No, no, seriously, my post is not so meta. I just see a little shiny thing that I must bat. And I’m not batting it entirely in a consistent direction.
Joanna Robinson has written an article at Vanity Fair—which got a Retweet from Gwendoline Christie—showing us the evidence of Brienne having an exciting storyline in S6. Robinson doesn’t actually know anything that I didn’t know already, and the title of her article is a bit premature. A more accurate headline would be: “A theory of how Game of Thrones COULD Be Getting Brienne Back to Awesomeness in Season 6.” Robinson makes a lot of predictions, some of which I agree with, but she hasn’t seen the scripts and she expresses some rather bold ideas for S6 based on tenuous connections with squishy evidence.
But at the same time, I don’t know any more than she does. I agree, and have shared my feels on the subject, that Brienne’s strongest season was 3, and she doesn’t have much to show for her efforts in S4 and S5. So I’m certainly rooting for our big swordswench to get out of her rut in S6. Robinson is making the case for a Lady Stoneheart appearance similar to Brienne and Podrick’s misadventures in A Feast for Crows. I’ve also shared my observations on the Stoneheart storyline, and how it pertains to Brienne and Jaime. Short version: I don’t argue that Lady Stoneheart showing up is impossible, but I do think the circumstances around her presence have been altered on the show in such a way that she’s not necessary. I see no reason why she can’t show up, but the conditions surrounding her appearance (particularly Brienne’s role in her appearance) have been changed so that there are no elements on the show that depend on her. Everything works just as well without her, is all I mean to say.
If I tried to pick apart Robinson’s article and describe where I think she’s mistaken, and why, I’d probably end up embarrassing myself. I’ll just focus on this one element, just one. Part of Robinson’s case for Brienne getting back to her awesome self in S6 is the appearance of the hapless sly son with the cruel father. I agree that the hapless son is probably a Frey, but what exactly is the role he plays in the story?
O.K., so we potentially have the Brotherhood and we potentially have Merrett Frey. But could they do that plot without Lady Stoneheart? Well, not really. Stoneheart is the reason the Brotherhood starts targeting Freys in the first place.
Now, this is the part where I disagree. The character they’re casting, the one we all seem to think is a Frey son, could be comparable to Merrett in terms of position, but his personality sounds quite different. Let’s repeat the casting call:
This is a very good part in this season who appears in three episodes. We need a characterful-looking guy – long nose and skeletal features and perhaps a bit sly – to play a son who is unable to live up to the demands of his savage father. We need a really good actor for this part – he has good scenes with lots of the leading cast. The character has a great storyline. There are no options and this is a one-off opportunity for a good clever actor to come and make his mark on this major hit show.
I’ve read the relevant parts of the books, in which the Freys appear. I’ve given a close reading to Merrett’s epilogue in A Storm of Swords. The character they’re casting actually sounds a lot better than Merrett Frey. “Good scenes with lots of the leading cast”? “Great storyline”? Merrett’s appearance is mostly just skulking through a bit of the Riverlands, thinking about all the ways life has been unfair to him (and he has caught the short end of the sword in some ways) until he comes across the Brotherhood. He’s not that well-developed a character. He doesn’t get a chance to interact with any of the leading cast, unless we count Undead Catelyn Stark as a leading cast member. He has just enough time to identify her as Undead Catelyn Stark before her comrades put him in the noose. He doesn’t get good scenes. His role in the book is to provide a POV from which we see that Catelyn Stark has been resurrected and is bent on revenge. The character on the show sounds like he gets a lot more cool stuff to do.
Since he has more cool stuff to do, I think this character is another area where Lady Stoneheart isn’t necessary. His having “good scenes with lots of the leading cast” opens up plenty of scenarios in which he could die without the involvement of Lady Stoneheart or even the Brotherhood Without Banners. The plot could work just as well without Undead Catelyn Stark. There’s plenty of trouble for everyone to get into.
(Although I will issue a small nitpick: Brienne’s armor is not a factor in her run-in with Lady Stoneheart. She isn’t wearing Lannister-branded armor in the books. She isn’t wearing Lannister-branded armor on the show, either. She’s wearing high-quality though otherwise anonymous armor on the show. No one can tell who’s paid well for her loyalty based on that armor, but she looks like someone spent some gold on her. Her armor in the books is even more unremarkable. The sword is where she’s visible as a Lannister associate.)
One major way in which the show differs from the books, by design as well as practice, is that the books are told through multiple limited POVs, whereas the show uses an omniscient POV. In the books, we see things happening through one character at a time, and there are a limited number of characters with POVs. The show is not so limited; we can see as much as D&D want us to see, and the POV is from whomever is present at the time, no matter how minor a character. Example: Robert Baratheon was never a POV character. Cersei Lannister did not get a POV until Book 4. That scene in S1, where they talk about how fucked up their marriage is, was not possible in the books. The Tyrells never get a POV in the books. Stannis Baratheon is seen almost entirely through the eyes of Davos and later Jon Snow. Littlefinger and Varys have not had their own POVs in the books, but the show has allowed them to interact without another character to show us the scene. Everything Jorah Mormont does, we see from Dany’s POV until Jorah meets up with Tyrion in Book 5. We can’t see Missandei and Grey Worm alone together; we can only see them through Dany’s eyes, or possibly Ser Barristan’s. The Boltons don’t get their own POV in the books; we see them mostly from Theon’s POV. The Freys, we see mostly from Catelyn and later from Theon and Davos. It’s not possible in the books to give us a scene of Roose Bolton talking with Walder Frey without some Stark-affiliated character watching over them, but the show makes it happen. When we see the Brotherhood Without Banners in Book 4, we get them mostly through Brienne’s POV, and we get some indirect knowledge from Jaime. On the show, we can see them on their own terms. It’s totally feasible to give us the BWB, or an offshoot thereof, without depending on established major characters.
I’m not opposed to the idea of Brienne interacting with the new Frey guy, or anyone else likely to be present in the Riverlands. The fact that he exists, however, is not evidence for anything Brienne might do in S6. The fact that he has “scenes with lots of the leading cast” is a bit more significant. I think Brienne is among the leading candidates for a presence in the Riverlands in S6. However, I can also think of plenty of things for Brienne to do in S6, that would show us the complex, capable, emotionally powerful character we saw in S3, that don’t require her to go near the Brotherhood Without Banners, or their leader. Her awesomeness is bigger than what the Brotherhood may do.
So far, I’ve told you a lot of that-doesn’t-mean. I do agree with Robinson that Brienne and her peeps (whoever those peeps may include) are likely to pass through the Riverlands in S6, that Jaime is also a candidate for a Riverlands journey, that Jaime and Brienne are due to reconnect, and that the Freys are due for a follow-up. I simply think that whatever happens in the Riverlands in S6 will happen in a very different context than what happened in the books, and we need to adjust our predictions accordingly.
All that said, the part where I get all meta about this piece of writing is in that I found the article through Gwendoline Christie’s Retweet, plus a big “THANK YOU!” Like so:
That pic, with her removing her helmet, is an excellent image to use for talking about how much we love Brienne. In the moment that she removes her helm, she’s both incredibly formidable and vulnerable. That contrast is what we love about Brienne. She doesn’t inspire this much enthusiasm just through her ability to crack skulls. (Although, when you need someone to crack skulls…)
What was it about Joanna Robinson’s article, we may ask, that moved Gwendoline Christie to give her a signal-boost with a big all-caps thank-you?
The article does say some nice things about Ms. Christie’s acting (which I agree with), and that’s probably a factor.
We’ve heard that the people in charge at Game of Thrones encourage the actors not to read the books (which makes sense in terms of production), but we’ve also heard that Gwendoline Christie is among the cast members who’ve read the books, and she loves them. She probably has opinions on how her character’s business on the show compares to what Brienne does in the books. If she has some complaints, I don’t blame her. Joanna Robinson’s article does express some complaints about what Brienne’s been doing on the show compared to the books.
(Short version of my complaints: Brienne and Podrick’s adventures in Books 4 and 5 have been frustrating, but not due to her fucking up. She hasn’t done anything wrong, but she also hasn’t gotten what she came for. On the show…yeah, her fuck-up was understandable given the circumstances, but it was still cringeworthy to watch.)
If I were a cast member on a hugely popular, heavily-scrutinized TV show, in which the fans were trying to figure out what happens next season and the producers were trying not to give us any such information, I think I’d be under pressure not to fuel the speculation machine. I would be expected not to pass around any valuable information about what happens next.
(Note: your blogger is absolutely part of the problem the people in charge are trying to keep under control. Oh yes. I am totally one of those fans.)
If I were one of those cast members, and I saw a writer do a really good job of figuring out what my character does next, I would not want to draw attention to that writing. I would not want to hold it up to my 100K+ followers on Twitter and say “LOOK AT THIS THING HERE. LOOK AT IT.”
With that in mind, I think Ms. Christie’s Retweet doesn’t tell us much about the accuracy of Ms. Robinson’s predictions. I think it could be a subtle sign that she also isn’t happy about how Brienne’s been handled in seasons 4 and 5. Which is still not quite what the bigwigs want her to say, but the Retweet allows plenty of space for plausible deniability. Her bosses can’t very well reprimand her for saying “thank you” to a journalist on Twitter. I guess they could, but their reprimand wouldn’t get very far. If she passed around an accurate summary of what her character is about to do next season, though, that would be a problem.
Another thing we saw thanks to Gwendoline Christie’s Twitter feed is this beautiful portrait by Helen Sloan. LOOK AT THIS THING HERE:
THAT IS A LANNISTER-TYPE SWORD, BUT IT IS NOT LANNISTER ARMOR.
This is recent. And it’s appeared in other media. I like to think that the fact that they took this portrait, and that it’s being circulated, means Brienne has good things ahead. What might those good things be? That’s open to interpretation. But the portrait is of a character who has more to offer than just cracking skulls. We root for her because we care about her.
Between that pretty photograph, and Ms. Christie signal-boosting an article that argues for Brienne getting a better storyline in S6…yeah, I think things are looking up for our big swordswench. I think she’ll have something better to offer than slaying Arryn knights and being unpleasant to Podrick. She’s already finished being unpleasant to Podrick, and in some ways, her character’s arc has already begun to look up. For instance, I actually think Brienne had a better time in S5 than in S4, and her opening up to Podrick is what makes the difference. We’re getting signs that S6 is where we’ll see the dividends from Brienne showing us that vulnerability in S5:E3. She still has a story to tell.
Oh, who am I kidding? Whatever her intent, Gwendoline Christie’s signal-boosting this article means there’ll be plenty more speculating in favor of Lady Stoneheart turning up on the show. Pass the popcorn.