Spoilers follow for Game of Thrones season seven, episode four, “The Spoils of War.”
Bran Stark is dead. Well, metaphorically.
That’s Meera Reed’s judgment, after an awkward, alienating farewell conversation with the boy she’s accompanied to hell and back. “You died in that cave,” she told Bran in Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, before leaving Winterfell to return to her family.
And indeed, the Bran scenes in “The Spoils of War” are just the latest reminder of how much the character has been changed by his transformation into the new “Three-Eyed Raven” last season.
Already, in last week’s episode, we got the sense there was now something off about Bran, when he mused to his sister about how beautiful she looked on the night of one of the most traumatic experiences of her life.
Now, he’s saying he doesn’t even really view himself as Bran Stark anymore. “I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark,” he says. “But I remember so much else now.”
Those memories include the names on Arya’s revenge list, his knowledge of which he casually drops to her during their reunion.
They also include Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish’s catchphrase “chaos is a ladder,” which Bran weirds Littlefinger out with during their one-on-one sit-down.
And this surely isn’t good news for Littlefinger, who is clearly hatching another new scheme of some kind by giving Bran the dagger that was used in an assassination attempt against him back in season one.
So here’s a guide to what exactly seems to have happened to Bran and what he seems to be able to do now — and a reminder about the history of that conspicuously reappearing dagger.
Bran seems to have two distinct magical powers: warging, and having visions of everything that happened in human history
Over the past several seasons of Game of Thrones, Bran Stark has gradually developed his magical abilities, and he seems to be able to do two distinctly different things.
Earlier in the series, he gained the ability to “warg” — or, to enter the minds of animals (or people) in the present and control their actions. In previous seasons, he did this repeatedly with his late direwolf Summer and with his late companion Hodor.
This is a power that hasn’t come into play very much on the show recently, but may well in the future. In George R.R. Martin’s books, Bran wargs into birds and even seems to be able to see and (vaguely) speak through weirwood trees, like that one at Winterfell with the carving of a face. And fans have long wondered if he might be able to warg into a dragon.
Bran’s second and more recently acquired magical ability is his power to see, as he puts it, “everything that’s ever happened to anyone.” The old Three-Eyed Raven’s plan was to teach Bran how to do this incrementally, while he was hooked up to one of those magical weirwood trees in a cave, so he could eventually help save humanity from the White Walkers.
But when the Walkers unexpectedly attacked the cave midway through season six, the Three-Eyed Raven knew he was a goner and decided to speed up his timetable. “The time has come for you to become me,” he told Bran, before starting some sort of magical download of visions and memories into Bran’s mind.
This began happening as he fled the White Walker attack itself and seems to have been kicked into an even higher gear as of the final episode of season six, when Bran touched a weirwood tree near the Wall and had a vision of Jon Snow’s birth.
It’s also had a shattering impact on Bran’s personality. Now, when he speaks to his fellow characters, he seems only half-present in the conversation, as if part of his mind is now always focused on cycling through visions of the past. And his own memories of his life as Bran Stark now exist alongside memories of, well, all of human existence up to this point.
Furthermore, it appears that seeing so much sorrow and pain throughout history, and being tasked with stopping the White Walkers, has made it difficult for Bran to get worked up about any one person’s individual concerns or emotions. So now, he can muse disinterestedly about one of the worst nights of Sansa’s life, or send Meera off with barely a perfunctory thank you. His own experiences are barely a blip to him.
Conveniently for Game of Thrones’ plot, though, Bran doesn’t quite seem to be omniscient. “It’s all pieces now, fragments,” he said of his memories in last week’s episode. “I need to learn to see better. When the Long Night comes again, I need to be ready.” He seems to be searching specifically for some sort of information that could help humanity in its coming conflict against the White Walkers, though it’s not yet clear what that would be.
Meanwhile, a dagger that was last seen all the way back in season one has returned
But Bran is faced with a more immediate concern when Littlefinger meets him and hands him a rather strange gift — a dagger that was once used to try to kill Bran and therefore, Littlefinger claimed, “started the War of the Five Kings.”
You’d be forgiven for not remembering this, since it’s a reference to events that took place in Game of Thrones’ very first episodes. So here’s a refresher.
Back in the series premiere, Bran climbed a tower at Winterfell and saw Cersei and Jaime Lannister having sex — after which Jaime pushed him out the window, crippling him.
Then, while Bran was unconscious in the following episode, a mysterious and seemingly rather dull-witted assassin showed up and tried to murder him, before being stopped by Bran’s mother Catelyn and his direwolf Summer.
As the Starks tried to figure out what happened, they noticed that the assassin’s weapon was quite unique. It was an expensive dagger made of the incredibly rare substance Valyrian steel. So Catelyn set out on a journey to King’s Landing to try to find out who was behind the assassination.
When she arrived in the city, she was immediately met by Littlefinger. “There’s only one dagger like this in the Seven Kingdoms — it’s mine,” Littlefinger told her. But he went on to claim that he recently lost the dagger in a bet, to Tyrion Lannister, therefore implying to Catelyn that it was Tyrion who had tried to kill Bran.
This, we now can safely say, was a lie and part of Littlefinger’s overall strategy to set the Starks and Lannisters against each other for his own benefit. And it worked, since Catelyn kidnapped Tyrion soon afterward in an attempt to bring him to justice, creating the first open conflict between the two families. (However, Littlefinger’s claim that the dagger “started the War of the Five Kings” does seem like an overstatement — his own murder of Hand of the King Jon Arryn, and Ned’s later discovery that the royal children were all fathered by Jaime, were arguably more important.)
Still, the question of who actually sent the assassin after Bran back in season one hasn’t yet been resolved. And you can bet that the reference to this mystery and the reappearance of the dagger after all this time means we’ll get an answer soon. (Littlefinger now claims, to Bran, that he has no idea who the dagger initially belonged to. Hmm.)
Regardless of the weapon’s history or this unresolved plot line, though, Bran’s handoff of the dagger to Arya is an exciting development — because Valyrian steel is one of the two known substances that can kill White Walkers.
Arya showed off some serious combat skills when she sparred with Brienne in this episode. So the prospect that she’ll wield this dagger against the Night King’s army and use it to take down White Walkers in some epic future battle is a tantalizing possibility.