*stares awkwardly*

In Praise of Bran Stark, a Total Weirdo

Photo: HBO

This essay was originally published between the second and third episodes of Game of Thrones’ final season. Now that the show has ended forever, we stand by every word of it, most especially the parts about how Bran is so weird that he makes everyone else seem human by comparison.

A lot of bizarre stuff has happened on Game of Thrones. There was that time Melisandre gave birth to a smoke monster. There was the mom who breastfed her not-so-little boy. There was the time Jaime had sex with Cersei in front of their son’s corpse. Just a high percentage of uncomfortable, disorienting things constantly going on in Westeros. Over the later seasons, though, Thrones fans have gathered together in their shared acknowledgment that one dude really takes the cake when it comes to absolute weirdness, and that dude is Bran Stark.

Bran has become strange for good reason, if you consider “slowly turning into a mythical prophet with access to magical knowledge and/or an actual mythical creature with an unusual number of eyes” to be a good reason. But in this final season especially, opinion has been divided on whether Bran’s disintegrating social skills and overly intense staring are good or bad for the series. The anti-Bran argument suggests that this dude’s creepy eccentricities take viewers out of the action, distracting from the fictional milieu. While everyone else on Game of Thrones is furrowing their brows and worrying about the apocalypse, this guy’s in the corner staring at you like he ate way too many edibles.

But I am here to tell you that the anti-Bran-ers, although right about the fact that Bran seems like he belongs in an episode of High Maintenance, are wrong about this being a bad thing. Bran Stark, megaweirdo, is very good.

Let’s examine the weirdness by starting with the hair. (I recognize that this is a controversial way to begin, but why not tackle the big issues up front?) The hair on Game of Thrones has been very mutable. Tyrion was basically a blond when this show started! Weird Bran’s hair is no exception, although his hair has changed less than many other coifs on this show. As a child, his bangs were framed by much longer hair covering his ears and around the back. It wasn’t quite Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, but that’ll get you in the right territory. Now, Bran’s look has become more monklike. It’s not quite a tonsure, but it’s definitely suggestive of that style, and it goes far toward indicating that this guy’s … well, he’s a little strange. It’s an evocative cut, and I respect the strength and courage in going for a style that says, What if the early Beatles wanted to make sure you could see their bold eyebrows?

Next up is the wheelchair, which obviously isn’t weird in and of itself, but rather how the show seems to deliberately use it to unnerving effect. The season-eight premiere, where he parked himself in the middle of the Winterfell courtyard and then just waited there, was a particularly good example. In this week’s episode, everyone files out of a room and … leaves him sitting by himself. Bran’s wheelchair is a reminder of the fiddly physical stuff Game of Thrones often prefers to gloss over, like how inaccessible most of these buildings must be for him. It’s such a seemingly difficult way of getting around Winterfell that it makes him seem even more out of place. Rather than include shots where characters help wheel Bran around, he seems to just materialize wherever he needs to be, with no evidence that anyone ever assists him. If you examine this phenomenon seriously at all, it’s ridiculous — of course Winterfell must still have some servants who are helping Bran around. But we never see them, and so Bran just … appears.

That awkwardness also heightens our awareness of Bran’s specific vibe. He’s often stuck places, or chooses to be stuck that way, left alone in rooms after everyone else has left so that he can better ponder the universe. This should be terrible! It should be a thoughtless inability on the part of the Starks to make sure Bran is still a part of the family. But he exhibits no response at all, no exasperation or complaint or laughter. He’s so far removed from humanity at this point that he just stares off, hardly even noticing that everyone’s gone. This aspect of Weird Bran is so accepted now that when Tyrion actually stays behind to talk to him, it’s notable! It feels like someone’s finally acknowledging how uncomfortable it must be to live with a guy who says he’s a Three-Eyed Raven. (Oh, how I wish we’d gotten more of that conversation!)

Then, of course, there’s the staring. Bran stares because he’s experiencing visions of things happening far away, things from the past, things from the future. He sees the scope of the Seven Kingdoms from a distant, godlike perspective. That’s weird! It’s uncomfortable to be around! He tells Jaime that he’s not even really Bran Stark anymore — please, seriously, call him the Three-Eyed Raven — and he informs everyone gathered around the strategy table that the Night King is coming for him because he wants to erase memory. Because Bran is memory. That’s a lot of very weird energy!

Here’s why I most love Weird Bran, though: He’s very funny. The show is best when it’s just a bit goofy, but that sense of humor has been hard to find in recent seasons. Weird Bran, with his middle-distance stare and the way he seems like he’s operating on an entirely different plane of existence, has been one of Game of Thrones’ more reliable sources of silliness. He’s not a funny guy, of course: Whenever Bran issues some monotone declaration about a thing nobody could possibly know, the characters around him react with perplexed confusion. Their exasperation is obvious, and the stakes of it all — the world is ending, and this guy’s unbearably odd — make for a hilariously mismatched tone. Sansa’s frustration and awkwardness around her kid brother makes us like her even more because that’s how we feel, too. When Jon and Dany arrived in Winterfell, they looked more like statues than tired travelers — until, that is, Jon tried to greet Bran and ended up furrowing his brow in alarm, which was the funniest thing he’s done in years. Bran isn’t really a person anymore, but he makes everyone else look like people by comparison.

And Bran’s weirdness doesn’t have to detract from the seriousness of the show. As Sunday’s episode demonstrated pretty handily, Bran’s strangeness can exist as an accepted element without seriously undermining his role in the grand scheme of the story. The idea that Bran carries with him the whole memory of the world, which makes him a special target for the Night King, does work as a motive. It creates a tie between the Night King and a character we actually know, and it gives Bran’s whole deal from the last several seasons more meaning. When he and Sam explain that tie in the war-planning scene — justifying why Bran will be an important figure in their coming battle with the White Walkers — everyone nods along, without exchanging epic side-eye about how bizarre this guy is. He can be everyone’s inexplicable little brother when the series needs to demonstrate that Sansa and Jon are still human enough to register Bran’s peculiar behavior, but he can still be a vital, serious cog in the machine when it counts.

Yes, a horde of zombies approaches, an aunt had sex with her nephew, and there are dragons. A massive battles is coming, and winter is here. So let’s all gather around the few Game of Thrones truths we have left, and be grateful for something that unites everyone behind a single shared belief: Bran Stark is a weird guy.

In Praise of Bran Stark, a Total Weirdo