Please note that this entire post is full of spoilers for the latest episode of Game of Thrones, so if you haven’t watched it yet and don’t want to be spoiled, absolutely do not read any further beyond this point.
So, are we all done watching last night’s episode of Game of Thrones yet? Are we done with the pain, the anger and the disbelief of what happened during the episode’s final moments, dubbed the ‘Red Wedding’ by fans across the board? No, we are not done, and we will never be done.
“The Rains of Castamere” was the ninth–and penultimate–episode in Game of Thrones’ third season, and the ninth episode is traditionally the time for huge developments in the ongoing story. Season one had the shocking beheading of what was the show’s main protagonist at that point, while season two propelled the episode’s budget into the stratosphere to produce a stunning, epic and incredible hour of television for the Battle of Blackwater. So, with all that riding on its back, how on Earth could the show throw something else into the fray (I almost said ‘Frey’ just for the lols) to compare to that? Well, with a wedding. A brutal, terrible wedding.
Before we get to the chaos of the episode’s main event, it’s worth noting that while that was the biggest story of the hour, there were other plots moving forward elsewhere across Westeros. For example, after taking shelter inside an abandoned village, Bran’s party encounters the wildling raiding force that scaled the Wall earlier in the season–Jon Snow included. And from there, Bran’s warg abilities help Jon to escape the company he’s keeping, finally moving Bran’s story out of a season-long stagnation that mostly involved conversations about how to warg out and nothing more.
I’ve stated numerous times so far this season that I’ve found Bran’s story to be very uneventful and unprogressive. Granted, it’s never been as motionless as Theon’s segment of the story, but it always seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere anytime fast–perhaps mirroring his involvement in the majority of the book this season is concentrating on. The events that happened in this episode, however, are what bring the first half of A Storm of Swords to an end, and arguably the only thing that’s happened to Bran this season that has held anything of particular value, hence my appreciation of it.
On top of Bran’s story finally gaining some forward momentum, we also had Jon Snow parting ways with the wildling force he was travelling with, after refusing to slaughter an innocent farmer as per the requests of those around him.
There’s not really an awful lot to discuss in regards to Jon’s story, this week. Yes, he was finally unmasked as a traitor and forced to fight his way out (but not before being attacked by a possessed eagle, as you do), but I doubt that anybody–even non-book readers–didn’t realise that this was coming eventually. In fact, the best thing about Jon’s portion of the story in this episode lay in the separation of him and Ygritte, which played out extremely well.
As this season of Game of Thrones gradually progressed, I found myself continuously impressed by how much more interesting the partnership between Jon and Ygritte was when compared to the books. On paper, their relationship (at least to me) never necessarily felt disappointing, but I always felt that they were both only there to keep watch on the other, if that’s understandable. On screen, however, the added benefit from both Kit Harington and Rose Leslie sharing palpable chemistry made their relationship feel much more visceral and exciting, and their eventual separation more emotionally charged. (That look on Ygritte’s face, upon realising that Jon had left her, was full of disappointment and hurt, and Rose Leslie carried it perfectly.) Their partnership was one of those instances where screen won out over book, and it elevated two characters far beyond what they would’ve been without the other.
“The Rains of Castamere” also featured progression in Dany’s story, in which her raiding party seized control of Yunkai, a small scene involving Sam and Gilly staring at the Wall, and Arya travelling with The Hound to her uncle’s wedding (coming so close to being reunited with her family, but having it ripped away from her at the last second–a nice parallel to Bran coming so close to Jon earlier in the episode). And that brings us back full circle to the episode’s main event.
When I first came across the Red Wedding in the latter half of A Storm of Swords (the show brought this story forward slightly, for reference), I had to read pretty much every sentence twice just to make sure that what I was reading was actually happening, not just some dream of mine, and to absorb what the heck it was that was unfolding before my eyes. And after that, I had to go back and read it all again because I still refused to believe that it had happened. From watching “The Rains of Castamere”, it’s safe to assume that they captured the effect of the whole sequence almost too well, and even hours after watching it, I’m still feeling the after-effects.
There’s a reason why the Red Wedding sequence is so gut-punching, and that’s because it tries its very hardest to lull you into a false sense of security before turning the joy to ashes in your mouth. I imagine that for a non-book reader, it wouldn’t be difficult to anticipate that something big was lurking around the corner (mainly because it’s episode nine and because this is television), but when you see everybody ostensibly cracking smiles and being merry, you almost think that you’re just being overly suspicious, like Dahario comments to Ser Jorah earlier in the episode, a thousand leagues away from the wedding at the Twins. But right when it’ll hurt the most, the true horror of just what Catelyn and Robb have walked into becomes apparent, and it arguably packs more of a punch that what Ned Stark losing his head did back at the Sept of Baelor all those years ago.
Let’s talk about the episode’s deaths for a moment. The first of the bunch to bite the dust falls upon Talisa, whose death is so brutal, so horrific and shocking, that it’s legitimately difficult to continue watching. Just moments before, she and Robb were discussing what to name their unborn child, and how they’ll teach him horse-riding when he was old enough, and then to see it ripped apart so viciously was one of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve witnessed in a long time. I never cared much for Talisa’s character, but any death that’s so violent and undeserved is destined to leave an impression irrespective of that. (Besides, Talisa was never supposed to be at the wedding, as in the book, Robb’s wife is left behind at Riverrun, totally escaping the massacre at the Red Wedding–which only makes her death feel even more terrible to watch.)
It’s actually the sheer brutality of Talisa and Catelyn’s deaths that makes Robb’s demise (a sword through the chest courtesy of Roose Bolton, the treacherous bastard) feel somewhat mellow in comparison, though every bit as impactful nevertheless. In regards to Catelyn, it’s her death that made the entire sequence so much more emotional, as she pleads with Walder Frey to let her first-born son live, and then wails in pure horror at seeing him slaughtered right in front of her–and then her throat is slit, ushering in the silence of the closing credits. Michelle Fairley’s performance as a mother who’s just witnessed the brutal slaughter of her eldest son was absolutely exceptional, and it was the first time I appreciated Catelyn’s character in a long, long time.
Before this episode aired, I had been anxiously anticipating the Red Wedding for quite some time. I never really had any worries that the show wouldn’t give such a pivotal moment in the series’ history the attention it deserved (and after seeing how the show handled big moments in the past, my confidence was unfaltering), but a part of me was still concerned that it would’ve been a ridiculously tough challenge–even for this show–to make the Red Wedding as much of a thrust in the gut like it was in the book. It turned out, however, that those concerns were absolutely unfounded, and the show told the tale of the wedding expertly, from the beginnings of the tragedy (when Catelyn realises that everything is wrong, right before it’s too late) up to the slaughter that ensues.
To say that “The Rains of Castamere” was a shocking, crushing episode of television wouldn’t be giving it the justice it deserves. What unfolded over the course of the hour was, other than the occasional scene from Dany and Sam, very much a Stark-centric outing. This was the episode in which the stakes were raised even higher than usual, and this was the episode when the Stark family, already depleted and scattered across the lands, became even more fractured at the hands of a despicable character. The bad guys lured the good guys into the most elaborate of traps, fed them food and ale, and then watched “the wine run red”, to quote Walder Frey. It was shocking, and terrible, and I doubt I’ll get over it for quite some time, but it sure was a phenomenal hour of television that’ll definitely go down as one of the best in the series’ history.
On the other hand, since the episode aired, I’ve seen a few complaints from folk (just check out some of the tweets on the @RedWeddingTears Twitter page) about how the bad guys always seem to win over the good, and how things always seem so unfair in the land of Westeros. And I laugh at those remarks, because anybody that has reached this point in Game of Thrones and still hasn’t quite grasped onto the concept that Westeros is an unfair, shit hole of a place to live clearly hasn’t been paying attention. George R.R. Martin loves to take the characters you adore and put them through hell, and he loves to tip the moral scales towards to the antagonists of the story. This is a part of what makes the series as exciting and as unpredictable as it is, even if it involves the senseless slaughter of dozens at the hands of a tyrannical, deranged old man. This is Game of Thrones, and things are never fair.