Contrary to the words of House Bon Jovi, it is often the case that you really can’t go home again, and no one knows that better than the Stark kids on Game of Thrones. After years lost and alone, the three surviving true-born children of Ned Stark have returned to Winterfell, and while none of them would swap their current places for where they were in, say, season three, none of them had the joyous homecoming that fans might have wished to see. Sansa’s first return to the North saw her married off to a violent rapist; her second has been marred by political infighting with Jon. Arya’s reunion with her sister in Sunday night’s episode had hugs aplenty, but it was also a bittersweet moment, as the weight of years apart hung silently between them.
As for Bran, he’s come home, but like so many other survivors of great trauma, he’s not quite himself. That’s not a metaphor: As he told Meera in “The Spoils of War,” he’s not Bran anymore, “not really.” He remembers what it was like to be Brandon Stark, but those experiences make up only a small portion of his memories now. It’s not so much that he died in the cave, like Meera suggested. Rather, he’s just had so much other information crammed into his brain that his old identity was crowded out.
Speaking of identities, Bran’s statement earlier this season that he was the Three-Eyed Raven has been interpreted by some fans as a hint that Bran is the same person as Max Von Sydow’s character. I don’t think we need to go that far; I’ve always thought of the Three-Eyed Raven as a job title that’s passed down over the generations, with Bran simply being the most recent person to hold the gig. (At least in the show — in the books “the Three-Eyed Raven” is one specific guy, while the job title is “greenseer.”)
As part of that job, Bran had all of the old Three-Eyed Raven’s visions uploaded into his mind back in season six, which fried his brain a bit. His powers work by accessing Westeros’s network of weirwood trees — a.k.a. the weird trees with faces carved in them — and it seems like his visions have been strongest when he’s seeing things that happened right in front of the trees. (Remember how vivid his memory of Sansa’s wedding was? That happened right in front of the Winterfell weirwood.) But we’ve also seen Bran have visions of events that happened nowhere near a weirwood. He saw the Tower of Joy last season, and on Sunday night we got a two-fer, as Bran made reference both to Arya’s stop at the inn a few episodes back and Littlefinger’s “chaos is a ladder” speech, which happened in King’s Landing all the way back in season three.
But all these new powers have come at a price, as Bran’s homecoming has been incredibly uncomfortable for everyone. Last week, he freaked out Sansa by describing her horrific wedding night when she was trying to have a normal heart-to-heart, and in “The Spoils of War,” he alienated Meera by refusing to offer her anything but a perfunctory “thank you” as she said her good-byes. As the new Three-Eyed Raven, he’s simply seen too much. After all, when you personally witness centuries of history, you lose perspective on little things like proper manners.