On the danger of deriving “will” from “ought.”

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 10: Mother’s Mercy. This is my first post after watching the episode. If you haven’t read the books, a lot of names in this post will be unfamiliar. I will provide links as the names appear. A gigantic SPOILER WARNING applies to this post. Just assume I’m going to spoil the living fuck out of everything that’s happened in the books, as well as the show.

Oh, and I wrote most of this post before watching the finale. If it seems awkward and haphazard, my timing explains a lot of that. And it’s late at night, and I just spent the last couple of hours poring over the episode. My thoughts might not be at their most organized right now.

I saw this fan theory several days ago, and I want to talk about it. The idea was that Lady Stoneheart would be appearing in the finale. The evidence put forth for this prediction ranged from wishful thinking to near-outright fabrication. I can understand the wishful thinking part (we’ll do a little learning from my mistakes in this post), but there are times when Google is there to protect you from yourself.

The primary argument for Lady Stoneheart’s appearance in the finale was basically a “should” statement: There are certain things that need to happen, and the way to make those things happen is by introducing LSH. Like so:

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 it’s possible that Benioff and Weiss would bring us back to the Freys and show us some tremendous ass-kicking. I can definitely see the appeal of that. It’s just as possible, though, that we’ll have to wait until Season 6 to revisit the Red Wedding. It’s also possible that someone else will fuck the Freys’ shit up. Or that the Freys will be left to rot as the pariahs of the Riverlands and all those children and grandchildren will have no one to marry them.

Something about a list of casting calls:

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).

I followed the link and read through the list of roles, and…no, I don’t see anything that “strongly implies” a trip through the Riverlands. There are a handful of characters who could be Samwell’s family, including his father, Randyll, who does show up in the Riverlands in A Feast for Crows. But Samwell’s mother and sisters do not show up, as they’re safely at home in the Reach. The brother is probably not Samwell’s, as Dickon is just a kid. While Game of Thrones has made a habit of showing juvenile characters as older than in the books (most obviously Cersei’s children), it would be a tough sell to give us Samwell’s little brother in his mid-20s when Samwell is, what, 20 years old, at this point in the show? It’s also possible that the father, mother, sister and brother characters aren’t all in the same family. The priest could be Septon Meribald or the Elder Brother (or a composite of both), which implies Riverlands, or then again he could be a TV-only character, as unfamiliar to the text as Roz, Talisa or Olyvar. The “leading actress” doesn’t ring any bells. The “priestess” sounds more like Septa Lemore, whom I would love to see but who is nowhere near the Riverlands. The “fierce warrior” could also be one of Tyrion’s peeps, and he sounds non-Westerosi. Or possibly Dornish. The little boys sound like Northerners rather than Riverlanders.

There’s nobody in that character list who looks like strong evidence for a Lady Stoneheart appearance, is all I’m saying.

This is the primary “should” argument for Lady Stoneheart’s appearance on the show:

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.

The Brotherhood Without Banners could still have a part to play in the show, without necessarily giving us Undead Catelyn Stark. There could be other characters we’ll see resurrected (*oh dear*), or maybe they will give us Lady Stoneheart: eventually. Just not in Season 5.

Seriously, though, there’s still a case to be made that Lady Stoneheart could appear on the show next season. That much hasn’t been ruled out. The evidence that she’d be appearing in the Season 5 finale, though, came down to some really sketchy visual information. Below is a screenshot taking from the prediction article at The Verge.

Visual information in text below. I can't stuff all the relevant non-evidence into a caption.

Visual information in text below. I can’t stuff all the relevant non-evidence into a caption.

First there’s that little tidbit that appeared on Michelle Fairley’s IMDB page—just for a few days!—in February. Interesting! But when an IMDB entry goes back to just the way it was before, after only a few days, you probably shouldn’t get too excited based on the changes that didn’t last.

Second, there’s that screenshot from the Episode 10 preview. We see the mountains of the border of the Riverlands and the North, with Moat Cailin off in the distance, and a tiny, non-descript little figure standing on the cliff. Judging from the picture, it might not even be a human figure. It’s just a tiny thing standing upright on a cliff. We can’t tell what it’s wearing. I went to my HBO Now account and took a clearer screenshot. Tell me if this one is any more revealing:

Same picture as the bottom half of the previous graphic, only with better lighting. Do you see a human figure wearing a dress, standing on that cliff? Because I'm not getting anything from this shot except a landscape.

Same picture as the bottom half of the previous graphic, only at a higher resolution and without that distracting red annotation. Do you see a human figure wearing a dress, standing on that cliff? Because I’m not getting anything from this shot except a landscape.

Click on the photo to see it full size, and tell me if that gives you any more relevant information.

ETA to ADD, now that I’ve seen the finale: That picture isn’t of the North! It isn’t even Westeros! That turned out to be the hills north of Meereen, and the little dress-clad figure standing all alone on the cliff is Dany!

Another idea that led to the prediction of Lady Stoneheart in the finale was the episode title: “Mother’s Mercy.” The name “Mother Mercy” is one of LSH’s aliases (only in the sense that there are worse ways to die), so there was speculation that the name referred to Undead Catelyn Stark. Turns out, the episode title referred to Cersei’s issues.

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!

Dodgy screencaps, for instance?

A bit of Googling could have saved the author from getting her hopes up quite so high, though:

A rep for Fairley, however, said that the new listing on the actress’ IMDb page is a hoax. “There hasn’t been any discussion about her returning to the show after Season 3,” the rep told HuffPost Entertainment “As of now, this is completely incorrect.”

I guess it’s possible that Ms. Fairley’s rep is lying his ass off. It’s more likely, though, that some IMDB user or other screwed up or decided to troll the fans. IMDB is a helpful resource, but it isn’t perfect.

Then we have GRRMartin’s point of view on the matter. His list of five favorite characters omitted from the show include our Undead Catelyn Stark:

“Lady Stoneheart does have a role in the books,” Martin said. “Whether it’s sufficient or interesting enough… I think it is, or I wouldn’t have put her in. One of the things I wanted to show with her is that the death she suffered changes you.”

One of the characters Martin is sorry to see missing from the show is Strong Belwas, one of Dany’s peeps. Daario Naharis seems to be doing double-duty for himself and Belwas. Also on the list are Loras and Margaery’s older brothers, Willas and Garlan. I’ve mentioned them before, and Martin says they have roles to play in the last two books, but still, they’ve been completely absent from the show. Another is Jeyne Poole, Sansa’s old friend. I’ve mentioned her, too, but the show decided to put Sansa in her place, and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. And finally, there’s Lady Stoneheart. The author would have liked to see her included in the show, but so far, she has not been included. She hasn’t. And even Martin isn’t a powerful enough writer to change that. So maybe we’ll see her next year! Or maybe Benioff & Weiss don’t think her role in the story is all that significant.

Either way, we’ve had it from both Michelle Fairley’s rep in February, and from GRRMartin himself on May 31st, that she would not be present in Season 5. The prediction was posted at the Verge on June 12th. That could have been avoided.

I caution against getting super-invested in any predictions based on the assumption that Game of Thrones’s storylines must be consistent or coherent. The show is more streamlined and entertaining than the books, but the books are more internally consistent. Some things that happen on the show don’t quite add up, either strategically, or emotionally. I have some strong opinions on what “should” happen on the show, and those strong opinions have occasionally caused me to embarrass myself. I have counted some very big, colorful chickens based on an unimpressive pile of eggs, and some of my predictions, while not conclusively debunked just yet, seem very long shots these days. (ETA, 6/17/15: I predicted that Brienne would ultimately decide against killing Stannis, and then she fucking cut his head off. Learn from my mistakes.) Now I get to wait another year to find out whether I’m only slightly off, or entirely wrong. Where I may have been entirely wrong, my primary mistake was to let my ideas of “should” lead me ahead of what is. Sometimes, we get our preferences from seeing what’s already happening, but sometimes, our ideas of what’s already happening are shaped by our preferences.

And sometimes, a dutiful visit to Professor Google can help us tell the difference.