Isaac Hempstead-Wright told us recently that his Game of Thrones character Bran is “like Doctor Who”.
On one level: he wishes. On another, it kind of makes sense – Bran’s visions allow him to travel through time (even if he does use a tree rather than a TARDIS) and he’s now discovered that he can not only observe the past but also have an effect on it, just like the Doctor.
In season six episode Hold the Door, though, we see a rather more specific example of Thrones imitating Who – a Bootstrap Paradox.
Remember Doctor Who series nine episode Before the Flood? It kicks off with the Doctor telling a little ‘hypothetical’ tale about a time traveller who went back into the past to visit his hero, composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Only, when he got there, Beethoven didn’t exist. Strange.
Luckily, the time traveller had all of Beethoven’s sheet music with him so set about copying it out and publishing it himself, to ensure that the world would not be deprived of such a great talent.
But if Beethoven didn’t exist until the Doctor created him, where did his music come from?
The Doctor creates the music by taking it back to the past, but the music had to exist for the Doctor to be able to take it there in the first place. But it couldn’t have existed before he took it back. And so on… Yep, this self-supporting set-up is a Bootstrap Paradox.
Here’s a more eloquent and in-depth explanation by someone who understands it a bit better…
So how does this relate to Bran? Well, in Game of Thrones season six episode five, this happens:
Bran gets all misty-eyed again and embarks on a final trip back in time to wander round Winterfell with the Three-Eye Raven. While there, he sees Wylis, the young stable boy he knows is to become Hodor.
Back in the magic tree, Meera, Hodor and the gang come under attack from the White Walkers and their army of the undead. Meera tries to wake Bran from his vision in order to get him to warg into Hodor, who is the only one who can possibly fight off the wights (but is, of course, too frightened to do it without Bran’s help). But Bran is too deep under to be woken and instead just hears Meera’s echoed words “We need Hodor!”
Unable to pull himself out, Bran wargs into Hodor from inside the vision, Inception style. But he wargs into both Hodor in the present and Wylis in the past. Wylis falls to the ground and begins to have a fit. Meanwhile, in the present Meera and co have escaped from the tree, dragging Bran with them, and are shouting at Hodor “Hold the door!” as he tries to stop the undead breaking through to pursue them.
In Winterfell past, Wylis is lying on the ground repeating over and over again “Hold the door! Hold the door!” until the words finally become simply “Hodor! Hodor!”, the only word he will ever say again.
It’s a massive revelation in itself of course but it’s also another example of exactly the kind of Bootstrap Paradox the Doctor described.
Bran from the present went into the past where he caused the event that had already made Wylis into Hodor: if Hodor hadn’t already been the simple-minded man he was, Bran wouldn’t have been able to warg into him (as he can with animals but not with most humans) and wouldn’t, in turn, have caused Wylis to have the fit that turned him into Hodor.
I know. As Hodor would no doubt say, “Hodor!”.
And this has potentially huge implications for our worldview of Westeros.
Earlier in the series, the Three-Eyed Raven told Bran, “The past is already written, the ink is dry”, suggesting that Bran can see the past and the future but cannot have an effect on what has happened/is to happen. But we now know that’s not the case – Bran had an effect on Wylis; during another vision, he was touched by a White Walker; and before that, we strongly suspect, his father Nedd Stark heard his voice from within a vision. Bran clearly can have an effect during his warging sessions, so what did the Raven mean by “The past is already written, the ink is dry”?
More likely, he meant that both the past and the future – including the things Bran does during his visions – are inescapable, and in fact preordained.
Which means there may be more Bootstrap Paradoxes to come – and also that whoever finally finds themselves sitting on the Iron Throne, really is destined to be there.