Warning: Massive spoilers for Game of Thrones Episode 5 ahead. You’ve been warned.
The Hodor Dilemma
Last night’s tragic episode of Game of Thrones featured the death of everyone’s favorite giant with a speech impediment. Hodor‘s final sacrifice saved Bran and Meera‘s life. It was a tear-filled goodbye and the end of Hodor piggy-back-rides.
It’s an epic revelation as to the source of Hodor’s unfortunate nom de plume. Why did Wylis lose his ability to speak and start incessantly repeating Hodor? Because Bran warged into him in the past, branding his mind with Meera’s command to “hold the door” against an army of wights. Makes perfect sense!
So Hodor’s disability led to his ultimate sacrifice, which in turn led to his disability, which in turn led to his ultimate sacrifice… uh… wait a second. Bran changed the past, to create the future, that let him change the past, to create the future… Huh? If you’re sensing something isn’t right here, you’re correct.
This is a temporal paradox. This particular brand of time-travel-conundrum is called a causality loop. Here’s how it works in its most basic form: Event A causes Event B, which in turn causes, in some way, Event A. In this way, time forms a kind of loop, like a tangled knot in a piece of thread. Time continues on as normal, but the true source of the events is unknowable.
This isn’t the first time the causality loop appeared in pop-culture. This “self-existing” time phenomenon is sometimes called the bootstrap paradox, named after Robert Heinlein’s 1941 time travel story, By His Bootstraps. In this story, a time-traveler passes on the blueprints to creating a time machine to someone, who then copies and creates those same blueprints. Heinlein would continue this causal loop theme in his 1959 story All You Zombies, in which a woman/man becomes his own mother and father (yea, it’s a weird one).
This paradox appears again in Dr. Who (of course), Time Crimes, Interstellar, Star Trek, and Lost. In fact, last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was directed by Jack Bender, the same director who filmed Lost‘s memorable time travel episode, “The Constant.” In this episode, the character Desmond is revealed to be unstuck in time, bouncing back and forth between 1996 and 2004. The time loop is a common trope, and most of the time it remains a paradox.
Hold the Door
Can we make sense of Hodor’s time loop? Maybe.
There are a couple of theories we can apply to Game of Thrones to find the source of the Hodor-dilemma. First, Game of Thrones could exist in a multiverse. If Bran isn’t warging into the past, but instead into an alternate universe, then we can kind of side-step the bootstrap paradox. This episode’s version would be one of many timelines and the loop would have a source, just not in our timeline or universe.
Similarly, if we hold to the theory that messing with the past creates a new timeline, then we can imagine a source-timeline in which Wylis does not suffer from single-word-syndrome. If so, perhaps Wylis still joined Bran north of the Wall, still encountered the White Walkers, and still had to “hold the door.” At which point, perhaps Bran warged into him anyway, causing the past Wylis to become Hodor, thus creating the causal loop and current Game of Thrones timeline we know and love.
Of course, all of this is a form of narrative gymnastics. This is the problem with causal loops. We have to come up with our own explanation.
Here is what I believe, setting aside the messy time travel paradox.
When Wylis was young, he lived through his own death. In his final moments, as Hodor, he lived it again. He faced his fear, not as a warg under Bran’s command, but as Wylis, the stable boy who loved the Starks with all his heart. I believe he knew, in that moment and with sudden clarity, where his circuitous path had led. His sacrifice, the noblest one, was made with courage and the knowledge he had played his part as destined. Hodor died as Wylis, a hero, and no amount of time travel can change that.