game of thrones season 6

Wait, Who Are Game of Thrones’ Brotherhood Without Banners Again?

The Brotherhood Without Banners. Photo: HBO

In last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Broken Man,” Sandor Clegane’s unsteady pacifism was put to the test when the peaceful commune led by Ian McShane’s Ray was brutally massacred by members of the Brotherhood Without Banners. Was this an indication that the show really would be bringing back Lady Stoneheart, a.k.a. a reborn Catelyn Stark — a character fans have been longing to see for years and years, and who, in the books, led the Brotherhood? On Sunday night’s episode, we finally got our answer: Nope! Those dudes from the Brotherhood were actually renegade members; on the show, the friendly outlaw band itself is still going strong under the leadership of Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, last seen in the heady days of season three. (In case your memory needs jogging: The Brotherhood Without Banners were the guys who lived in a cave and hung out with Arya and the Hound for a few episodes; Beric, the guy with the eye patch, keeps on dying and being brought back to life by Thoros, the hippie-looking guy who is a priest of the Lord of Light.)

This is quite a change from the books, where Beric gave his life force to bring Catelyn Stark back from the dead after the Red Wedding. Revived as a figure called Lady Stoneheart, the former Stark matriarch assumes leadership of the Brotherhood and promptly takes them in a much more pro-murder direction. When we first meet the new BWOB, in the epilogue to A Storm of Swords, they’re killing a teenage Frey, then executing his uncle for his part in the Red Wedding. Throughout A Feast for Crows, they kidnap (and, we’re meant to infer, kill) a bunch of other Freys before coming upon Brienne and Pod. Since book-Brienne is carrying a Lannister sword and hasn’t succeeded in her mission to rescue the Stark girls, Lady Stoneheart judges her a traitor and, in the book’s climax, orders them to be hanged. This is a Brotherhood that’s strayed far from its original mission, and that’s the one it seemed the show was introducing last week.

But, just like the last time fans got their hopes up that this twist was making it into the show, it was not to be. As a meditation on the all-consuming nature of vengeance, Lady Stoneheart is a fascinating character. As an aspect of the show, though, she’s clearly proven too complicated to include. Bringing her back before Jon’s resurrection would have watered down that twist; bringing her back after would have seemed like small potatoes. (Plus, Michelle Fairley seems pretty busy.) It’s good news for Brienne and Pod — and Jaime, too, since A Dance With Dragons seemed to indicate he would soon be entering Stoneheart’s orbit as well.

So now that they’re not #WithHer, what are the Brotherhood Without Banners up to in the show? According to Beric and Thoros’s riverside chitchat with the Hound, they’re heading up North to battle the White Walkers, and they want Sandor to come with them. (How they alone in the south of Westeros seem to be aware of the impending ice-zombie threat can be easily hand-waved away. Something something Melisandre, something something Lord of Light.) It seems like Sandor’s considering it, too! Frankly, he should go with them: Not only would the Hound get the chance to use his talents in a fight that really mattered, but going north would take him in the exact opposite direction as his terrible brother, who, as luck would have it, just lost his chance to fight for Cersei in her trial by combat. Any day that Cleganebowl doesn’t happen is a very happy day.

Brotherhood Without Banners: Who Are They?