Game of Thrones is not a show that makes you say “awww” very often, which is why one scene from Sunday night’s episode, “The Broken Man,” was so unexpected. While touring the mid-major houses of the North to drum up support against the Boltons, Sansa, Jon, and Davos stopped by Bear Island, home of the Mormonts. They strode confidently into the hall, only to be greeted by the house’s skeptical ruler — 10-year-old Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), who made the trio work for her assistance. After being counseled by Davos on the need for the North to stand together against the threat of the White Walkers, Lyanna agreed to add House Mormont’s 62 fighting men to Jon’s wildling army. And before you could say the word “Stark,” Game of Thrones fandom had its new favorite character.
In the space of two scenes (she also showed up briefly in the army’s camp later in the episode, looking uneasy but determined to make the best of it), Lyanna stepped comfortably into Thrones’ vacant Badass Little Girl spot, formerly occupied by Arya Stark (aged out) and Shireen Baratheon (RIP). But, as careful viewers remembered, Sunday night’s scene wasn’t our first glimpse of Lyanna’s inner steel; that came in season five, when she answered Stannis’s request for aid from the Northern houses with a message of her own: “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark.” Stannis didn’t want Jon to laugh at this, but there’s no reason you can’t. The grimmest man in Westeros, told off by a 10-year-old girl!
Though she might seem tailor-made for the screen, Lyanna was actually a beloved minor character from the books, despite never actually appearing in them in person. Part of this is the awesomeness of the letter she sends Stannis, which is a real fist-pumping moment for any Stark fan to read, and part of it is because she’s the latest in a long line of great female characters from House Mormont to pop up in George R.R. Martin’s novels.
Bear Island is located in the Bay of Ice off the western coast of the North, a part of the realm that was often a prime target for Ironborn invasion. Ownership of the island switched back and forth between the Stark and Ironborn for generations before one King in the North supposedly won it for good in a wrestling match. (In The World of Ice and Fire, the maesters dispute the accuracy of this, like they do all the coolest stories.) But the constant threat of invasion lingered in the culture of Bear Island, and the women of House Mormont take pride in being as fierce of warriors as the men. Though the house’s sigil is a bear, they’d also got another icon that’s equally fitting: On the gates of the Mornonts’ keep, there’s a wooden carving of a woman holding a nursing baby in one arm, and a battle-axe in the other.
And it just so happens that women are running the show in House Mormont during the War of the Five Kings. The former lord was Jeor Mormont, who abdicated the seat in middle-age to give his son, Jorah, a chance to rule. We’ve all seen what happened next: Jeor joined the Night’s Watch, acting as a mentor to Jon Snow in the early seasons of GOT before being killed by mutineers in season three. Jorah sold some poachers into slavery — a big no-no in Westeros — then fled to exile in Essos, where he met Daenerys Targaryen. This passed leadership of the house to Jeor’s sister, Maege Mormont, who apparently appeared as a featured extra in season one, though you would be forgiven for missing her.
To consolidate characters, the show killed Maege off at some point in the war and made Lyanna her only daughter. In the books, though, not only is Maege still alive, but there are a bunch of other Mormont women floating around, all of whom are a delight. Maege herself was last seen in A Storm of Swords, having been sent off by Robb Stark on a secret mission to find the mysterious Howland Reed. Her eldest daughter, Dacey, fights as one of Robb’s personal bodyguards and is one of the first heartbreaking casualties of the Red Wedding. The next eldest is Alysane, who joins forces with Stannis’s army, claims her children were fathered by a bear, and protects prisoners from being burned alive as a tribute to the Lord of Light. And then, after two other daughters who are also with Maege on her mission, there’s little Lyanna, named in honor of Ned Stark’s late sister. When you’re picking a favorite Mormont in the books, you’ve got a whole lot to choose from. In the show, we’ll have to make do with Lyanna as our only Mormont on Bear Island, but after Sunday, I don’t think too many people are complaining.