In an interview awhile back, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jamie Lannister, said he was proud to be a Lannister and not a Stark. He said the Starks were all you ever heard about, because everyone loved them. From Game of Thrones‘ inception, the Starks were set up as our main protagonists. There were and are many houses and families in Westeros, and occasionally dragons, but the Starks were bastions of loyalty and honor, and they are a family we spend the most time with. Even when they were split up, we still followed all of their exploits — Ned, Catelyn, Robb, Jon, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon each had distinct stories and arcs and important roles to play. That was one reason Ned’s death in the first season hit so hard. If this show can kill off a main protagonist, is anyone safe? In the last three seasons the answer has been a resounding no. Still, Season Three has lulled us into a sense of complacency, which was ripped out from under us in “The Rains of Castamere.” Hit the jump for more on why George R. R. Martin doesn’t want you to be happy.
Show watchers who haven’t read the books, congratulations: you now know our pain about TRW, a.k.a. The Red Wedding, a.k.a. the reason for your tears tonight. One thing I’ve always admired about the Song of Ice and Fire fandom is that most people don’t want to ruin the big moments for those who haven’t read the books, and it’s for moments like these.
The Red Wedding has been foreshadowed for awhile, primarily this season, most tellingly when Arya looked apprehensively at the horizon towards the Twins, home of House Frey. The Hound says she is anxious because the closer she gets to seeing her family again, the more afraid she is that it won’t happen. She has a right to fear it. The Starks were splintered apart in Season One and have never been able to find each other again. Another cruel scene with this theme happened elsewhere in the episode, when Bran and Rickon were just on the other side of a stone wall from Jon. What might their lives had been like, and his, had they been able to find each other then? Instead, they passed like ships in the night, heading in opposite directions.
I’ve tried to not compare the books and the show too much this season, because as has been mentioned many times, this year the show really started doing its own thing. But I have to commend the series mightily on this episode from a book reader’s perspective. Many of the scenes were exactly as described in the books (and this one wasn’t written by Martin), and the emotional impact of the Red Wedding (even with the addition of Talisa) was just as gut-wrenching as in the book. The Frey’s betrayal and assassination of Robb might have been guessed by some, but Roose Bolton’s part in it was probably a surprise. In the books, this is Catelyn’s POV chapter, and her expressing her horror over the proceedings was played masterfully by Michelle Fairley in the episode, especially in that final double-throat-slitting scene. The silence over the credits said it all. There was nothing left to say.
Dany was the soul non-Stark to populate the episode’s narratives. There were no Lannisters this week, no Theon, and no other distractions (Sansa was also left out, but her story is too tied in with the Lannisters now to be solely Stark-based). The sacking of Yunkai lost almost all impact against the Red Wedding, and while it was an important move for the finale, it felt out of place. This was the Stark’s hour, and they deserved every minute of it.
The Starks are the best representation of what makes the Song of Ice and Fire series so different from other fantasy novels. The good guys do not win. The Starks, our de facto protagonists, are tortured throughout. It’s a subversion of heroes and happiness, two things Westeros severely lacks, and while it has its own merits, it’s also unrelentingly bleak.
Last season’s penultimate episode — traditionally the one where, in HBO’s truncated seasons, is the most powerful — saw the Battle of Blackwater, one of the series’ best episodes and a game changer when Tywin was able to ward off Stannis’ armies. But Blackwater lacked the emotional impact of Ned’s death or the Red Wedding, and it signaled not only the end of Robb’s march south and his designs are King in the North, or anywhere, but also his life. “The Rains of Castamere is a warning, both in its original song form and as this episode proved: no one is safe. And Winter is Coming.
Episode Rating: A
– Sigh. The King in the North. [raises a weary glass]. Fuck the Freys.
– It was a big moment for Robb to acknowledge his mother was right and asking for her advice to start the episode. Belated, but glad it was included.
– I don’t think it was made very clear for non-book readers, but it is the custom in Westeros that when you have eaten in someone’s home you are then “sheltered” there and protected from harm. The Stark party is shown eating at the very beginning, which just goes to further highlight what complete hypocritical dicks the Freys are. They are the ultimate trailer trash of Westeros.
– In one of the episode’s few funny moments, I loved the parade of homely Frey girls and Walder forgetting one of their names (and saying Edmure could take the twins, why not? What did he care?) Also, Edmure’s delight at his surprisingly beautiful bride.
– Walder talking about Talisa’s “firm tits and tight fit” … lawwwd.
– It was also important to note that the music was too loud at the festivities to alert anyone outside of danger, and that the troops had been given ample drink to keep them preoccupied. In the name of the Seven, I hate everyone right now.
– Stabbing Talisa in the stomach was pretty brutal, as was Robb’s final look at his dead wife. I love Richard Madden and will be awfully sorry to see him gone, but I thought he did a fantastic job with his death scene. I may or may not be crying again a little bit right now.
– The scenes between Arya and the Hound were great this week. Very nice parallel too between Arya convincing the Hound not to kill the old man (even though she knocks him out, too) and Jon convincing, for a time, the Wildlings not to kill the horse breeder. Arya’s interactions with the Hound were kind of early Jaime and Brienne-like, minus the sexual tension of course.
– Sam, what were you even doing in this episode. I actually forgot all about his scene until just now when reviewing my notes. Just like every episode this season, his was the random scene this week that should have been excluded.
– Jon abandoning Ygritte was a dick move. Also, glad to see Summer and Shaggydog there … but where the hell was Ghost??? Would have been helpful. We haven’t seen him in weeks.
– Speaking of which, R.I.P. Grey Wind.
– Another nice parallel too with Bran warging with Hodor as Orell was warging with the eagle (which attacked Jon, showing that Orell was not totally dead … I think … or something). We learned as well that Bran has special warg abilities. But I hated that he has separated from Rickon. More splintering …
– That was definitely the most that Rickon has ever spoken on the show, combined and times three.
– Osha’s face when Bran and Rickon were talking about Wildlings … hilarious.
– “Dead rats don’t squeak” – the Hound