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Game of Thrones season 6: the truth about Hodor, explained

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Spoilers follow for "The Door," the fifth episode of Game of Thrones' sixth season.

Hodor. Hold the door. Hold door. Hodor.


Game of Thrones' beloved gentle giant appears to have perished at the hands of the White Walkers, after Bran Stark "warged into" (took control of) his body during the attack on the cave where they'd been hiding out. It's a gut punch, since Hodor was one of the rare sources of joy in a deeply depressing show.

But in addition to being tragic, it's also game-changing. It sure looks like Bran just manipulated time, creating a link between Hodor's mind in the past and the present that warped the young Hodor's mind. That means Bran just demonstrated an ability to manipulate time and change the past — a skill with potentially earth-shattering consequences for the Game of Thrones universe.

How Hodor's mind was broken

hodor (HBO)

Ever since Hodor was introduced in season one, one of the big questions surrounding the character is "why is 'Hodor' the only word he can say?" Now we've finally gotten the answer — and it explains what happened.

In that last scene, Bran is using his Greenseer powers, the name for his ability to observe events in the past and have visions of the future. Most of his plot this season has been spent exploring those abilities with his mysterious tree-bound mentor, the Three-Eyed Raven. In this episode, the two of them are watching a scene of a young Ned Stark at Winterfell, with young Hodor in the background (he worked in Winterfell as a stableboy).

When the White Walkers attack Bran's cave, Meera and the Three-Eyed Raven urge Bran to use his "warg" powers on Hodor, a longstanding ability of Bran's that is separate from Greensight. Warging allows Bran to take control of the bodies of other beings and use them as if they were his own. Other characters, like the wildling Orell from season three, have only been shown using this ability on animals. But Bran can and has done it to Hodor.

This happened for the first time in season three, when Bran and his companions were hiding (from Orell, coincidentally). Hodor's yelling threatened to give them away, and Bran warged into him to calm him down.

Throughout the show, Hodor has been either afraid of fighting or unwilling to do it. Bran taking control of his body is the only way to wield his massive strength in defense of Bran and his friends. In season four, when they were captured by Roose Bolton's man Locke, Bran warged into Hodor to kill Locke and escape. Hence why Bran needs to take over Hodor now: They need him to get up and help escape the White Walkers.

So Bran wargs into Hodor — but crucially, he does it while he's still observing the past. Bran is watching the past and controlling Hodor's body in the present at the same time.

That appears to have created a psychic link between past Hodor and present Hodor. We see past Hodor's eyes go white, which is what happens when Bran seizes control. Past Hodor hears Meera Reed yelling, "Hold the door," through the link, which he starts repeating. He eventually shortens this to "Hodor," and that becomes the only thing he can say for the rest of his life after that event.

So by seizing control of Hodor's mind in the present, just before his death, Bran screwed up his mind decades in the past. Bran created Hodor as we've known him on the show. Bran is responsible for the destruction of Hodor's mind.

Game of Thrones has been setting up Bran's time-travel powers for a while

Game of Thrones (HBO)

This isn't the first time the show has suggested Bran has time-travel powers. Two weeks ago, during "Oathbreaker," Bran watched his father Ned's battle at the Tower of Joy. He yelled at Ned, and it seemed like Ned turned his head.

At the time, the Three-Eyed Raven suggested that Bran had done nothing and Ned had turned around for some other reason. "The past is already written," the Raven said. "The ink is already dry."

But now it looks like this is false. Indeed, in interviews after that episode, Isaac Hempstead Wright — the actor who plays Bran — suggested that Bran really does possess the power to change events in the past.

"It's enough of a utility to just be able to look back in time and allow that to inform your decisions in the future, but the fact that you might be able to change time? It's massive. It's unprecedented," Hempstead Wright told the Hollywood Reporter. "For Bran, it presents a humongous kind of challenge, because we all know from Doctor Who that if you start messing with time, things go wrong. I think the temptation now is definitely there."

Now it seems clear that Hempstead Wright wasn't speaking in hypotheticals. Bran's Greenseer power doesn't just give him power to watch things. It looks like he can actually affect events in the past.

It's possible, however, that the Three-Eyed Raven was still technically right. Bran might have the power to affect the past, but only in a way that leads to outcomes we already see in the present. Hodor was only capable of saying "Hodor" before the events of this episode.

That would mean that Bran couldn't go back in time and prevent Ned Stark from being executed. But he could have played some role in the sequence of events that ended with Ned's execution. Remember, Bran is invisible to the people in the past unless he tries to make himself known, which means that Bran could have been secretly manipulating everything that we've seen on the show so far.

In other words, anything that's happened so far could theoretically be Bran's fault.

This suggests some crazy fan theories could be true

Bran Stark
Is this once-little guy responsible for literally everything?

If Bran really can reach out and affect things he sees with his Greensight, then the implications for world of the show are enormous.

Fans of the books and the show have long suspected that Bran's Greensight gave him the power to affect the past, and so have developed a lot of theories about Bran's secretly huge role in the narrative.

One theory, from redditor NegativeKarmaSniifer, is that Bran is responsible for the war that kicked off the whole thing. Remember, the reason that Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark rebelled against King Aerys Targaryen way back in the day is that Aerys burned Ned's father and brother, Rickard and Bran Stark, to death. Aerys had a habit of doing this; he was called the "Mad King," and obsessively said, "Burn them all," near the end of his life. His killing of the Starks kicked off the rebellion, putting Robert on the throne and ultimately culminating in the events of the past six seasons.

NegativeKarmaSniifer suggests that Aerys's madness came from Bran attempting to contact him in the past and warn him away from his path. Perhaps contact with the future drives people insane, or maybe Bran was attempting to warn him about the White Walkers. But either way, the theory is that Bran caused everything that's happened by trying to prevent it.

Another theory, which Redditor SecretTargaryens calls "Bran Stark = Bran Stark," goes back even further in time. It suggests that Bran actually founded House Stark and built the Wall centuries ago.

The legendary founder of House Stark and builder of the Wall was supposedly named Bran the Builder. It's possible that he took that name because he's Bran Stark projected back in time. It gets even weirder: There have been many Bran Starks throughout the history of the house, so it's possible all of them were controlled (in whole or in part) by our Bran.

A passage in the first book (A Game of Thrones) sort of supports this. Old Nan, Bran's nurse and Hodor's mother, apparently confuses Bran with other Bran Starks she's known:

Sometimes Nan would talk to him as if he were her Brandon, the baby she had nursed all those years ago, and sometimes she confused him with his uncle Brandon, who was killed by the Mad King before Bran was even born. She had lived so long, Mother had told him once, that all the Brandon Starks had become one person in her head.

Yeah, it's a pretty huge stretch. But this is the kind of thing we have to start thinking about, now that we know Bran could theoretically be responsible for everything that's happened.

Watch: The secret about Game of Thrones