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Game of Thrones' Finale Draws On One of Sci-Fi's Most Terrifying Tropes

Game of Thrones finale

Warning: The following article contains spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.

On the finale of Game of Thrones, the only Lannister remaining repaid the last of his family's debts, not in coin to the Iron Bank, but in service to the realm. With "Mad Queen" Daenerys Targaryen slain and Jon Snow relegated to the Wall, Westeros found itself, yet again, without a ruler. Luckily, Tyrion seemed to have recovered from the lobotomy much of Season 8's writing had given him, and made the case for Bran Stark -- Bran "The Broken" -- to take the throne.

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In his plea to the lords and ladies of the Seven Kingdoms, Tyrion connected the dots between Daenerys' aim to "break the wheel" and Varys' claim that the right ruler was someone "who didn’t want to rule," as well as what he’d gleaned about Bran's role as the Three-Eyed Raven, to come to the conclusion that the young Stark was the realm's best option. And, (almost) unanimously, the realm agreed. 

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While it's a controversial choice, Tyrion's reasoning is music to the ears of anti-monarchists. It moves Westeros a little closer toward a modern system of democracy (although not as close as Samwell Tarly would have liked), and satisfies the show's -- and author G.R.R Martin's -- desire to subvert traditional fantasy tropes. Is it cruel to string along an audience of millions who were expecting a crown on Jon Snow's head? Kind of. But, in turning Jon into a martyr for a just cause, Game of Thrones did fulfill the expectation that he would become the ultimate hero, who bloodied his hands so the world could become cleaner, knowing his duty was a thankless one.

Game of Thrones finale

The War of Five Kings was superseded by the murder of a Targaryen monarch. A new, better era couldn't be ushered in under the same circumstances. That's why, with a True Neutral moral alignment and all of the world's history in his head to learn from, Bran is held up by Tyrion, and by extension the showrunners, as the world's best chance at achieving a real, lasting peace.

It's a plan that can't fail, right? Well, perhaps not for fantasy fans. But, for sci-fi fans -- or just anyone who’s watched a Terminator movie -- it's an optimistic decision that usually spells disaster down the line. In a pre-technological world, Bran Stark’s omnipotence, neutrality and unnatural wealth of knowledge make him the closest thing Game of Thrones has to to artificial intelligence. Sure, he's not covered in chrome with bolts sticking out of his head, nor is he a blinking red eye in a spaceship, but in every other respect, Bran Stark is Bran-Bot 1.0.

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His true nature is made clearest by his inability to express emotion, his monotone and measured way of speaking drawing clear comparisons to the verbal patterns of androids, from Star Trek's Data to Prometheus' David. It's a comparison that Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran, directly touched upon in an interview with Making Game of Thrones. "Bran becomes this calm, zen character," he said. "He's really like a human supercomputer."

Game of Thrones finale

By extension, Bran's warging powers can even be interpreted as a magical version of the World Wide Web, interfacing with a network of animals to gain sight beyond sight. Fantastic superpowers, sure, but there's no doubt from the startled reactions of his siblings that Bran's condition is far from enviable.

Fittingly, Sansa was also the only noblewoman to refuse to bend a knee to the new king, which she prefaced by pointing out that her brother couldn't produce an heir. While the Queen in the North had other competing reasons to withdraw from the Seven Kingdoms, in the context of this argument, her point served to further dehumanize Bran. (Perhaps she's watched I, Robot enough times to know how this could all play out.) 

Androids, automatons and cyborgs are invariably tragic figures in science fiction, representing a loss or absence of humanity as penance for seeking to create higher beings. If you swap machines for magic, Bran's journey is analogous with that. In seeking ultimate knowledge -- ultimate power -- as the Three-Eyed Raven, the penance Bran paid was the loss of everything that made him human -- something he's actually repeatedly told us.

In Season 7, after his transformation, Bran corrected Littlefinger when he referred to him as "Lord Stark." He did the same thing when Meera called him Bran. "I'm not really. Not anymore," he said. "I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark, but I remember so much else now." And then when he failed to sincerely thank her for risking so much to bring him back home, she bitterly told him: "You died in that cave." If to be human is to be "flawed" -- emotional and illogical -- Bran is the furthest thing from it.

"Bran has become a much smaller part of the character’s brain," Hempstead Wright said in the same interview, "when before 100 percent of his head was taken up with being Bran Stark. Now, that’s just one tiny file in a huge system." If Bran's brain is now the mystical equivalent of the Borg hivemind, how likely is it that Westeros has consigned itself to a classic man vs. machine dystopian future? 

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Given that the Three-Eyed Raven is a singular position, a Matrix-esque enslavement of humanity seems off the cards, but what about the argument that Bran's motherboard mind is better for decision-making? When Dany refused to yield to Jon's plea for "small mercies," we were supposed to view her callous disregard for human compassion as villainous, despite her claim that she was doing it for the greater good. The crux of Tyrion's argument is that Bran can be trusted to make decisions free from human error, but can he be trusted to make decisions that need human error?

In a lot of ways, it's a pretty fitting end for a saga that goes to great lengths to shine a light on humanity's worst impulses. The saccharine side of the "bittersweet" finale we were promised was represented by green shoots poking up from the snow as Jon heads beyond the Wall; spring finally following the defeated winter. And yet, by entrusting humanity's future to the most inhuman among them, that hopefulness was undercut by the silent admission of humanity's failure to ensure its own survival.

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