It's pretty much par for the course for the post-show discussion of "Game of Thrones" to be dominated by the latest twist, but after last night's fourth-season finale, "The Children," the hot topic, at least among readers of George R.R. Martin's books, is what didn't happen -- specifically the appearance of the character known as Lady Stoneheart.
In Martin's books, specifically in the epilogue of "A Storm of Swords," which fueled most of "Game of Thrones'" third season," it's revealed that after being murdered at the Red Wedding, Catelyn Stark was resurrected by Beric Dondarrion, taking over leadership of his Brotherhood Without Banners after he perished in the act. Unable to speak, her skin moldering from the days her corpse spent in a river, the renamed Lady Stoneheart becomes vengeance personified, lashing out at anyone she perceives, often unjustly, to have contributed to her family's misfortunes.
Book fans wanted Lady Stoneheart, and they wanted her bad. They even expected her, thanks to the above picture posted Lena Headey's Instagram feed, which she'd previously used to pre-spoil Oberyn Martell's eye-gouging. But it was not to be; director Alex Graves said, "It was never on the docket to do this season -- ever." It probably didn't help that Michelle Fairley was a series regular on "Suits" this year and a recurring character on "24: Live Another Day," but the showrunners could surely have flown her in for a brief appearance to end the season on a shocking note, and they chose not to. Whether that means they're saving her for next season or they've done away with the character altogether -- in other words, whether she's Shelob or Tom Bombadil -- remains to be seen, but at least a few critics who are fans of both the books and the show wouldn't miss her:
James Poniewozik, Time
As a reader I was puzzled, since it seemed like such an obvious punch-in-the-gut ending, like the hatching of the dragons. And for all I know maybe the reason was [casting issue I will not detail for spoilers' sake]. But as a TV fan, I’ve seen so many dramas compete to end on the most shocking cliffhanger that, if nothing else, it was refreshing that the producers chose to end on an emotional moment instead of a cool one.
Todd VanDerWerff, A.V. Club
My wife thinks this section should just be "WHAT THE SHIT, LADY STONEHEART?!" but I am too much of a gentleman. Anyway, I am a bit intrigued that the show didn’t adapt that part somewhere in here, because, c'mon, they’re going to have Lady Stoneheart as a part of the show. Right? And I get actor contracts and all, but it would have been one scene! C'mon, Michelle Fairley. Do us a solid.
James Hibberd, Entertainment Weekly
So removing LS from HBO's version gives the story of Catelyn Stark a stronger -- albeit more tragic -- ending. I want to remember Catelyn for who she was, not as some twisted Monkey's Paw version. And the changes have arguably already improved the story of Brienne, who as portrayed wonderfully by Gwendoline Christie, deserves a more interesting and satisfying fate.
Onionjulius, ASOIAF University
If the omission (and again, we don't know if it's omitted or if it's just delayed, but Hibberd certainly prefers the former) is an improvement because it removes a major bummer from the story and lets a great performer like Gwen Christie shine, then I wonder why nobody ever argued to let Catelyn Stark, played by a great performer like Michelle Fairley, survive the Red Wedding. I mean, that was a total bummer, right? Or is it just that supposedly "everyone" dislikes Catelyn anyway and so when it comes to her arc and hers alone, less is always better? Go read any comments section or any discussion and you will find no shortage of people who crave her to stay dead for real not because it’s kinder or a better tragedy, but because they can’t stand her. HOW SURPRISING.
Myles McNutt, Cultural Learnings
Lady Stoneheart becomes the symbol for the sanctity of Martin’s novels, the first major omission that lacks a clearcut, practical justification other than "Because the writers chose not to include her." This is not to say that book readers must like the choices being made, or that they are not allowed to anticipate what’s about to happen next -- rage on, book readers of the world. However, Lady Stoneheart's absence feels like the biggest moment the show has avoided, and a clear statement that no one who has read the books has a crystal clear understanding of what's about to happen next.
Michael Schick, Hypable
While Lady Stoneheart is an undeniably powerful element of A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s fair to say that her purpose still remains unclear. So far, Stoneheart's vengeance is ancillary to most major story lines; the impact she does have is brief, frustrating, and tragic, its outcome deeply uncertain. From this perspective, it is understandable that "Game of Thrones" showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have set Lady Stoneheart aside.
Julia Emmanuelle, Hollywood.com
Keeping her out of the finale simplifies things somewhat, and keeps many of the other shocking events from losing their impact, but it does mean that adding her into the fifth season will now be less dramatic and shocking. Now that book fans are counting down the time until she reappears and show-only fans know to look out for "Lady Stoneheart," the writers are going to have a difficult time finding a way to introduce her character so that it has the same weight that her first appearance does in the books. And that’s if she even appears at all.
Jacob Hall, Badass Digest
The Lady Stoneheart reveal works on the page because it occurs at the end of the same novel in which Catelyn was killed. She never leaves our mind and her death still hurts. There are about 400 pages between her murder and her resurrection on the page, while onscreen, we haven’t seen her since last season. ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4 was never about Catelyn; it’s been about everyone else. Tossing her at the end of the season would have been just plain disrespectful. To make her return as memorable as the books, it’s going to need some build-up.