 of the television series has aired, it is worth examining how my theory has held up in the season or so since I first published it.

Bran Stark Heart Tree.jpg

Team Ice vs. Team Fire

Let us start with the most rudimentary means of examining the Westerosi standings thus far. As I pointed out previously, the television show–which is based on the books from A Song of Ice and Fire series–is most basically broken down to Team Ice versus Team Fire. Let us review where the teams stand:

Team Fire

– Targaryens (Jon included)
– Dragons: Drogon and Rhaegal
– R’hllor and the Red Preists / Priestesses
– The New Gods
– The pyromancers of King’s Landing
– The Night’s Watch (“I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn…”)

Team Ice

– White Walkers
– Children of the Forest
– The Old Gods
– Dragon: Viserion
– Brandon Stark, aka the Three-Eyed Raven

If you see Brandon sitting fireside at Winterfell and suppose that his return must indicate that he is on Team Fire, then you are mistaken.

Note the new addition to Team Ice? A dragon. A blue fire-breathing dragon. That is quite a remarkable shift in power, so how is it that Bran has not warned anyone? Even if we assume he didn’t see it coming, he most assuredly must be aware that it has occurred. After all, it happened weeks or months before Viserion took down a chunk of the Wall. Should Bran not be telling Sansa? Or messaging Jon? Or at least telling Samwell?? I mean, com’on, Bran, maybe Jon’s lineage isn’t the most super important news alert right now. (And don’t tell me that little perv doesn’t have his mind on Jon’s genes because he isn’t watching Dany and Jon rocking the boat! Eyes on the fire, Bran!)

The Children: A History Lesson

But there’s one big glaring problem that makes Bran’s omission even more ominous. And to understand it, first you need a quick history lesson.

Long ago in our Song of Ice and Fire world, there was something called the Long Night, a period that followed significant and costly wars between the children and First Men. A pact was reached though, and the two factions seemed to live in relative peace, with the Children relegated to the far north, long before there was a wall.

According to man’s legends, the white walkers emerged from…nowhere, allegedly, terrorized both races during the Long Night, and then were vanquished only after men and children banded together. It was then heroic Bran the Builder who engaged in rallying men, giants, and the children to all pitch in and build the Wall, lest the white walkers ever return. And for good measure, Bran asked the children to weave spells into the Wall, protecting everything south from the white walkers.

Of course, you could drive a mammoth through the holes in those legends told by men. And to quote Samwell Tarly of the books:

“The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it.”

The white walkers didn’t just appear. The children made them with their own magic. Why? Maybe they didn’t like being told to stay up north. Maybe they thought that the men were invaders on their land, and it was time to take some of it back. So maybe during the Long Night, the children weren’t terrorized quite as much as they let on.

The Wall’s Magic

Back to that wall, the one that no one believed could be demolished so easily. Especially since Bran gave them no warning that the Night King had become (*gag*) a dragon rider.

Side Note: I really, really hate you, Benioff and Weiss.

Beyond Bran’s lack of wall-melty notice, the really disturbing idea is that the dragon even could melt the wall. It turns out that maybe the routed children, who had been playing both sides of the battlefield during the Long Night agreed to weave spells into the Wall. But did they ever do it?

And even if they did as they swore, there is a good reason that blue dragon fire could break the enchantments: Their magic is of the same source. I cannot emphasize enough that the children are on Team Ice with the moth-eaten dragon that just melted man’s wall without blinking a blue eye, and using their own magic to do it. And they are on Team Bran as well.

What the Hell is He Doing at Winterfell, Anyway?

Still not convinced that Bran’s lack of help or historical knowledge (of which he has total omnipotence, allegedly) is evidence that he’s not on the side of good?

Bran Stark Villain

At this point, I think it’s important to point out something critical about Bran, as he sits toasting himself at Winterfell: He doesn’t claim to be a man anymore. He isn’t Bran. We heard that from his own lips. He’s now the Three-Eyed Raven. So it is highly questionable that The Artist Formerly Known as Bran is even on the side of men, all ancillary evidence aside.

With his motives and allegiances in such dubious standing, I desperately want to know what on earth is Bran, aka Raven Lump, is up to during season 7. His sight isn’t doing anyone much good. In addition to keeping mum about a zombie dragon, he hasn’t let on to anyone what he knows about the genesis of the walkers.

And he’s failed to mention that he established some sort of magical link between himself and the Night King. Maybe that has dissolved already. But maybe it hasn’t.

Bran and the Night King.jpg

It might’ve also been helpful for Jon to have any information about the goings on of the Greyjoys, the Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Iron Bank, etc., etc. So one has to wonder (ahem, Sansa), what the hell good is he? What is he playing at?

If he isn’t helping the cause to protect and Jon and his allies, and he isn’t monitoring and reporting the progress of the white walkers, then it’s a little hard to understand what he’s doing at Winterfell, besides staying warm and fed. It seems to me that he’s a bit like a parasite. Or one of those evil, hairy spiders that lives in my basement each winter, and surely plots to murder me in my sleep. He’s using Winterfell and Sansa and Arya until his time comes.

The End Game

In my first post on this topic, I predicted that both Targaryens will ultimately need to rain fire down on the north to eliminate the walkers, and Brandon Stark as well. I stand by that.

Do not underestimate how big Bran’s role will be by the end. We didn’t spend hours and hours and hours of Bran being dragged through snow and ice, and all those three-eyed raven dream sequences for nothing. He is a much, much bigger player than most fans realize at this point. And his role is not setting up to be a happy, pretty, heroic one.

I mean, sure, I have a few doubts about the TV series, since I believe Benioff and Weiss collectively lack the imagination that the gods give to the average walnut. So maybe they’ll be satisfied with a hero arc for Bran. That would be neat and easy. But even if they do, I still believe that George R.R. Martin has something very dark in mind for the crippled Stark.

He is the secret weapon that the children snuck into Winterfell. The bushy-eyebrowed Three-Eyed Branven has infiltrated the realms of men, and will sow discord from within. So now, my only question is, how much damage will he do, and who will be the one to finally stop him?

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Offred is a protagonist who lives in a world gone crazy. In a cautionary tale that borders on post-apocalyptic mania, The Handmaid’s Tale pulls a Planet of the Apes and seduces us into the horrors of Offred’s world and then reveals them to be our own. Offered is us. This is meant to terrify us and indulge our worst slippery slope fears. Rarely does that make for enjoyable entertainment, though. Thus, I blooped my way to Hulu’s new series, with my dog-eared, annotation-scribbled copy of the book still on my nightstand, wondering if I even wanted to spend hours of my life sucked into a vortex of depression. What I found, though, oddly delighted me. It turns out my paranoia enjoyed being indulged.

After an alleged terrorist attack on U.S. Congress, martial law is declared in Offred’s America, and there is a public movement for a return to basic values–which includes women staying in the home and owning no property. This would be terrifying enough, but Margaret Atwood, author of the book from which Hulu plucked its content, chose to add a special science-fiction twist: For reasons unstated, women and men face obliterating infertility rates. This warps the nightmare into a nation with a breeding program in which the “lucky” women are turned into procreational sex slaves.

This is the turn of the screw that is supposed to draw you in. Hook you. Women as forced breeders, wearing wimples and enslaved under such miserable conditions that most opt for one form of suicide or another. As a book reader, I was almost a bit disappointed that Atwood took it to this level. Sure, it makes the story stunning and tragic, but takes it just slightly beyond the grasp of what feels realistic. It disconnects us from feeling the likelihood that this could happen to us.

And it could. Atwood has warned of it herself. Were it not for the fertility plot line, this forced female servitude feels like it is only one international crisis away. One cry for a return to our “values”. One coordinated and well-funded grassroots movement away from decrying that women are not permitted to work outside of the home because, the children. Because the 1950s was when we were a pure and righteous nation, right? When men were men, and women knew their place. So the movements call and chant and wail that we need to go back to our roots, and they share it feverishly across social media. And in turn Facebook and Twitter accounts and voter registration records are used to identify who is a “patriot” or a “believer”, whichever bent the crusade takes. Add a pinch of racism and misogyny, a whirlwind of fear, and some financial incentives, and you’ve got yourself a real modern dystopia.

This is why I am so grateful for the updates and tweaks that Hulu has thoughtfully provided to Atwood’s mad world. It warms the world and makes it feel like it could have been our own once. Yes the show preserves the infertility thread–no way to avoid that– but it takes care to modernize the technology and add some haunting (an sometimes jaunty) soundtracks. I know those songs. Pre-Offred Elizabeth Moss knows those songs. And she orders pretentious coffee, swipes on Tinder, and worries about her profile pic. Sure the original names are still very 1980s, which is when the story was originally penned. Lydia. Janine. Angela. But there I am with Pre-Offred, believing I could hang out with her, or that I could at least pass her on the street. She is a real, modern flesh-and-blood American.

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Game of Thrones: Why Bran Stark is the Super Villain No One Saw Coming

(Update: Just finished watching season 7? Me, too. This post was written before its airing, so please read the primer in Bran’s villainy below, and then head over to read my season 7 update.)

Forget Joffrey and his crossbow. Or even Ramsey Bolton and his dogs (and his knife, and his sausage, etc.). It could just be that the biggest, most monstrous villain that Westeros has ever seen is, in fact, Bran Stark of Winterfell. Bran, the climbing boy who was pushed out of a tower window. The boy who dreamed of being a knight. It just might be that he found a lurking inner darkness and heeded the call of his very sinister destiny.

How All Great Villains Begin

bran-climbing

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was shoved from a tower window. Until that very moment that the air whooshed past his flailing body, Bran was a sweet, innocent boy with a loving family and a promising and privileged future ahead of him.

Of course, this is exactly how so many villain stories start.

Then, in keeping with villainous themes, this tragic thing happens to him. He is nearly murdered by a queen and her brother, and is left crippled. Gone are his dreams of being a knight. Gone are his days scaling the rooftops. The bitterness sets in. He cannot remember what has happened to him, so he doesn’t understand why or how. He was cheated.

bran-in-bed

Let this mark the beginning of his darkness. TV Bran wants to hear only dark and morbid stories, and he despises his mother’s absence (another common villain theme). He cares not anymore about learning or caring for his father’s subjugates.

But, what of it? He’s an adolescent who has been crippled. Wouldn’t anyone’s mind be in a dark place? Absolutely. It’s what Bran does next that defines his character.

Bran Murdered Hodor

bran-and-hodor

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