Game of Thrones decided to introduce Coldhands the way we wanted, even though it’s not the way George said.
Game of Thrones continues to blow our minds with deaths, resurrections, and revelations, and in “Blood of My Blood” we got all three with one character. You thought the Jon/Sansa reunion was the Stark reunion of the season, but guess again! Bran reunited with Benjen. Yes, you heard that right. Benjen Stark is back! You may not remember exactly who that is, so let’s refresh.
Grip tight the nearest Weirwood tree, because we have far to travel. We were first introduced to Benjen Stark all the way back in season 1. Benjen is Ned’s brother (Bran’s uncle), and a brother of the Night’s Watch. In season 1 episode 1, Benjen came to Winterfell from Castle Black to join in welcoming Robert Baratheon. Before leaving, Benjen asked Jon to join him at the Wall, and Jon accepted.
Off they went to Castle Black, and some time later (merely two episodes later), Benjen goes north, beyond the Wall, on a ranging mission, and was never seen again. His horse came back, riderless, and two men he went ranging with were found dead. These men were brought back to Castle Black and subsequently resurrected as wights.
None of this boded well for Benjen’s fate, but the lack of any evidence of him has made viewers doubtful of his death. For years, book readers have also been wondering what happened to Benjen, and over time they developed theories.
In A Storm of Swords, we were introduced to Coldhands, a not quite living, not quite dead man who rides an elk, wears all black, and covers his face. He saved Sam and Gilly from attacking Wights, and later saved Bran in much the same way Benjen did in the show. Can you see where this is going?
Naturally, book readers theorized that Coldhands was an undead Benjen, and they had many reasons to believe this.
- Benjen mysteriously disappeared without a trace, so a la Schrodinger’s cat, he’s both alive, dead, and undead. Anything is possible.
- Coldhands wears all black, just like men of the Night’s Watch.
- Coldhands called Sam “brother,” like ‘brothers’ of the Night’s Watch.
Unfortunately, this theory was debunked by George R.R. Martin himself. With that theory out the window (unless George is totally trolling), book readers were left to wonder if they’d ever seen Benjen again. Well, it seems the showrunners thought this theory was pretty damn good.
With no appearance of Coldhands six seasons into the show, book readers resigned to believe he never would appear. But the return of Benjen, and indeed the manner of his return, certainly begs the question of whether Coldhands really is Benjen in the books, or if it’s just that the show has decided to merge the characters.
The former would mean we can never trust what George says, and anything is possible. The latter would mean that, for book readers, we still have no idea what happened to Benjen! The decision to merge these two characters in the show also opens up some interesting opportunities for the future. Hey, book readers? Remember Lady Stoneheart?
Lady Stoneheart has yet to make an appearance on the show, and popular opinion is that she never will. The time has passed. Has it, though? We’re only getting a Coldhands-esque character in season 6, so who’s to say Lady Stoneheart won’t make a similarly delayed appearance? Moreover, who’s to say she has to be the original character? What if her character is merged with a current character? Sansa, perhaps?
Nevertheless, Benjen’s return is definitely a welcomed one, especially when it means a Stark reunion. And you have to wonder what Benjen has been up to north of the Wall all this time. Who knows what information he could have. As an undead, maybe he has insights into White Walker mentality or plans that a truly living person could never find out (or live to tell about). For someone who was absent for a whole season, Bran’s story is certainly making up for lost time!