Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) has been out of the game for a minute, but in this Sunday's (May 1) Game of Thrones, the younger Stark returns to the action in a major way.
Since we last saw him in the Season 4 finale, Bran has been hanging out with the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow), learning how to do magical things like using weirwood trees and their memories to look into the past. (Can your fave do that? Didn't think so.) Bran's newfound abilities will unlock parts of Westerosi mythology that have gone previously unexplored on the HBO drama. He is the catalyst to the past, present, and future -- and that makes him the most powerful MF in all of Westeros.
Unlike Jon Snow, Bran isn't the Hero. He's not going to be the savior of George R.R. Martin's story, but he's certainly one of the most pivotal players in the game. How can he not be? The kid is a warg and a greenseer, with unmatched ability.
In A Dance With Dragons, the fifth and most recent book in the series, Bran begins his education in "greenseeing" and "skinchanging," which are the abilities to navigate visions and inhabit the bodies of other living beings, respectively. In his first vision he sees his late father Eddard Stark standing in the woods outside of Winterfell, through the weirwood roots. According to the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran can see what the trees see, but people cannot hear him; therefore, he cannot change the past. When Bran cries out to his father, all that is heard is a whisper on the wind (though it's later implied that he does, in fact, impart a message to Reek through the weirwood trees at Winterfell, which could prove that he's more powerful than the Three-Eyed Raven realized).
"We watch, we listen, and we remember," the tree-bound mystic tells Bran in the Season 6 teaser. "The past is already written. The ink is dry." Bran may not be able to interfere with the past -- what's done is done -- but he can observe. And most importantly, he can learn from its mistakes.
We know from Season 6 promos that Bran will come face to face with the Night's King this season in what can only be a vision or a prophetic dream (he's standing, after all). But does the Night's King see Bran? Or is this just a vision of the Wights and the Others? GRRM has barely even scratched the service of Bran's power. Key moments in Westeros history, like the storied Tower of Joy battle that may or may not hold the key to Jon Snow's true parentage, will also be told in Season 6 through Bran's time-tripping narrative. So again, Bran is cool as shit.
Bran's storyline, of course, is more than a Westeros history lesson; it's an exploration of some of Game of Thrones's more fantastical elements. Sure, Melisandre can see visions in the flames. Red Priests have been known to resurrect people from the dead. Daenerys is the Mother of Dragons. White Walkers roam the North. Wun Wun the giant is straight-up chilling somewhere south of the Wall. But Bran is magic. His storyline is textbook fantasy genre fiction -- and it's a rare moment of levity for the series.
Game of Thrones has been criticized for its nihilism and its brutality. It's dark and misogynistic -- at times, unbearably so. Bran's storyline gives us a break from all of that. Don't get me wrong: It's still heavy source material. (History is dense!) But it gives viewers a glimpse into something more, something deeper to the overall tale of ice and fire. Right now, Bran is our sole connection to the Night's King and the Others, so don't count the kid out just yet.
Once Bran gains control of his abilities, he will be unstoppable. He will see the future and past all at once and be able to communicate through the Weirwoods. He will be all-powerful. And as the Three-Eyed Raven once predicted, he will fly. Again, can your faves do that without the assistance of dragons?