To say that I was looking forward to this episode would be to misrepresent that odd mix of dread and anticipation that comes with watching the build up to a massacre; you know what’s going to happen yet watching it unfold in front of your eyes, there is an irrational part of you that is still attached to the characters and thus hopes that, despite their fates already being sealed, they can someone overcome the odds and make it out alive. For better or worse (ok definitely for the better), HBO is throwing no such bones today and thus we see the calamity of the Red Wedding unfold. Yet, unlike episode 9 of last season which featured only the Blackwater, this episode appropriately titled ‘The Rains of Castamere’ advances some of the other plotlines fairly far and thankfully so because otherwise this writeup would consist of nothing but a never-ending rant against Freys and all that is wrong with the world.
In the show, we were introduced to the song ‘The Rains of Castamere’ just in the previous episode when Cersei uses the tale of the now extinct houses of Reyne and Tarbecks to illustrate to young Margaery the dangers of rising too high too fast. I wonder if audiences unfamiliar with the novels would make the connection though obviously that isn’t particularly important until the episode’s end. I should say that I’m not the biggest Stark fan in any medium – Ned was alright but I was fairly indifferent to Robb and often flat out disliked Catelyn. However, Michelle Fairley and Richard Madden have put in some great performances, especially the former, and have really brought the characters to life for me so watching this episode was like reopening a particularly vicious old wound and I’m not ashamed to admit just how reluctant I was to even watch this episode in the first place but I heroically preserved and now, here we are.
Let’s talk a little about how this episode was constructed. The show has reached a point where the fans know that something big is going to happen at this point in the season and so it falls to the director to play with the audience’s expectations. So, you think something crazy is going to happen? Ah, but which plotline is shit going to go down in? Is it Jon and his betrayal of the Wildlings? Oh, or maybe it’s Dany’s team and their honestly idiotic plan to take a city? Hmm, what about Robb? Nah, there’s no way…oh shit, they’re all dead?! My point is, that there is a little bit of cloak and dagger tomfoolery involved here by director David Nutter – with Robb’s seemingly plausible plans to assault Casterly Rock, I think it’s possible that some of the more naïve viewers would believe that the major event of the episode could be an assault on the Lannisters. There is also Talisa’s pregnancy which feels, perhaps irrationally, that it protects Talisa and the Starks from any major violence. In the words of Ramsay Snow, ‘if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention’. Arya approaching the Twins was tantalizing in its own way – there was every possibility of the episode ending with the Starks partially reunited and regrouped to exact their revenge. Last but not least, the way Walder Frey humiliates Robb, you think you’ve seen the worst of what he has to offer but it isn’t until the very end that it’s revealed that that was just the appetizer. If you’re an optimistic at heart, this episode was designed to break you.
We’ll talk about the episode’s ending in a bit but for now let’s also see where our other storylines are heading. We talked about teasing the audience with false hope earlier and Nutter does it again with Jon and Bran. The half-brothers are literally a dozen metres apart but Jon has no idea he’s there and the tension between the Wildlings and Jon finally bubbles over. I think Kit Harrington did a great job of conveying Jon’s extreme reluctance to actually go not only against his oath to the Night’s Watch but also against his morals in killing an innocent old man. The fight that breaks out wasn’t particularly clean in its choreography and as is often the case in such scrappy engagements the camerawork was a little chaotic as well so while it was obvious who was fighting who, the actually engagements looked messy and a little ugly, especially once the wolves got involved. Perhaps it wasn’t totally unintentional though, since the idea was that Jon takes advantage of the chaos and escapes. If I’m being fully honest though, I couldn’t pay as much attention to the scene as I would have liked simply because my mind kept going ahead to the ending that I knew was coming.
Likewise, I found the events in Dany’s storyline entirely forgettable. I understand why they had to be shown – it would have been very strange and totally unacceptable for Dany to suddenly have two cities under her command without the audience even being shown how it happened. At the same time though, I just don’t have the emotional energy to deal with Jorah’s ongoing friendzone crisis or the petty rivalry between the Queen’s guards. In other news, it looks like we will be stuck with Daario Naharis for a while and although he isn’t as intolerable as I seem to remember, I should remind anyone reading who has also read the novels, that we haven’t really seen the depths of Dany’s obsession with him yet. This is pretty much at the top of the list of things I absolutely do not want the adaptation to retain, along with Sam’s sex scenes and possibly some Ironborn shenanigans.
Alright, so now that the minor league storylines are out of the way, let’s really talk about some of the changes to the Red Wedding. First of all, as some of you may know, the novel version of ‘Talisa’, Jeyne Westerling, does not die at the Red Wedding but instead is betrayed by her own family who have cut a deal with the Lannisters to ensure she never gives birth to an heir to the Northern throne. Now, Talisa does get pregnant, but no child named Ned is ever going to have a happy ending and I suspect that it is a way of viciously ending any theories that fans have had about Jeyne being pregnant. Apart from that, I like that the show paid so much attention to the way Walder Frey invited Robb and his guests to the Twins – every custom was observed and the tension noticeably left Robb when the brief welcoming ceremonies were concluded. The Freys treachery will come back to haunt them soon enough though I wonder whether the show will have Catelyn return to life right the next episode. On one hand, it would make for a hell of a season ender but on the other, it wouldn’t give the event enough time to sink in. The tragedy of the Red Wedding needs to really be felt for whatever hope Lady Stoneheart’s rebirth provides to be fully appreciated.
So anyway, Robb’s storyline ends rather abruptly but with a bang and a whisper. From a purely objective point of view, my feelings for the characters aside, it was a fantastic episode – from the dagger in the belly, to Catelyn’s frantic pleas, to Roose Bolton’s ‘Jaime Lannister sends his regards’, the episode delivered each instance of the betrayal very well and as you might expect, Robb’s demise overshadowed every other narrative in the episode. Sure, some stuff happened to Jon and Dany and Bran and whoever, but Richard Madden and Michelle Fairley really stole the show at the episode’s end and it was a fitting swansong performance from two of the show’s bright talents.