Take a Bow: Isaac Hempstead Wright

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The old adage is never work with children or animals, but with a character like Bran Stark, Isaac Hempstead Wright had to be both! He might have been one of Game of Thrones’ most unlikely players, but here’s to the actor who took us all on his journey from curious child, to Three-Eyed Raven, to ultimately being the king of Westeros.

When we first meet Bran, he’s a sweet-natured innocent whose only crime is climbing too high and scaring his mother. It seemed unbelievable to me, an Unsullied viewer during the show’s first season, that this cute kid would become one of the linchpins of the entire series, nor that this his clambering antics would have any consequences other than giving Catelyn the heebie-jeebies. His discovery of Jaime and Cersei together sets off a change of events that will alter the course of the Westerosi landscape.

Bran Stark winterfell

In his early appearances, Hempstead Wright is remarkably adept at balancing the emotional sides to his character. His bitter realisation that he will never walk again and declaring that he’d rather be dead is utterly distressing as are his tragic scenes with Theon in Season Two, asking the man he grew up with as family whether he hated him the whole time. Bran’s scenes with Maester Luwin, Osha and Old Nan provide viewers with much needed exposition and back story which help to flavour the extraordinary world this show is set in. At the same time as he’s playing a tutored child, Hempstead Wright is already giving us glimpses of what was to become his fate as the Three-Eyed Raven; it’s an exceptionally mature and accomplished performance from such a young actor.

Hempstead Wright takes us with him on Bran’s journey to learn more about his mystical abilities. Guided by Jojen to use his warging and green-seeing powers, this is a magical twist in Bran’s tale that might have seemed outlandish or out of place if it wasn’t for an assure but understated performance from Hempstead Wright. It becomes clear the viewer that Bran’s destiny lies beyond being the heir of Winterfell and is something far greater, as his visions begin to offer us tantalising glimpses of Westeros’ past and future.

BranRaven

I’d almost forgotten, when I came to writing this article, that Bran didn’t appear on our screens for an entire season, so much was his presence felt throughout the show. When he returned to us in Season Six, Hempstead Wright has almost become a proxy for the audience; as he learns about the events which shaped his world, so do we. Through Bran we learn about the Tower of Joy, Jon Snow’s true parentage, the creation of the White Walkers and, of course we are witness to one of Game of Thrones’ most tragic and unexpected twists, the origin of Hodor.

Bran is now a changed man, and Hempstead Wright puts in an eerie, almost sinister performance in his final seasons, having finally become the Three-Eyed Raven. Playing a character who can experience everything, except emotion, seemingly, is not an easy task, but one he manages with aplomb, becoming a calming and occasionally chilling presence among the chaos of the last few episodes.

I’m still not sold on Bran the Broken as a title (Bran the Badass would have been much cooler and still alliterative, let’s be real) but I was absolutely sold on him becoming king. He’s ushering in a new era and a new style of leadership, and while his experiences may not be what one would immediately look for in a ruler, his was undoubtedly one of the greatest stories from our time in Westeros. Plus, as one of the most consistently positive portrayals of a disabled character in fantasy fiction, I was thrilled to see Bran gain legitimate acceptance and recognition from his peers. Hempstead Wright took us on an extraordinary journey with Bran, with what was unarguably one of the most emotionally complex characters on the show, and it’s one I can’t wait to revisit when I watch the show over again. All hail King Bran the Badass! (or Broken. Whichever!)

39 responses

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    1. Isaac always was one of the most underrated actors on the show. And he’s a sweetheart too. He grew up good, that one. Bran is an uncanny weirdo, and that goes to show you what a good actor Isaac is, because the difference between the two is a gulf.

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    2. I agree that IHW was marvelous in the role. From precocious kid to serene adult, he was able to play so many colors. I don’t understand any of the “was Bran evil” theories. There was always a warmth and kindness underneath that robotic exterior. You could tell there was emotion there, just buried under all the overload of data he was absorbing.

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    3. I was impressed with IHW and how at a very young age he was able to become his character so convincingly. I thought his scenes with Maester Luwin were very well acted. I especially remember the scene when Maester Luwin was asking him to recite the words of each house. IHW has an amazing voice. I wonder if he will want to do theater or voice-overs. I’m sure it was a challenging role to have to watch the other actors do most of the action, while he remained still in his chair or on the ground near a tree for most of the time. I think he enjoyed his scenes with John Bradley when he could add some humor. He was a very serious guy for most of his journey as the 3ER.

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    4. I was hoping that we might get something like the Curtain Calls for the actors whose characters ultimately survived this epic tale. This is great!

      The journey of Brandon Stark, while far from conventional, is perhaps the most classic fantasy storyline in this show, and along the way, Isaac Hempstead-Wright has delivered one of Game of Thrones’ more underrated performances. In the earlier seasons, he conveyed all of the anxiety and curiosity of a kind and thoughtful young boy who had been quite literally thrown out of his small and comfortable world and into a terrifying and dangerous new one. And in the latter seasons, for as funny as all of the ‘Bran memes’ were, I always felt that Isaac was doing far more with his performance in those moments than simply zoning out. He was weighing everything, carefully considering every person and scenario he encountered through the prism of a million lifetimes, and processing how all of those choices and mistakes had shaped the past, present, and future. He was watching, in other words, with A Thousand Eyes and One. It’s not an easy thing to convey, and it rightly came across as alien and unsettling. It’s understandable that not everyone connected with what Isaac was doing, but it deserves a second look. I think it’s strong work.

      One of my favorite Bran scenes is his conversation with Maester Luwin about magic and even the most learned men believe that it has faded from the world. It’s even more fun to watch now, knowing Bran’s ultimate fate as not only the Three-Eyed Raven, but as King of Westeros. “What boy wouldn’t wish for hidden powers,” Luwin mused at the time, “to lift him out of his dull life and into a special one?” Even then we knew that Luwin, kind and wise though he is, was obviously mistaken, and I love the way that Isaac conveyed Bran’s child-like yet nonetheless adamant belief that ‘no, this is REAL’. It was deeply relatable, not only because we knew the truth of Bran’s power, but because all of us who love fantasy stories know that feeling oh so well. Isaac was all of us in that moment, beating his wings against the bars of his cage, yearning to fly.

      Another all-time great scene comes, of course, in “The Door”, when Bran learns the terrible cost that his powers can enact through the tragic fate of Wylis and how he becomes Hodor. It’s one of Game of Thrones’ most heartbreaking twists, and Isaac perfectly captures all of the horror of that realization, all of the guilt and agony that comes crashing down on him in that moment even as he completes his transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven and his life changes forever. It’s all the more poignant when you consider that not only is Bran reckoning with what he did to this innocent boy, but Isaac is saying goodbye to Kristian Nairn, his longtime screen partner and dear friend. It’s perhaps Isaac’s best work, and the standout scene of Bran’s entire arc.

      Isaac, meanwhile, has grown into a remarkably eloquent, thoughtful, and engaged young actor. He wrote a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter reflecting on his time on the show, and I’d highly recommend anyone who hasn’t gotten the chance to read it yet check it out. In that piece, he says:

      Bran becoming king is a victory for the still and considered people of this world, who too often get sidelined by the commotion of those who are louder and more reactionary. He doesn’t shout to make himself heard, but instead waits and chooses his words and actions very carefully. In that, I think Bran presents a valuable reminder to us all in this day and age where sensationalism is rife and anybody can voice an opinion to millions, to sit and consider things a little more carefully.

      I can’t say it any better than that, so I’ll leave it there. I wish Brandon Stark, First of His Name, a long and peaceful tenure Lord of the Six Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, and I wish Isaac a long and successful career, full of all the opportunities he deserves. Long may he reign!

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    5. What a great idea to do tributes to the living as well! I agree with everything Geoffrey and all the comments so far. IHW was a joy to watch.

      I vote for Bran the BadAss as well. Yes, he managed to survive with the help of the Reeds and Hodor but also through his will to make a difference.

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    6. Jared:
      I was hoping that we might get something like the Curtain Calls for the actors whose characters ultimately survived this epic tale. This is great!

      I was hoping for this, too!

      Isaac grew from an expressive youngster into a thoughtful, articulate young man. He is great in interviews – see the one with Kimmel a few weeks back; love his enthusiasm and sense of humor. He brought a sense of gravitas to Bran that is uncommon in such a young actor.

      I wish Isaac a bright and successful future in whatever path he chooses.

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    7. Is KL wheelchair accessible?

      Anyway, I truly enjoyed Isaac’s portrayal of Bran. Like many of the child actors on GoT, he seemed to be ready to take on the enormous task of bringing one of GRRM’s characters to life from the beginning. It’s so rare to see a child actor that can take on such a big responsibility and succeed, but he did it in spades.

      I was drawn to Bran from the very first episode. Isaac brought a vulnerability and thoughtfulness to Bran that made me realize right away he would be integral to the story. Not only that, but I wanted him to be integral because of how much I enjoyed the depth of his portrayal.

      It had to be especially tricky playing Bran in seasons 7 and 8. I’m sure some people took one look and said, well he barely has to act since he’s pretty much dead inside now, so how hard could that possibly be? You’d be surprised how hard it is to play someone like that and not come off as too cold or not cold enough. Issac set the temperature for Bran just right.

      Of course Bran was the logical choice to become king after the IT was melted down. He’s already got his own chair! Now, please make KL wheelchair accessible. Though, perhaps this is what the 3-Eyed Raven meant when Bran will fly. He’s gonna need to if he’s ever going to make it to those small council meetings.

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    8. Everyone always talks about how good Maisie Williams was as a child actor (and I also love Maisie, don’t get me wrong), but young Isaac was certainly equally good. I accidentally stumbled into the very first episode of Game of Thrones. Had never heard of it before. But I was mesmerised from the first minute and even more when we got to know the Stark family. Young Bran was sooo cute and he played it so convincingly. If he wasn’t so good, don’t think I would have watched the second episode. It’s a pity he didn’t get much chance to show his acting talent in the later seasons. But what he had to do, he still did it convincingly. He won’t get any Emmy’s for his role in GOT, but he should have at least have been nominated for season 1 because back then he was one of the most important people to make people want to watch this new show.
      I’ve read many interviews with Isaac and he seems to be very intelligent and also very down to earth. And he is a big fan of the show and has very interesting things to say about it. He won’t get the blockbusters Sophie Turner has, but I do hope he keeps on acting. He really has a place in the acting world, not in the blockbusters but more in the indie movies/series, that are in the end are far more interesting than those blockbusters. (Not that I criticise Sophie for her choice, if I got the chance for blockbusters like X-Men, I would take it too. Everyone should play the genre of movies they are good in.)

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    9. Well done, Geoffrey! From the very beginning, I was always very interested in Bran’s story and he quickly became one of my favorites. Besides the dragons and few White Walker moments in the first couple of seasons, he really represented the only magical aspects of the show, which ended up intriguing me the most. I only wish they explored these abilities a bit more in the latter seasons (and maybe didn’t take season 5 off completely!), but Isaac did an awesome job with the role he was given.

      All of the then child-actors were fantastic during the first couple of seasons, and Isaac was definitely no exception. And I agree as well, his performance as the Three Eyed Raven was definitely underrated by most and I’m sure it was much harder than it looked to portray the character after season 6.

      Even in the books, I will now always see Bran as Isaac. I look forward to getting some of the complexity story-wise in the books that was left out of the show with regards to the character! They left out so much of his story line after season 4, and I can’t even begin to guess where George is taking it, but the show’s ending has me pumped to figure out how Bran gets there in the books!

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    10. Jaehaerys,

      Two more stray comments:

      1. I really loved his last line to Jon, “You were exactly where you were supposed to be.” D&D nailed that. It was a little nod to Jon, and all the other characters, that this was the journey they were meant to be on, and everything happened exactly how it was meant to. There were a ton of “breaking the 4th wall” type of lines in this episode (i.e. Tyrion’s “ask me again in 10 years”), but this was my favorite and hit the nail right on the head. Very emotionally charged for a character with little to no emotions.

      2. At first, I really thought they were choosing Bran as King not only because he couldn’t father children, thus “breaking the wheel,” but also because he couldn’t die (they never really got into this too deeply on the show, but wasn’t the previous Three Eyed Raven in that tree for like hundreds of years? They at least allude to this in the books because Bloodraven is well over 100 years old), which would also break the wheel. I wish we got a little bit of specifics/ closure with this. If he can and will die eventually, does he have to pick a new Three Eyed Raven now, and would they also choose that Three Eyed Raven to become King?

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    11. Jared,

      Wonderful post Jared! Thanks for the quote from the HR bit by IHW. I went and read the whole column and it is a good read, insightful to some of his experiences on set, and makes me like him even more. Here is a link to the HR –

      https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/game-thrones-series-finale-bran-stark-as-king-explained-isaac-hempstead-wright-guest-column-1212195

      Thanks WotW and Geoffery for this and hopefully future Take A Bow articles, appreciate it!

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    12. I am so very happy to see this, and the comments underneath. I have said from the very beginning that IHW was one of the best actors of the entire cast, and far and away was the best child actor, from his very first scene. He sold every beat, every note of playing Brandon Stark, at every turn in his character’s arc.

      Unlike a lot of people, I’ve loved his portrayal of the Three Eyed Raven in the later seasons. His delivery of lines like “What we do for love.” and “Chaos is a ladder.” at the perfect times sent chills up my spine with the perfection of tone and timing.

      But it was his performance during Theon’s occupation of Winterfell that really wowed me with the authenticity of his portrayal and absolutely broke my heart and twisted my gut. Needless to say, I am a huge, huge fan.

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    13. Wonderful actor. How he portrait the different facets of Bran. From emotional to non-emotional. To everything in between.

      I missed Bran in season 5 and was glad he returned for 6.

      For me Bran will be renamed to “Bran the walking Google”

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    14. I love this for characters who survived the series!

      As for Isaac, he did a wonderful job with the character of Bran. It reminds me of a statement by Benioff/Weiss earlier on that the casting of the Stark kids was so critical to the success of the show, and Isaac is a testament to how well they did on that.

      Here’s to Bran the Broken, and the actor who brought him to life!

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    15. HBO Making of Thrones has posted an interview with Isaac and he states the following:

      [Creators] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] told me there were two things [author] George R.R. Martin had planned for Bran, and that was the Hodor revelation, and that he would be king. So that’s pretty special to be directly involved in something that is part of George’s vision. It was a really nice way to wrap it up.

      http://www.makinggameofthrones.com/production-diary/season-8-episode-6-finale-isaac-hempstead-wright-bran-interview

      Considering he knew the outcome and his age, he handled the pressure very well. It must have been somewhat daunting to know that you would end up in that position at the end of it all. In all of his interviews he comes across as a very intelligent, articulate and grounded young man.

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    16. Like everyone else I think IHW did a wonderful work as a child actor and as adult too, giving the material he had to work with in the 2 last season..and he really grown into a very handsome looking young man!

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    17. kathy,

      Nice interview! Once again, Isaac proves himself to be incredibly thoughtful about both his character and the show as a whole.

      So Bran becoming king comes directly from GRRM’s outline for the endgame. That fits with what we already strongly suspected, but in case anyone needed additional evidence … there it is.

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    18. I look forward to watching Isaacs career going forward. What a talented and brilliant young man!

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    19. Great job Isaac, and great job Three-Eyed Raven manipulating all of Westeros into making a Stark their king. Brilliant!

      Maybe Bran really is the NK after all?I

      Anywho, a very nice tribute to a very nice guy, Geoffry.

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    20. Jared,

      What a lovely quote from the actor. He seems very intelligent especially for someone his age. If I’m honest I didn’t feel happy about Bran becoming the King, it just rings hollow to me, but that’s only because I needed more fleshing out of his character, however the “I wish Isaac a long and successful career, full of all the opportunities he deserves. Long may he reign!” I’m definitely on board with 🙂

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    21. What I am not sold on is that Bran might have known what would happen to the poor people of KL and still pushed Daenerys into insanity by insisting that “Jon has to know” (Know for what reason? So that he can go back to the North a la Maester Aemon?).
      And I thought Bran the Broken was somehow disrespectful.
      Still, Isaac has tons of potential and seems to be a wonderful person. It was a blessing we had him as Bran – as a child he was so sweet, and as an adult he was fantastic as the weirdly robotic 3eyed raven.
      Thank you, Isaac!

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    22. Thank you for this “Take a Bow” post! I remember being saddened to hear Bran would be missing an entire season, but I too forgot that happened haha. Isaac has been great in his portrayal of Bran since he was a child actor. I actually liked that Tyrion had dubbed Bran as “Bran the Broken.” For me it evoked that last passage in A Clash of Kings as well as Tyrion’s later statement that the world would always need a place for “cripples, bastards, and broken things.”

      “The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep,
      and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained,
      Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either.”
      – Bran, ACoK

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    23. Ten Bears:
      Chilli,

      Well then, here are your future King and Princess That Was Promised. (Betcha didn’t see that coming, NK.)

      https://images.app.goo.gl/kYoUMYQZQFUMdjAB8

      These kids were/still are so adorable to me!
      Arya as a young one looked so much like my granddaughter that I was as instantly drawn to her on the show as I was in the books.
      Nina Gold did fabulous work with the casting but all of the children, not just the Starks, were perfect.

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    24. I will look at the show as the longest running human chess match I have ever seen. IHW played the king well from beginning to end. Having everyone protect him without knowing why. Okay he was cripple besides that, but towards the end when everyone seemed to apologize to him for whatever reason, and all he said rather cryptically was that they just did what they were suppose to do. Well checkmate.

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    25. Just read Maisie’s ‘take a bow’ and wondered no one seemed to be commenting on Isaacs start. would like to see his audition tape. Im remembering those harrowing scenes when Theon has captured Winterfell, and Bran says ‘didn’t you love us at all?’ Life completely changed for him, and his journy with Hodor and the Reeds saw him grow – yet he didn’t do much except to warg into Hogar at the crasters, until we see him at the cave. Then he disappears for a year.. I get that they thought the training would be boring, but why would his character leave so long while others continued on their journey? Was this absense for the season affect how fans perceive him, as not having done much …Could we have gotten a better sense of him as a growing young man before he became 3ER if we saw him interacting with others during the year? Perhaps a hint of what was to come?

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    26. Chilli,

      I wrote my post before reading yours -sorry I basically copied you! But agree with everything you are saying. GMTA and all that. I also have admiration for the older more expienced actors who took the kids under their acting wings, guided them,and perhaps help develop them into the young adults we see today

      Sou,

      What I am not sold on is that Bran might have known what would happen to the poor people of KL and still pushed Daenerys into insanity by insisting that “Jon has to know” (Know for what reason? So that he can go back to the North a la Maester Aemon?).

      I have wondered about this,and there have been theories that he indeed turns evil,perhaps becomes the NK himself. Unfortunately unless Martin finishes,or someone makes a sequel. We’ll never know. and this is probably not the place to speculate. Perhaps later

      And I thought Bran the Broken was somehow disrespectful.

      It was extremely disrepectful and is basically calling any one with a disability broken, which we should know in this day and age that they are not (tho we have a prez who mimics a journalist with a disability so I guess I am not surprised) Did this come from HBO, or D&D, or fan fiction? No matter – it is as wrong as using any disparaging name for any other minority. Just sayn.

      Still, Isaac has tons of potential and seems to be a wonderful person. It was a blessing we had him as Bran – as a child he was so sweet, and as an adult he was fantastic as the weirdly robotic 3eyed raven.
      Thank you, Isaac!

      Indeed!

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    27. I know I’m extremely late to this thread but I’m surprised there are only 38 responses to this curtain call. Perhaps because Isaac appears to be a more private person away from the cameras alternatively it may be that his character despite being one of the biggest POV in the books always felt on the periphery in the show. Either way I felt we witnessed the transition of Bran from boy to man, his acting in the early seasons as a young child was superb, the later material arguably stunted his range when he became the three eyed raven or even king Bran but I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing him right now.

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