Game Of Thrones fans have been waiting for years for a certain Stark to return from the grave, a member of the family's older generation who was felled relatively early on in the series, leaving the surviving Stark children to fend for themselves. Well, that prayer was finally answered last week… sort of. Leave it to a show as routinely shocking as GoT to finally bring a Stark back from the dead — only not Catelyn, as it happens in George R.R. Martin's books, but rather Uncle Benjen. So what does Benjen's Game Of Thrones return mean for Lady Stoneheart (aka the alias of the resurrected Stark matriarch)?
On the one hand, it's easy to see how Benjen's miraculous return could be construed as good news by those still eagerly awaiting Lady Stoneheart's debut. For one thing, his revival reminds us that Jon's resurrection wasn't a one-off. In fact, we've already seen one other character brought back from the dead — Beric Dondarrion — back in Season 3, but more casual viewers may have forgotten that particular plot point.
It also proves that the show is growing increasingly willing to embrace its more fantastical elements, and that showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss are not afraid to adapt parts of the novels that they skipped earlier on in the adaptation process. (On the page, the mysterious figure "Coldhands" first shows up to help Sam and Gilly on their flight from Craster's Keep to Castle Black in Martin's third book, A Storm Of Swords — the same book in which Lady Stoneheart first makes an appearance.)
After delaying for an entire season, GoT is now finally sending both Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister to the Riverlands, which is the destination where the two characters encounter the vengeful zombie-Cat in the books. Walder Frey just reappeared on the show for the first time since the aftermath of the Red Wedding, and the Brotherhood Without Banners — the guerrilla fighters Lady Stoneheart pals around with — were just name-dropped, too. And if anyone was afraid that three seasons was two long to wait to reintroduce Catelyn Stark, Benjen's return should allay those fears; when he showed up last week, we hadn't seen the character since early on in the first season, an absence of 52 episodes.
Add all of that together, and it's not hard to see why some viewers are more excited than ever about the prospect of Lady Stoneheart finally making her debut. But I would argue that Benjen's return may have actually eliminated the possibility of his sister-in-law's revival. How so? Let me put it this way: How many Starks can Game Of Thrones possibly resurrect in one season?
Game Of Thrones is about a lot of things, from political intrigue rooted in medieval history to high-fantasy elements like dragons and ice zombies; but one element that has always remained consistent throughout six seasons of storytelling is the show's unflinching willingness to kill off beloved characters, starting with noble Ned Stark all the way back in Season 1 and working up through poor Hodor just a couple of weeks ago. Benioff & Weiss need to be careful not to undermine the awful finality that death brings to their series.
So far in Season 6, Jon Snow was resurrected by Melisandre; Bran made a comeback after a season-long hiatus; Rickon reappeared after an absence of 23 episodes; and now Benjen has returned after being presumed dead for five seasons. After watching them slowly get picked off over the years, Game Of Thrones is now positively swimming in Starks. If the show were to introduce Lady Stoneheart, the only family members who would remain really and truly dead would be Ned and Robb; talk about a reversal of epic proportions.
"But that's how it happens in the books!" you might argue. And while it's true that both Coldhands and Lady Stoneheart are introduced within the pages of the same novel, there's one big difference: while Coldhands was quickly revealed to be Uncle Benjen on the show, George R.R. Martin has long been adamant that the mysterious figure in his books is in fact not the long-lost Stark.
In A Storm Of Swords, Leaf tells Bran that the White Walkers "killed him long ago," and it would be hard to make a case that a creature who has been alive for several centuries would refer to a span of two years as "long ago." (Not only that, but Martin himself supposedly left a note in the margin of his manuscript in answer to a question from his editor about whether Coldhands was Benjen: simply the word "NO.")
If it's correct that Benioff & Weiss changed the identity of Coldhands for the show, then their choice to make that character a formerly-dead Stark may have precluded the possibility of any more Stark resurrections. Whether they swapped out one dead Stark for another because of logistical reasons (aka the actors' schedules) or creative reasons remains to be seen. But either way, Benjen's triumphant return to Game Of Thrones may have been the final nail in the coffin for Lady Stoneheart.
Images: HBO (2), Helen Sloan/HBO