Credit: HBO

For the first time in Game of Thrones history, a major character will spend a season on the bench. But the HBO hit's showrunners have good reasons for the decision.

A couple months ago actor Kristian Nairn (Hodor) let it slip to a reporter that he and Thrones co-star Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark) had the upcoming season off. Writer and executive producer David Benioff, who is the showrunner on the acclaimed fantasy series along with Dan Weiss, tells EW exclusively that there are a couple key reasons for the move, and both are about crafting a strong season that fits within the show's seven-year narrative plan.

"Ideally that wouldn't have gotten out and it's unfortunate it did," Benioff said. "The fact is, even though we're making changes to the books and adapting as necessary, we're trying to keep the various storylines the same as the books and trying to keep them roughly [chronologically] parallel. And last year we caught up to the end of Bran's storyline [in George R.R. Martin's most recent A Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Dance with Dragons]. So if we pushed him forward this season, then he's way ahead of where the other characters are."

In the season four finale, Bran, Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) and Hodor found a cave containing the wizard-like Three-Eyed Raven. We're left with the assumption that the Three-Eyed Raven will  teach Bran more about how to use his fledgling warg power, and possibly other talents as well. Thrones could have added narrative padding to bridge Bran until the next season — like showrunners did for Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), whose character spent a large stretch in the books away from the action. But Bran's immediate future didn't seem to provide as compelling material.

"It made sense to stop where we did," Benioff said. "He's now entering a training period which is going to take quite some time, much of which isn't particularly cinematic. So rather than being stuck in a cave for a year, we figured it would be interesting to leave him out for a little bit, so when you see him again…" Benioff didn't want to reveal much more beyond that.

Not to mention, Thrones still has so many other storylines to juggle — Dany in Meereen, Cersei in King's Landing, Arya in Essos, Jon Snow at The Wall, Brienne on the road, Sansa at The Eyrie, and Theon at the Dreadfort. Plus, this year Thrones adding a new thread in the Westeros country of Dorne. In Martin's fourth book, A Feast for Crows, the author had to bench half of his major characters for an entire novel in order to contain his swelling narrative. So by comparison, sidelining only one character in the TV adaptation is a minimally disruptive move.

Thrones returns to HBO next spring. For Thrones news, follow me on Twitter. Previous: Thrones season 5 rumors debunked. Spain goes wild for Thrones. Actors swarmed.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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