WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR GAME OF THRONES SEASON 8’S SECOND EPISODE.
During Game of Thrones latest episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” Bran Stark dropped a seemingly innocuous piece of news at the Winterfell war council, revealing that the Night King would come for him specifically now that Bran was the repository of humanity’s collective memory.
The quote — “He’s tried before many times with many Three-Eyed Ravens” — lent longevity to this culminating conflict that has been fought in the shadows for centuries, if not millennia. But pull on the thread and a whole ball of lore unravels, shining a spotlight back on the Riverlands and the blood of House Tully. It turns out the Night King may not have beef with the Starks at all, really, but with the River Kings of the First Men.
WHO WAS THE PREVIOUS THREE-EYED RAVEN?
We’re gonna work backward here to keep the convoluted history of the Seven Kingdoms in some semblance of order. Before Bran Stark became the newest Three-Eyed Raven, that position belonged to Ser Brynden Rivers . While the show never confirms the identity of Ser Brynden (played first by Struan Rodger in Season 4 and then Max von Sydow in Season 6), George R.R. Martin’s novels leave enough breadcrumbs for fans to piece it together.
When Bran reaches the cave beyond the Wall in A Dance with Dragons, he finds the ancient greenseer half-melded with the roots of the weirwood tree. The man says his mother named him Brynden and that he reminisces about the ghosts of his past, including a brother he loved, a brother he hated, and a woman he desired. This, combined with his physical appearance, missing an eye and dressed in tattered black clothing, hints to the Three-Eyed Raven’s past life.
One of King Aegon IV’s “Great Bastards,” Brynden Rivers was born to Lady Melissa Blackwood of the Riverlands. Along with all his other bastard siblings of noble birth, he was legitimized by his father on King Aegon IV’s deathbed. Long story short, everything went to hell and several Blackfyre Rebellions later, Brynden was sent to the Wall along with Aemon Targaryen (who would grow up to be the elderly Maester who befriends Jon Snow). Rising to the post of Lord Commander, Brynden Rivers would eventually go missing on a ranging expedition. But it is not his Targaryen blood that makes him interesting. It’s his Riverlands heritage.
The universe created by George R.R. Martin is so vast that it is easy to overlook huge chunks of history. By the time Game of Thrones begins, House Blackwood is currently a minor house pledged to House Tully of Riverrun. But that was not always the case. House Blackwood is one of the oldest bloodlines in the Seven Kingdoms, stretching back to the First Men and the Age Heroes. Their House Sigil is a dead weirwood tree on a scarlet field, surrounded by ravens. This cannot be a coincidence.
The story of House Blackwood truly begins in the North, where they were forced from their native homelands. Relocating to the Riverlands, they build Raventree Hall around a godswood containing a colossal weirwood tree and became the Kings of the Riverlands. Sometime after the invasion of the Andals, the Raventree godswood was poisoned, leaving behind the dead weirwood tree that still defines their legacy. From that ancient day until the present, thousands of raven congregate in the weirwood’s dead branches nightly.
Even after the Faith of the Seven took root in most of the lower Seven Kingdoms, House Blackwood never gave up the old gods. In fact, there are more than a few clues indicating the Blackwoods were still connected to the ancient magic of the Children of the Forest all the way up to the present day. When House Hoare of the Iron Islands sacked Raventree Hall, Lady Agnes Blackwood was said to have told King Harwyn Hoare “Raventree shall endure long after you and yours are cast down and destroyed. Your line shall end in blood and fire.” Centuries later, Harrenhal, the seat of House Hoare, would burn in dragon fire.
By the time Ser Brynden Rivers was born to Lady Melissa Blackwood, the descendants of Raventree Hall were known for their dark arts and strange sorcery. Brynden was born with ghost-white skin, long white hair, and red eyes. While modern eyes would classify him as an albino, within the lore of Game of Thrones, he bears a striking resemblance to both the Ghost of High Hart and the Lady of the Leaves, two “woods witches” from the Riverlands who are most likely descendants of Children of the Forest. As he grew to adulthood, Ser Brynden’s reputation for “spies and spells” in the service of his half-brother King Aerys I, earning him the title of Bloodraven. A song was even written about him, entitled “A Thousand Eyes And One,” for his reliance on ravens and the loss of his eye in battle.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH BRAN?
In order to understand how House Blackwood is connected to both the Night King and Bran, one needs a rudimentary grasp of Riverlands geography, as it contains more obvious ties to the mysticism of the Children of the Forest than any other part of the Seven Kingdoms. Raventree Hall is situated dead smack in the middle of Oldstones to the north and High Heart to the south. To the east lies the God’s Eye and the cursed castle of Harrenhal, while to the west stand the Whispering Wood, the remnant of the great forest that once spread across the Riverlands before the coming of men. Raventree and High Heart house the corpses of ancient weirwoods. The Isle of Faces in the middle of the God’s Eye still has living weirwoods that witnessed the Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest and is rumored to be guarded by a mysterious race of small “green” men. Everything points to the Riverlands once being a place of great power for the Children of the Forest and the old gods, with runes and standing stones littering the countryside.
House Blackwood is clearly descendant from a mixture of First Men and Children of the Forest who intermarried after the Pact. There’s a reason so many pale, red-eyed people keep popping up in this geographic region. Over the centuries, House Blackwood also intermarried with others, including House Tully. The blood of the First Men flows through Bran Stark’s veins on both sides.
In the Season 6 episode “Oathbreaker,” when Ser Brynden Rivers stated, “You think I wanted to sit here for 1000 years, watching the world from a distance?” he most likely was speaking metaphorically regarding 1000 years of Blackwood men. These men were most likely all named a variant of Brandon, fulfilling their destiny of becoming the Lorax of Westeros, and speaking for the trees – a millennium of Three-Eyed Raven incarnations, as Bran says, fighting off the Night King’s plot over and over. Each successive greenseer watching and waiting for the inevitable return of the Night King.
NIGHT KING ORIGINS
Back in the Season 6 episode entitled “The Door,” Bran learns the hard truth about the Night King. He was created by the Children of the Forest in a desperate attempt to save their way of life. When Bran asked who they were defending themselves from, Leaf simply replied “Men.” But many waves of human migration came to Westeros over the millennia and this answer muddies the timeline waters. I propose here that the Children of the Forest were not at war with the First Men when they made the Night King, but allied with them against the latest threat: the Andals and their Faith of the Seven.
The Long Night, when the Night King tried to end the world, happens centuries after The Pact between the Children and the First Men. A rewatch of his creation with this perspective shows the Night King as a First Man who volunteered and is psyching himself up to be stabbed through the heart with dragonglass, not a man desperate to flee his kidnapping and murder. But, like making a wish on a Monkey’s Paw, creating the Night King to fight the “men” went south when the magic interpreted the Andals, the First Men, and the Children of the Forest as one and the same and marking all as his enemy.
It is well established the Andal invaders had no patience for the First Men and their affection for both the Children of the Forest and the old gods. George R.R. Martin has spent considerable ink fleshing out the defeat of the Riverlands , the destruction of High Heart, and the despair of the people who lived and died during this protracted war. If the Night King was indeed a First Man volunteer, it is not unreasonable to think he would come from the powerful magic bloodline of House Blackwood. Or even their Hatfield and McCoy counterparts, House Bracken.
BRAN IS THE NIGHT KING… IF YOU SQUINT
For years now, a theory more directly connecting Bran Stark to the Night King — and, in fact, stating they could be different versions of the same being — has persisted. The concept hinges on Bran’s seemingly unique ability to affect the past from the present. In most versions of this theory, Bran is somehow able to warg into the First Man as he is being sacrificed, creating connective tissue between him and the Night King. But in much the same way Ser Brynden has been one with the weirwood for “1000 years,” it could be that Bran and the Night King share a much different connection: one of blood.
If House Blackwood was tasked with keeping humanity’s history intact via the weirwoods, and the Night King is from this line, he would no doubt use this knowledge in his conquest. In the world of Game of Thrones, blood calls to blood and Bran having a genealogical connection to the creature trying to snuff out the stain of men from the Seven Kingdoms is as close to “Bran is the Night King” as we’re likely to get.