Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Bran Stark

Not even Max Von Sydow wants to look him the eye.


After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros?  This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate nights and weekends home page editor Seth Maxon.

Brogan: Hi, Seth. Thanks for joining me to discuss “The Door.” That was a crazy episode, and probably the best of a weak season, but before we get to the first men and all that, let’s start with the early stuff: I’m on the record as an admirer of Yara Greyjoy, so I was looking forward to this episode’s Kingsmoot—and I know I wasn’t alone in that. While I can’t say I was confident she would end up with the driftwood crown of the Iron Islands on her head, I was hoping for something a little stranger than what we got. The actual sequence, in which Euron Greyjoy promised to build the biggest, most glorious fleet the world has ever seen, felt strangely familiar. I thought we were done with GOP debates, but here we were again, listening to bellicose would-be rulers argue about who’s the toughest.

Even if we set the obvious real world parallels aside, there’s a lot to dislike about Euron: “Let’s go murder them,” he declares of his niece and nephew after his coronation. Is he the worst?

Maxon: Euron is at least the Trumpiest character in Westeros this week. Before I get into whether that makes him ​ipso facto​ the worst, there was some other stuff in this scene that distracted me from him. (And it wasn’t just that every time he spoke I thought he looked like dad bod Ewan McGregor.) It was refreshing to see Theon Greyjoy give a Broganesque defense of Yara. I was surprised to find myself proud of Theon for doing the right thing. It made me think about just how far his moral courage has come and what it took to get him there.

Theon’s support for Yara was one of several instances in this episode that seemed intended to correct longstanding fan frustrations. How about that: Theon is no longer a stupid, whiny traitor to everyone who ever meant anything to him! All it took was horrific torture and mutilation. (Thanks, Ramsay Bolton?) Such is the moral math of Westeros. Still, that very satisfying endorsement of Yara made Euron’s triumph in the Kingsmoot and promise to kill them both that much worse.

Brogan: “Moral math” is a useful phrase here. And Ramsay—blissfully absent from this episode—makes for an apt point of comparison. Like Euron, he exists primarily to elicit heroism from our true protagonists, though that neither makes up for the ugliness of our villains nor encourages me to forgive the show for forcing us deal with them.

In another section of this episode, though, Bran’s visions finally paid off, for good and for ill. What did you think of that sequence in which we watched the Children create the Night’s King? I’ve heard a handful of compelling fan theories about the origins of those northern monsters, and I don’t think that was one of them. I guess the Children were just looking out for the environment—and they’re clearly trying to appologize for it now—but we saw a theme building here: If monsters make heroes, heroes also sometimes make themselves monstrous in the name of heroism.

Maxon: I have to say, as much as I have loved the Bran storyline this season, I haven’t been sure what to make of the Children. I’m still not entirely clear on their origins and mythology, and that might be why the scene where they create the Night’s King left me cold. I was shocked, but it made me wonder if they are utilitarian, put into the narrative for this revelation alone. I think you’re onto something though: If they are serving a higher purpose in this story, they’re of a piece with the theme you highlight, the ouroboros of monstrosity and heroism. It’s one that has been explicit and repeated from the very beginning. I also think there’s a nice echo between the unintended consequences of the Children’s creation and Bran’s fate in this episode. If you start throwing rocks, who knows what might break?

Brogan: You’re right to point out that the Children contribute to a certain kind of mythology fatigue. The red priestess Kinvara, who we met in this episode, seems confident that her religion is the true one. But between her faith, the Drowned God of the Iron Islands, whatever it is that the Children worship, and all the other divinities, I have trouble keeping track of what’s what—or even knowing why I should care.

We do know this much: As Bobby Finger joked on Twitter, everyone who has powers on this show—wherever they got them from—seems to be astonishingly terrible at using them. And no one is worse at this point than Bran.

Maxon: Some of these non–Lord-of-Light gods are the so-called old gods, too. Remember them? I pretty much don’t! Divine or not, Bran really doesn’t seem to understand what he’s up to. It turns out he isn’t all that different from the fans who didn’t get why ​they​ had to watch Bran’s visions, either. For me, it’s easy to sympathize with a disabled, orphaned kid who wants to spend as much time as possible walking upright and exploring his family’s past in a magical lucid dreamland.

But the effects these vision quests have on the past, and on everything we’re seeing now, seem like an even more consequential revelation, something that could resound as the story continues, and an important concern to take with anyone gallivanting through time. Hodor’s tragedy—God, it is wrenching to even type ​Hodor after this—results from Bran’s impatience with his powers. But is his incompetence the real evil here? Is Bran the worst?

Brogan: I’m going to say that he is. This episode featured yet another exhausting sequence of Arya struggling to learn how to fight with a quarter staff. But at least she’s trying to get better! Bran, meanwhile, just keeps fumbling along, seemingly unaware that his actions—in past and present alike—might have consequences. And yet for some reason everyone, including Hodor, is still expected to sacrifice everything for him.

At least Leaf, the only one of the Children who seemed to have much personality, went out with a literal bang when she gave her life for Bran. Hodor, on the other hand, has been suffering for decades because of his effort to protect him, possibly caught in some kind of Warg’d-out time loop that had him endlessly experiencing the moments before his tragic death. If that doesn’t make Bran the worst, I don’t know what does.

Maxon: When you put it like that … damn. I will submit that he has been dealt a raw deal and is not sadistic or craven like Ramsay or Cersei—both, again, absent this week—but he is hurting people and divine tree-creatures alike as he tries to find himself. Maybe self-reflection and incompetence ​are the root of evil in the world.

And yes, Arya’s 85th training scene was annoying, but I was glad to see her anyway. She is still probably my favorite character, and I’m eager for her to get on with it already. Her progress, along with Sansa becoming the badass of the family (she even had time to stitch Jon Snow a fur cloak) and Yara moving for rightful, if still unrealized, rule over the Iron Islands further emphasize this season’s motif of Westerosi men screwing around while the women get shit done. Something tells me Yara will rise and Euron will not make the Iron Islands great again.

And speaking of badass women, I thought it was funny that Danaerys got Jorah out of her hair by assigning him the Bideny task of curing greyscale. To be fair, if Game of Thrones has a Joe Biden, it is probably Jorah Mormont.

Brogan: Indeed! And though I wish Diamond Jorah luck as he heads out on his adventure, I hope he’ll remember the Westerosi version of Murphy’s law: Anything that Bran go wrong will.