Viewers and critics can debate whether Game of Thrones is or isn’t the show it used to be, but when it comes to Bran Stark, there’s no argument. The sole surviving son of Ned Stark is not the boy we once knew. He’s now the Three-Eyed Raven, a cold and colossally powerful psychic. To hear actor Isaac Hempstead Wright tell it, the character actually has more in common with entities from science-fiction and superhero stories than he does with his old friends and family in Westeros.
Despite his emotional distance, Bran still snagged some of season seven’s most memorable moments: his uncomfortable allusion to his sister Sansa’s wedding to the psychotic Ramsay Bolton; his mic-drop quote of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish’s signature line; his partnership with Samwell Tarly in sleuthing out the truth about Jon Snow’s parentage; and his telepathic face-off with his nemesis — or as some crackpot theories insist, his alter ego — the Night King. Below, Hempstead Wright takes us on a deep dive into Bran Stark’s strange new world.
Congratulations on creeping everybody out this season.
[Laughs.] Yeah, sorry about that. There were some cool bits to get to play, less so that creepy moment with Sansa. That was weird. I don’t think Bran meant that in a weird way; I don’t think he’s trying to freak his sister out by going, “Yeah, I know everything. Don’t fuck with me.” It’s more like Bran is processing everything he’s seen, like, “I’ve seen you there. That happened to you. I’m sorry for what happened to you.” Bran has lost that emotional connection. He just states what he sees in an almost autistic way, not really connecting with things but just saying how they are.
Saying “chaos is a ladder” to Littlefinger was so cool, though. I felt so badass in that scene, like, “Chaos is a ladder … yeeaaaah. How do you like that, Littlefinger?”
Game of Thrones is still rooted in recognizable human emotions, but Bran has so few of them now.
It was a really challenging thing to do this season. I had a meeting with David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], our showrunners, before we started filming. We had a chat about how we wanted to play Bran this season, and they suggested Doctor Manhattan from the Watchmen comic. Bran was slightly based on that, existing in all these different times at once, knowing all these various things, being this emotionless rock connecting these different timelines and the history of the universe. We wanted that, but we didn’t want a boring, monotonous character who would just go, “Yeah, I’m the Three-Eyed Raven, blah blah blah.” It becomes a bit unbelievable, and also it becomes a bit dull. Not that the whole thing isn’t completely unbelievable, but you know what I mean.
We also wanted to make sure that there was a bit of Bran left, a glimmer of a person still in there. It’s like he’s the first cyborg. We just connected a supercomputer to a human being’s brain. He’s a mainframe, but there’s a little bit of his personality. More often than not, though, Bran is a vessel for human knowledge.
Despite his power, the finale revealed that Bran doesn’t know everything. He didn’t know about Rhaegar and Lyanna’s wedding.
That was a bit confusing. The way I understand, it works like Bran has access. It’s like he’s got a Kindle library of every book of everything that’s ever happened in the world. He can access any of it in a heartbeat, but he hasn’t yet sat there and read it all. The old Three-Eyed Raven had a thousand years to sit in that cave to read every single page of everything that’s happened in the universe, and therefore be completely all knowing. Bran isn’t completely omniscient. He can look up anything he wants, but he hasn’t got it all by heart yet.
At that moment [in the finale], Bran was like, “Oh, yup, Rhaegar was [Jon’s] dad,” but he doesn’t think to explore it further. When Samwell Tarly says that [Rhaegar and Lyanna] were married, he can then confirm it. When his sisters come to him offscreen and go, “Can you look up what is the real deal with Littlefinger?” He can go, “He said this and this and this.”
I’m glad you brought that scene up with Littlefinger. When I saw Bran with Sansa at the trial, part of me was like, “If Bran’s there, Sansa can never go through with this and execute or exile Arya.” But I also thought, “Well, Bran is barely Bran anymore. Maybe this needs to happen.” He offered a lot less confidence that the right thing would happen than you’d think.
That’s the thing. Bran is not ready yet, as the Three-Eyed Raven said. Bran hasn’t had time to come to complete terms with his powers — he just has them now. He’s not going to be mistake-free. He’s not completely infallible. That’s definitely true.
At the same time, I think Bran will stick up for what is right and look up the right things at the right time. While Bran can’t necessarily look up the future, he has an idea of fate and destiny. How he played it when he first looked at [Littlefinger’s] knife and gave it to Arya … Bran can see that this knife has some kind of importance in Arya’s hands. He looked up all the connections and he can see that this knife has some kind of timeline that links to someone. In my mind, that’s why Bran was giving it to Arya like that. He knows the general arc and shape of how things have to go. I don’t think Bran would have let Sansa kill Arya had it come to that. [Pauses.] I hope not.
During Bran’s emotionless good-bye to his old companion Meera Reed, she tells him, “You died in that cave.” How much of what happened last season — Bran’s psychic crippling of Hodor, the way Hodor sacrificed himself — is Bran still carrying with him?
That’s interesting. Maybe the whole trauma of being back in time and being in someone else’s body like that and messing with it so much, maybe that’s what fried Bran’s brain. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I think mostly what’s going on with Bran is focusing on what needs to happen. Not in a callous way, but it doesn’t matter that Hodor is dead or that Meera has left. They served their purpose. Bran needed to get to Winterfell so he could be with Samwell Tarly, so he could find this out and he can do whatever in the next season.
While Bran is still grateful for the help of Meera and Hodor, he just sees it as like a math equation on a page. He’s like, “We have to take away that from that so we could get to that, and we needed that to get to there.” He’s looking at everything in a more calculated way now. He’s like a very, very powerful computer or calculator. There is a sense of some kind of personality or some vague flicker of emotion, but more than anything, Bran is just looking at this spreadsheet of equations and things that need to happen. In many ways, I don’t think Hodor and Meera are in his mind at all. He’s so dead set on what has to happen to next.
The way you describe how he’s all about doing what needs to be done reminds me of people insisting that Bran is the Night King.
Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of that.
Whether or not you buy that, which I personally don’t, there is a resemblance there between them. It’s all eyes on the prize.
Maybe. I think it’s less that they’re the same person and more that they’re two of the ancient beings of Westeros. The Three-Eyed Raven has been around for God knows how long, and White Walkers have been reported since the beginning of time. As we’ve seen, they were created by the Children of the Forest, so we can’t get much more ancient than that. Perhaps we can think of it as these are two characters with a huge amount of power, but one is a Frankenstein’s monster who is driven by nothing but hatred and violence. Then there’s Bran, who uses his powers for good. I want to find out why the Night King is so obsessed with destroying mankind. We’ll see whether they have any kind of explanations in the next season. Hopefully we’ll find out cool stuff about both of those characters.
I love when actors start sounding like fans.
Oh, I know. During shooting I have to be like, “Nope, I can’t say anything.” But this is the golden period. We haven’t gotten the scripts for the next season and this one’s just finished. I can properly theorize and chat, because I don’t know anything that’s going to happen.