[WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the Game of Thrones episode titled “The Door.”]
Clearly, Game of Thrones doesn’t mess around when it comes to killing off characters: Ned Stark, Jon Snow, the Red Wedding guests, Tywin Lannister. The direwolves, for heaven’s sake. The list goes on. (Also, yes, technically they messed around a little with Jon Snow.) But last night featured the demise of a character whose passing changes the logic of the series—even if no one’s exactly sure how.
Bran’s loyal protector Hodor has always been a reprieve from the show’s otherwise brutal worldview, but he’s also been something of a punch line—mainly because the only word he’s able to utter is his own name. College Humor released a video complaining about the lack of equality when it comes to the series’ nudity, singling out Hodor as one character whose manhood would do nothing to accomplish parity in this department. SNL recently spoofed the series by implying the only plot more boring than waiting for Jon Snow to be resurrected was Bran’s story line. Neither Bran nor Hodor were onscreen in season five and, with so much else going on, nobody much missed them, either.
Until now. In “The Door,” the best episode of the sixth season thus far, we learned that Bran’s ability to warg (aka enter the body of someone else) could potentially change the past, but also that the faithful Hodor is actually a victim of Bran’s abilities. Hodor, long mistaken for a simpleton, is really Wylis, a former Winterfell stableboy who at one point could speak (a seemingly minor detail discovered a few weeks ago during Bran’s visitations to the past). Last night, in present time, as the White Walkers stormed the forest’s safe haven, Bran warged into Hodor, but he did so while at the same time observing the past, thus somehow creating a link between time periods that forced young Wylis to experience the crucial moment in the future in which he is asked to “hold the door” against the encroaching wights and give Meera and Bran a chance to escape. Young Wylis suffers a seizure as a result and continues to utter the phrase “hold the door” until it starts to sound like Hodor, which henceforth becomes his nickname (and his sole mission).
“Hodor” meant something this whole time! It’s not that nobody ever wondered what was up with his condition, but it was probably 256th on the list in terms of pressing questions. Like most GoT plot twists, this one sent the internet reeling, perhaps even more so than usual for dealing a death blow to a character who was beloved but also gently ignored. Hodor facilitated Bran’s journey—a glacially paced one at that. Few could have thought that his affliction would serve the story, never mind that he had been making a profound sacrifice since practically the start of the series.
In this sense, the episode earns comparisons to the infamous “We have to go back!” episode of Lost. (“The Door” director Jack Bender helmed many episodes of the ABC series.) It changes everything, but we don’t know what exactly. Soon, Bran will realize he’s responsible for destroying Hodor’s mind. Could he do something similar again? What are the limits to his powers, and will he figure out a way to deploy them with less dire consequences? Are there other plot lines underway right now that have resulted from Bran’s tampering? Time travel—let’s dispense with the Thrones terminology of “greenseeing” for a second, because this is complicated enough—can be migraine-inducing if not handled properly, especially with so much magic already in play. On the other hand, we’re definitely eager to see how Bran’s talents might relate to his own father and his half-brother, Jon Snow. Bran’s interference isn’t without costs, but maybe it’s put events in motion that needed to happen (the standard defense of time travelers everywhere). In the meantime, Bran should do something to protect Ghost. Nobody’s in the mood to lose another direwolf.