How 'Game of Thrones' Time-Travel Twist May Impact Its Future

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the May 8 episode of HBO's Game of Thrones, "Oathbreaker."]

Ever since his return to Game of Thrones, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has been tripping down the rabbit hole toward great moments in Westeros history — and it might be more than a mere vision quest.

Season six's "Oathbreaker" proved that Bran can do a whole lot more than witness the past. In the episode, he travels back in time with the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) to witness the events at the Tower of Joy, one of the greatest fables in Westerosi lore. There, he sees a young version of his father, Ned Stark (Robert Aramayo), battling against the Targaryen Kingsguard, ultimately becoming one of two survivors of the fight, albeit not under the glorious circumstances Bran had heard about in his childhood.

Then, the bombshell drops. Ned hears cries coming from the tower, and as he races off in pursuit, Bran calls out to his dad … and Ned stops. Does he hear Bran's voice? The show doesn't make it clear, although the Three-Eyed Raven suggests it's little more than coincidence. A similar event occurs in George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, the fifth and most recent novel in the series on which Thrones is based, and the Raven tells Bran: "[Ned] heard a whisper on the wind, a rustling amongst the leaves. You cannot speak to him, try as you might."

But comments from the actors involved in the scene raise some questions. For his part, Aramayo was reluctant to reveal his take: "I don't know that I want to give definition to what I think was going on in the moment. He heard something, didn't he? Who knows what he heard. That's all I'll say."

Meanwhile, Hempstead Wright elaborated on the possible reality where Bran can actually interact with the past, and not just observe it: "It's enough of a utility to just be able to look back in time and allow that to inform your decisions in the future, but the fact that you might be able to change time? It's massive. It's unprecedented. For Bran, it presents a humongous kind of challenge, because we all know from Doctor Who that if you start messing with time, things go wrong. I think the temptation now is definitely there."

Hempstead Wright cites Doctor Who, but perhaps the better pop culture reference is Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse's Lost. The popular island drama explored time travel in its fifth season, catapulting the cast several decades back in time, where they were not able to change the future — only participate in history. The guiding principle came in the form of three words: "Whatever happened, happened." In essence, the time-displaced Lost heroes' actions in the past always happened and influenced whatever situations they experienced in the modern day, cementing their place in history.

Turning back to Thrones, the Raven outlines the show's apparent time travel rules: "The past is already written. The ink is already dry." Under this code, Bran can't go back into his own past and prevent Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) from pushing him out a window, or stop Joffrey (Jack Gleason) from ordering Ned's beheading. That's assuming the Raven isn't lying, of course; if he is, then Bran's potentially powerful enough to rearrange history, creating countless alternate realities and effectively turning Game of Thrones into full-blown science fiction. Not the likeliest scenario, but then again, this show excels at twists and turns.

Even giving the Raven the benefit of the doubt, Bran's gifts still hold enormous potential. If "whatever happened, happened," then there's every possibility that Bran's future journeys back in time will see him reaching out to figures of the past and becoming responsible for later events. For example, if Bran returns to the Tower of Joy and witnesses the birth of Jon Snow (a theory worth dissecting in its own right) then he could mouth the word "Jon," and Ned could hear the name. All of the sudden, the time-displaced Bran has given one of the show's most readily identifiable heroes his identity.

That's a fairly tame possibility, too, all things considered. Drilling down into a more extreme option, one theory (via Mashable) posits that Bran's whispers could accidentally push the Mad King Aerys into setting Robert's Rebellion into motion. At its worst, all of the modern-day horrors in Westeros could owe their origin to Bran attempting to alter the past, only to find that he always caused these problems, and was doing nothing more than setting inevitable wheels into motion.

These are heady concepts, and not ones that most fans expected to consider heading into the new season of Thrones. With so much story left and with so few episodes to cover it all (David Benioff and Dan Weiss have declared that Thrones is entering the endgame after season six), it's hard to imagine this possible power of Bran's arriving on the show arbitrarily. If these seemingly small moments in the books are big enough to make the HBO series' cut, then their true importance cannot be understated. 

Game of Thrones might not take a turn for the extreme science fiction, but it does look like the past's impact on the future is greater than many fans believed — and there rests Bran, right at the root of it all.

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