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'Mother's Mercy': an obsessive, desperate, totally possible theory about Game of Thrones

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The ultimate book reader’s guide to the season finale of a television show

There is almost no limit to the imaginative theorizing that a person can bring to Game of Thrones. Its source material is an unfinished book series with over 2,000 named characters, twice as many words as the Bible, and hundreds of years of detailed, fictional political history. Because there's so much time in between seasons (months!) and between books (years!), it's almost like author George R.R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have set up a massive murder mystery dinner party and invited us all to hang out there for decades, analyzing each crumb as if it could be the key to the one real truth.

A year ago, before I had read even a single volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, I merely observed the internet's post-finale hysterics. Now that I'm part of this non-exclusive club of obsessives, the crumb I'm fixated on is one major piece of GoT lore so far passed over in the TV series — a piece that, against all odds, I think will be a major part of this week's finale.

WARNING: This post contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for HBO's Game of Thrones, as well as George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. You should probably only read it if you're already caught up with both of those things in their entirety.

Okay, so let's talk about Lady Stoneheart.

Lady Stoneheart is the undead, mostly silent, vengeful reanimation of Catelyn Stark, who appeared in the epilogue of ASOIAF's third book, A Storm of Swords, and immediately started on a mission to eradicate the Freys and Boltons. More dramatically, she gives Brienne of Tarth this classic choice: your life or Jaime Lannister's. She was notably omitted from both the third and fourth seasons of Game of Thrones. Chronology-wise, she could have been the finale twist for either season, given the way timelines have been condensed and stretched for the show.

Here's my theory / gut feeling: Lady Stoneheart is coming to television, and she's coming in this week's Game of Thrones finale. This theory takes serious effort to defend. Most attempts sound like grasping at straws, but I want to go there. As a viewer who watched the first four seasons of Game of Thrones before reading A Song of Ice and Fire, who didn't feel any of the crushing disappointment of watching season three and four finales come and go, I still have some fight left in me.

catelyn stark

"GOOD" EVIDENCE:

There is, believe it or not, some evidence that Lady Stoneheart needs to or at least could reasonably appear in the upcoming season finale.

Where in the world are the Freys? Oh, still hanging out all over the Riverlands you say? Okay, cool.

The Red Wedding is an extremely vivid memory (and loose end) for show watchers and book readers alike, and its impact is still rippling through nearly every story line of both the show and the books — it's hard to imagine that the show won't revisit the family who orchestrated it. I find it especially hard to believe that Benioff and Weiss would pass up the opportunity to serve up a batch of Frey pies, given that they generally go grisly whenever they can. There's a question of what existing plot could reasonably get us there (assuming there's no upcoming Frey family portrait series akin to what the Boltons received this season), and Lady Stoneheart could answer it. Of course Walder Frey is on Arya's kill list, but while Arya finding Meryn Trant again seemed unlikely, the notion of Arya stumbling across Walder Frey is patently ridiculous. More ridiculous than a zombie stumbling across him? Who's to say? Zombi-er things have happened!

freys

Next year in the Riverlands

Scouring a list of season six casting calls strongly implies that we'll be seeing the Riverlands next year. That's not a sound promise of which Riverlands-based stories will be included, as there are several — Jaime Lannister's confrontation with the remaining Tullys, Brienne of Tarth's casual strolls through the wreckage of the war, Sam's trek to Oldtown (possibly via the Riverlands), and of course, the Brotherhood without Banners, led by the undead Catelyn Stark, going about exacting systematic retribution for the Red Wedding (where Catelyn and her son Robb Stark were betrayed and murdered along with most of Robb's army).

Lady Stoneheart could actually be pretty key to bringing the Riverlands into the show. She could easily reroute Brienne on a hunt for Jaime, which would lead in that direction, and Jaime will definitely be high-tailing it out of King's Landing for "they just started punishing incest" reasons. From a narrative-crafting standpoint, neither one of them has any logical plot trajectory that's been set in motion for season six yet, and an LSH meeting would bear incredible thematic weight for both.

Lady Stoneheart could be key to bringing the Riverlands into the show

Chekhov's resurrection

There are some counterpoints to what I've just said: Jaime could skirt out of an LSH meeting via a yet-unseen confrontation with the Blackfish, Sam might give us our only insight into the Riverlands on his way to his dad's house to get an invaluable Valyrian steel sword (for White Walker slaying!), and it's even possible that someone else will be throwing down Freys in the Riverlands with the help of some knights of the Vale.

But there's one unfinished Riverlands plot that requires Lady Stoneheart and only Lady Stoneheart.

Benioff and Weiss, whatever else you might think about them, are planners. They have to be — as we've noted, the smallest choice can have huge plot ramifications. They introduce plots for a reason, and the same casting calls that confirm the Riverlands also provide strong evidence that the Greyjoys will come back into play next year, despite the fact that we haven't seen any of them (besides Theon) since the middle of season four. They definitely weren't going to introduce the entire Brotherhood without Banners (including the thrice-resurrected Beric Dondarrion and his resurrector, Thoros of Myr) just to give Arya something to look at for an episode, right? This scene serves no narrative purpose whatsoever aside from introducing a type of resurrection that is not what wights experience (and to pull at our heart strings).

If a gun isn't going to go off an important resurrection isn't going to happen don't hang it on the wall then don't make me watch an unimportant one. If a Beric Dondarrion is going to exist, let him give Lady Stoneheart the kiss of life, for that is what he does.

DECENT EVIDENCE:

Episode titles are episode titles

A fair share of last season's Lady Stoneheart hype stemmed from what turned out to be a misinterpretation of the finale's title, "The Children." Although LSH believers took it as a reference to Catelyn Stark's dying thought bubble, it ended up being a reference to Dany's dragons, the Children of the Forest who rescued Bran, and Tyrion offing his dad.

Beric Dondarrion serves no narrative purpose whatsoever aside from introducing resurrection

The title for this season's finale, "Mother's Mercy," was released about two weeks ago to widespread speculation and renewed hope. The hope stemmed from the fact that Lady Stoneheart has listed aliases in the appendix of A Feast for Crows, and one of them is Mother Mercy. But again, the title could mean one of several things — there are plenty of mothers in Westeros, after all. This title could just as easily refer to Cersei's walk of shame, anything to do with "mhysa" Daenerys, or even Arya, who takes the face of a girl named Mercy in one of her upcoming Winds of Winter chapters.

All this to say that the episode titles are actually kind of a lame place to look for evidence. Thank the gods we have so many other places!

"Hooded Woman"

For a brief few days in February 2015, Michelle Fairley's acting credits on IMDB included this:

michelle fairley

It could be a huge troll from Benioff and Weiss. It could be a rabble-rousing IMDB user playing tricks. Or it could beexactly what we think it is.

And then there's this shot from the finale's teaser, posted to the ASOIAF subreddit by GnarlyNerd:

moat cailin

Obviously the phrase "appears to be wearing a dress" is pretty liberal here — I'm not even sure I'm convinced that the "mysterious figure" is a human being. One Reddit commenter added, "Could be a tree stump in a dress!" and they're not wrong. But we could also wonder what person or tree stump would be included in a 35-second trailer, staring dramatically off at Moat Cailin, considering none of the existing characters in this season are anywhere near it. Lady Stoneheart very well could be the figure (hunting Boltons and Freys), and the distance between Moat Cailin and the Southern outskirts of Winterfell (where Brienne is) is hardly the farthest distance that a character has crossed in a single episode.

SOME GUESSWORK:

"Lady Stoneheart does have a role in the books. Whether it's sufficient or interesting enough... I think it is, or I wouldn't have put her in."

The books have yet to reveal Lady Stoneheart's effect on the story at large, but Martin says she has one, and that he wishes she was in the show. This comment is in stark contrast with his general attitude toward the adaptation, which has been laissez-faire and non-diva. He has been adamant throughout the show's production that neither story — the books' or the show's — is the "real" story:

I've said a couple of times in posts, the riddle "how many children does Scarlett O'Hara have?" Scarlett O'Hara has three children in Margaret Mitchell's novel. Scarlett O'Hara has one child in the classic movie Gone With the Wind. How many children does Scarlett O'Hara have? What's the true story? Of course the true story is Scarlett O'Hara has no children because she never existed. She's a fictional character and there are two wonderful, classic ways of telling the story. The show is the show and the book is the book.

When you play the game of tinfoil, you win or you die

This is where my gut comes in. My gut says that it would be a classic Game of Thrones maneuver to spend an entire season showing us Brienne lying in wait outside of Winterfell, letting us hinge our hopes of Sansa Stark's rescue on her, only to have her be stopped by "Catelyn Stark" herself. The irony in this folds in on itself endlessly.

brienne

The thematic backbone of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is power: how people get it, why one might deserve it, and who determines if they should keep it. Ned Stark dies for putting honor above his family's safety, and his family is demolished for being too trusting and more than a little reckless with their power. But ultimately the books have started to reveal the edges of a large Northern conspiracy to reinstate the Starks, who are presented as rare examples of Westerosi leaders who take their responsibilities very seriously. Yes, of course Benioff and Weiss are willing to depart from a script they haven't even seen, but it has always been their goal to adapt the overarching story and its message with fidelity.

On Game of Thrones, asking that the dead walk is not a huge request

If anything, the showrunners have operated on an even more explicit and less elegant level of poetic justice than Martin. Consider: Jorah the infamous Targaryen-betrayer about to be struck down by a blight out of Old Valyria (the irony!), the somewhat despicable decision to make Theon interact directly with the desolation he brought to the Starks, and the relish with which the episode "A Golden Crown" was choreographed. Bringing Catelyn back as a zombie lets her discover that her children are still alive but doesn't allow her to resume her life with them. On Game of Thrones, asking that the dead walk is not a huge request, and a cathartic viewer experience of LSH cutting down a bunch of Freys / Boltons and unleashing the fury of the North seems due. This can't go on forever, and eventually the utter depravity will have to come to some kind of conclusion that we can all process emotionally and maybe gain something from.