Spoiler Warning: This post contains MAJOR spoilers from Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 5, entitled “The Door” and also Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Also, this particular post includes spoilers from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Back to the Future. If you do not wish to be spoiled, turn back now! Also, if you haven’t seen Back to the Future by now, stop everything (including reading this blog) and watch the trilogy!
This post is the fourth in a series of blogs linking HBO’S Game of Thrones, in light of recent plot developments from Season 6, Episode 5 entitled “The Door”, to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet. You can link to the previous entries below.
Alternate Reality vs. Causality Loop
Time travel in fiction has often fallen into one of two camps: alternate reality or closing a causality loop. Perhaps the most famous example of time traveling causing an alternate reality is Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly must ensure his parents meet when he travels back in time from 1985 to 1955 or risk creating an alternate reality in which Marty was never born and is completely erased from existence (evidenced by his near-disappearance from a family photo).
In closing a causality loop, an individual’s actions in the past cause something in the present that already happens in the present. One of my favorite examples of this is in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (SPOILER ALERT!) Harry sees a mysterious figure across the lake perform the Expecto Patronum charm, which saves him and his godfather Sirius Black from a dementor attack. Harry assumes he saw his dead father James Potter somehow cast the charm. When Harry travels back in time with Hermione and Ron via the Time Turner, he realizes that he himself is the one who cast the charm. He performs the Expecto Patronum charm, thus closing the causality loop. Harry does in the past what he already saw himself do in the present.
Marty nearly creating an Alternate Reality vs. Harry closing a Causality Loop
In Game of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 5 “The Door,” we saw a closed causality loop in which while greenseeing into the past, Bran accidentally wargs into young Hodor. Hodor somehow hears Meera screaming “Hold the door!” via Bran’s warg and his older, future self. His mind can’t handle the intensity and trauma of Bran’s warging and simultaneous death of his older, future self by ice zombies/wights, so young Hodor’s mind implodes on itself and he can only utter “Hodor” for the remainder of his life. Because this took place in the past to create a reality which we already knew–a reality in which Hodor is always Hodor–this is an example of a consistent causality loop.
While it’s not actually clear that Bran is time traveling in the traditional sense (being physically present in the past), he is still able to interact with people in the past (i.e., calling out to his father, young Ned Stark who apparently hears something and turns around and warging into young Hodor) in a way that his actions do indeed have an impact on future events. However, as the Three-Eyed Raven has claimed the “ink is dry,” Bran appears to cause events that are already true in the present timeline. We have yet to see Bran actually alter what has already happened in our present.
Bran’s time traveling handiwork
Bran’s consistent causality loop direct contrasts with the alternate reality time travel that takes place in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Over Thanksgiving dinner with his family, Charles Wallace learns that his physicist father–whom the White House regular consults for issues relating to national security–has learned a terrible truth that a power-crazed South American dictator (Mad Dog Branzillo) has threatened to nuke the United States. Young Charles Wallace time travels with the aid of a unicorn named Gaudior (Latin for “more joyful”) to course correct history somehow to avoid the imminent nuclear war.
Gaudior the unicorn imparts to Charles the crux of the mission:
“You have been called to find a Might-Have-Been, and in order to do this, you will have to be sent Within.”
For more on being sent Within, check out my previous post on kything vs. warging here.
Charles Wallace seems to be sent on a mission to create an alternate reality in which nuclear war is no longer an imminent threat. Armed with St. Patrick’s Rune, Charles is sent Within the consciousness of various ancestors of Mad Dog Branzillo to alter the past to avoid the threat of nuclear war in the present.
Throughout their time traveling jumps, Gaudior and Charles have frequent run-ins with the evil Echthroi, which literally means “the enemy” in the original Greek translation. Their primary objective is “un-Naming”, obliterating matter, knowledge and understanding of one’s true self. The Ecthroi’s preferred versions of reality are known as Projections, and Gaudior and Charles are constantly in danger of being blown into a Projection, in which the Echthroi triumph with chaos and discord. Gaudior and Charles attempt to find the “Might-Have-Been”/alternate reality which the Echthroi wish to prevent.
L’Engle uses songs, music and harmony to demonstrate the universe as it was intended to be. The Echthroi embody dissonance and discord, a disruption of that harmony:
Charles Wallace and the unicorn moved through the time-spinning reaches of a far galaxy, and he realized that the galaxy itself was part of a mighty orchestra, and each star and planet within the galaxy added its own instrument to the music of the spheres. As long as the ancient harmonies were sung, the universe would not entirely lose its joy.
Ultimately, Charles Wallace’s kything/going Within/time traveling affect the history and lineage of Mad Dog Branzillo in such a way that he is never born. Instead, El Zarco (the “blue-eyed”) is born, a man that promotes peace. Charles helps create an alternate reality in which Mad Dog Branzillo is never born and never threatens the world with nuclear war.
Time travel is hard, Doc.
Stories tend to not blend alternate reality with a causality loop, so as much as I’d love an alternate Westeros universe in which direwolves never die, beloved noble heads do not get chopped off and Red Weddings never happen, I doubt we will actually see Bran create an alternate reality. However, I am certainly intrigued to see what in the present we have already witnessed for which Bran himself is responsible. The Wall? Defeat of the Night King? Bran as the Three Eyed Raven?
Only time will tell…