The Red Wedding was a seminal moment for Game of Thrones, marking the brutal end for so many fan-favorite characters. While it was the last time viewers ever saw certain players in the context of Game of Thrones, one murdered individual ends up continuing on with a huge role in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books — and this person stands to fuel a powerful (if very upsetting) reunion in the next book, The Winds of Winter.
Major Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire spoilers ahead.
The Huge Spoiler — A pivotal difference between Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is that Martin resurrected Catelyn Stark in the same book he killed her — only she didn’t return as the character readers had gotten to know.
Catelyn returned mutilated and practically mute — a result of the wounds she suffered at the Red Wedding — and consumed with vengeance. Following her resurrection, the books track Catelyn under the new name “Lady Stoneheart” as she leads the Brotherhood Without Banners on a mission to execute every Frey, Bolton, and Lannister she comes across.
She’s a powerful and disturbing figure, and many readers believe she’ll play a tragic and vital role in Arya Stark’s ultimate arc in the books.
The Theory — In Martin’s books, much like in Game of Thrones, Arya is the most obsessed of all the Stark kids with killing those she feels have wronged her. Learning the ways of the Faceless Men presents an opportunity for her to do that, but it also threatens to rob Arya of her identity altogether. And to its credit, the show touches on that internal struggle quite a bit during Arya’s time in Braavos in Seasons 5 and 6. However, most fans think that the way Arya reclaims her identity in the books will differ greatly from the way it was done in the show.
One of the leading theories about Martin’s next installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, is that the book will see Arya come to Westeros and, through some unclear means, cross paths with Lady Stoneheart. And it’ll be in seeing how vengeance has consumed and altered Catelyn beyond recognition, that Arya will realize what continuing on her own path of violence and revenge may do to her as well.
The theory goes on to suggest that Arya will be so shaken by what happened to her mother after the Red Wedding, that she will be the one to kill Lady Stoneheart in an act of mercy that, hopefully, allows her mother to finally find some peace.
The Gift of Mercy — Having Arya kill Catelyn would, conceivably, result in the former learning about the value of life and death in a way that she hasn’t quite come to terms with yet. Killing Lady Stoneheart would, in her eyes, represent Arya giving her mother the “gift of mercy” that is so often talked about in Martin’s books. And it’d be fitting too, considering that in one of the only chapters that Martin has released from The Winds of Winter, Arya is masquerading as a girl named “Mercy” in Braavos.
It’s also worth noting that in Martin’s books, it’s Arya who — through her wolf Nymeria — drags Catelyn Stark’s corpse out of the river the Freys dumped her into. Doing so is what leads to Cat being found and resurrected by the brotherhood without banners. So to have Arya be the one who both allows Catelyn to be resurrected and ultimately puts her to rest creates a strange bit of narrative symmetry.
It’s a brutal and oddly poetic moment to consider — a narrative beat that rips your heart out and makes you appreciate the sheer craft of it at the same time. It’s the kind of moment that George R. R. Martin is so good at creating.
The Inverse Analysis — David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ decision to leave Lady Stoneheart out of Game of Thrones was one of the most controversial creative choices the pair made during their time writing the HBO series. Many believe it marked too great of a divergence from Martin’s books, and robbed the series of a character that would have brought an entirely new kind of presence to it. Those complaints were all totally valid at the time they were made, and remain so to this day.
But if this Winds of Winter theory turns out to be correct, then it’ll mean that cutting Lady Stoneheart from Game of Thrones was also one of the key reasons that Arya’s storyline in the show felt so uneven across its final few seasons. It’s probably why Martin went on record at one point to say that including Lady Stoneheart was the change he most wished he could make to the series.
The Winds of Winter will be released whenever George R. R. Martin finishes writing it.