"You're a warg, Bran. It's in your blood." — Jojen Reed, 'The Rains of Castamere'
Have you ever wondered the what and the how of white eyes, limp bodies and "HOLD THE DOOR!"? Well hopefully, this answers any questions you may have and makes you a resident expert on the subject among your peers.
The generic term for transferring one's consciousness into an animals is "skin changing." In Game of Thrones, people who can enter the minds of and control wolves are called Wargs. George R.R. Martin derives the term "warg" from Norse mythology, where it refers to powerful wolves. It is an extremely rare ability found in those who descended from the First Men.
Warning: This post may contain spoilers for the popular book series 'A Song of Ice and Fire' and HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Seasons 1–6.
How Did It Start? Westeros: The Land Of Magic
Westeros was originally the land of magic and was inhabited by Giants and the Children of the Forest. They were slaughtered by the First Men, who came from Essos to invade the Realm. This gave rise to a series of events that are often talked about in the books and on the show, such as the rise of the White Walkers, the Long Night, Azor Ahai and the building of the Wall.
This period is known as the Age of Heroes where the Children and the First Men made peace and lived in harmony, with the Men even adopting the religion of the Children and worshipping the Old Gods.
Why Northerners And Free Folk Have It In Their Bloodline
Much later, the Andals invaded Westeros and conquered everywhere except the North. That is why many Northerners (and all Free Folk) have the blood of the First Men, while the rest of the Seven Kingdoms don't. It is perhaps because the First Men worshipped the Old Gods or the Gods of Magic (the Andals established the Faith of the Seven and worshipped the New Gods) that skinchangers and greenseers are still born among the descendants of the First Men.
Skinchangers may be born one in a thousand, but according to the books, most of the Stark children are blessed with the ability. We all know about Bran, but apparently Robb and Rickon are also psychologically connected to their direwolves. Arya has dreams of Nymeria, similar to Bran dreaming of Summer and seeing the world through Summer's eyes back in Season 1.
But What If You (Or The Animal) Dies?
It is possible for a skinchanger to live on inside an animal, after his death. Remember Orell, the creepy wilding who used to hit on Ygritte? He had an eagle into which he transfers his consciousness right after Jon shoves his sword in him.
The eagle (with Orell's spirit inside it) then clawed at Jon's eyes, rendering him bloody and almost blind. In the books, a famous skinchanger known as Varamyr at a point actually wants to steal Ghost from Jon so that he could continue to be alive inside the direwolf after his body dies. If an animal is killed with a skinchanger's spirit inside it, it is extremely traumatic as he experiences Death through his mind. It happens to Varamyr in the books when the eagle (Orell's eagle, actually) he is controlling is burned to death and Varamyr goes mad temporarily from the agony, losing control of his other animals.
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Warging Into Humans: Hodor's Tragic Fate Explained
Skinchanging into humans is much more complicated; often the results are disastrous. The only successful count of human skin changing is of Bran warging into Hodor. However, Hodor does not possess the mental capacity of a fully grown individual and Bran is no ordinary skinchanger. Bran also has the Sight — he's the next greenseer or the Three-Eyed Raven.
Greenseeing: The Three-Eyed Raven
Greenseers are thought to be a thousand times rarer than skinchangers. Originally, the elders among the Children of the Forest were termed "greenseers" as they possessed immense magical capabilities. As we have seen on the show, the Three-Eyed Raven can look through space and time and communicate with people through their dreams, as he did with Bran and Jojen.
So, how does it work? Well, the ones with the Sight can tap into the weirwood trees — the trees with the faces carved on their trunks, and transport their spirit through space and time, via the roots.
Weirwood trees are the symbols of the Old Gods and the magic the Children and the First Men worshipped. The Old Gods are basically the countless forms of Mother Nature. The weirwood trees are their medium of communication with the greenseers. The premise is that the Old Gods have witnessed everything that has taken place through the ages. They hold all knowledge, and the ones who have the Sight may be privy to this knowledge. They also rule over the realm of dreams, which is how the Three-Eyed Raven was able to show Bran the prophetic visions he had which led him North, beyond the Wall.
However, there are certain rules which must be followed. Bran, while under the Three-Eyed Raven's tutelage, grows emotionally attached to what he's being shown. The Three-Eyed Raven warns him that if he spends too much time beneath the sea (with this mind in another time and place) he may drown.
This is precisely what happens when The Night King attacks the cave under the weirwood tree where they're residing. He hears Meera's voice telling him to warg into Hodor to fend off the whites, but he's in too deep. He finds it difficult to draw away from what he's seeing. He chooses to do something else.
Now, while greenseeing, Bran's mind is traveling through space and time while his body stays in the present. Think of it as his mind is traveling through a tunnel via the weirwood roots, and ending up in another place and time where he is in a spirit bubble and the characters in that space and time are not aware of this presence (unless the presence tries to communicate with them — as Bran does when he calls out "Father" in a previous Tower of Joy segment, causing younger Ned to turn around). Bran knows at this point that he has to skinchange into Hodor. Yet, he cannot draw back into the present. So, what does he do?
Bran stretches his spirit bubble to include Wyllis in it, thereby causing Wyllis's mind/spirit/soul to travel into the future through the tunnel, which Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven have created via the roots, and rejoin Hodor's body. The Hodor we see kicking White Walker ass isn't the Hodor we knew previously, but is actually Wyllis!
Bran's mind creates this bridge through which Wyllis's mind joins Hodor's body in the future. However, because Hodor dies, Wyllis's spirit does not travel back to rejoin his 12-year-old body and he is left in a limbo, with his mind in one place and his body in another.
Wyllis hears Meera yelling "Hold the Door" through Bran's mind, which he is connected to, as she drags him away. It's actually Bran hearing Meera's words which reverberate in Wyllis's head and that is the last thing he hears. He is never himself again until moments before his death. That's how Wyllis held the door — pretty mind boggling, isn't it?
Check out all of the best Hodor quotes from every season of Game of Thrones in the video below:
Do you have any questions about skinchanging, the Three-Eyed Raven or Hodor's fate? Let me know in the comments below!