Game of Thrones has mostly been a show sympathetic to the Starks. Sansa may have made mistakes, but she more than pays for them. Arya is turned from a traumatized kid into an unparalleled assassin. Every Stark who dies gets a sympathetic death. There's only one moment where a Stark is a bad guy, and that's when Bran screws up and gets Hodor killed. But that wasn't the only thing Bran screwed up back in Season 6. So when it comes up on the second episode of the final season, what is the mark on Bran's arm and why does it feel so fatal? Warning: Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 episode 2 follow.
For fans of the show, the episode "The Door" was a huge turning point for Bran's story. As the impulsive and impatient apprentice of the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran wanted to see more than he was ready for. It's a tale as old as fantasy, the young trainee trying to go beyond what he is prepared for. But what Bran saw shocked him. The Army of the Dead was huge, lead by White Walkers on horseback. Bran tried to back away, lest they see him only to back up right into the Night King himself.
Then, in a moment that will live in infamy, the Night King grabbed Bran's arm.
It was a mark that allowed the Night King to track Bran back to the Three-Eyed Raven hideaway and destroy the magic that would have kept him out. The Night King killed the Three-Eyed Raven, causing Bran to be forced to take up the mantle before he was ready. It also meant that the Night King's murder of the Three-Eyed Raven was unsuccessful, as the memories moved to the next host.
This is crucial to the upcoming fight. Most viewers have assumed the Night King and company are coming to Winterfell because it's full of living humans, and his policy is killing all the humans. Some have theorized Jon Snow made some sort of impression on the Night King back at Hardhome, or Beyond the Wall, and the Night King is here to finish the job.
But as Bran revealed minutes into the second episode, neither of those are correct. The Night King is coming to Winterfell because he's following the tracking device that is the mark on Bran's arm. The Night King has one goal: to kill Bran as the Three-Eyed Raven. Everyone else, including all the living who have died between here and the Wall, is merely incidental to the overall goal of taking out Bran.
Unlike the last Three-Eyed Raven, Bran has no apprentice. If he dies, there's nowhere for the memories to go; they will vanish. That is the Night King's goal. Without the memory of history, men are not special. They're merely animals to the slaughter. As the Night King sees it, as long as the memory of humankind's creations and history exist, it can return. His goal, therefore, is to destroy it. Once Bran is gone, so is the story of humankind's existence.
This means Episode 3's battle is all about keeping Bran safe. Will Jon and Daenerys succeed?