Note: This contains spoilers from Sunday’s Game of Thrones finale AND a spoiler about a storyline in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels which could conceivably still be appear on the show
Sorry George R.R. Martin super-fans, but Catelyn Stark is still dead on Game of Thrones.
Fans were positive that Lady Stoneheart — the vengeful zombified resurrection of murdered Red Wedding casualty Catelyn Stark — would make an appearance in the season 4 closer “The Children” (that’s some cool fan art above, not from the show). In the books, she first appears in the epilogue of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords — which is roughly where the fourth season of Thrones concludes for several characters. And then there was that suspect image that Lena Headey put on Instagram — a heart made of stones! Surely that’s confirmation Lady Stoneheart is coming, right? In our finale preview, the most up-voted comment read: “You’d need a heart of stone not to be excited for what might happen in this finale!” Even EW.com’s own Thrones Book Club closed with last week’s prediction that “Lady Stoneheart’s grand entrance … is going to make the Unsullied go absolutely bonkers.”
So much of the Thrones post-finale chatter among book-readers is bound to be dominated by something that did not happen instead of what did happen. Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss had a different plan for the closer: Instead of revealing resurrected Catelyn, who Brienne later meets after fighting a man masquerading as The Hound, Brienne found Arya and fought the real Hound. Which doesn’t mean that LS might not show up in season 5 or beyond. But allow me to make a case both for tonight’s finale absence and against a future appearance: No Lady Stoneheart is a good thing for Thrones.
First, a confession: A Storm of Swords was the most fun I ever had reading a novel. ASOS was a brilliant page-turning blast of one climactic encounter and twist after another. Then I hit that epilogue and winced. Can we agree to disagree? Nobody who writes 4,000 pages of a massively complex fantasy epic will make the absolute best narrative decision at every turn, it’s impossible. And obviously many, if not most, fans don’t consider LS a misstep, but an awesome vengeful twist, some soothing balm for the book’s most heartbreaking chapter. But missteps, and certainly differences of opinion about the narrative choices, are inevitable — we can at least agree on that, right? We’re going to discuss this subject in tomorrow’s Thrones Book Club post along with a bunch of other finale topics, but since book readers are going to be hugely reacting to this, let me kick-start the chatter with my own rather unpopular take:
The balance between reality and fantasy is always delicate and tricky in ASOIAF. Lady Stoneheart represented the fantasy element running roughshod over the medieval realism side of the Westeros-set story. First, her rescue seemed too convenient — her body just happens to be found via Arya’s absent direwolf and resurrected by Lord Beric by magic? Second, her return undermined the impact of Martin’s most powerful scene, The Red Wedding, by “taking back” her death to some degree. Third, LS then presides over a “trial” of Brienne and finds her guilty — which seemed horribly unfair, with the final LS chapter condemning Brienne; the wrong person punished because Catelyn is now a murderous zombie who doesn’t much discriminate about who she kills. It’s all kind of a bummer, and then … that’s it! The LS story thread doesn’t continue after that chapter in book 4, though it’s not clear if Martin has discarded it or if there is more to come (presumably the showrunners know more about the future importance of LS in the books than we do). So removing LS from HBO’s version gives the story of Catelyn Stark a stronger — albeit more tragic — ending. I want to remember Catelyn for who she was, not as some twisted Monkey’s Paw version. And the changes have arguably already improved the story of Brienne, who as portrayed wonderfully by Gwendoline Christie, deserves a more interesting and satisfying fate.
As said, we’ll take on this subject in more detail in the Thrones Book Club post on Monday afternoon, where Hillary Busis, Darren Franich, and I will join forces to form a giant robot of Thrones analysis and discuss LS and other changes from the books. Meanwhile, for much more on “The Children,” check out the rest of our coverage:
UPDATE: Lot of concern below from book readers saying the image above is a spoiler. Regular followers of my coverage know I’m crazy religious about trying to protect non-book readers from spoilers and often police the comments playing whack-a-troll. While the point of the post is that this is a storyline that was left out of the show, I understand many still think/hope it will be eventually included. At any rate, the image was removed from the EW.com homepage within a couple hours of going live — you need to click on the headline clearly labeled “book spoiler” on EW.com or our social feeds to see this post.
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