Warning: Major spoilers follow for the books Game of Thrones is based on — and thus maybe Game of Thrones itself.
When the character didn't make an appearance in the season three finale, it seemed safe to assume she would turn up at the end of season four.
After all, A Storm of Swords, the third book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, was adapted into two seasons of television. It would only make sense for the very last event of that book — Stoneheart's arrival — to be the very last event of season four. Instead, the season ended on Arya heading for Braavos, and fans' hopes were crushed.
A faithful few held out hope in season five, but she didn't appear then, either. And yet now, as season six hurtles toward the end, it’s tossing in so many little hints and tips that she might soon arrive, hints and tips that book fans are finding harder and harder to ignore.
Is it possible that Game of Thrones has reserved one of the few major book plots it hasn’t yet adapted for use in the first season that has very little to do with the books? Join me, won't you, in examining the strange tale of Lady Stoneheart.
Lady Stoneheart is a beloved character returned from the dead
For someone whom fans have spent lots of time speculating about and fretting over, Lady Stoneheart doesn't actually take up that much real estate in the books.
Toward the end of A Storm of Swords, Arya's long-missing direwolf Nymeria drags the body of Catelyn Stark — mother of all those Stark children, played by Michelle Fairley on the show, killed at the Red Wedding by having her throat cut — out of the river. She's been dead three days and is in pretty much the condition you'd expect a three-day-old corpse to be in.
Cat's body is discovered by the Brotherhood Without Banners, the group led by Beric Dondarrion. (He's the first character to be brought back from the dead in both the books and on the show, but a minor enough figure that he seems simply a curiosity.) Moved by her condition, Beric kisses Cat, and she comes back to life, presumably thanks to the Lord of Light. Her wounds don't entirely heal, and she can't speak, but she remembers just how screwed over her family was. Everybody starts calling her Lady Stoneheart, because of course they do.
In A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the series, Lady Stoneheart is more of a whispered presence than an actual character on the page. There are vague rumblings of a mysterious woman in a cloak who now leads the Brotherhood, which is ambushing and executing members of the Frey family in revenge for the Red Wedding.
The one major event in the book that features the character — a cliffhanger that's been open since 2005, mind you! — occurs when she catches up to Brienne and demands that her former sworn knight prove her loyalty by killing Jaime Lannister. When Brienne refuses, Stoneheart gets all set to execute her and poor Podrick. But Brienne shouts a single word that we don’t hear. That shout ends a chapter, and we still haven't found out what it was.
Brienne then turns up alive and well, albeit briefly, in the next book, A Dance With Dragons. She appears to tell Jaime that she found Sansa Stark and that he must come alone to rescue her. And since Brienne hasn't really found Sansa in the books, it seems she's trying to lead Jaime into a Stoneheart-organized trap. The storyline ends there — but later, the King's Landing characters ominously receive word that Jaime went off with Brienne and hasn't been seen for weeks.
What word did Brienne yell? What is Brienne up to? Is Jaime headed to his own execution? Does Lady Stoneheart possess a soul of some sort? We don't know. Martin's fourth and fifth books are mostly divided by geographical locations, so Stoneheart did not appear in A Dance With Dragons (book five).
And book six, rather famously, isn't published yet. It's possible that despite fans’ obsession with the character, Lady Stoneheart is a minor figure who ultimately serves as foreshadowing for resurrections to come.
The case for Lady Stoneheart showing up in season six
For starters, you can make a plausible argument that showruners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss didn't want to overwhelm the TV series with resurrections before Jon Snow came back from the dead. (Remember: In the books, Jon is still presumed dead.)
That would enhance the surprise of his return from the grave, especially since the only two characters to precede him were Beric and the Mountain, both fairly minor figures. Having Lady Stoneheart around any earlier than this might have been seen as a spoiler for Jon's eventual return, right down to the Lord of Light being involved in some form. (In hindsight, it’s not as if Jon's resurrection came as a surprise to anyone, so maybe all of this was unnecessary.)
But season six has also tucked in plenty of little hints here and there that suggest Game of Thrones might be headed in Lady Stoneheart’s direction. Jon's wounds after his resurrection could be best described as "healed-ish," and the Brotherhood Without Banners has turned up for the first time since season three to smite the peaceable followers of Brother Ray (a group that included the previously-possibly-dead Sandor Clegane — I told you there were resurrections everywhere).
But the really big clue is the way the show seems to be maneuvering a bunch of players toward Riverrun, which is in the Riverlands, where Lady Stoneheart wields her terrible powers of vengeance in the books. And the most interest element of this convergence is that Brienne and Jaime are both on their way to Riverrun (which is, let's not forget, Cat's childhood home) on separate missions.
In the books, Stoneheart decides to kill Brienne because she thinks Brienne is now loyal to Jaime, rather than to the resurrected shell of Catelyn Stark. (The truth is that Brienne is searching for Sansa at Jaime's behest, something the show would have to change, since Brienne knows where Sansa is.)
Jaime isn't present in the book — Stoneheart sniffs out Brienne and Jaime's closeness thanks to Brienne's sword — but he’s nearby (at Riverrun) and does seem to be headed into Stoneheart's clutches. Plus, having him present for Stoneheart's first appearance on TV could make for a potentially more dramatic moment.
Finally, there are some thematic clues, like the way this season seems to be about how women are going to extraordinary lengths to get what they want, or the way Arya recently gave a little monologue about how a mother who lost her child might have her heart harden. (She was providing dramaturgical analysis to a theater company, but I choose to read it as foreshadowing.)
There’s also this, which involves a few tweets from an actor that might tease this twist. The stage has never been more primed for Stoneheart's arrival.
But you could also argue it's too late to introduce the character
At this stage of its life, Game of Thrones is winnowing its list of players, rather than expanding it. The show's inept spin on the Dorne subplot turned up in the season six premiere, mostly so it could be wrapped up, and Benioff and Weiss are either writing out or bringing together as many characters as they possibly can.
So while it would be cool to see Lady Stoneheart, having her around would also create a whole additional storyline that needs attention, at a time when Game of Thrones’ days are presumably numbered. If Stoneheart pops up in one of the final three episodes of season six, does anyone really think she'll get her due in the 13 total episodes rumored to be left in the series’ run?
To some degree, this complication also exists in the books. There, it seems as if Martin isn't quite sure how to incorporate Stoneheart into the larger narrative, which may be why she appears so sparingly.
My best guess is that she'll play some vital role in saving one of her children's lives (or perhaps the life of Jon Snow, whom she doesn't much like because she believes he’s her husband's bastard), the quest for vengeance overridden by the quest for sacrifice. It's also possible she'll end up killing one of her own for failing to be "pure" enough, as part of a symbolic story about how vengeance always ends up being all-consuming, which is something the fourth and fifth books are more thematically interested in than the TV show they've inspired.
But, again, that's all book stuff that would be tough to set up on Game of Thrones at this late date. And in interviews throughout the years, essentially every major player involved in these decisions has said there are no plans to bring Lady Stoneheart into the TV show.
Here's director Alex Graves after the season four finale:
But to bring back Michelle Fairley, one of the greatest actresses around, to be a zombie for a little while – and just kill people? It is really sort of, what are we doing with that? How does it play into the whole story in a way that we’re really going to like? It just didn’t end up being a part of what was going to happen this season.
(Later in that interview, he also says he doesn't think the Hound survived. Fuel for your Stoneheart trutherism!)
Here's Fairley herself:
Yeah, the character’s dead. She’s dead. ... I knew the arc, and that was it. They can’t stick to the books 100 percent. It’s impossible — they only have 10 hours per season. They have got to keep it dramatic and exciting, and extraneous stuff along the way gets lost in order to maintain the quality of brilliant show.
Benioff and Weiss also weighed in, though enigmatically.
The point is that all of the public discussion of this particular twist has sided with Lady Stoneheart not being a part of the series, and since it's so late in the game to add such a major twist, it still seems safe to assume it won't happen.
Of course, Game of Thrones’ cast and creators have lied as recently as insisting that Jon Snow was well and truly dead, and if they were able to keep this secret under wraps for several seasons — to trick fans of the books into not seeing it coming — that would be quite the coup.
Plus there has to be a reason the show is adapting seemingly everything from the Lady Stoneheart arc except Lady Stoneheart herself. There just has to.