At the conclusion of Game of Thrones Season 4, Brandon Stark finally finds the mysterious Three-Eyed Raven in a massive weirwood tree far north of the Wall. He is old and frail, and at this point seems to be part-man and part-weirwood tree. He also has access to great powers—he’s able to possess animals and to peer into the past, present, and future of Westeros. Bran and company sat out Season 5, but they’ll be back this year, and we’ll likely learn that the Three-Eyed Raven has been passing down his skills to the young Stark boy.
When they meet, the Three-Eyed Raven tells Bran “I have been many things, and now I am what you see.” In the novels, it’s heavily implied that the Three-Eyed Raven (or the Three-Eyed Crow, as he’s known on the page) is a man named Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers. He mentions that his true name is Brynden (and a famous Bryden, at that), the physical descriptions match, and one of his catchphrases (“a thousand eyes and one”) turns up in some suspicious places.
It’s unclear if the show will explore these aspects of the character—it’s not necessary to know who he was for him to train Bran—but Bloodraven was indeed many things: a sorcerer, warrior, Hand of the King, and Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. He had a colorful and storied past—let’s take a look at it.
Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers was born in King’s Landing in 175 AC, making him approximately 125 years old. He was one of several bastard sons of King Aegon “the Unworthy” IV Targaryen. His mother was Aegon’s sixth mistress, Lady Melissa Blackwood.
Brynden was born an albino with pale skin, white hair, and red eyes. On one side of his face, a red wine stain birthmark runs from his throat to his cheek. It was said to look like a raven drawn in blood, hence the nickname Bloodraven. Because his skin was sensitive to light, he often walked around cloaked and hooded.
Even though Bloodraven was smaller than his half-brothers, Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers and Daemon Blackfyre, he was still known as a skilled fighter. He was the last person known to wield the Valyrian steel sword Dark Sister, one of two ancestral swords belonging to House Targaryen that came over when Aegon and his sister invaded Westeros. He was also an expert archer, and preferred the use of his weirwood longbow to a sword.
Bloodraven never married, but he and Bittersteel fought for the love of their beautiful half-sister, Shiera Seastar. The two brothers weren’t on good terms with each other on the best of days, and this drove them further apart. Shiera refused Bloodraven’s marriage proposals but did share her bed with him. She was rumored to be a sorceress who practiced the dark arts and bathed in maidens’ blood to retain her beauty. Some fan theories have it that she’s still alive and aiding a certain Dragon Queen in her quest to return to Westeros, but that’s a theory for another time.
First Blackfyre Rebellion
When Aegon the Unworthy died, he declared all of his natural children—including Bloodraven—legitimized. Aegon’s action was disastrous—it meant that there were suddenly a lot more potential claimants to the crown than there had been before. In this world, that means trouble, and it wasn’t long before the newly legitimized bastards were at war with their legitimate relatives. These conflicts were known as the Blackfyre Rebellions, and they pestered the realm for generations.
Daemon Blackfyre, one of Bloodraven’s half-brothers, and his followers first attempted to usurp the Iron Throne in 196 AC. The rebellion lasted a year and ended at the Battle of the Redgrass Field, where over 10,000 were killed.
According to The World of Ice and Fire, Bloodraven did not join his half-brothers in rebellion. Instead, he fought for King Daeron Targaryen, Aegon IV’s heir before his deathbed decision, and commanded a group of long bowmen called the Raven’s Teeth. In the midst of the battle, Bloodraven and Bittersteel charged each other and a mighty duel ensued. Bloodraven fought with Dark Sister while Bittersteel wielded Blackfyre, House Targaryen’s other Valyrian steel sword. Bloodraven lost an eye in the melee, and Bittersteel fled to Essos. Afterwards, Bloodraven rarely covered his empty eye socket with a patch, preferring to display his scar to the world.
It should be noted that, when Bran meets the Three-Eyed Crow in A Dance with Dragons, Bran sees that he has only one eye, “and that one red.” This matches the description of Bloodraven given in George R.R. Martin’s Dunk and Egg novellas. The show, however, seems to have done away with the character’s distinctive facial features.
Hand of the King
In 209 AC Bloodraven was named Hand of the King to his nephew, Aerys I Targaryen. His rise to power was attributed not only to his intelligence but also because he and Aerys shared an interest in arcane lore and the higher mysteries. As Hand, Bloodraven had a sinister reputation as a spymaster and sorcerer. The song “A Thousand Eyes, and One” was written about him. The thousand eyes represent his vast network of spies, while the one refers to the only eye remaining to him after his battle with Bittersteel. (Also, note that the Three-Eyed Raven says he’s been watching Bran with “a thousand eyes and one” in both the books and on the show.)
During his first few years as Hand, Bloodraven dealt with several major crises, including the Great Spring Sickness, the Second Blackfyre Rebellion, and a year-long drought. The Great Spring Sickness claimed the lives of two Targaryen princes, the former King Daeron II, as well as tens of thousands of others.
Thanks to Bloodraven and his informants, the Second Blackfyre Rebellion proved far less costly in terms of lives lost. He was able to squelch the rebellion before it began when he became aware of a plot to put Daemon II Blackfyre forward as the legitimate king of Westeros. Daemon gathered Blackfyre loyalists under the pretense of meeting them at the Whitewalls tourney. Bloodraven and his troops marched on the tourney and arrested Daemon.
Nearly a decade later, in 219 AC, Bittersteel returned from Essos and sparked the Third Blackfyre Rebellion. Bloodraven and Bittersteel faced each other during battle, fighting their second duel. The rebellion was once again squashed by the Targaryens and Bittersteel was arrested. Bloodraven argued that he should be put to death, but Aerys sent Bittersteel to the Wall. His ship was intercepted while heading north and he once again escaped to Essos.
Bloodraven continued serving as Hand of the King for nearly fifteen more years, outliving King Aerys as well as his successor, King Maekar I. Bloodraven called a Great Council in 233 AC to debate the disputed matter of succession. Aenys Blackfyre wanted to peacefully participate in the Great Council, and Bloodraven offered him safe conduct to King’s Landing from Tyrosh. However, once Aenys arrived in the capital, he was arrested by the gold cloaks and executed in the Red Keep. The Great Council eventually chose Aegon, one of Maekar’s sons, to succeed as King Aegon “the Unlikely” V Targaryen. Aegon’s first act as king was to arrest Bloodraven for the murder of Aenys.
Bloodraven argued that he sacrificed his honor for the good of the realm, but Aegon refused to set him free. In A Feast for Crows, it’s suggested by Maester Aemon, Aegon’s brother, that Bloodraven was imprisoned in the Red Keep’s black cells. Aegon eventually offered Bloodraven the option of joining the Night’s Watch over death. He accepted.
Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch
Bloodraven and a young Maester Aemon set sail for the Wall together. It’s unknown whether Bloodraven was allowed to take Dark Sister with him. Six years after arriving at the Wall, he rose to the position of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. He held the post for nearly fifteen years. In 252 AC, at the age of seventy-seven, he disappeared while ranging beyond the Wall and was presumed dead. Little is known about how, when, or why (or, to be entirely fair, if) he took up residence in the cave where Bran finds him, and what he’s been doing for the last fifty years. My hope is that we’ll learn more about that portion of his life as the story progresses, as well as the whereabouts of Dark Sister.
Bloodraven has a lot of fascinating ties to the past as well as to the future of Westeros. It’s doubtful that Bran is the only Winterfell native Bloodraven is interested in. Assuming that, as another popular fan theory holds, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were indeed married during Robert’s Rebellions and produced the boy who would grow up to be Jon Snow, that makes Jon a contender to inherit the Targaryen dynasty. It seems plausible that Bloodraven has already been keeping tabs on Jon, possibly by controlling Lord Commander Mormont’s raven. In A Clash of Kings, an interesting exchange takes place between Mormont and Jon concerning the Targaryen succession.
“King,” croaked the raven. The bird flapped across the solar to land on Mormont’s shoulder. “King,” it said again, strutting back and forth.
“He likes that word,” Jon said, smiling.
“I think he means for you to have a crown, my lord.”
“The realm has three kings already, and that’s two too many for my liking.” Mormont stroked the raven under the beak with a finger, but all the while his eyes never left Jon Snow.
There are hints that we’ll find out more about how Jon plays into all this in the coming season of Game of Thrones. As to what other secrets the Three-Eyed Raven might have, that’s something we’ll have to discover right alongside Bran.