'Game of Thrones': Isaac Hempstead Wright Talks "Traumatic" Time-Travel Twist

"There is no time for mistakes anymore," the actor best known as Bran Stark tells THR about the shocking events of "The Door."
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for episode five of the sixth season of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Door."]

Winter is here, and Summer is gone.

While the world mourns the death of Hodor (Kristian Nairn), the death of Bran Stark's faithful direwolf companion should not get lost in the conversation. Summer died protecting his master, just as Hodor did, when an army of White Walkers and wights invaded the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) and Children of the Forest's hidden lair, all in an effort to root out the green-seeing Stark.

It's all thanks to Bran, too, who went rogue and used his visionary abilities to learn more about the White Walkers, having recently discovered their secret origin as humans transformed into monsters by the Children of the Forest thousands of years ago. In the process, the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) and his minions found Bran's location and pursued him ruthlessly, leading to the eradication of an entire race of creatures, plus the deaths of beloved Summer and Hodor.

Making matters worse, Bran was forced to confront his shocking role in the life and death of Hodor. Thanks to crossed signals with his warging and green-seeing trip back to Winterfell, Bran inadvertently turned young Wylis (Sam Coleman) into Hodor, a mangled translation of the man's final order: "Hold the door." Even though Hodor died a hero, the ramifications of Bran's role in his companion's time-bending fate are sure to haunt him through all the nightmares still to come.

In order to further unpack the episode, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Bran himself, actor Isaac Hempstead Wright, about the enormous ramifications of "The Door," and what they mean for both the character and Game of Thrones moving forward.

In this one episode alone, Bran discovers how White Walkers were made, is branded by the Night King and subsequently sets the Three-Eyed Raven, Summer, Hodor and all of the Children of the Forest up for death. It's a lot to handle.

There are so many revelations in such a short period of time. It's like, "Oh wow! The Children of the Forest made the White Walkers! Oh wow! Bran can see the Night King in his vision! Oh my god, the Night King can see him! Oh no, that's what happened to Hodor!" It's almost too much, but I think Game of Thrones gets it just right so that you're emotionally exhausted and emotionally destroyed by the end of it.

How much smoke was coming out of your ears when you read the script?

I read it, and I was with my mom, and I said, "Oh my god. Hodor dies." She said, "No he doesn't." And I said, "Yes. He just died. And so did Summer." It was pure disbelief. I think the most traumatizing thing about it is that it's not just that Hodor dies and it's the death of this gentle giant whom we didn't know much about. It's like, we just have finally seen what exactly happened to his character to make him that way, and it's totally traumatic and awful and sad that this once perfectly happy and fun little kid was basically screwed over by Bran. That giant bomb drops, and then he's taken from us. You can have just enough, and then it's pulled straight away from you the second you think you're going to get the carrot.

Bran is responsible for naming Hodor and killing Hodor. What was your take on how this all played out?

I never anticipated this direction for the storyline, really. At this point, Bran's so far gone, really. He bears very little resemblance to the kid he once was. At this point, he's so zen and focused and caught up in his own destiny and fate and responsibilities that the death of Hodor, at least for him…the sad thing is that for Bran at this point, it's almost an irrelevancy: "We managed to get out of that cave, and that's good, because there's stuff that I need to do, and I cannot be dead for this." I wish we could have seen Bran give an emotional good-bye to his closest ally and associate and friend, frankly the guy who saved his hide more times than he can count. As devastating as it is, Bran's asleep the whole time. He's caught up in this vision. He's watching this young version of his friend die simultaneously as his current friend does, so the way it played out is about as traumatic as you could hope. You expect nothing less on Game of Thrones.

People are wondering about Bran's role in what happened to Hodor. Is he a bystander in this? Is it an accident? Is he allowing Hodor to become Hodor? 

I know very little about what exactly happened there. I know about as much as we've seen on screen. I don't know the exact intricacies of how it worked. But my take on it is that Bran is in this vision. He hears Meera. He gets that he has to warg, but subconsciously, the only way he can do that is through a time-bending thing, which is by going into the Hodor he's presently with in this vision. It's not like they're dreams, either, as far as I know. It's not like Bran's just having a dream…

No, he's in the past.

Yeah, exactly. The only way Bran can get into Hodor in the current day is to go into the vehicle of the young Hodor and go through his mind. It's like Bran is kind of racing through millions of different time frames and neural pathways in the brain of the young Hodor, going all the way into the current day. I think it's almost like an overload for the young Hodor's brain, and the adult Hodor's brain, and suddenly everything's kicking off. I don't know if it's a conscious decision Bran makes to take Hodor over. I think it's more subconsciously, he knows that he has to somehow get inside Hodor.

Back at the Tower of Joy, Bran called out to his father, and Ned's reaction suggested that Bran can interact with the past. After "The Door," there's no question that Bran can make a dent in the past — and in this particular case, it seems that Bran was always fated to turn Hodor into Hodor. 

Right. It comes down to a sense of determinism versus indeterminism, whether we think that everything's going to be a preordained, sequential series of events or whether we can really mess about with the timeline and there's some free will there. I don't know. I remember watching a Stephen Hawking documentary where he was talking about time-traveling into the past, and the problem with that is it creates paradoxes. He suspects that basically it won't be possible to prevent these paradoxes from happening. I think you can translate that into Game of Thrones, in the sense that basically Bran messing with the timeline, it's almost like he's being punished. He has to pay the price for doing it. Time takes back what Bran's taking from time. It's like a trade-off, really. Bran can't just be like, "Yeah, I'm going to go do this and stop myself from falling out the window." Every time he does, it'll have a massive ripple kind of Doctor Who effect on the rest of the universe. 

It's a lot.

It is, isn't it? (Laughs) We really took a turn for the sci-fi.

Bran just learned an incredibly painful lesson. The Raven is dead, the Children of the Forest are dead, Summer is dead, Hodor is dead, and it's all because Bran was careless with his power. Is this a maturation point for Bran moving forward? Will he grow from this mistake?

Absolutely. It's going to teach Bran a lot. I think in essence what this episode has done for Bran is essentially say: "Right, have you had your fun? Do you understand now that this isn't a game? You're not a kid with these amazing powers you can mess around with. You're holding the atom bomb. If you drop it again, we're not going to be so lucky." For Bran, he's realizing that. "I have to ditch every emotion and every sense of free will in my body and act as I know I have to act." I'm not entirely sure what the case is, but I don't know if the Three-Eyed Raven knew that Bran was going to do this in order to get out of the cave. The Raven professes to know everything and be the master of time, but if this was something Bran slips under the radar, then it's a very worrying prospect — because if Bran really is the only one who can do this time stuff, and he's just lost the only person who might have some idea of how to control that, then Bran's now got to be very careful and tread very lightly. But deep down, he now knows for sure that there is no time for mistakes anymore.

You describe it as an atom bomb, and now Bran's at a place where he's wielding a nuclear weapon without any oversight. As much as it's emotionally devastating to lose Hodor and Summer, it's ultimately a lot scarier that the Three-Eyed Raven is gone.

Absolutely. For Bran, that's like, "Oh, shit. I have this massive power, and I have no idea what to do with it. It's just me and Meera, with an army of zombies after us, and we have to do something to stop that, and I don't know what to do. Last time I used my power, I killed my friend and my direwolf, I killed the Three-Eyed Raven, and all the last remaining Children of the Forest. Nice one, Bran."

Summer deserves a eulogy here. Hodor is a huge character, so of course the focus is on him, but losing Summer is a massive tragedy for Bran, too.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have that connection, where you've literally been inside of someone else's mind? That's the connection Bran had with Summer, and Hodor to an extent. But Summer was there from the very start. He was the one Bran first started connecting with and having these mysterious visions with. There was a deep, deep inherent connection there between Bran and Summer. For Bran to lose Summer like that, in such a quick manner…but just like with Hodor, Bran doesn't even have a minute to think about it or say his final good-bye to who is probably Bran's closest connection. It's the deepest connection he's ever had, is with that wolf. For Bran, it's gutting. Also, in terms of survival, that's another worry. Bran can't warg into Hodor anymore and beat up anyone coming after him. And he can't warg into Summer anymore, either. Again, it's a bit of a sticky situation Bran has found himself in.

What's your interpretation of all the direwolf death? Shaggydog and Summer died this season, leaving only Jon Snow's Ghost in the mix, with Arya's Nymeria running around somewhere…

Well, I'm slightly worried it might mean Bran's going to get the chop. (Laughs) I don't know if there's a connection between the direwolf dying and the character dying. So far, it's only Robb, so fingers crossed. In terms of the wider meaning, I think it symbolizes the fact that the big guns are coming out now. The direwolves are one of those relics of an ancient time. They were thought extinct, just like the White Walkers and the dragons. They look like pretty mean beasts, but when you compare them to the White Walkers and dragons, they're nothing. I think the fact that they're getting killed off means there's no playtime anymore. It's serious business now. It's coming to the conclusion, and things are going to kick off, and there's no more time for small little beasts in the greater scheme of things.

Thematically, how significant is it that White Walkers were humans once upon a time? How do you see it fitting alongside the show's exploration of the complexity of war and evil, the blurred lines between black and white?

It's a very kind of Game of Thrones way of going about it. It's not just that the White Walkers are these baddies who have been bad the entire time. As you said, it's more complicated than that. It's so Game of Thrones. The Children created this thing that was at first a great idea, something that could save the day and bring peace, ironically. Of course, it turns against them. It becomes impossible to control. Before you know it, it's taken over everything. I think it's a fascinating revelation, that they've been born out of so much pain. Perhaps that's a neat little full circle there. This poor bloke, whoever he was, who then becomes the first White Walker, went through the most horrific and excruciating pain, to have that shard of dragonglass plunged inside him. It seems quite fitting that now they're like: "You're going to pay for everything you've done. You're going to pay for the monster you've created." It's almost like they don't want to be the White Walkers: "You turned us into these horrible beasts, and now you're going to pay for it." 

Bran now boasts the Night King's mark. This cannot be good, right?

Nope! (Laughs) At best, it's like a frostbite thing. But who knows? Maybe it's like a tracking device. Maybe it's like a "Find My iPhone" feature for the Night King, in which case, Bran is totally screwed. He better hope he can bandage up and rub some oil on the wound.

Hodor held the door, but one imagines he did not hold the door forever. Bran and Meera remain on the run. Where do we pick things up?

As it stands right now, the odds are not in Bran and Meera's favor. Looking at it right now, it doesn't look like they can survive much more than one or two episodes. It's the two of them, she's quite a petite lady having to lug around Bran in this huge and unwieldy kind of basket, and they have a 10,000-strong army with three ice people chasing after them. So where are we going to pick up with Bran and Meera? They're going to be absolutely petrified, fueled entirely by adrenaline, trying to get the hell out of there before they die.

Bran's story has become so incredibly complicated this year. What are some of the responses you're hearing from fans?

Well, I got a lot of hate on Twitter after Hodor died. "F— you Bran! I hate you Bran! You spoiled everything!" And I'm like, "It's not me! I didn't do anything! Write to David and Dan!" (Laughs) But I think it's quite cool. Game of Thrones always does well with the underdog thing, doesn't it? Bran's crippled, no one has thought much of him, and it's almost a miracle that he made it past season one, frankly. Yet, here he is, potentially being one of the most important characters, with the potential to save the day, as mortal enemies with the Night King. It's a pretty cool way for things to turn out. It's lovely watching everyone react to it and enjoy what's happening so much. It's a real privilege. 

Watch the video for more on how Bran's time travel works:

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