This guest editorial concerns a story-to-show change and thus contains major book spoilers (including A Dance with Dragons material) in its argument, so please read at your own risk. The opinions expressed below do not necessarily reflect those of WotW or its staff.
By Lion of Night
“The outlaws parted as she came forward, saying no word. When she lowered her hood, something tightened inside Merrett’s chest, and for a moment he could not breathe. No. No, I saw her die. She was dead for a day and night before they stripped her naked and threw her body in the river. Raymund opened her throat from ear to ear. She was dead.” (A Storm of Swords, GRRM, 2000)
The epilogue of A Storm of Swords hits heavy. In what is one of the most shocking revelations in the novel, the reader is introduced to Lady Stoneheart, formerly known as Catelyn Tully. With this introduction, GRRM proves that he has complete control over our petty emotional connections to characters. As if the Red Wedding, (occurring approximately halfway through the volume) wasn’t traumatic enough, the final paragraphs in the epilogue reveal that Catelyn has been resurrected as a homicidal zombie out for revenge, primarily against the Freys who coordinated the Red Wedding. While this twist is widely considered to be a favorite among fans, HBO’s Game of Thrones would be better off not including Lady Stoneheart.
The goal of this piece is not to deny that it would be cool or interesting to see a resurrected Catelyn zombie in the TV adaptation; who wouldn’t want to see a vengeful, Frey-slaughtering machine that viewers can root for? I contend that in the context of the plot and the context of advancing character development, it simply does not make sense to include her.
In this discussion, it is important to ask what purpose Lady Stoneheart serves in the novels. Although the number of ASOIAF novels that have been released thus far inherently limits our knowledge on the topic, one can make reasonable insights based on what we know.
For instance, the ghoulish new leader of the Brotherhood without Banners is painted quite differently from Beric Dondarrion, the only other character we’re acquainted with who has been resurrected via the powers of R’hollor. Beric has been resurrected a number of times before his final death and manages to seem relatively human. Of course, Beric’s appearance deteriorates after a number of revivals and he begins to lose some of his memory after each incident, but his personality seems largely intact. Furthermore, the one resurrection of his that we do witness occurs immediately after Beric succumbs to the Hound in combat.
On the other hand, Catelyn’s body decomposes in a river for days before her resurrection. When she is finally resurrected, we see that she has lost most of her former self, her desire for revenge being all that’s really left. Lady Stoneheart, a shell of Catelyn Tully, most likely does not serve the sole purpose of roaming the Riverlands killing participants in the Red Wedding. In fact, her inclusion in the novels probably has more to do with Brienne’s character development. Because of this, it is worthwhile to examine Brienne of Tarth and what purpose Lady Stoneheart serves in relation to Brienne.
Lets examine Brienne from the perspective of the TV show. Brienne can easily be described as loyal. Loyalty is a central part of her identity. When the king she swore to protect was assassinated, Brienne blamed herself for his death even though there wasn’t much she could have done to fend off Melisandre’s cunning shadow baby. In the aftermath of Renly’s death, Brienne swears fealty to Catelyn and later makes an important promise to escort Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing for the purpose of exchanging hostages. Catelyn would get her daughters back in return for releasing Jaime to his family. Brienne understands what is at stake (potentially the lives of two young girls, although at this point neither Catelyn or Brienne realizes that the Lannisters do not have Arya) and is determined to complete her mission, keeping her promise in the process. Her journey is made all the more unpleasant because the man she is escorting is the “Kingslayer.” Brienne initially sees Jaime as someone who goes against everything she stands for: a treacherous liar who killed the king he was sworn to protect. Needless to say these perceived differences make for a particularly volatile relationship.
However, the first major milestone in Brienne’s development and growth occurs on her journey with Jaime, when Brienne learns why Jaime killed the Mad King Aerys. Jaime reveals to Brienne and to the viewers that the king, finding himself on the losing side of Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, ordered Jaime to slay his own father, Tywin. Additionally, the King commanded that the entire city be burnt to a crisp with flammable vats of wildfire. Had he gotten his way, King Aerys would have committed a massacre, killing thousands of people along with himself, simply to avoid surrendering to Robert. With the situation more properly framed, Brienne starts to realize that by breaking his oath, Jaime uses sound judgment and saves not only his family, but also the thousands of residents of King’s Landing. It is this almost too perfect Ethics 101 “what would you do” scenario that helps Brienne change how she looks at the world.
The novels have been building to a similar checkpoint in Brienne’s character development—her decision regarding Lady Stoneheart. After her initial encounter with Lady Stoneheart, Brienne is given the option to kill Jaime Lannister (whom she now has respect and even admiration for) or die. Brienne’s encounter with Lady Stoneheart is not the reunion Brienne might have hoped for simply because Lady Stoneheart is not Catelyn. At this point she simply represents a drive to kill and refuses to listen to Brienne’s pleas about upholding her oath to find the Stark daughters. Ultimately, what matters here is not so much Lady Stoneheart, but the fact that Brienne is put in a situation that largely mirrors Jaime’s experience with King Aerys and how sometimes in order to do good, one has to break promises even if it tarnishes that individual’s reputation.
So what I hope I’ve made clear is that Lady Stoneheart is a replaceable component. Still, a valid question is: why not use Lady Stoneheart in the TV show instead of some replacement?
Well, given that Game of Thrones already has a very large cast, I would argue that it is better to use established characters to absorb the roles of characters we have not seen at all yet. There are some obvious caveats to this rule of thumb: it applies primarily to characters that do not serve a larger purpose or significantly alter the course of events in Westeros or Essos.
For example, the TV show effectively replaced Weese with Tywin Lannister. If you don’t remember Weese, don’t concern yourself too much. He was just the ugly, violent man Arya knew for a while at Harrenhal. Weese didn’t impact the world in any noticeable way and was disposable (killed by Jaquen at Arya’s request). The show’s solution to casting this largely unnecessary character that gets a disproportionate amount of screen time was to have Tywin join his forces at Harrenhal, so that Arya could become his cupbearer. Although Tywin never discovers Arya’s true identity, the interaction between the two characters and the resulting tension made for a much better on-screen story than any incarnation of Weese would have.
Lady Stoneheart is much like Weese: she doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to facilitate the decisions of more important characters. As such, she can be replaced by people that viewers have invested more heavily in. The show-runners have utilized this technique many times, usually successfully in my opinion. These types of replacements tend to raise the stakes and create rationally driven yet more meaningful conflict. Whereas Weese vs. Arya creates almost no cognitive dissonance for the reader, the Tywin vs. Arya scenario is more successful in challenging our perceptions of characters and our loyalties to them. Tywin still takes the role of the antagonist, but he is much more compelling and nuanced.
I mentioned at the beginning of this that despite her relative unimportance, Lady Stoneheart is a cool concept. That is the one thing the character has going for her. However part of the case I’m making is that her exclusion is a tough decision and leaving her out, albeit disappointing to book readers, is a much better call for the narrative of the show.
Another factor that affects the consolidation of Lady Stoneheart is where we are chronologically in the series. Generally it is better to introduce important characters earlier than later in the series.
To use a slightly exaggerated circumstance to illustrate: if a major player is introduced in the final season of Game of Thrones and affects events in some major way, we might think to ourselves that the show has cheated us. A character we have not heard of and have no emotional investment in is making major decisions and impacting the world in ways that should be reserved for major characters we are invested in. Often as a result, the characters we are invested in get less screen time. Lady Stoneheart is a special case in that she looks like a character we were invested in, but in reality is not the Catelyn we know.
Given D.B. Weiss and David Benioff’s track record of adapting incredibly dense fantasy story lines and making successful “consolidation” changes (such as with Tywin and Arya), I do not doubt that they will be able to set up Brienne’s character development in ways which preserve the important parallels to Jaime’s past while not relying on the crutch of a character that seems important but actually isn’t. It doesn’t make sense to go to the effort to reintroducing a major character we’re invested in, only to reveal that she is destined for a Weese-like role.
The last part of the argument for Lady Stoneheart’s exclusion from Game of Thrones revolves around a lot of theory and speculation, albeit theory that has a lot of support in the form of textual evidence. As you probably guessed, I am referring to the R+L=J theory. For my purposes here, I’m assuming its true and will leave R+L=J discussion for another time. So, assuming it is indeed true, Jon becomes a very important person in the future of the series. As such, it makes sense that Jon will be revived via R’hllor via Melisandre after his implied death at the end of A Dance with Dragons. As a result of his death, he would be relieved from his oath as a Night’s Watch member. Jon’s death is essential because it frees him up to do whatever important things he needs to do as the series comes to a close. In show canon, resurrections have been established from the Beric Dondarrion episodes.
Adding Lady Stoneheart would be overkill. If Stoneheart were to be included, Jon’s resurrection would lack the shock or surprise that surely would accompany viewers’ initial reaction to the resurrection of a beloved character, Catelyn Tully. Because I contend that Jon is ultimately more important that Lady Stoneheart, I argue that we save that most impact for Jon, rather than watering down the moment with resurrections up with wazoo for characters that ultimately don’t matter.
Because of her relative lack of importance, the effective ways in which Brienne’s development can be progressed without her, and the preservation of the sheer impact of resurrections, I say Lady Stoneheart is better left out of Game of Thrones. By all means, take this with a grain of salt. I cannot and do not claim to know with utter certainty what Lady Stoneheart’s role will be in the future novels; the show-runners probably can. I cannot confirm the assumption of R+L=J. Given faith in the one theory many fans take as fact and some well-placed insight about the show narrative, as well as observations made about the released novels, it makes sense to exclude Lady Stoneheart. Let Catelyn rest in peace.