We’re in uncharted territory on Game of Thrones. There are no books to work from — even George R.R. Martin might be surprised with what’s happening on the HBO series — and things could get confusing. To help you out, after every new episode, our Thrones experts will answer your six most pressing questions.
1. Where does the reanimated corpse of Benjen Stark fit in the ever growing pantheon of semi-dead character types?
Ryan: So, to begin our corpse crash course, we’ve got the hyper-intelligent White Walkers. They were created by the Children of the Forest, who didn’t waste much time before turning against their masters and hijacking the ability to raise the dead for themselves. The wights they raise and control seem to be less “there” than many of the other undead wandering Westeros.
Benjen, as depicted on the show and not in the books, seems to be a newer recipe formulated by the Children. Perhaps less powerful, not as likely to revolt. He’s all there in the head, and seems to mostly be the same guy he was before being killed by White Walkers. He’s got the black hands and grey face of a newly turned wight, but is clearly more than that. It sounds like he’s working with the Children and the Three-Eyed Raven of his own free will rather than being magically controlled by them. That would make him the fifth type of undead we’ve met on the show. Of the most immediate concern are the White Walkers and wights. Then there’s Beric Dondarrion, who was brought back to life by the red priest Thoros of Myr in the same manner as Jon Snow, and Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, who also exists somewhere between alive and dead thanks to the dark arts of former maester Qyburn. He leans closer to the wights, following orders mindlessly, but still showing to have a glimmer of his former self hidden somewhere deep inside.
None of it makes much sense yet, but I have faith that a unified theory of the undead hierarchy will form as Game of Thrones gets closer to its conclusion. What do you think? Has the show watered down death, or are you still intrigued by the mysteries presented by the undead?
Josh: I’m still intrigued. The White Walkers and wights represent the show’s biggest (and most spectacular) threats — all the battling over a symbolic throne won’t matter if everyone becomes a skeleton straight out of a Ray Harryhausen movie. Beric, who once told Arya that pieces of him get “chipped away” every time he returns from death, is what Jon Snow could become, and doesn’t want to be. And the Mountain, well, the Mountain is terrifying, and I’m afraid to say anything negative about him. (He gets a shout-out from Cersei, who isn’t worried about her trial by combat with him in her corner.)
Game of Thrones can keep drinking from the undead well so long as the person or persons being brought back serve a purpose. So far, they’re five-for-five. We should probably talk about the “Benjen is Coldhands” theory, which, to George R.R. Martin’s dismay, was all but confirmed in this episode. Why does he matter so much to Bran, outside of sharing a last name?
Ryan: Benjen doesn’t just represent a familiar face to Brandon Stark, he’s a familiar face to show viewers, as well. With the Three-Eyed Raven gone, he’s taken the role of the knowledgeable elder that may not have all the answers, but at least knows where Bran’s supposed to go next and the broad strokes of what he ought to do when he gets there. That role requires a little bit of trust and authority, which you just don’t get if Coldhands is some random dead guy who shows up, deus ex machina style.
I don’t blame the showrunners for being resistant to introducing more new characters when they could tie things back to Benjen instead. For years, book readers have debated over whether Coldhands was Benjen in disguise. Just because he isn’t in the books doesn’t mean he can’t be in the show. It was a nice bit of fan-service and another reminder that we’re way off George R.R. Martin’s beaten path at this point.