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Bran Stark’s cold stare is Game of Thrones season 8’s real winner

Bran Stark is dominating the Game of Memes.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the more confounding something is, the more likely it is to become an internet meme. And on Game of Thrones, few things have proven more confounding than Bran Stark’s character trajectory from cute kid to ancient and indifferent Seer — so it only makes sense that he’s now the breakout meme of the show’s season eight premiere, “Winterfell.”

After several seasons of epic questing, season seven saw the once innocent Stark kid become the all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven — a character who can essentially travel through space and time and “witness” every moment of the past, present, and future. And as of the first episode of season eight, he seems to be showcasing this ability primarily by sitting around in the Winterfell courtyard, perfecting the art of the zillion-yard stare and palpably not giving a damn about other humans.

Bran has apparently become so disinterested in the human race that Game of Thrones has used each of his recent reunions to deploy the same joke over and over: Bran sees someone he knows for the first time in ages, they’re overjoyed to see him, and he remains very clearly unmoved, leaving them confused. This has made for some amusingly awkward moments, especially during “Winterfell,” in which Bran spent most of his screen time weirding out everyone he came into contact with.

Bran is played by Isaac Hempstead Wright, who was cast in the role at age 11 and who turned 20 years old just days before “Winterfell” aired. He’s been getting paid to sit around in a wheelchair on Game of Thrones since his character was injured in the series’ very first episode — so, for literally his entire adolescence — and he seemed to bring all the weariness he could muster to Bran’s current sitting-in-courtyards stint. The performance paid off in a major way, at least on the internet, where Game of Thrones viewers turned it into a meme almost instantly:

But the episode saved Creepy Bran’s real triumph for its final chilling moment — when he saw Jaime Lannister for the first time since the end of Game of Thrones’ series premiere, “Winter Is Coming.” “Winterfell” was in many ways a mirror of “Winter Is Coming,” which memorably concluded with a much different Jaime Lannister pushing Bran out of a turret window, after young Bran accidentally interrupted an incestuous rendezvous between Jaime and his sister Cersei. This shocking moment permanently paralyzed Bran, and its repercussions are still rippling through the show to this day.

But Jaime hadn’t seen Bran since that fateful encounter and may not even have fully processed that the kid is still alive — much less all grown up — until now. Both characters have changed tremendously since then: Jaime has been fully redeemed, and Bran has become the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran’s character arc arguably couldn’t have happened the way it did without Jaime’s casual attempt to murder him leading to his twist in fate, so surely everything’s all good now, right? Right? Some Game of Thrones fans, prior to the episode’s debut, certainly hoped so, at least:

But Bran was definitely not in the mood for letting bygones be bygones. Earlier in the episode, when Samwell asked Bran what he was doing hanging out in the Winterfell courtyard, Bran responded that he was waiting up for “an old friend.” Yikes.

The eventual result: Jaime, arriving at Winterfell to pledge his assistance to the North (and to break the news that Cersei’s army won’t be following him after all), saw Bran across the crowded courtyard and silently freaked out while Bran’s eyes bore into him.

The moment so perfectly captured the show’s sense of heady drama that it immediately spawned countless meme riffs across social media:

Really, when you think about it, right now Bran is winning the Game of Thrones based on his love of shade alone. At least, he’s winning our hearts:

This is quite a hilarious development for a character who at times has seemed more or less expendable to Game of Thrones’ plot. In fact, he went the entirety of season five without making a single appearance onscreen and no one really missed him. But in part thanks to a super-popular fan theory about Bran having a major role to play in the series’ endgame, the character has clearly become something of a fan favorite, even though — or perhaps because — he’s kind of an asshole now. And given that Game of Thrones clearly intends for him to stick around throughout season eight, the show’s fandom seems to have decided it’s high time to give him the props he deserves. He may not be gunning for the Iron Throne, but he’s a strong contender for the title of Game of Thrones’ ultimate meme champion.

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