For those Game of Thrones fans who've read the books, there may be a lingering sense of disappointment now that Season 6 is over.
Don't get me wrong — this season was peak Thrones, regularly hitting new emotional heights. The reunion of Jon Snow and Sansa, the brutal and hard-earned death of Ramsay Bolton, the tragic demise of Hodor, the sight of Cersei murdering each and every one of her enemies in King's Landing — all of these events and more conspired to make Season 6 one long, operatic, deeply satisfying pay-off.
This season disappointed on only one level: It denied us Lady Stoneheart.
If you wanted to see Catelyn Stark, revived by Beric Dondarrion, traveling North with the Brotherhood Without Banners, her red hair turned grey, neck sliced, skin white as milk, slaughtering all who betrayed her and conspired in the Red Wedding, you probably feel a little short-changed at this point.
But there's an argument to be made that we did meet Lady Stoneheart (and Catelyn Stark); it just wasn't as literal as most of us expected.
Think about it: Catelyn's two daughters have been on separate journeys across Westeros — and beyond — taking wildly divergent paths, but both growing into personalities along the way that reflect the two sides of their mother.
Sansa Is Catelyn Stark In Life
No Game of Thrones character has undergone a more dramatic transformation between Seasons 4–6 as Sansa. In the immediate aftermath of Joffrey's murder she was a fugitive, entirely at the mercy of Petyr Baelish.
Under his wing, she witnessed the murder of her Aunt Lysa, was sold into an abusive marriage to a sociopath, and gradually morphed into such a cold and calculating strategist that by the time she returned to Castle Black, she proved better at planning for war than the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
Still, her decision to break the bond of trust she shared with Jon and use the Knights of the Vale as the House Stark's ace card in the battle of Winterfell signifies that Sansa is an all-new kind of Stark, a hybrid of sorts between the best qualities of her mother — that fierce pride and level-headed personality — and the scheming and calculation learned from Littlefinger — the man she at once despises, seems to be permanently drawn to, and may yet forge a dark alliance with.
Sansa understands the value of playing the long game, and in many ways resembles her mother far more than Arya ever did.
Arya Is Catelyn Stark In Death
Arya, on the other hand, is impulsive. If Sansa is more concerned with looking to the future, Arya is driven by a primal desire to avenge the past. In "The Winds of Winter," a certain enjoyment was evident on her face as she revealed her true face, drew Needle from her robe and slashed the throat of Walder Frey.
If this was no less than he deserved (not to mention entirely expected), it was still downright disturbing to see the sheer sense of satisfaction Arya got in watching the old man spasm, blood splaying everywhere. Sansa walked away long before Ramsay's hounds had torn him limb from limb, but for Catelyn's youngest daughter, murder isn't just a necessary evil — it's sport.
The Arya of the show has essentially taken on the role of Lady Stoneheart, the merciless murderess of the books, in all but name. But vengeance for the younger Stark daughter is purely selfish. It serves her House no purpose as Jon and Sansa seek to unite the North against the threat of the White Walkers.
In a way it's poetic that the two, strikingly different pre- and post-death incarnations of Catelyn Stark continue to live on in her daughters. But, as she continues to seek vengeance against those on her list, the distance between Arya and her sister grows wider, making it almost impossible to envision a happy family reunion, even as she heads North. How can this vengeance-fueled assassin ever hope to find more common ground with Sansa now than when they were squabbling children?
Whether or not having the ghost of Lady Stoneheart living through Arya is satisfactory probably depends on how much you wanted Lady Stoneheart in the show to begin with. For those who never read the books, seeing Arya unleash murderous wrath on Walder Frey was probably reward enough.