This article contains spoilers for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series.
For readers of George R.R. Martin’s book series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” it was the gasping disappointment heard around the internet. During the Game of Thrones Season 4 finale, Arya Stark makes the fateful decision to leave Westeros behind and pursue a potential new life in Braavos, and Ramin Djawadi’s music swelled as her ship disappeared into the great horizon. Then… credits. To those who never read the book it was bittersweet poignancy; for book readers though, the immediate question is where is Lady Stoneheart?!
The grim moniker, which was given to Catelyn Stark’s reanimated corpse, first appeared in print during the infamous epilogue of A Storm of Swords—the book that served as the primary basis for the third and fourth seasons of HBO’s television series. A woman who was only a shade of the former Lady of Winterfell, Lady Stoneheart had risen from the dead thanks to the blood magic of the Brotherhood Without Banners (Ser Beric Dondarrion died much earlier to bring her back). Yet several days after her body had been thrown to the river as a desecrating jape, and after her throat was slit ear to ear by one of Lord Walder Frey’s bannermen, the mutilated, frail, and silenced body that stood in Catelyn Stark’s place lived again… even if she barely resembled her old self.
Reintroduced as the leader of the Brotherhood, who were now delighting in the lynching of Frey men, Lady Stoneheart had a hell of an entrance that felt sure to build to something… even if we’re still not sure what. Despite several books having been published since A Storm of Swords, Stoneheart has reappeared sparingly, most recently by nearly hanging Brienne of Tarth for suspected treachery with the Kingslayer. After Brienne renewed her oath to the woman that was Lady Catelyn, Brienne was then seen apparently luring Jaime Lannister to Lady Stoneheart. However, this cliffhanger to their storylines from A Dance with Dragons will not be answered until the publication of The Winds of Winter. Indeed, the show Game of Thrones excised this subplot entirely. And now we have some explicit explanation as to why from showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
Speaking with James Hibberd in his book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, the pair are quoted in excerpts on EW as to why Stoneheart was left strictly as a character in the books.
“There was never really much debate about [including Lady Stoneheart],” Benioff said. “There is that one great scene.”
Weiss added, “That was the only debate. The scene where she first shows up is one of the best ‘holy s—’ moments in the books. I think that scene is where the public response came from. But then…”
Hibberd goes on to expand on the showrunners’ logic by citing three primary reasons for cutting Stoneheart. The best of these is they wanted to preserve as much of the surprise as possible for Jon Snow’s resurrection in season 6.
“We knew we had Jon Snow’s resurrection coming up,” Benioff said. “Too many resurrections start to diminish the impact of characters dying. We wanted to keep our powder dry for that.” This is more than fair considering almost every reader of A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in Martin’s series, assumed Jon Snow would be resurrected in the same way Catelyn Stark was. Indeed, many speculative pieces (including some here) pointed to that event in the books when reassuring TV fans that Jon Snow wasn’t dead-dead after the season 5 finale.
Another major reason for the removal of Catelyn Stark is the showrunners wanted to preserve the power of the Red Wedding, which will likely go down as one of the greatest moments in television history. And the strength of that scene was in no small part due to Michelle Fairley’s performance as Catelyn Stark, a mother realizing she and her son are about to be slaughtered before any ally does.
“Catelyn’s last moment was so fantastic, and Michelle is such a great actress, to bring her back as a zombie who doesn’t speak felt like diminishing returns,” Benioff said.
But the vaguest explanation is one we’re not fully privy to: the showrunners knew they were diverting from Martin’s unpublished texts, and they didn’t think they would need Lady Stoneheart in the “endgame” of seasons 7 and 8…
“Part of the reason we didn’t want to put it in had to do with things coming up in George’s books that we don’t want to spoil [by discussing them],” Benioff said.
These revelations are just a morsel intended to build anticipation for Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon. However, I suspect it also whets appetites for fans desperate to learn what Martin is up to when The Winds of Winter is published. Someday.