Crosstalk: Should Game of Thrones have included Lady Stoneheart?

Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark in Season 1, Episode 4. Helen Sloan/HBO
Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark in Season 1, Episode 4. Helen Sloan/HBO /

Caution: This post contains SPOILERS for A Song of Ice and Fire

Catelyn Stark is a character from Game of Thrones. She was mother to some of our favorite characters — including Arya, Bran, and Sansa Stark — and a powerful presence in her own right. She died at the Red Wedding along with her first-born son Robb, a victim of Walder Frey’s anger and pettiness.

On the show, she’s stayed dead. Things are different in the books. In the Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Freys toss Catelyn’s body in the river, where it floats downstream until it’s found by Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners. Beric, having been brought back from the dead several times himself, leans over the body and breaths life back into it. Beric dies for the last time, but Catelyn rises again as Lady Stoneheart, becomes the new leader of the Brotherhood, and sets herself to killing every Frey she can find.

Fans waited for years to see the Lady Stoneheart on Game of Thrones, but it never happened, and now it looks like the opportunity is past. Our question for today is: Was this the right move? Should HBO have brought Lady Stoneheart to the scene?

DAN: My name is Dan, and I will be arguing for the “No” side. Please don’t hurt me.

I’ll be honest: the second I read about Lady Stoneheart at the end of A Storm of Swords, I thought she was a bad idea. Some fans think the producers cut the character for time, and that’s probably true. But even if they had the time, I still didn’t want Stoneheart to show up on TV, so when seasons 3 and 4 passed without any sign of her, I breathed a sigh of relief.

I have a couple of problems with her. First, I think having too many magical characters or creatures in the story cheapens it. Part of the appeal of A Song of Ice and Fire — for me and I imagine many others — is that it’s firmly grounded in reality. Yes, there are dragons and ice zombies, but they’re the exception. Most of the time, this is a story about politics and war and relationships, with some supernatural elements at the margins. And because the story is so fastidious about the real-life details, we can more easily accept the fantastical ones, which come at a faster clip as the tale goes on.

Generally speaking, I think Martin ramps up the fantasy elements very well (in addition to the dragons and the White Walkers, we also have Melisandre’s powers and Beric Dondarrion’s dead-alive status), but there’s a point where it goes from being a war story with fantasy elements to the other way around. For me, Stoneheart represented the step too far.

It might be different if Stoneheart was a huge part of the plot in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, but she barely shows up. If an author is going to bring back an important character from the dead, I think they should have to earn it by thoroughly exploring the aftermath. So far, Martin has merely touched on it. Better to save that narrative capital for when Jon Snow is inevitably resurrected in The Winds of Winter.

But that’s just my take. David, I know you disagree. Do enlighten us…

"[MAIN SPOILERS] Lady Stoneheart by Dalisa Art from gameofthrones"

RAZOR: Hello, my name is Razor, and I’ll be arguing that Lady Stoneheart should have been included on Game of Thrones. I’ll accept your accolades and baked goods later.

Dan: “So it is down to you, and it is down to me. If you wish her to never be included in the show, by all means, keep moving forward.”

Razor: “Let me explain…”

Dan: “There’s nothing to explain, Razor. You’re trying to include a character that has rightfully been excluded.”

Razor: “Perhaps an arrangement can be reached?”

Dan: “There will be no arrangement, and you’re not winning your argument.”

Razor: “Well if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.”

Dan: “I’m afraid so. I can’t compete with your Lady Stoneheart knowledge, and you’re no match for my Game of Thrones brains.”

Razor: “You’re that smart?”

Dan: “Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Varys?”

Razor: “Yes.”

Dan: “Morons.”

Razor: “Really. [pause] In that case, I challenge you to a battle of wits.”

Dan: “For Lady Stoneheart? < Razor nods > To the death? < Razor nods > I accept.”

Razor: “Good. Then pour the wine.”

Well, since the most famous blunder of all is to never get involved in a land war in Asia, I guess we two mental titans will have to settle for a good old fashion Lady Stoneheart debate.

Listen, you zombie racist, Lady Stoneheart should have been in the show since the end of season 4, and if you cannot realize her importance to the overall story, then clearly you should drink the wine in front of you.

By the way, I put Iocane powder in the wine. Good luck.

DAN: Ooooh…kaaaaaaay…

Um…why don’t you tell me what role you think Lady Stoneheart has in the story? What do you think of the point I made about too many magical elements cheapening the realism?

Sorry. I’m kind of thrown here.

RAZOR: In a show that features three dragons and a 400-something-year-old woman removing her necklace and turning into Miracle Max from The Princess Bride before magically resurrecting Jon Snow so he can fight a group of ice zombies led by a king who can raise the dead at will…and you’re worried one undead, vengeful character will cheapen the “realism?” What show have you been watching?

Look, there was room for Lady Stoneheart in season 5, and you know it. The production crew could have added Michelle Fairly back into the show with a little makeup and some CGI, but no, we had to follow the boring adventures of baby Wolverine (Arya) as she learned how to murder people in Braavos. And hey, the play she watched in season 6 was fun, but what about that time being used to show Lady Stoneheart leading the Brotherhood Without Banners, hanging the assholes who killed Brother Ray?

Go on, I await your response.

DAN: Regarding the magic stuff, I don’t have a problem with Stoneheart purely because she’s a magical creature. If I was put off by stories that involved magic, I wouldn’t be a fan of Game of Thrones. My problem is that there’s not enough narrative justification for her magical existence.

As I said above, A Song of Ice and Fire is a story that’s very firmly grounded in reality, and that includes the fantastical bits. Martin is famous for the amount of thought he puts into his plot mechanics, from the slow, death-by-inches buildup to the Red Wedding to the way a variety of story threads converge on Meereen in A Dance with Dragons. All that detail allows us to buy into this story, to accept it as real. It’s part of the reason he takes so damn long to write.

And when Martin introduces fantasy elements, like dragons, he folds them into the narrative in a way that makes it easy to accept them, as well. Obviously, dragons aren’t real, but they’re a hugely important part of this realistically crafted story, so we buy into their existence for the purposes of the tale Martin is telling. The White Walkers are vitally important to the story, too, even if they’ve mostly been lurking on the edges thus far. It’s clear Martin is building to a clash with them, and because he’s been so careful with everything else, we assume he’ll be careful when the White Walkers finally step into the spotlight.

Stoneheart, at least so far, has not been a vital part of the story. In A Song of Ice and Fire, she’s appeared only twice, and in the interim has busied herself hanging minor characters, most of whose names we’ll never know. Compare that to the inevitable resurrection of Jon Snow. When Martin brings Jon back in The Winds of Winter, it will be because he has to — if Game of Thrones seasons 6 is any indication, Jon has a vital role to play.

Resurrecting a character is a big deal. It happens in comics all the time, to the point where fans complain that the excess of resurrections removes any tension from the narrative. If you’re writing a story where resurrection is possible, the way you get around this problem is to A) Keep resurrections to a minimum, and B) if you do have them, earn them by thoroughly exploring their aftermath and working them into the narrative in a meaningful way. I have every hope Martin will do that when Jon is brought back to life.

As of right now, I don’t think Martin has earned Catelyn’s resurrection. Maybe he will. Maybe Stoneheart will end up being the axel on which the story turns, but I doubt it. Stoneheart is a badass, and hanging Freys is cool. Neither of those things is reason enough to resurrect a character. It’s too big a step.

As to your point about there being room for Stoneheart in season 5…sure, why not. Lord knows the writers could have pitched the Dorne plot and did something else. But we’re not arguing about whether she could be included. Of course she could — they can include anything they want. We’re arguing about whether she should be included, and I feel pretty strongly that Catelyn is better off dead. Normal dead. Not living corpse dead.

Anyway, what do you think Stoneheart’s role is in the story to begin with? Do you think Martin has done enough with her to justify her being there?

RAZOR: Of course George R.R. Martin, hallowed be his name, has done enough with the character in the books. Lady Stoneheart literally holds the lives of Brienne and Pod in her hands…well, in her noose, but that’s beside the point. Lady Stoneheart is why we care about the Riverlands in the books, and I would argue that her exclusion from the show is why we don’t give two wet sh*ts about it in the show.

Just imagine if Arya, traveling through the Riverlands on her way to Winterfell, hears a woman pleading for her life. Following the noise, she comes to a clearing where Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood Without Banners (the Hound included) are preparing to hang Pod and Brienne. Arya recognizes Brienne from that one time she tried to save her from the Hound. Not knowing why the Hound is helping some weird lady hang the Maid of Tarth, Arya sneaks in and puts a dagger to Lady Stoneheart’s throat.

Several “AHA!” scenes later, and Arya realizes the rage zombie in front of her is her undead mother, and she agrees to help her avenge the Stark name…also releasing Brienne and Pod to scurry back to Winterfell. Of course, there is still room in the show for Our Lady of the Stone Heart, it’s just that somewhere, in a remote HBO office, some idiot decided that “Bad Poosey” was a better inclusion that Lady Stoneheart holding the crown of her dead son, Robb.

Added bonus: What if Lady Stoneheart’s been holding onto Robb Stark’s crown and will only give it to Jon Snow as the new King in the North, on account of all her sins against him while she was living?

DAN: First of all, I disagree that Lady Stoneheart is “why we care about the Riverlands” in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Actually, I think there are a lot of fans who had little patience for the Riverlands sections in those books, as they mostly involve Brienne and Pod wandering the countryside on a failed quest to find Sansa Stark. That’s not to say they’re not well-written or have no redeeming value, but they don’t advance the plot overmuch. I think that’s exactly why some readers don’t care about those chapters.

Stoneheart is a part of these sections, but has only shown up twice, so I have a hard time believing people are pinning their investment on a character who has yet to have much effect on the story. Yes, we care about Brienne and Pod, but this series has literally hundreds of characters worth caring about. If Stoneheart wants to lay claim on being a mover and shaker it this narrative, she’s going to have to expand her scope.

And that’s my point. Authors expend a lot of narrative capital when they bring a character back from the dead. It asks a lot of an audience to accept that a character they loved, and to whom they said goodbye, is back. You can pull it off — I suspect Martin will do it when Jon Snow is resurrected — but only if you commit fully to their story. At this point, Stoneheart’s story has been ornamental at best, and the show is already too jam-packed with incident for more of that.

Plus, I think there’s something particularly galling about an excess of resurrections on a show that’s gained fame for killing important characters and having them stay dead. A Song of Ice and Fire built its reputation on killing off major characters like Ned and Robb Stark, and if the show can be believed, Stannis and Margaery are on the chopping block as well. This story can get away with one resurrection, maybe two, but Stoneheart simply hasn’t proved important enough to justify making it a trifecta.

I also disagree that we “don’t give two wet sh*ts” about the Riverlands on the show. We may not have visited the area for a couple of years, but when the show committed to going back in season 6, it made it work. I thought Jaime’s heart-to-heart with Edmure Tully was one of the better one-on-ones of that season.

As for your playlet with Arya…look, we could talk for a while about how many problems I have with that, but the bottom line is I don’t think it’s relevant. Like I said above, yes, of course the show could have included Lady Stoneheart. But what about her demands that they should? Besides, if we’re just making up scenarios, we could easily think of one where the writers mess up Stoneheart’s plot instead of rocking it.

What do you think about the idea of too many resurrections spoiling a story where death is supposed to be a permanent thing? What does Lady Stoneheart’s resurrection specifically bring to the table?

RAZOR: “Too many resurrections spoiling a story.” Well, let’s see. First, we have Beric Dondarrion being resurrected many times (off-screen of course), and then we have Jon Snow’s return to the world of the living. Then, let us not forget, the Night King raises the dead all the time to fight in his UN-dead army. Ressurection on the show, is just not an issue, as it happens all the freaking time. Raising Lady Stoneheart from the dead so she can go kill a bunch of Lannisters and Freys who wronged her family, would just add an extra awesomeness to the show.

However, I will give you this point: Arya seems to be fulfilling Lady Stoneheart’s role from the books, in the show. Killing Freys is something we’ve all been waiting for since the Red Wedding, and, when Sansa fed Ramsay to his own dogs, that was a delicious dish served cold. And so, while I will never give up hope that Lady Stoneheart will make an appearance on the show, I do concede that her story has largely been given to her daughters.