As has been made all too clear in its eighth and final season, Game of Thrones delights in giving us wild twists we never saw coming. Putting the communication-challenged Three-Eyed Raven Bran Stark on a throne he never sought, and isn’t even in line for, would certainly qualify as “wild.”
But would it be unforeseen?
Not according to the betting markets, which have taken an oddly pro-Bran turn in recent days. Indeed, one of them — a bookie with its roots in the Iron Throne’s real-world home, Northern Ireland — has suspended betting on Bran altogether.
“The betting has been in favor of Bran Stark for quite some time,” writes Lawrence Lyons, a spokesperson for BoyleSports, an Ireland-wide gambling franchise. “but it became relentless in the past couple of weeks and we had to act … it seems that punters [gamblers] believe the winner is all but crowned.”
That’s quite a collective act of greenseeing, to use the verb that describes Bran’s tree-enabled jaunts through time and space. Could it mean news from the Belfast set, where the finale was filmed, has started to leak?
It’s certainly possible, and it would mirror the sudden flurry of bets on the identity of the new Doctor Who actor that preceded the reveals of both Jodie Whittaker and Peter Capaldi. Both saw their odds dramatically shorten in the week before the official announcement, which suggested that a lot of BBC employees and their friends and family had learned the secret and wanted to make a fast buck.
But it isn’t just bookies on the UK side of the pond that are seeing a rush of Bran bets. Here’s the latest word from U.S. betting expert site Odds Shark:
Bran Stark is now the -500 favorite (83.33% implied probability) to rule Westeros at the end of #GameofThrones
Jon (Aegon) +800
Jon & Daenerys’ baby +3300
Samwell +5000 pic.twitter.com/uGrux08BDs
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) May 14, 2019
So let’s assume the punters are on to something. How could Bran end up on the Iron Throne? Apart from providing a neat bookend to Bran’s fall in Season 1, episode 1, what purpose would it serve?
Well, there’s the long-held and popular theory that Bran is related to the Night King in some way — a theory that seemed to shatter in the shards of the Night King’s death at the Battle of Winterfell. But as we noted at the time, the destruction of the show’s big bad seemed a little too neat.
Could Bran yet become the Night King? That’s a popular option on Reddit, where fans suggest that the very last scene of the show could be the Raven’s milky-white pupils turning a chilling blue.
Another fantasy-style ending involves the revelation that Bran was the Lord of Light all along, manipulating and empowering characters throughout the whole history of the show. Bran has been oddly distant, going off into his greenseeing space for the length of entire scenes. He has said he can see “everything.” The showrunners were keen to show us exactly what he was seeing in Seasons 6 and 7, but his visions have been oddly absent in Season 8.
That may well be his way of time-traveling back to every occasion where the Lord of Light intervened and brought a character back to life — including Jon Snow.
If the Westerosi ever found out they had a literal god in their midst, that would surely make him an attractive alternative to Queen Dany, who now seems determined to rule through fear and slaughter.
But there’s another, more prosaic, more political reason to install Bran on the throne. It would be the easiest way to end the cycle of monarchical violence that has torn Westeros apart for decades.
Like Jon, Bran has absolutely no interest in ruling. Unlike Jon, Bran can see every threat, every potential player in the game of thrones, as Littlefinger found out to his chagrin. Unlike Jon, he would never be taken by surprise and stabbed to death. We don’t know much about the Three-Eyed Raven’s longevity, either; it’s quite possible he could be immortal.
So what would Bran be? A constitutional monarch, in effect, rubber-stamping the decisions of his Hand — most likely his sister Sansa. A couple of weeks ago, I reasoned that Dany would die, Jon would walk away from the throne, and Sansa would end up as the real power in the Seven Kingdoms. There’s nothing standing in the way of that prediction after the conquest of King’s Landing, and Bran ending up as a symbolic occupant of the throne would allow for it too.
With its runtime of 80 minutes, the Game of Thrones finale on Sunday may simply not have enough time to conclude Jon and Dany’s story and explain Bran’s rise to the throne in a way that will satisfy most fans. But that doesn’t mean the showrunners aren’t going to try to shoehorn one last wild twist into the story.
In fact, you can bet on it.