This week’s Game of Thrones featured a long-awaited return, with lost Stark family member Benjen (formerly the First Ranger of the Night’s Watch) revealing himself to nephew Bran as a half-undead warrior of the Three-Eyed Raven who had been saved from the White Walkers.
Coming just weeks after the resurrection of Benjen’s other nephew Jon Snow, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Starks are not done away with so easily – and that, along with certain other clues this week, leads us to hope that we could soon see the appearance of a fan-favourite plotline from George RR Martin’s source novels.
Basically, Lady Stoneheart could be coming.
For those not familiar with this book storyline, it revolves around the resurrection of Stark matriarch Catelyn (played by Michelle Fairley in the series), whose murder at the Red Wedding by the Freys is undone by red priest Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) in the same way that he brought back Beric Dondarrian in series three and Melisandre resurrected Jon Snow in season six.
Unfortunately, however, the spell doesn’t go entirely to plan, with the resurrection taking place so far post-mortem that Catelyn’s mind has snapped and her body partially rotted. As a result, she becomes Lady Stoneheart – a near-silent (thanks to her throat wound) and mentally unstable being who decides to avenge herself on everyone who hurt her family, in particular the Freys and Lannister family. To this end, she enlists the Brotherhood Without Banners to her cause, the group wandering the Riverlands and hanging any enemies they meet.
Now, if you’re wondering where you’ve heard about the Brotherhood Without Banners recently it was in this week’s Game of Thrones, brought up more or less out of nowhere in such a way that has suggested to many fans that the group could be making a reappearance.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working with Lady Stoneheart, but a few other scenes this week also appeared to be preparing us for that possibility. For one example, take Bran’s vision at the beginning of the episode, which included shots of the Red Wedding to remind us exactly what kind of bloody deeds Lady Stoneheart would be avenging (more easily seen in this slowed-down version).
Later, the architect of the Red Wedding himself made a reappearance – David Bradley’s Walder Frey was informed of the Brotherhood’s actions by his sons and gave us a helpful reminder that it was he who was to blame for the Stark family’s pain:
“You’ll show him the knife you used to kill Robb Stark’s child in his whore mother’s belly, and YOU show him the knife you used to open his niece’s throat.
“And you’ll remind him who it was that got married at the Red Wedding in the first place – his nephew.”
Thanks for the handy recap, Walder.
Add to that the return this series of Catelyn’s brother Edmure and her uncle Ser Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully (both last seen in season three and now in next week's episode trailer) as a captive and enemy of the Freys respectively, and the coming episodes look like a veritable ‘Red Wedding: where are they now?’ reunion.
All of this serves to remind audiences of what happened back in season three, and prepare them for Cat’s possible return – just like the series teed up Benjen’s homecoming by mentioning him in a pretty major scene at the end of season five (when the Night’s Watch pretended he had returned in order to lure Jon Snow to his death) and showing him in a couple of Bran’s visions this year as a young boy sparring with his brother. Again, all re-acquainting us with the character, without giving away the reveal or ramming it down our throats.
Of course it could be that all these hints of Catelyn are more red herring than red wedding of course, with the show planting false clues to make us all believe this story could be coming. After all, we’ve been down this sneaky road before with series star Lena Headey…
Or it could be that there actually aren't any clues, and we’re reading something into nothing. After all, showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff have previously said they wouldn’t adapt the Lady Stoneheart storyline, and the point at which it occurred in the books has long been and gone in the TV adaptation. Perhaps Catelyn Stark really is dead for good.
And yet, and yet... If this series has taught us anything it’s that Weiss and Benioff are cheery liars who can play their audience, with their denials of Jon Snow’s return convincing many (well, some anyway) that Kit Harington’s hero had gone forever.
Plus, this week's episode showed that they can still pick and choose when they adapt book material – Benjen appears to have been merged with Coldhands, a book character who, like Lady Stoneheart, many fans assumed had been left out of the show because his first appearances in the source novels (rescuing Sam and Gilly north of the Wall and escorting Bran to meet the Three-Eyed Raven) were rewritten without including him.
But then this week he came back, and it’s changed everything. If Weiss and Benioff can convince Joseph Mawle, Tobias Menzies, David Bradley and Clive Russell to return after all these years, who’s to say they couldn’t have persuaded Michelle Fairley to rejoin the team? And if they weren’t planning on bringing her back, why were there so many references to her tragic death (and that of her family) this week after so long of it going largely unmentioned?
For now we’ll just have to wait and see what happens – but if we’re right we might have to change the show’s motto.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die – unless of course you’re a Stark, in which case you just sit out for a round.”
Game of Thrones continues on Sky Atlantic next Monday at 2am and 9:00pm