Jon Snow came back from the dead at the beginning of this season, but is there a chance more Starks could be reemerging? In fact, we could see a Stark reunion as early as this Sunday! There is mounting evidence that we might see a total of three resurrected Starks by season's end, though the two yet to come will likely be greatly changed post-death.
WARNINGS: Spoilers Ahead!
It seems incredibly likely that this Sunday's episode will feature long-lost Benjen Stark coming to the aid of Bran and Meera on the run from the wights. You can find out why here.
Benjen seems set to appear, possibly in the form of a wight known in the books as Coldhands. In the books, Coldhands is heavily implied to be a dead Night's Watch ranger, who many believe is the missing last Stark of his generation, Uncle Benjen. It would explain why Coldhands looks after Bran and why Benjen was never seen again, as wights cannot pass through the Wall. Interestingly, Coldhands has black eyes, rather than the customary ice blue of the wights, which could have something to do with his seeming consciousness and benevolence that other wights lack.
Despite being missing for five seasons, Benjen has not been forgotten. He was the subject of the bait-and-switch that led to Jon's murder last season, and has been prominently featured in Bran's visions of Winterfell as recently as the last episode. That, combined with the fact that his disappearance is one of the longest-running mysteries on the show, perfectly poises the show for a Benjen return. Plus, Bran and Meera are in desperate need of an ally, and one they can trust.
The possibility of Coldhands appearing two or three seasons late gives hope to the long-awaited appearance of Lady Stoneheart—the resurrected Catelyn Stark. Brought back to life by a Red Priest, she certainly does not enjoy as smooth a return as Jon Snow, coming back severely changed and hell-bent on restitution.
Lady Stoneheart tours the Riverlands with the Brotherhood Without Banners, hanging anyone who was complicit in the Red Wedding. You may recall that the Brotherhood were the gang Arya spent Season 3 with, and their leader was resurrected multiple times by a Red Priest. Now, Lady Stoneheart leads them on a bloody quest for vengeance.
Those involved in the show, including Michelle Fairley herself, have long denied that Lady Stoneheart would appear, and it seemed less and less plausible that we would get to see this tragic and terrifying character on screen. However, the tide could be turning toward Lady Stoneheart.
We should know by now to not fully trust statements made by the showrunners, as they haven’t exactly been upfront about dead characters staying dead. There was the adamant, relentless assertion that Jon Snow would not live. Much like with Jon Snow, the statements made surrounding Lady Stoneheart seem to expressly deny a return, yet leave room for loopholes. Both characters were firmly pronounced dead, which they technically were; it doesn't mean they couldn't return. And in the very same interview that explains the Stoneheart absence, director Alex Graves states that the Hound will not be back either, which we know isn’t true.
This week, Brienne was sent to the Riverlands to treat with the Tullys, who we haven’t seen since the aforementioned Red Wedding. We also know that there are Freys returning (such as Walder himself) and being cast — perhaps so they can die at the hands of Stoneheart? Not only does this serve to remind the audience of Catelyn’s family and what happened to them, but it puts Brienne in the right place, geographically, to cross paths with Lady Stoneheart, as she does in the books.
It could be argued that yet another Stark resurrection might undercut the one we’ve already seen. However, thanks to all the time we spent on Jon’s resurrection, we don’t really need explanation for Catelyn’s, which might have been a concern a few seasons ago. Also, Lady Stoneheart is so dramatically different than Catelyn that it’s hardly the same. There won’t be any emotionally cathartic reunions here.
What there will be is serious drama. The interaction between Lady Stoneheart and Brienne, her former devoted knight, is intense enough in itself. But the quandary she puts Brienne in is one of the most emotionally tense moments of the series:
Lady Stoneheart and her band of merry murderers force Brienne to prove her loyalty by tasking her with betraying and killing Jaime Lannister, or she and Pod will hang. It's a deeply intense conflict and the culmination of both Jaime and Brienne's character development in the books. It's a cliffhanger and readers will not receive relief until George R.R. Martin publishes The Winds of Winter, unless the show goes there first. While the showrunners could potentially transfer that order to Brynden Tully, it wouldn't have the same impact as it coming from Catelyn, and would be out of character for the Blackfish. I'm holding out hope.
With this season ahead of the books, there has been a bit of backtracking, with the show now covering earlier storylines it had skipped over. Therefore, it's not far-fetched to hope that these characters might finally appear. Plus, it would be very interesting to introduce two characters that were brought back to life, one by fire and one by ice. As the folks over at the Storm of Spoilers podcast put it: Coldhands, Stoneheart, Can't Lose.
Tune in to Game of Thrones this Sunday on HBO to see if this theory pans out!