Warning: Potential book-based spoilers for Game of Thrones ahead
The sudden return of Lord Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), the leader of the Brotherhood without Banners, to Game of Thrones in last week’s episode is noteworthy for more than just being yet another loose thread that seems to be getting tucked away (like Uncle Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) and King Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), Beric hasn’t been seen on the show in several years) . It could very well be the biggest piece of foreshadowing yet to the imminent arrival of one of the most anticipated characters from George R.R. Martin’s books.
Here’s how the story proceeds in his A Song of Ice and Fire: after having her throat slit at the Red Wedding, the body of Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) is discovered shortly afterward in a river, where the Freys dumped it, by the Brotherhood (actually, it’s Arya Stark’s (Maisie Williams) abandoned direwolf, Nymeria, who initially finds Cat, with the band of outlaws scaring her away). Lord Beric decides to perform the rite of the last kiss – how Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) resurrects Dondarrion in the source material – on her, transferring whatever magic is keeping him alive post-mortem to Lady Stark, thereby sacrificing his (second) life for hers. Catelyn, in turn, assumes command of the Brotherhood without banners, transforming them from into an organization devoted to hunting down and executing everyone who was involved in betraying Houses Stark and Tully (her maiden family) at the Red Wedding.
Given that Lady Stoneheart, as Cat is hereafter referred to in the novels, has yet to make an appearance in the television series, many fans have been forced to conclude that she never will, becoming yet another (side) storyline that has gotten trimmed completely from Game of Thrones. But now that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have finally brought over a number of other plot threads from this same time period in the books – such as King Balon’s death and the subsequent kingsmoot on the Iron Islands – it very well could be that they have simply been biding their time until introducing Stoneheart. They have consistently closed the gap between initial setup and eventual payoff over the past five years, after all (such as introducing Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) in the same season in which he is killed off), and Catelyn’s resurrection could be yet another variation on that theme.
But, then again, Lady Stark could well and truly be dead. Here’s the case for both possibilities as we ask Are We Closer Than Ever to Seeing Lady Stoneheart in Game of Thrones?
Why Catelyn will stay dead
It may very well be that the principle reason Weiss and Benioff have opted to keep Lady Stoneheart out of their abridged version of the story is narrative-based. As Martin got into his latest two volumes, he opted to expand his scope to include a veritable slew of new characters, locations, and subplots, ranging from Dorne to Oldtown (where the maesters’ headquarters resides) to a bevy of Essosi cities. At every step of the way, the showrunners have resisted this world-building urge and instead kept a laser focus on the handful of core characters that have already been introduced, most of them from the very first season. Catelyn’s second incarnation, along with the latest maneuverings of the Brotherhood, may be too much of an extraneous narrative flourish.
Yet the rationale can also be more mechanical in nature; all of the individuals who have thus far been brought back from the dead in both versions of the story – Beric Dondarrion, Catelyn Stark, and Jon Snow – were resurrected only days after their deaths (Cat was gone for three days, which may be a sly wink at scripture on George Martin’s part). Since it’s been one or two years in Game of Thrones’s timeline since the Red Wedding occurred, Cat’s body may be too far decomposed to be brought back (although the executive producers could always opt to make her look more like one of the White Walkers’ wights, which would help up the shock factor that the series has so heavily relied upon) – and that’s assuming they’ve had a change of heart since the initial decision not to bring her back right away.
And it really is hard to get away from the narrative considerations, especially given that we’re fast approaching the endgame of the series (if, indeed, we haven’t arrived there already). If Lady Stoneheart’s primary plot function – which is eschewing all of her characterization, thematic, and world-building purposes – is to help bring about the downfall of House Frey as a new political order is brought to Westeros in the wake of the War of the Five Kings and the invasion of the White Walkers, this is a function that can be perfectly handled by, say, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). Or if her overriding importance is to demonstrate the folly or ultimate pointlessness of revenge, then Sandor Clegane’s (Rory McCann) recent return can just as easily get the job done – and in only a fraction of the time.
Why Lady Stoneheart will soon arrive
As previously stated, Game of Thrones has made it a deliberate point to only include those story developments from the source material if or when they can have an impact on the core cast of characters. This would make the Hound’s sudden reemergence into the narrative – and his just-as-abrupt reunion with the Brotherhood without Banners – the perfect vehicle through which to see Beric Dondarrion discover Catelyn’s body and engage in the thought process of why bringing her back would be such a good idea. Introducing Stoneheart would also allow audiences to get even more insight into the nature of death and rebirth in this fictitious reality, which would then shade the way that they look at Jon Snow from here on out.
Furthermore, since there are no hard and fast rules about how this whole resurrection thing works, Weiss and Benioff cane make it up as they go along, establishing that the Red Priests maintain some type of (low-level) regenerative ability within the corpses they bring back or that, for Catelyn, no time at all has passed while in death’s domain; Jon claimed to have experienced nothing at all on the other side, after all, and nothingness tends to go by rather quickly.
But the biggest reason for Stoneheart’s inclusion three long years later may have to do with that whole endgame scenario once again. It just may be that the rest of the overall narrative has progressed to a point where having Lady Stoneheart’s presence cannot be delayed any longer – House Tully has finally been conquered, only reinforcing the strength of House Frey as the dominant regional power, meaning that some extra force will be needed to topple it and make Lord Walder (David Bradley) pay for his betrayal. Perhaps more importantly, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has finally been positioned in the riverlands, like he was in the books; his very last published chapter seems to hint at an eventual run-in with the dreaded Lady Stoneheart, and such a scene may be way too vital to either heavily modify or to let completely go.
Whether actress Michelle Fairley will be ushered back on to Game of Thrones or not, audiences and book fans alike should know whether they’re in for the literally and figuratively reborn Catelyn Stark shortly – and whether the other characters will survive her return.
Game of Thrones continues tonight with “Battle of the Bastards” at 9pm on HBO.