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Time travel in Game of Thrones, explained

Christophe Haubursin is a senior producer for the Vox video team. Since joining the team in 2016, he has produced for Vox’s YouTube channel and Emmy-nominated shows Glad You Asked and Explained.

From the very beginning of the show, Game of Thrones has teased us about what Bran Stark is capable of. We’ve seen him experience prophetic dreams and take control of others’ bodies — but only this season have we witnessed his ability to travel through time.

Based on what the past few episodes have shown us, it looks like Bran can indeed influence the past, but only in ways that confirm events we already know to be true.

Still, the implications for the rest of Westeros are huge.

And though it’s all great science fiction, this kind of approach to time travel has been the subject of some serious research in mathematical physics. The Game of Thrones interpretation follows one of the most famous tenets of the genre — Novikov’s self-consistency principle — which tries to solve for the issue of paradoxes in time travel.

The principle asserts that if there is an event that would create a paradox, then the likelihood of that event occurring is zero. Any changes to the past would always have been true in the traveler’s timeline. As we’ve seen with Bran’s interaction with a young version of his father and his tragic encounter with a young Hodor, Game of Thrones seems to be sticking to this approach.

It’s hard to know exactly what Bran will do with these powers (though the fan theories are pretty wild) — but it’s a big shift in storytelling for the show as a whole. Watch how it works in the video above or on our YouTube channel.


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