Game of Thrones: The Sam and Bran Problem

Another episode of Game Of Thrones, another roll of the eyes as Samwell Tarly (John Bradley West) does something of little interest. A larger eye roll (that almost puts you to sleep) as Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) does the Game of Thrones equivalent to writing teenage poetry – sitting underneath a tree and scowling. Since the midst of season 4, a menacing inner monologue of ‘why aren’t you dead yet?’ has crept into my mind in regards to both characters. Forgoing any grand conspiracy theories I found the answer, in a scriptwriting 101 class. I then forgot the answer, but Bran reminded me in a flashback.

Isaac Hempstead Wright in Game of Thrones (Credit: HBO)

Sam and Bran are products of narrative necessity. Now there are many characters who exist out of necessity; Obi Wan Kenobi, Gandalf and any lead you have ever seen are there to move along the story. Almost all of these characters can be reduced to Vladimir Propp’s theory on character archetypes. For example, Obi Wan Kenobi sends Luke on his quest, he is aptly under the character archetype of: ‘Dispatcher’. In fact, this role worked so well George Lucas used the exact same technique with “Obi Wan Kenobi 2.0”, a.k.a Yoda. In short, these characters work within narratives. Yet there is a depth of character that Game of Thrones, despite its huge cast and hour long episodes, haven’t been able to give Sam and Bran.

We are watching ‘Donors’ or ‘Helpers’, who assist our hero very little. Rather than being useful when Jon needs them, they have a back story of little interest which makes them absent. This makes Sam and Bran’s scenes annoying. These characters go on elongated journeys to distant lands only to come back with some relevant information. Sam had an argument with his father, got a girlfriend and has an unsatisfying job – despite the clear parallels between his life and mine, I don’t want to see it in between dragon fights. Even with Jorah’s (Iain Glen) visit to Sam, the role could have been done by any Maester. Sam and Bran can meet Jon and retell their experience with a few lines of dialogue, rather than the audience being forced to watch them gather the information season after season. The tedium of following characters who exist because they have to is probably the root of all evil. Herein lies the problem with the characters, they are wasted screen-time.

John Bradley West in Game of Thrones (Credit: HBO)

Bran is probably the most guilty of wasted screen-time because we watched 6 seasons of his journey, just so he could become a crippled bringer of exposition. Bran fills us in on a backstory to Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and the position of the White Walkers; in case we forgot about them in between Jon’s scenes of raving about the North’s impending doom. As a result of his needless reminders of the whereabouts of the White Walkers, it is fair to say Bran is the most hated innocent child to ever be pushed out of a window.

Yet there is good news, as long as Sam lives so will Jon. That is a scriptwriting guarantee. Without Jon, the characters have even less purpose and motivation. Despite the last episode showing Sam “…tired of reading about the achievements of better men”, he is in fact now on his way to reunite with a better man. With this, hopefully, we will have some character development in the next series as he decides on his duty to Jon and to his family. Bran, on the other hand, will always serve to give us flashbacks/forwards until audiences no longer need exposition, so don’t hold your breath.

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