From page to screen—Why did Game of Thrones cut Lady Stoneheart?

It’s well-known that HBO’s Game of Thrones deviates greatly from its source material, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Sometimes the differences are relatively small. For example, in the books, Jaime Lannister goes to Riverrun before his sister’s Walk of Shame, while on the show he goes after. At other times, entire plotlines from the books are dropped. Easily the best-known of these is the story of Lady Stoneheart.

In the show, Catelyn Stark’s story ends abruptly at the Red Wedding, and her body tossed in the river. In the books, she is dragged from the waters by Nymeria, the direwolf. The wolf flees as she hears the approach of humans. They turn out to be the Brotherhood Without Banners, led by Berric Dondarrion, who came back to life in front of Arya Stark who, on the show, goes north of the Wall with Jon Snow.

Beric doesn’t get that far on paper. He resurrects Catelyn, but at the cost of his own life. Catelyn, now disfigured and almost zombie-like, is consumed by vengeance towards everyone she feels has wronged her family, most immediately the Freys. She becomes the leader of the Brotherhood, takes on the name Lady Stoneheart, and sets out on her mission. The last we see in her the books, she is about to execute Brienne of Tarth on the assumption that she’s allied herself with the Lannisters.

Had Stoneheart made it to the screen, it’s easy to imagine the procession of “Hell Yeah” moments borne out of watching an actress of Michelle Fairley’s caliber take down characters who had caused our beloved Starks so much misery. So why didn’t Lady Stoneheart make the cut?

About this change, George R.R. Martin has said that he was always in favor of the show sticking closer to the books in terms of the plot, and that the exclusion of Lady Stoneheart was the first major diversion. Alex Graves, the director of the season 4 finale, has stated that bringing back Fairley for a “cameo” as a zombie on a killing spree made no sense to him.

In any case, Stoneheart isn’t showing up, despite many theories and false starts over the years. Omitting her precluded some interesting dramatic possibilities. For example, how would Stoneheart have reacted when and if she learned that Jon Snow, whom Catelyn Stark had always resented, was not actually Ned Stark’s bastard but rather his nephew? What would have happened if Stoneheart had reunited with her daughters? Would she even recognize them? That could have made for some intense drama, but we’ll have to content ourselves with reading whatever Martin comes up with for her in his books.

I would have liked to see what Game of Thrones could have done with the character, but it wasn’t all a loss. Stoneheart may not have killed the Freys, but Arya Stark picked up the slack very nicely, and it would be a shame to lose those scenes.

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