This article is published after Game of Thrones season six, episode three. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read on – but also, where have you been?
In a week where Rickon Stark made a surprise appearance after three seasons off and we saw Arya getting her eyes back, it’s been difficult to focus on the slow trickle of information about young Ned Stark, who Bran’s been spying on in visits to the past alongside his mentor figure, the Three Eyed Raven. But now fans have crafted another theory for the tin foil hat parade – one that’s taking the internet by storm. It uses the below scene to suggest that Daenerys’ father, the Mad King Aerys, went mad because of Bran’s meddling with the past. Aerys’s a crucial figure in the history of Game of Thrones, and if he hadn’t been mad, nothing in the show’s world would be the same. Here’s how the theory (sort of) works. It’s a bit complicated, so ready yourself for some book facts.
In the show, after Bran’s father Ned dispatches Arthur Dayne (the unbeaten swordsman ultimately stabbed in the back by Howland Reed), he heads up to the Tower of Joy, where he presumes his sister Lyanna Stark is being held captive. Bran calls out to him as he heads up the stairs, and Ned appears to be able to hear him in the above clip. What Bran doesn’t realise at the moment is that Ned doesn’t hear his voice – what he hears is more of a whisper, or some other kind of natural omen like the rustling of leaves.
Here’s how that whispering works in the books
In the books, Bran has a different scene where he tries to speak to Ned, much like in the scene below:
What Bran is doing when he sees visions of the past is something author George R.R. Martin calls ‘greenseeing’, a practice that allows him to see stuff through the eyes of weirwood trees like the one in the above picture. In the scene where Ned is sitting by Winterfell’s weirwood, Bran calls out to him and Ned looks up, saying “Who’s there?” Then Bran’s vision ends. When he asks the Three Eyed Raven about it, he is told, “He heard a whisper on the wind, a rustling amongst the leaves. You cannot speak to him, try as you might. I know. I have my own ghosts, Bran. A brother that I loved, a brother that I hated, a woman I desired. Through the trees, I see them still, but no word of mine has ever reached them. The past remains the past. We can learn from it, but we cannot change it.”
He tries again later, again without the presence of the Three Eyed Raven: “’Father.’ Bran’s voice was a whisper in the wind, a rustle in the leaves. ‘Father, it’s me. It’s Bran. Brandon.’
“Eddard Stark lifted his head and looked long at the weirwood, frowning, but he did not speak. He cannot see me, Bran realized, despairing. He wanted to reach out and touch him, but all that he could do was watch and listen. I am in the tree. I am inside the heart tree, looking out of its red eyes, but the weirwood cannot talk, so I can’t.“
There are several instances in the book where it appears the narrative is being affected slightly by this kind of intervention from Bran (or someone else) – including the scene where Jon Snow discovers his direwolf, Ghost.
Could Bran’s intervention have made the ‘Mad King’ Aerys mad?
Theorists think that Bran’s whispering might have been the root cause of the whole show, with events precipitating one another in a crazy way. The Mad King Aerys, Dany’s father, had a famous temper. The theory goes that Bran might have tried to communicate with Aerys repeatedly in various scenes, trying to make things better each time. These scenes would include the one in which Bran’s grandfather, Rickard, is burned alive and his uncle, Brandon, is strangled. You can imagine Bran desperately screaming to stop Aerys’ actions, only making his madness worse.
That event, along with the abduction of Lyanna Stark, causes Robert’s Rebellion, which eventually puts Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne. Eventually, the death of Jon Arryn will cause Robert Baratheon to ride to Winterfell, with his wife Cersei and her lover/brother Jaime in tow, to ask Ned to be his the new Hand of the King. Bran will discover Jaime and Cersei together, and will get pushed out of the window, losing the ability to walk, after which his strange abilities are awakened. It’s a horrible ironic circle, but do you buy it? Would the Three Eyed Raven let him get away with that kind of interference with the past? Or is the past, as the Three Eyed Raven says, unchangeable?
Could The Three Eyed Raven have made the ‘Mad King’ Aerys mad?
The Three Eyed Raven, a bastard son of a long-gone Targaryen, is a very old relative of Daenerys (he’s something like her great-great-great half-uncle) and there’s speculation that either he might have tried to negotiate with Aerys Targaryen, or tried to educate him about the White Walkers. Perhaps he told Aerys to use fire against the walkers (‘Burn them all’ were the last words Aerys spoke) and instilled him with an obsession with fire. Aerys’ last action before being assassinated by his guard, Jaime Lannister, was an attempt to burn the whole of King’s Landing along with himself using innumerate barrels of insanely flammable fluid Wildfire, in a bid to transform into a dragon. Ludicrous.
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Was the Mad King just mad anyway?
In the books, madness runs through the Targaryen family anyway – one of his forebears, Aerion, drank wildfire (the flammable green stuff) to try and turn himself into a dragon. He died screaming. George R.R. Martin writes a character has a slow descent into madness that, it seems, can be explained without the whispering theory. But what do you think? Let us know in the poll below: