As the end of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” draws near, fan theories are flying faster than ever. Heck, I’ve even tossed a few out myself. One I’m seeing more frequently, however, is that “Bran is the Night King.” The case for this theory typically centers on his ability to exist in many different times (an ability I do think will be important to the story’s end) but I’m not a subscriber. It makes little sense to the narrative–Bran has already watched the creation of the Night King, after all–but more importantly, the Three-Eyed Raven outright told Bran he’ll never walk again. The Night King walks. So, debunked.
Another theory says “The Night King is a Targaryen.” This one also makes little sense, especially since Targaryens didn’t exist in Westeros when the Night King was created. The “evidence” for this theory is pretty much just that the Night King rides a dragon–something only Targaryens can do. But I’m confident the Night King’s ability to ride his undead dragon is due to his command over dead things–and to the core ability behind much of Westeros’s magic: The ability to warg.
Warging, or skinchanging, is the ability we most often see Bran utilize, to take over the consciousness of another being, typically an animal but sometimes Hodor. In Season Three, we meet a wildling skinchanger, Orell; when he is killed, his consciousness moves into his eagle, which attacks Jon Snow. In both books and television, we learn a lot about the “rules” of warging: If a person wargs into an animal for too long, they forget what it’s like to be human and become the animal. When a warg dies, he or she can move into their animal. We also learn that greenseeing, the ability to see through the eyes of weirwood trees and access their stored memories–as the Three-Eyed Raven teaches to Bran–relies on a person’s ability to warg.
This, I think, is massively important. Greenseeing is, essentially, warging into the continent-wide network of weirwood trees. But why would trees even have a consciousness and memory?
We know that George R. R. Martin is fond of tweaking words and names in Westeros, dropping in or switching out vowels to make familiar names sound exotic. Here’s my theory: The weirwood trees are in fact “were-wood” trees, as in “were-wolf.” They are the Children of the Forest “transformed” into trees.
I’m not suggesting a literal transformation–but rather that the greenseers among the Children spent so much time communing with the trees, they forgot what it was to be anything else–and when they died, their conscious minds moved into the trees. The “Children of the Forest” are quite literally offspring of the beings whose minds are contained in those trees. Note that when Bran meets the Three-Eyed Raven, formerly known as the Targaryen Brynden Rivers, he is physically integrated with the roots of his giant weirwood tree, literally becoming the tree. A were-tree.
But now Bran is the Three-Eyed Raven, meaning he’s the physical vessel for the collective memory of every person who merged with the weirwoods. He knows everything every greenseer in the history of Westeros has ever known, everything every weirwood tree has witnessed (including, by the way, the identity of the Night King, the circumstances of his creation, and any motive he might have beyond “Kill all life.”). But what’s interesting is that collective memory has gone by another name: The Old Gods.
Remember that the Children, and the First Men, believed the weirwoods to be the faces of the Old Gods. They took vows, including marriage vows, before the trees, which makes sense when you realize the weirwood collective memory is to the Children what the Maesters’ written history is to the Seven Kingdoms–a record of everything that ever happened. Except that while written histories can be adulterated, the weirwood memory is perfect. No wonder the Children and First Men believed it was impossible to lie to the Old Gods.
Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven, has literally become the Old Gods. He is an entity–or perhaps more accurately, a physical host for a collective conscious–that many Westerosi place in a pantheon with the Seven, Rhllor, and numerous other gods.
Remember also that worshippers believed the Old Gods could communicate–we’ve seen examples already, most especially Bran’s interaction with Past Hodor. This has led to speculation that Bran Stark will turn out to be Bran the Builder, interacting with the Starks of the past to help them prepare to fight the White Walkers. I see one other notable bit of evidence–in the books, the sigil of House Blackwood (from which Brynden Rivers, the “first” Three-Eyed Raven descends) is a weirwood tree surrounded by ravens. House Blackwood descends from the First Men, it seems incredibly coincidental that thousands of years later, their descendent would wind up joining the weirwoods and controlling a flock of crows. More likely, I think, is that Brynden Rivers used his abilities to interact with his family thousands of years in the past–drawing a flock of ravens to their great tree. House Blackwood’s weirwood tree was poisoned and killed by a rival family during the Andal invasion, too; maybe because they knew there was some power in that tree?
So Bran is not the Night King, but he is the Old Gods. So who, then, is the Night King? We know the Children created him, thousands of years ago, in an effort to fight the First Men. Theories have long said he was a Stark, and I think there is good evidence for that–in particular, I think the Night King’s ability to raise the dead is itself a form of warging.
In the books, we meet Varamyr Sixskins, a wildling warg who controls multiple animals simultaneously. So there is precedent for controlling many other beings at once. And we know that the Night King can see Bran when he is warging ravens–in other circumstances, wargs recognized wargs within animals.
So my thought is, what if the Night King is a powerful warg who figured out how to move into and manipulate corpses? And what if, as Bran has been warned, he spent so long inside the corpses that he himself forgot what it was to be alive?