Do you hear that hum? That's the sound of the intricate details of the rich universe created by George R. R. Martin crescendoing into the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones.
Which is why it's time to get acquainted with the Great Other, the force opposite the Lord of Light in the R'hllor religion.
First thing's first: Who is the Great Other?
Odds are, you haven't heard of the Great Other yet. The deity has not been mentioned by any of the show's Westeros-born characters, including the Children of the Forest. That's because the R'hllor religion, most famously practiced by the Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Red Priest Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), originates in Essos.
R’hllor is a sharply dualistic religion. On one side is the good, personified by the Lord of Light (also known as R'hollor, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow). On the other is evil, personified by a figure called the Great Other (or the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and Terror). The Great Other's true name cannot be spoken by humans; luckily, there's an abundance of nicknames.
But we, intelligent viewers, should remain skeptical of R'hllor's black-and-white version of morality: If Game of Thrones has taught us anything, it's that there is no such thing as pure good and pure evil.
How does Azor Ahai come into this?
Worshippers of R'hllor believe that the struggle between the Lord of Light and the Great Other will continue until a messianic figure, commonly called Azor Ahai, is reborn and claims his sword, Lightbringer.
According to the legend, Azor Ahai — R'llor's human champion — led the first charge against White Walkers in pre-history. They're waiting for his return. Every evening, red priests and priestesses light fires and say prayers, asking to see the face of Azor Ahai in the flames. Other staples of R'hllor include human sacrifices (we remember you, Shireen) and blood magic.
So, will the Great Other and the Lord of Light show up in Season 8?
Countless pages of fan theories have been devoted to determining who, in the crowded Game of Thrones landscape, fulfils the many qualifications of the "Prince that was Promised" prophecy. Is Jon Snow Azor Ahai, as many believe? Or is Jon Snow actually Lightbringer? Is it Daenerys Targaryen? And so on, until the Reddit threads combust. At least we definitely know who Azor Ahai is not: Stannis Baratheon.
Less frenetic energy has been devoted to parsing the significance of the Great Other, and whether, like the Lord of Light, he has a human "champion" on Earth. Odds are, he does — and we've met him already. Since Azor Ahai's return will almost definitely be an element of season 8, it follows that the Great Other's champion would be, too.
Could Bran be the Great Other's champion?
He could very well be. While staring at a fire at the Wall in Martin's A Dance of Dragons, Melisandre sees a wooden face, a thousand red eyes, and a boy with a wolf's head beside him.
Melisandre believes this is the Great Other's champion. And this description aligns with Bran (a Stark, represented by the wolf sigil) and the Three-Eyed Raven, who has grown into a tree ("a wooden face").
Further proof of Bran being somehow connected to the Great Other is found in a conversation between Bran and Bloodraven in Martin's book A Dance With Dragons: "There [Bran] sat, listening to the hoarse whispers of his teacher. 'Never fear the darkness, Bran.' The lord's words were accompanied by a faint rustling of wood and leaf, a slight twisting of his head. 'The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother's milk. Darkness will make you strong."
So, a brief equation: If darkness is the opposite of light, and R'hllor is the Lord of Light, then Bran is opposed to R'hllor. This brings Bran closer, once again, to the Night King. Who knows? He might even be the Night King.
Is the Great Other related to the White Walkers?
Either way, the Great Other is likely connected to the Others — another name for the White Walkers. Logically, then, the Night King and his army of Walkers and wights could be Great Other's champions on Earth.
Of course, the Great Other theory is contingent on first believing that the R'hllor religion is correct, and Martin has given no indication of that being the case. R'hllor coexists among many religions in Westeros and Essos, some of them prominent (like the Faith of the Seven), some of them tiny and regional (like the Drowned God). More than anything, religion in Game of Thrones is a tool characters use for organising their societies and guiding their personal decisions.
Game Of Thrones season 8 airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic and is available to stream on Now TV