Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones.
She may only have a handful of scenes in the Game of Thrones TV show, but in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, Old Nan — House Stark’s oldest servant — may have long ago foreshadowed a major key to the series’ end.
When Bran is paralyzed from the waist down after being pushed out of a Winterfell tower by Jaime Lannister, he spends quite a bit of time in bed listening to Old Nan’s stories. But while he mostly takes her anecdotes with a grain of salt, there seem to be clues about both the past and future — and his connection to them — in much of what she says.
Especially now that some of the specifics of Bran’s time traveling abilities have come to light, several of Martin’s passages about Old Nan give the impression that they hold a deeper meaning about what’s to come in the series. In fact, this has already occurred, with major events that were hinted at by Nan, such as Arya’s gruesome method of killing Walder Frey, later coming to pass.
In the season 3 episode following the Red Wedding, Bran relays the story of the Rat Cook — a legend in which a cook in the Night’s Watch killed the son of a visiting king, cooked him into a pie and served him to the king — to Jojen and Meera while they’re hiding out in the Nightfort. In Martin’s A Storm of Swords, it’s revealed that it was Nan who originally told Bran this tale.
The Rat Cook had cooked the son of the Andal king in a big pie with onions, carrots, mushrooms, lots of pepper and salt, a rasher of bacon, and a dark red Dornish wine. Then he served him to his father, who praised the taste and had a second slice. Afterward the gods transformed the cook into a monstrous white rat who could only eat his own young. He had roamed the Nightfort ever since, devouring his children, but still his hunger was not sated. ‘It was not for murder that the gods cursed him,’ Old Nan said, ‘nor for serving the Andal king his son in a pie. A man has a right to vengeance. But he slew a guest beneath his roof, and that the gods cannot forgive.’
This story is ostensibly included to demonstrate how gravely the Freys violated the sacred Westerosi tradition of guest right. However, once Arya took out Walder Frey, it’s clear it served another purpose.
Old Nan also has been around to care for multiple generations of Stark children. It’s said that she is the great-grandmother of Hodor and that she originally came to Winterfell to nurse a Brandon Stark — which realistically could have been either the current Bran’s great-uncle or great-great-uncle — but her exact age is not known, making some of her statements all the more mysterious. In A Game of Thrones, Martin includes a scene in which Bran grows frustrated with Nan. “I hate your stupid stories,” he tells her.
“My stories?” she responds. “No, my little lord, not mine. The stories are before me and after me, before you too.”
This not only indicates that Old Nan may be more worldly than she seems but also lines up with what the Three-Eyed Raven later tells Bran about the nature of time. “The past is already written,” he says. “The ink is dry.”
If those statements are true, it means time in the Thrones universe operates in a closed loop. Bran cannot change the past through time travel, he can only fulfill it — i.e., Bran shattering Hodor’s mind by warging into him from the past was a fate that was always set in stone.
Confused? The concept is summed up well in this TV Tropes post on understanding self-fulfilling time travel.
You go back in time to set right what once went wrong, only to discover that the ‘changes’ you’re making to the past were what ‘already’ happened anyway. In other words, there was no ‘first time around’ — the past only happened once, there were no different ‘versions’ of it, and the changes you made to the past ultimately created the very past you read about in the history books before leaving on the trip.
Now, here’s where Old Nan really comes into play. In A Game of Thrones, Martin gives Bran an inner monologue in which he contemplates his nurse after she offers to tell him the story of Brandon the Builder — the story she insists was always his favorite.
Thousands and thousands of years ago, Brandon the Builder had raised Winterfell, and some said the Wall. Bran knew the story, but it had never been his favorite. Maybe one of the other Brandons had liked that story. Sometimes Nan would talk to him as if he were her Brandon, the baby she had nursed all those years ago, and sometimes she confused him with his uncle Brandon, who was killed by the Mad King before Bran was even born. She had lived so long, Mother had told him once, that all the Brandon Starks had become one person in her head.
Martin is known for including seemingly insignificant details that turn out to foreshadow major plot points. So it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say this last sentence could be a hint that the current Bran Stark somehow embodies all past Bran Starks — and was quite possibly Bran the Builder. In fact, this is a theory often touched on by fans in Game of Thrones forums.
“Bran will go back in time to build the Wall, and when people will ask the guy’s name, he’ll just say ‘Bran,’” wrote one Imgur user on the topic. “Thus, Bran the Builder, who will be the inspiration for his name when he’s born in the present time. He’ll be the one who’ll establish, in the past, that there must always be Starks at Winterfell, because he must ensure that he comes to exist in the present.”
HBO also fanned the flames of this theory when it showed Bran the Builder being carried around on a platform — indicating he may have been paralyzed just like Bran Stark — in an extra about the history of Westeros on the Thrones DVD boxed set.
If our Bran turns out to be the Bran who built the Wall, he may also play a role in other aspects of Westerosi history that are essential to the survival of mankind in the impending war against the White Walkers. His time traveling abilities may even be the key to their defeat, making him one of — if not the — most important characters in the series.
Whatever the case may be, the only thing we know for sure is that we can’t wait for July 16.
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