Drama, Musicals, Original Wopatizations

Tom Wopat in: Walk the Line 2 (An Original Wopatization… sort of)

as: Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash is one of the most influential and enduring figures in American music. His distinctive voice and outlaw image made him popular with fans of all music genres, and he remains one of the best-selling recording artists in country music, year in and year out, over a decade after his death. Walk the Line, a film based on Cash’s early life and relationship with fellow singer June Carter was released in 2005 to much critical and commercial success.

But, as the Man in Black’s recording career spanned more than five decades, Walk the Line really only told part of the story. So much more happened in Cash’s life that a sequel, covering his later years, could easily contain enough drama and excitement to bring moviegoers back for more.

While Joaquin Phoenix did a fantastic job as the young, rebellious Cash in the original Walk the Line (earning an Oscar nomination in the process), a more seasoned actor would be needed to portray the older, wiser, but still plenty rebellious, Johnny Cash in a sequel. And we think no one could be better than Tom Wopat.

cash

Why Wopat?

Unlike Phoenix, who had to learn to play guitar specifically for the role, Tom Wopat already has plenty of six-string experience. He’s also an accomplished singer and songwriter, with multiple albums under his belt. (It should be noted that Phoenix did perform all his own vocals in Walk the Line 1.)

At an even six-foot-tall, Wopat is just a couple of inches shorter than the long and lanky Cash. (Phoenix is only 5’8”.) Height doesn’t really matter than much in a movie, but Cash was famously taller than most of his contemporaries, and a little authenticity can go a long way.

Two of the most interesting (and film-ready) tales from Cash’s first autobiography, Man in Black, were left out of Walk the Line 1, as they occurred after the events depicted in the film. Both would be perfect showcases for Wopat’s skills.

The first saw Cash, jazzed on pills of some kind, bail out of his speeding Cadillac as he rounded a curve on a mountain road. He was hauling a propane tank for his camper in the back of the car, and smelled a leak. Rather than pull over and deal with it as a rational person would, the hopped-up Cash dove from the moving car. It crashed into a tree and exploded; the ensuing fireball singed Cash’s face and sent him to hospital with superficial but scary burns.

The second anecdote involved Cash, again under the influence of illicit drugs, tearing through the desert in an old Army Jeep he had bought. He was ostensibly headed out for a solo camping trip, but got so loopy that he lost control of the truck as he drove down a mountainside and wound up barreling out of control through the dunes. In this instance, too, Cash crashed his vehicle into a tree. (A mesquite, maybe? What kind of tree grows in the desert?) He was in it this time, though he wasn’t injured in any significant way.

Both of these scenes would allow Wopat to use the stunt-driving skills he honed during his Dukes of Hazzard days. They would also present a unique showcase for his acting chops, as they could be played for equal parts comedy and tragedy—visually, they could be very, very funny if done right, while Wopat/Cash’s realization of how his drug use is starting to affect his life could be the stuff of an awards show highlight reel.

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Action and/or Adventure, Classics, Drama

Tom Wopat in: Fight Club

as: “Jack” (the Narrator)

Fight Club is one of those brilliant, truly unique movies that you cannot adequately describe to those who haven’t seen it. Ultimately, you end up telling the person, “You just have to see it, man!” Even if you’ve seen it a dozen times, you’ll still likely find something new in each viewing

In the film, the everyman main character is never actually given a name—in the script he was listed as “Jack,” so we’ll use that moniker for our purposes here. Jack was portrayed by Edward Norton, and, opposite Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden, was one of the founders of the titular group that gave similarly disillusioned men the chance to connect and experience something “real” in their lives by beating the living $#!t out of each other.

While Norton’s performance is predictably excellent, I think that maybe, just maybe, Tom Wopat could’ve done it better.

Key Changes

JSYK: This section will include spoilers. But the movie’s almost 20 years old, so it’s not like you haven’t had the chance to see it. In fact, if you’ve never seen Fight Club, go watch it right now, then come back. Seriously. We’ll wait…

 

 

 

Much like sausage, you don't want to know how the soap is made.

Much like sausage, you don’t want to know how the soap is made.

 

 

 

…and you’re back! Whaddaya think? Good stuff, right?!

The first key change is one of age. Norton was roughly 30 when Fight Club was filmed, which is right in line with the character as depicted in the Chuck Palahniuk novel on which the film is based. He’s a young, uninspired office drone doing thankless work for a company so big they essentially don’t know he exists. Tom Wopat was 48 at the time, so the character could’ve been changed to one that is higher up the ladder in the company, but who still feels that his life is going nowhere.

This would actually have made the character’s decision to leave his old life behind even more powerful. As is, Jack ditches a crappy apartment, crappy job, and crappy life to become someone new; as a higher-ranking, better paid member of the company’s management team, he would be walking away from a big house, fancy car, and comfortable lifestyle.

The age difference between Wopat and Norton would also affect Jack’s relationship with Tyler Durden. Pitt was about 35 when the film came out, so while the dynamic between the two characters could’ve remained largely the same, Wopat would still have been significantly older than his counterpart. When it is ultimately revealed that Jack and Tyler are two disassociated personalities inside the same guy’s head, I think that this would actually have a solid logic to it. Tyler is essentially the better looking, smarter, more adventurous person Jack wishes he were, so it would make sense that he would want to be younger, as well.

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Action and/or Adventure, Classics, Drama

Tom Wopat in: Vanishing Point

as: Kowalski

The 1971 counterculture cult classic Vanishing Point is one of those movies that you either absolutely love or completely hate. It doesn’t really have a story, exactly; the ending is a source of debate to this day—among fans and detractors alike; and the acting across the board is dismal, at best. But it’s a pretty great film. Or is it?

To push Vanishing Point from “cult classic” to just plain “classic”, one simple change is required. We’re 99% certain you know where we’re going with this.

Be Wise—Wopatize

Reportedly, director Richard C. Sarafian wanted Gene Hackman for the role of Kowalski, but studio executives insisted on casting an unknown actor. You can’t get much more unknown than Barry Newman, who was ultimately given the part and didn’t do much with it.

Pictured: Basically the entire set of Vanishing Point

Pictured: Basically the entire set of Vanishing Point.

Newman’s acting, as mentioned above, is not the best, and his on-screen charisma is practically non-existent. Alternatively, it could be argued that Kowalski only seems like a human tree branch because he’s so calm and Zen. Whichever way it was intended, Tom Wopat’s legitimate acting chops and natural charisma would’ve given the character a much-needed boost of likeability.

Wopat would’ve been only 19 years old when Vanishing Point was filmed, so we’ll just imagine it was made six or seven years later. This may have reduced the impact of the film’s social commentary on America’s post-Woodstock era; others would argue that same social commentary is hamfisted and clichéd, even for a film made at the dawn of said era.

Make the flick a few years later—1977 sounds about right—and the filmmakers would’ve had more perspective on early ‘70s America, and could’ve made a more compelling argument in their film; or, they would’ve wised up and let it out completely.

Though ’77 was still two years before Wopat became famous for driving a hot rodded Dodge, his skill behind the wheel in The Dukes of Hazzard suggests a natural aptitude that would’ve been perfect for the role of Kowalski. Both Wopat and John Schneider did a good deal of their own stunt driving on Dukes, as did Newman in Vanishing Point.

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Drama, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: Whiplash

as: Terence Fletcher

If you love movies or music or both, you must see Whiplash. Even if you’ve already seen it, go watch it again. It’s a real corker! Without a doubt, the best part of the film is J.K. Simmons’ masterful performance as Terence Fletcher, the maniacal, unhinged jazz ensemble leader. Simmons should’ve gotten two Oscars for the role, he’s so good.

drums

That said, however: Tom Wopat could’ve and would’ve been better as Fletcher. Simmons killed it, for sure, but Wopat would’ve killed it, brought it back to life, and killed it again.

Key Changes

The one thing about Whiplash that struck me as odd is that Fletcher, the hard-driving, perfectionist music teacher, is not shown performing any music himself until the end of the film. And, even then, it’s only for a few fleeting seconds. From what I can tell, Simmons was genuinely playing in his performance scene, but it’s nothing terrible impressive. (Which, I suppose, is the point—“those who can’t do, teach” as they say. Though Fletcher takes it a little far with the “making up for my own shortcomings” thing. Anyways…)

With Wopat, an accomplished musician in his own right, in the role, we would add more scenes of Fletcher playing, here and there. The protagonist, Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller), would come across Fletcher playing solo acoustic jazz guitar (as Wopat is a talented guitarist)—really, really well—in an empty studio at the music conservatory where most of the story takes place. Amazed by his teacher’s skill, Neiman would be inspired to practice harder to try and match his skill (though Andrew is a drummer). This would, of course, be on top of the other “motivational” methods Fletcher employs to get the best out of his students.

Personally, I think this would make Fletcher an even more intimidating figure. It’s one thing to have a lunatic band teacher yell at you to do better; to have a lunatic band teacher that you know is a genius player himself yelling at you would be even worse. Like, “Dang, this dude really does know his stuff. I better play my @$$ off if I’m going to impress him even a little bit.” It would be akin to having Lebron James as your basketball coach: “How am I ever going to be good enough to meet those high standards?”

In all honesty, though, it’s hard to imagine anyone giving a better performance than J.K. Simmons did in Whiplash. It’s one of the finest cinematic performances of the 21st century, if not of all time. Still, can’t go wrong with Wopat, amirite?

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Classics, Drama, Sports

Tom Wopat in: Rocky

as: Rocky Balboa

*audible gasps all around*
“Are you outta your mind?”
*someone throws an empty beer bottle*
“Blaspheme!”

Alright, alright, I know this one is pretty crazy. Who could be more Rocky that Sly Stallone? He wrote the derned screenplay, for crying out loud, and this movie is basically the only reason he has a career to this day. Stallone as Rocky in Rocky is about as iconic an acting role as you’ll ever see.

But, seriously, think about it. Despite receiving a 1977 Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for the role, and another earlier this year for his victory lap as an aging Rocky in Creed, Stallone is far from a great actor. Originally, the producers wanted someone else to play the part anyway, an established star like Burt Reynolds or Robert Redford or James Caan. And while all those chaps are fine actors, I think we can all agree that Rocky would’ve sucked with any of them as the star.

rocky

But you know who would’ve been great as Rocky Balboa? Tom Wopat.

Key Changes

For starters, Wopat is five years younger than Stallone. In the context of the movie, this would’ve made a huge difference, in my opinion. Stallone was thirty when the film was released, and it therefore stands to reason that so was his character. If you know anything about sports, you know that most athletes’ talents and/or skills start to decline right around that age. This seems like it would be especially true for an amateur boxer—professional pugilists may be able to stay in prime shape well past the big 3-0, but those guys have the trainers, doctors, nutritionists, and money required to stay that way. But a poor dead-end schmoe like Rocky, who works as a loan shark to pay his bills, wouldn’t’ve had those assets in his corner. After who knows how many bouts and bludgeonings, it’s doubtful that a 30-year-old nobody would’ve been in good enough shape, or had the skills, to hold his own against World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed. A tough, 25-year-old cat, though, one who’s taken far fewer lumps from both opposing boxers and life in general? Seems like he would’ve stood a much better chance.

Second, Sylvester Stallone stands 5-foot-9, Tom Wopat is an even 6-feet, and Carl Weathers (Creed) is 6-foot-1. Being taller, and having a more comparable reach, would’ve made the climactic bout much more realistic. A four-inch arm-length deficit can be huge in the boxing ring.

Finally, though we’ve mentioned before that Wopat could probably pass for Italian, it’s possible the filmmakers would’ve simply avoided the issue by changing Rocky’s heritage and last name. Wopat, being of Czech descent, potentially could have played Rocky Belinsky, Rocky Kochevar, or Rocky Dubin. Though none of them have quite the ring that “Rocky Balboa” does, that last one’s pretty dang good, if you ask me.

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Comedy, Drama, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: High Fidelity

as: Barry

This was a tough one to figure out. We imagined that Tom Wopat would be a wonderful addition to the cast of 2000’s High Fidelity, but struggled with which role would be best for his talents. Initially, we had him taking over for John Cusack as Rob Gordon, the film’s protagonist, but ultimately decided that he’d be better in a smaller, but no less memorable role: Barry, originally portrayed by Jack Black.

Arranged autobiographically.

Arranged autobiographically.

Key Changes

In High Fidelity, Barry is a snarky music snob working at the Championship Vinyl record store owned and operated by Cusack’s character. Black turns in a brilliant, breakout performance, but we feel that Tom Wopat could’ve had the same effect. His Barry would be older, and ostensibly wiser, but no less of a jackass to any customer he feels in unworthy of spending time at the shop.

Wopat is about 15 years older than Cusack (18 years older than Black), so his Barry would be more attuned to the classics and oldies than Rob. He’d still be a know-it-all about every style, genre, and era of music, but would pepper his Top Five lists (a recurring preoccupation for Championship’s employees) with older references, both as legitimate choices and for comedic effect.

Barry Wopat’s age would be the butt of some good-natured ribbing from his co-workers, as well. In the original version of the film, Barry is shown to have a fondness for vintage clothes. With the older Wopat in the role, the clothes could remain the same, but they wouldn’t be “vintage” so much as “still wearing them from the first time around.” Upon receiving a compliment from a customer on his sweet “retro” threads, he would be deflated by an “Everything old is new again, right, Barry?” from Rob. Another customer, searching for an obscure “original recording” by Lead Belly (or some other long-dead artist), would be sent in Barry’s direction: “He’s just the guy to help you out. Barry and Lead Belly went to high school together.”

One aspect of the character that wouldn’t need to be changed is his spectacular singing voice. At the end of the film, Barry performs Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” with Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, his newly-renamed band (formerly Sonic Death Monkey). Rob, and everyone else at the show, expect Barry to be terrible. Instead, he blows doors down, with Jack Black providing his own vocals in the film. Tom Wopat is no stranger to singing and musical performance, and would be more than able to tackle the classic Motown track.

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Action and/or Adventure, Drama, Television

Tom Wopat in: Sons of Anarchy

as: Bobby Elvis

It’s been almost two years since Sons of Anarchy wrapped up its epic seven-season run on FX. The Shakespearian biker-gang drama went out guns a-blazin’ with a final season that shook the show’s Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original (SAMCRO) to its foundation. Lots of characters, both beloved and behated, wound up taking dirt naps by the end, and, arguably, none of those final season deaths had more of an effect on SOA’s ultimate resolution than that of Robert “Bobby Elvis” Munson. I know I teared up when Bobby bit the dust.

Perhaps the only way it could’ve had a bigger impact is—you guessed it—if Tom Wopat had played the part.

Wopat of Anarchy

SOA

Bobby Elvis was originally portrayed by Mark Boone Junior, and, other than their physical differences, he and Tom Wopat are essentially analogous. Both are accomplished (if unheralded) singer-songwriters, both are Midwesterners (from Ohio and Wisconsin, respectively), and both are in their early sixties. Both clearly know their way around high-powered vehicles, as Boone and Wopat both did much of their own driving in Sons and Dukes of Hazzard (though Bobby’s motorcycle is a decidedly different beast than the General Lee).

On Sons of Anarchy, Bobby Elvis is, generally, the level-headed voice of reason among the MC’s leaders. Wopat’s laidback, soft-spoken style would perfectly fit this aspect of the character. It’s easy to picture Bobby Wopat talking some sense into (or at least attempting to) Ron Perlman’s Clay Morrow or Charlie Hunnam’s Jax Teller as they sit around the big table at the club’s meetings.

At a good five inches taller than Boone, Wopat would be more on the level, physically, with Perlman’s imposing gang leader. Though Clay and Bobby never came to blows, a taller (though much thinner) Bobby could’ve given the character more weight (ironically) in their interactions.

Early on in the series, we see how Bobby got his nickname: he’s a semi-professional Elvis impersonator. The long-haired, bearded, portly Boone didn’t look much like Elvis, but he sold it with his enthusiasm and far-better-than-expected singing. I think we can all agree that Tom Wopat would make a much more convincing faux-King of Rock & Roll, and we know he’d be more than capable of singing some Elvis tunes. After Bobby’s first appearance in his Elvis getup, we never see him performing again. With Wopat in the role (and doing a much better job of Elvising), it’s possible it would’ve been more of a recurring thing, a bit of comic relief to lighten the often-heavy overall tone of the show.

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Drama, Musicals

Tom Wopat in: I’m Not There

as: Billy the Kid (a.k.a. “Bob Dylan”)

The 2007 sort of-biopic I’m Not There opens with a caption reading, “Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan.” To that end, six different actors portray Dylan in different guises that represent the different stages of the musician’s long and storied career. Each of the assorted thespians delivers a fine performance, and the overall result is an intriguing if uneven film that ultimately seems like the closest anyone outside Dylan’s circle will ever get to “knowing” the notoriously elusive singer-songwriter.

Among the half-dozen actors playing “Bob Dylan” are Oscar winners Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett. (Yes, a woman plays Bob Dylan, and she turns in perhaps the best portrayal of the bunch.) Another is Richard Gere. If any member of the main cast of this flick is replaceable, it’s him.

We’ve already suggested that Tom Wopat take Dylan’s place in another film involving Billy the Kid. It seems pretty logical that Wopat play the “Billy the Kid” version of Dylan here.

The Times They Are A-Changin' 1

Why Not Wopat?

Tom Wopat is two years younger than Richard Gere, so not much would change in that respect: this “Billy the Kid” would still be an older, wiser, wizened version of Dylan, still the aged outlaw. And we already know that Wopat looks dang good in Western-style attire, so not even the costumes would’ve needed changing.

As he’s searching for his dog Henry, and meets up with a friend named Homer, it’s clear that Billy the Kid is meant to represent Basement Tapes-era Dylan. (“Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and “Open the Door, Homer” being two tracks off that landmark album.) Ergo, it’s only fitting that another Basement Tapes song, “Goin’ to Acapulco” is performed during this part of the film. The song’s jangling acoustic guitars and ragged vocals make it a perfect fit for the Old West-esque setting, as well.

However, there is one glaring problem: it’s not Billy the Kid singing the song. There’s probably a good reason Jim James of My Morning Jacket sings “Goin’ to Acapulco” instead of Gere, but it would likely have been a more powerful and memorable moment in the film if the Dylan character sang it himself. As such, Tom Wopat would be ideal.

Wopat has released something like ten albums in his career, in styles ranging from rock ‘n’ roll to country-western to classic pop standards. Dylan himself has famously made a number of stylistic shifts throughout his recording career. The two make a good match by that metric. Plus, Wopat can play guitar, something that it seems like any cinematic portrayal of Bob Dylan should do. Gere doesn’t so much as touch an instrument of any kind in his segment of I’m Not There. (Poser.)

Also: while they don’t exactly look alike, there’s a much closer resemblance between Wopat and Dylan than there is between Dylan and Gere.

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Classics, Drama, Television

Tom Wopat in: The Sopranos

as: Silvio Dante

When The Sopranos first started its run, James Gandolfini and Tom Wopat had roughly the same amount of quote-unquote star power, so it’s not unthinkable to imagine Wopat being cast in the lead role of the series. But, given how flat-out spectacular Gandolfini was as Tony Soprano, it’s clear that no other actor could’ve played the part as well.

Silvio Dante is another story, however. Don’t get me wrong, Steven Van Zandt was a revelation as Tony’s consigliere—who knew Bruce Springsteen’s lead guitarist could act?—but Tom Wopat could have, nay, would have been even better.

Key Changes

While nearly all the actors in major roles (and many minor ones) in The Sopranos really are of Italian heritage, Tom Wopat is not. This generally isn’t a big deal in Hollywood, where people professionally pretend to be people they’re not, but on a show that’s about the Mafia, and that does a very good job playing up the importance of the Mafia’s “rules,” it could’ve been a deal breaker. However, there is precedent for non-Italians holding important positions in the mob in fiction: Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) in The Godfather was the Corleone family consigliere for many years, despite being 100 percent Irish.

He's a pinball stugots, there has to be a twist...

He’s a pinball stugots, there has to be a twist…

Though it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for Wopat to portray an Italian—he’s certainly got the hair for it!—it’s possible that the character would’ve been rewritten in more of a Tom Hagen mold. An “outsider,” if you will, that nevertheless is a trusted member of Tony’s crew. Perhaps he grew up in the same neighborhood as Tony and, after an initially contentious relationship that resulted in many a fisticuff, the two gained a grudging respect for one another that evolved into true friendship.

If that were the angle the writers took, the character would, of course, need to have a different, non-Italian name. Our suggestion: Jimmy “The Duke” Lucas. (See what we did there?) A good number of characters on The Sopranos are address by nicknames—Paulie Walnuts, Uncle Junior, Big P***y, Johnny Sack, even Silvio was often referred to as just “Sil”—so Wopat’s character could’ve been called both Jimmy and Duke in equal measure.

Apart from that, the character could’ve remained essentially the same. Tom Wopat could easily have brought the same balance of gravitas and humor to the Silvio (or Jimmy) role that Van Zandt did. He looks great in a suit (as Silvio was almost always dressed to the nines). We’ve seen him beat up goons on The Dukes of Hazzard, so him knocking the stuffing out of a guy with a Dust Buster would’ve been completely believable. And, while we don’t have anything to support this, Wopat probably smokes a mean cigar, too.

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Action and/or Adventure, Drama, Television

Tom Wopat in: Game of Thrones

as: Ned Stark

In the blockbuster HBO series Game of Thrones (and the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R.R. Martin on which the show is based), Eddard “Ned” Stark, is the honorable, loyal, and just lord of Winterfell and warden of the North—a vast portion of the story’s fictional kingdom of Westeros. Originally portrayed by Sean Bean, Ned was the show’s moral center and nominally its main character throughout the first season. However (SPOILER ALERT for a 6-year-old TV episode and a nigh 20-plus-year-old book), in the series’ ninth episode, Ned is executed by the newly-appointed king of Westeros, Joffrey Baratheon.

Always the same weather report with this guy.

Always the same weather report with this guy.

Because Sean Bean’s characters always seem to die in every plum role he plays (see: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), we thought we’d give the poor guy a break and put someone else in the role, someone whose characters have never died onscreen. We are, of course, referring to the one and only Tom Wopat.

Representative Scene: Outside the Great Sept of Baelor

Ned Wopat, wrongly accused of treason, is forced to plead his case before Queen Cersei Baratheon (nee Lannister), her son Joffrey—who became king after the death of his father Robert—and the King’s Small Council. A huge throng of citizens from King’s Landing (the capitol of Westeros) has gathered to witness the spectacle.

Ned’s daughter, Sansa, has been captured by the Kingsguard—kind of the Westerosi Secret Service, but with a lot more swords and blatant, brutal murders of the King’s enemies. And, since King Joffrey is an insufferable little turd who orders killings left and right, those murders add up quickly. Learning that Sansa’s life is danger, and having struck something of a plea bargain with Cersei and Joffrey, Ned agrees to confess to his “crimes.”

Despite his confession, King Joffrey the Turd orders his goons to execute Ned Wopat anyway. Just as the executioner prepares to swing his sword and behead Ned, a trumpeter, previously hidden in the crowd, blasts out a rousing twelve-note call to arms. A Northern war wagon, painted bright orange, drawn by four of the mightiest chargers in all of Westeros, and driven by a hooded figure, comes barreling toward the sept. King’s Landingers diving out of its way as it speeds onward.

Ned kicks his would-be executioner’s legs out from under him, jumps to his feet, and dives into the cart as it passes. The hood of the driver’s cloak is blown back by the wind, and we see that it is his brother, Brandon Stark (played by John Schneider, naturally), who was long thought to be dead.

Brandon Schneider-Stark pilots the war wagon up the bed of a conveniently-placed-and-tilted-downward flatbed cart. With an exuberant “Yee-haw!” the Stark Boys, horses, and wagon ramp off the cart and fly through the air, up and over the walls of King’s Landing. They land perfectly on the other side, the horses hit the ground running, and they head due north to freedom.

Also, Sansa escapes somehow and meets up with them later.

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