Note: There’s an ETA at the bottom of the post now reflecting something I read after I wrote this.
Somewhere between last night and this morning Entertainment Weekly posted James Hibberd’s blog post/article/whatnot called 'Game of Thrones' finale: No Lady Stoneheart! And why that's a good thing (book spoiler). Now, nobody knows that Lady Stoneheart is for sure out of the TV series completely. She might have been slated to appear, hence the suggestive Instagram post from Lena Headey and the other arguably leading hints that have been dropped. I’m not informed enough to guess either way*. But I’m going to respond to Hibberd’s “case both for tonight’s finale absence and against a future appearance: No Lady Stoneheart is a good thing for Thrones" (bolding mine) anyway since what it boils down to is a case against Lady Stoneheart’s appearance in the novels themselves:
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.
Anyone who knows me knows that Lady Stoneheart is not my favorite thing about Catelyn Stark, and that people who think that Stoneheart is the only good thing about Catelyn Stark piss the ever living fuck out of me, so it’s not like Stoneheart is the hill I’m going to die on. But I’m getting a little weary of people just not understanding Catelyn’s arc and the meaning of things within it, and that inevitably extends to Stoneheart.
Less importantly, the idea that Stoneheart of all things is what tips the balance of magic vs realism into the territory of irresponsibly fantastical, in a series with fucking ice zombies and fire-breathing dragons and purple-eyed ethereal beauties and magical ancestral swords that denote the Chosen One is a little difficult to countenance. Come on, Beric Dondarrion already exists (even in the show)? Not even touching how many other plot developments require stretches of believability to exist (well, one: for my money Jon Snow being elected Lord Commander is something that would only ever happen in a fantasy novel, but I would guess that if that was eradicated from the TV show in the name of plausibility people would cry bloody murder on behalf of precious Jon Snow’s storyline, yeah?). And yes, she disappears for the whole fifth book, but the AFFC/ADWD split means that practically everyone disappeared for a whole book at some point.
Much more importantly, Hibberd mischaracterizes Lady Stoneheart’s role when he describes it as “an awesome vengeful twist, some soothing balm for the book’s most heartbreaking chapter”. While it is awesome in the sense of sheer drama and grotesque vibrance, it is not a good thing, and this is made abundantly clear by Thoros’ disillusioned descriptions of what has happened to the Brotherhood Without Banners under Stoneheart’s leadership. Nobody in the books is actually cheering “The north remembers!!!1” behind Lady Stoneheart, the prevalence of that phrase in fandom lately is due only to the show using it (prematurely, relative to the books, but whatever) because they’re afraid of losing viewers if they let them think the northern cause is dead.
Stoneheart, like a number of equally creepy and equally fantastical developments in Bran’s storyline, is a great example of “Be careful what you wish for”. The Red Wedding leaves people despondent and they think all they want is revenge. Martin gives them an element of revenge (Stoneheart) and it goes very wrong. This is exactly why Brienne’s fate is so unjust. Revenge is not about justice! Of course it’s a bummer, it’s supposed to be! It’s easy to cheer indiscriminate revenge when none of the victims are people you care about, but we care ever so much about Brienne, whose goal is so noble, whose character is so pure, whose very arc is tied in so closely to the woman Stoneheart used to be. The bitterly regrettable nature of revenge is exactly what Martin is getting at, and he very intentionally puts it alongside the vivid and extreme horrors that inspire that desire for revenge in the first place, thus creating palpable and truly visceral emotional conflict rather than a detached intellectual exercise. This is all very much by design, you should feel bummed.
What befuddles me most of all is the idea that Catelyn’s arc is more tragic without Stoneheart. Stoneheart is possibly the most tragic thing that could happen to Catelyn. Stoneheart is the denial of closure, it’s the denial of peace, the denial of rest. No human being should have to go through this, no mother should have to lose all her children and then live supernaturally transfixed forever within that moment of grief. That is tragic. Without Stoneheart, Catelyn’s tragedy is more like Ned’s or Robb’s, it’s a martyr’s tragedy, a beautiful, heroic, inspirational tragedy. But with Stoneheart, Catelyn’s arc moves so far above and beyond anything Ned or Robb ever achieved as classically tragic figures. The Catelyn+Stoneheart arc perverts the classical order, for the express purpose of making you uncomfortable, for the express purpose of creating a difference between the Great Men of History like Ned or Robb and a character like Catelyn who is so very much a woman and a mother, for whom the way is harder to know, for whom the classical formula does not include a part. You don’t get to remember Catelyn Stark as an ideal, pure, heroic memory, and that makes her a more revolutionary and truly challenging figure than Ned, Robb, or Lyanna Stark ever were. Stoneheart is not a takeback, Stoneheart is one of the most emotionally complex developments in the entire series.
If the omission (and again, we don’t know if it’s omitted or if it’s just delayed, but Hibberd certainly prefers the former) is an improvement because it removes a major bummer from the story and lets a great performer like Gwen Christie shine, then I wonder why nobody ever argued to let Catelyn Stark, played by a great performer like Michelle Fairley, survive the Red Wedding. I mean, that was a total bummer, right? Or is it just that supposedly “everyone” dislikes Catelyn any way and so when it comes to her arc and hers alone, less is always better? Go read any comments section or any discussion and you will find no shortage of people who crave her to stay dead for real not because it’s kinder or a better tragedy, but because they can’t stand her. HOW SURPRISING.
Whether or not it behooves the HBO show to include all this, and whether or not they even can given how much they fucked up Catelyn’s earlier seasons, is another discussion (one in which I’d happily partake, because though I don’t care about Game of Thrones any more I will always care about Catelyn Stark, if for no other reason than because of all the people who care about everything except Catelyn Stark) but it’s a discussion that should start here, with the analysis of why Stoneheart exists in the source material. Hibberd intends to expound on his position in EW’s Book Club post Monday afternoon; I would hope that his points reflect such an analysis.
* ETA: According to Alex Graves Stoneheart was never intended to be part of the season. I find it ironic that Stoneheart’s violence could be considered extraneous and meaningless given how many scenes of violence HBO decided to add that were not in the books, especially whenever they could combine it with women in sexual situations. I also find it very hard to believe that HBO did not like the Stoneheart speculation and willingly went along with the buzz, much like I find it hard to believe Matt Weiner didn’t intentionally troll Mad Men fans about Megan Calvet/Sharon Tate.
#the point of lady stoneheart #she doesn’t ‘undo the seriousness of death’ #she doesn’t ‘add too much fantasy’ #she’s euridyce #unable to completely return #from the land of the dead #she’s niobe #forever weeping for the beloved children she lost #she’s clytemnestra #forever seeking vengeance for her murdered offspring #lady stoneheart’s a fucking greek tragedy #and she deserves respect