Those of you who have entered this soul crushing show having never read the books prior to starting, please raise your hands.
To those of whom who have read the books and have been largely anticipating this very moment (whether with anxiety, excitement or a little bit of both) for three seasons now, please raise your hands.
Group one, I’m very sorry for you and the disappointment, anger, heartbreak and deception you may be feeling right now, but here’s a small hint: the author of this series enjoys making his audience cry so you better get used to it.
If it’s any consolation, I’ll have you know that after reading said part in the books—the “Red Wedding”—I not only tossed my book across the room, but also refused to pick it up for another two weeks out of petulance and once I did, I made sure to re-read the last few pages to make sure it had actually happened.
Alas, it had, and I was saddened once more.
I had one major fear about this episode: the possibility of being underwhelmed like I had with many of the overall arcs thus far this season. The penultimate episodes of this particular series have always been monumental game changers. There was Ned’s death in season one’s “Baelor” which showed us that heroes can die and the battle of Blackwater in season two that showed us such carnage that was easily overtaken by the hand of an outside party. However, I have been waiting for this moment the entire season and one misstep could have royally pissed off not just one fan but an army of them. Although I’m sure there are plenty right now, if my Twitter and Facebook feed are any indication, that are likely threatening to quit the show regardless of the high tier quality that this show just delivered us.
This is a turning point unlike any other we’ve seen on this show and will shift the direction of every character. If they had failed, it could have been devastating. I wanted to be devastated! I wanted to be gutted! I wanted to feel the sort of empty heartache I felt after seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for the first time and realizing that Frodo dies!
Surprise surprise for this cynic, they more than did so.
This might be an appropriate time to tell you that I’ll be spending all of my time talking about the Starks, their ill befitting sense of honor, their near run-ins and have decided that my focus on Sam or Dany would be woefully sparse. Dany broke into a city and it was claimed it as hers, Sam proved he was smart again.
It’s difficult to break this episode off into pieces considering how interconnected many of the Starks were for the majority of the episode in a way they haven’t been seen since season one. Although none of them actually see each other there’s almost an unsettling amount of peace at the realization that they were close. But, it means I can’t break it off into Bran’s portion or Jon’s portion because what one does effect the other, however indirect up to the situation at hand.
So, to ensure than my sanity stays intact, let’s begin with Bran and Jon’s portion, both of who sported “best of” moments for their characters.
Early in the episode we see Jon and the wildlings approaching a farmer’s house where they plan on killing the old man, stealing the horses and the gold without a second hesitation.
First bout of Stark honor coming right up.
Jon has his reservations naturally. He tells them that there is little need to kill a defenseless farmer. He says that while the Night’s Watch might not be out looking for petty thieves, they would almost certainly chase down a group of murderers. Underneath this rationale, Jon simply doesn’t wish to kill an innocent man. There’s no justifiable reason to kill an innocent who is simply in the way of looting. So his relief is palpable when the old man manages to escape on horseback, due in part because Jon clanged his sword on a rock alerting the horses to the approaching band of Wildlings.
With Bran, we see the group hiding in an abandoned windmill while a storm moves in. And it’s there that we first see our near Stark family reunion. The farmer from before had made his way to this area with the Wildlings on his tail. He’s forced off of his horse, and up in the tower Hoder is having a meltdown over the thunder. Meera and Jojen tell Bran to quiet him so that he won’t alert the Wildlings to their whereabouts. Bran cannot at first until suddenly his eyes go white, his body goes limp and Hoder stands stalk still before sitting down and falling asleep.
Bran has just warged into a human being, something that’s never been done before.
Jojen takes this as a learning opportunity and tells him to warg into the wolves below them in order to protect their whereabouts even further.
That’s where Jon is having a standoff with the rest of the Wildling crew who are telling him to take the old man’s life to prove his loyalty. But he cannot and Ygritte does it for him instead, causing mayhem. Jon knocks her out of the way to fight with the others and while in the midst the wolves, controlled by Bran, attack and kill the men who were trying to kill him but not before Jon gets an eagle to the face. He’s saved however, and in a last ditch effort steals a horse and runs away. From Ygritte, from Bran and from the guise he had been playing.
This scene is great for so many reasons. First off, that honor Jon so effortlessly gave into? Bran had no such problems in killing those men, albeit as a wolf, for the sake of Jon’s life. Was there honor in him protecting his family? Or was is mindless and brutal murder? Luckily for us it was a mix of both because no character is inherently good or evil (give or take a few) on this show.
It was also a highlight for both characters. This was the type of scene we’ve needed from Bran since the start of the show, him always being one of the least interesting Stark characters but here we learn that not only is he powerful, but possibly one of the most powerful Wargs to come from this century.
It was also strong for Jon who needed some action to kickstart his storyline and if Kit Harrington does anything expertly, it’s fight scenes which are typically pure aggression and ferocity as he throws his entire self into them. And his riding away as Ygritte stays behind was surprisingly heartbreaking.
It leads to the exchange between Bran and Osha where he tells her she doesn’t have to follow him beyond the wall because it wouldn’t be safe for Rickon, and that she should take him away to safety.
Rickon, in what must be the longest amount of dialogue he’s even been given, is upset saying that he has to protect Bran because he’s his brother. But Bran tells him that that’s exactly what Bran is doing right now.
I swear these kids. This casting department deserves some sort of long lasting award for managing to catch some of the best young talent in television. Issac Hempstead Wright is on his way to being a secret weapon on the show and as he and Rickon part ways it’s just another reminder that the Stark family have a long, possibly never-ending, road of perseverance and loss before they can ever achieve an ounce of retribution or happiness.
Poor little Arya. Still stuck with Hound she looks forlornly at the Twins where her brother and mother await, itching to be reunited but fearful it’s too good to be true. The Hound can see her fear and points it out but Arya without missing a beat points out his fear as well—fire. They’re on equal footing now. This scene is great not only because Maisie Williams is perfect in showcasing how she can seamlessly act with one of the more domineering presences on the show, but it also, albeit subtly, reinforces my idea of the two characters’ similarities. Sure, Arya didn’t kill the poor man but only knocked him out, and sure Arya is looked at to be on the side of the good, but the Hound is built on a lifetime of bitterness. From his own doing, from others’ perceptions, from the long-lasting effect of his brother—this is a bitter man who uses anger and violence as a necessity rather than a pleasure. How many losses would it take for Arya to turn into nothing more than vengeance? How many more times does she need to see honor take its toll on those she loves before she cracks from the weight of it all.
The Red Wedding: Oh my word this sequence. The trickiest part might have been at the beginning with Robb and Cat reconciling and making plans to take over Casterly Rock, Tywin’s home. For the briefest moment, viewers believe that there is some huge battle awaiting them. That Robb will drive his forces onto the battlefield, either for a glory filled death or magnificent success, but it will happen and his face will continue to grace our scenes.
The next trick is when Walder Frey meets Talisa and the clan and they’re given salt and bread as a means of hospitality. They’re safe, the audience thinks, they’ve gone through the customary tradition to ensure their well being.
Then there is the wedding march itself which almost behaves as a moment of serenity. Couples are in love, Catelyn looks on with pride, and jokes are traded and shared. There is raucous music as the bride and groom are brought to their bed and just as the drums end, the doors are shut. And then in one of the most haunting scenes the show has ever done, the song “The Rains of Castamere” begins, the song of the Lannisters, the song that sung of the death of a large house who betrayed the family. Michelle Fairley’s face spells it all: something is not right.
She picks at Roose Bolton’s sleeve and sees chainmail beneath and only has a moment to shout to Robb to run before the massacre has begun. Talisa is stabbed in the stomach (a symbolic and gruesome act considering she’s pregnant) and lies bleeding out, Robb gets shot with a few arrows (Boromir/Sean Bean style I might add…) and Catelyn takes one to the back as the rest of their party begins to fall by the people who have become their betrayers. Outside, Arya sees the carnage herself as Grey Wind the dire wolf is shot and killed and she’s about to rush in. To do what we don’t know, probably fall to death as well, but not before the Hound finds her and tells her it’s too late and knocks her out to carry her away.
Insidem Catelyn sees her son stand and crawl to his dying wife and makes a last ditch effort to save him. She grabs Walder’s child wife and holds a knife to her throat saying that if he lets Robb go, no harm will come to her. However, this doesn’t faze him in the slightest—”I find a new one”—and just as Robb has uttered his final word “Mother” he’s stabbed a final time by Roose Bolton who tells him the Lannisters send their regards.
Cat slits the wife’s throat and screams out of primal, animalistic sorrow as she watches her firstborn die and she is soon silenced as well, her throat slit silently.
Oh my word.
What this scene did perfectly was its ability to build a sense of impending doom. I was so transfixed by what would happen at the wedding that by its arrival my heart was pounding, despite knowing exactly how it would play out.
There was no honor in Robb’s death. Cat’s plea and murder of the wife was out of desperation once she realized where honor had gotten her family. Robb was slaughtered, unceremoniously and without dignity, he didn’t die a hero’s death. And it was shocking; it will definitely be a scene that people think about for days. Richard Madden did what he could with the material given but Fairley, who was given the meatiest bit, nailed it and showcased a mother’s grief with such little inhibition it was near unsettling to watch. She truly believes she’s lost everything and simply gives in to her death.
There are no happy endings, this show has told us countless times. The bad men win, the good men are killed for their honor and sense of duty, the key holders are forgotten, the smallest players disappear in history, the young men fight and the young girls grow faster than they have any right to. This isn’t a world for children or for lovers, for innocents or the brave, it’s a world for those who fight for power, have power, or are willing to lose everything to achieve an ounce of it.
So, what could possibly be next?