Attention: Spoilers Ahead!
Like so many, I watched the Game of Thrones finale with great interest. I wasn’t particularly upset about Dany dying or Jon being banished to Castle Black or annoyed by the comedy in the new king’s council. I thought it was brilliant that Drogon unleashed his frustration by burning the Iron Throne. But one plot point didn’t move me whatsoever: Bran Stark becoming king. And that was because Bran himself hasn’t moved me, in years.
It isn’t that I dislike Bran particularly. He was a likable little boy and the story of becoming the Three-eyed Raven was interesting. But that he finally turned into a sleepy detached automaton was quite bluntly, a missed characterization opportunity on the writers’ part.
As a child, Brandon Stark was active and curious. As a teenager after his accident, he was warm and friendly and somewhat extroverted. He was also brave. He warged into his direwolf, Summer, and fought, he warged into Hodor and fought. But after he took vision trips with the Three-eyed Raven and became the Three-eyed Raven himself, he turned into a bore. (For some reason, even his hair, wavy and wild before, became straight and dreary.) Yes, he was able to see visions of the past and future and those visions were interesting bits of back story but after, he lost his investment in the people he loved. He became detached from emotion, unable to show affection, and sort of intellectually neutral in most situations.
Because he was so one-dimensional, all scenes containing Bran fell flat. Even unrealistic. When he reunited with Jaime and then defended him, you got a glimpse that he was grateful that Jaime had pushed him out the window, but these moments of gratitude were few and far between. He barely hugged his siblings when they were reunited after years.
I know that Benioff and Weiss might have felt as if they had to write his character that way since otherwise Bran would interfere with the outcomes of his family’s actions. However, I didn’t buy that. After having seen the big picture of humankind’s eternity I didn’t believe he would no longer care to show emotion to his family. In fact, I thought of one true life person who’s in a similar situation that the writers could have modeled Bran after. If they’d studied this person, they could have made Bran’s Three-eyed Raven personality more charismatic and complex.
Take a Look at a True Monk
If you’ve ever read or watched interviews with the Dalai Lama, you might be surprised by how much he smiles and laughs. He does so a lot. (I heard him speak in person once and it was eye opening.) It’s because this deeply spiritual man is removed from day-to-day life through his Buddhist practice. He isn’t personally invested in a career or family or money or any of the usual institutions or desires the rest of us need to survive. He’s always been focused on larger issues of compassion, community, altruism, and peace.
And because the Dalai Lama has lived this way for decades, he sees the rest of the world as well, silly. All of our rushing around, our need to get ahead, our greed, our desires are all ways to bring about more suffering. (See China’s oppression for the most glaring example.) I think the world seems weird to him, oddly competitive where one wins and another loses. The Dalai Lama believes being kind and loving toward each other is better than selfishness and competition. And yet he’s forgiving of this behavior. He’s advised us to remember, when we’re irritated by others’ behavior, that that person simply wants happiness and is trying to get it. It’s amazing. It’s as if he’s a compassionate father of everyone. A kind of modern day Jesus Christ.
A Lesson from the Dalai Lama
So if Bran were detached from the goings on of his civilization as the Dalai Lama is, why wouldn’t he behave similarly? Why wouldn’t he find everyone warring to be strange and silly? Even perhaps laugh at it? If he knew full well that the life experience is all humans have, then why wouldn’t he be at least interested in preserving it peacefully in small ways? Because he knew he was supposed to be king? Doubt it. I don’t think he cared.
Also, I don’t believe his large vision of time and humanity would trump his ability to love his family. Why wouldn’t he be happy for Jon to be a Targaryen and the true king? Even if he knew it wouldn’t work out for him? He would be happy that Sansa was treating the people of Winterfell well and planning for winter so no one would starve. He’d be thankful to have Arya safely in Winterfell with him. Because he’d know that these experiences, as life, are fleeting. He would probably cherish them even more, knowing he shouldn’t interfere with life’s natural chain of events. He would at least show a fatherly like affection.
Bran Needed a Motivation
And that could have been Bran’s motivation. To preserve what is good in the small ways he could. Instead, at least in the TV show, the writers never gave him a motivation, I guess in the name of him being as Sam said, “Whatever Bran is.” It was as if Sam spoke the words of the writers: they didn’t know what to do with him.
Obviously, the show is what it is. But outside of the characters shrugging and letting him be weird, I saw no true drama around his transformation. And no meaty development of why he chose to detach. Even with the Night King’s mission to kill him. I’ve heard viewers shrug and say, “He’s supposed to be a tree now.” Well, even trees communicate, heal their wounds, and do what they can to preserve their tree families. It would have been nice to see Bran continue to participate in the world in a more meaningful way than just sitting on the throne. Oh well, at least he’s looking for Drogon.
Photo by Mauricio Santos