bran’s contradictory microexpressions: acting fail or plot twist?

!SPOILER WARNING!

In the latest episode of Game of Thrones – “The Long Night” (S08E03): People die, dragons fly, and Bran Stark actually moves his face.

In moments leading up to Arya crushing the final boss of the White Walker Level, Bran and the Night King share an uncomfortably intimate stare down.

Though our young Stark has branded himself as an expressionless meme-generating machine, his face is not as barren you might think.

facesless.PNG@memesofgameofthrones

That awkward moment when Bran gazes into the Night King’s crystal blue eyes – Bran’s gaze is all but emotionless. Unique from his classic dead stare, in this particular scene Bran displays an interesting set of microexpressions.

With Eyes Wide Open

Examine the images below:

The left image shows Bran’s face as he acknowledges the Night King’s presence and begins to turn his head. The right image reveals the transformation of Bran’s face as he looks up, presumably making eye-contact with the Night King.

brana_lifted.PNG

Notice how Bran’s eyes are slightly widened in the right image. Although Bran has changed his head position and directed his gaze upward – which can sometimes give the appearance of widened eyes, we can confirm the eye widening action because of the:

  • rounded and raised upper eyelid
  • further exposed sclera and iris
Bran_eye
same photos as above zoomed in

Widened eyes are present in three emotions:

  • surprise – full configuration also often contains:
    • raised eyebrows
    • dropped jaw
  • fear – full configuration also often contains:
    • raised and strained eyebrows
    • stretched lips
  • anger – full configuration also often contains:
    • furrowed brows
    • tightened eyelids
    • raised upper lip
    • pressed or tightened lips

Observing the eyes in isolation will not help us specify which of the three emotions Bran may be feeling. To do so, we must consider the rest of his face – the brows and mouth area.

All Brows on Deck

It is important to note that the action of widening eyes often causes a decrease in space between the upper eyelid and the bottom of the eyebrow. In the above images, however, there is an increase in space between the two landmarks – providing us with further evidence that Bran does not just have widened eyes, but lifted brows as well.

Because Bran is rocking a 2008 Efron haircut with bangs a-blazing, it is difficult to distinguish what exact configuration his brows take on, i.e. partially raised, fully raised, or raised with stress.

Regardless, from the available evidence of general brow lifting, we can safely hypothesize that the brows show characteristics of either surprise or fear.

The Lower Face

With constraints such as low-lighting and not-so-ideal video quality, it is challenging to clearly identify which mouth actions are occurring. However, I do see light stress around the lips – which appears to be caused by one or more of the following:

  • nasolabial furrow deepener
    • produced by partial raising of the upper lip
    • associated with pain and sadness
  • lip stretcher
    • produced by lateral pulling of the lips
    • associated with fear

NOTE: Can you spot the stress? If you want to find out, watch this fraction of a second in slo-mo or frame-by-frame. Make sure you toggle forward and backward to catch the subtle changes.

The Sum of Parts

Let’s add things up.

  • Eye widening alone can be associated with:
    • surprise
    • fear
    • anger
  • When we add in the lifted brows the evidence filters to:
    • surprise
    • fear

And when we include the stressed lower mouth, the evidence becomes even further refined, leading us to: fear – for those first few frames anyway.

Wait, What?

As we move forward in the scene, Bran begins to switch from eye widening to eyelid tensing with a relaxed mouth pose. He also begins to take on a solemn look as he casts his eyes downward – seemingly in the direction of the Night King’s midriff.

Bran then proceeds to resume eye-contact with NK. At this moment, NK slightly tilts his head while tensing his eyelids.

 

Tensed eyelids combined with head tilt form a common thought processing pose. But what could NK be thinking? Does he see something we don’t? Also, what is up with Bran’s male gaze and full-body check out? Is NK showing too much midriff? Or is Bran telepathically communicating something to him – perhaps the news of Arya’s upcoming shank?

Here’s where it gets even weirder . . .

Almost immediately after the Night King makes his thinking face, he flashes a microexpression of fear. (See below.)

 

In the above clip, NK’s lips toggle between relaxed and stretched poses. If you have trouble spotting these changes, put the video in fullscreen mode and pay close attention to the lip corners and chin area:

  • Lip corners are pulled laterally and slightly down
  • Low lip and skin surrounding the chin is stretched width-wise
  • Wrinkles around the lips are also lightly stretched

But why would Bran and the Night King show fear, and how the hell does any of this make sense?

Soo confused

If Bran can see the future and gain access to a literal birds-eye view of the entire battlefield (including Arya’s journey) – he should know his plan to ambush the Night King is about to come to fruition. That’s a good thing, right? What could he possibly be afraid of?

As we have seen, Game of Thrones is known for its complex story lines and unexpected twists. However, Season 7 and 8 have not lived up the strong writing of the earlier seasons; so despite Bran and the Night King’s juicy microexpressions, we can’t totally rule out:

  • acting or directing failures
  • plot holes regarding Bran’s omniscience and psychic abilities

But let’s say the acting is on fleek . . . 

Maybe Bran really is the Night King (The IndependentReddit, Refinery29). Or perhaps he suddenly realizes something random – like Arya’s inevitable contact with the Night King will leave her with a Voldemort-esque horcux connection or a Stranger Things-style slug child?

Maybe there is even crazier shit going down. Who knows?

Guess we’ll find out on Sunday.