|Robb (Richard Madden) & Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) HBO
“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” Theon’s torturer says this line in “The Climb” and it might as well have been said directly into the camera at the millions of viewers expecting good to ultimately conquer over evil. Game of Thrones isn’t that show. It’s brutal, it’s merciless and it has no problem killing off its most beloved characters. Sure, there are victorious moments, and honor and loyalty does win out sometimes, but not often. Once in a while, the show goes to some of the darkest depths television has ever seen. Such is the case for “The Rains of Castamere”, the ninth episode in Game of Thrones third season. Traditionally, Episode 9 serves as the climax of each season of Game of Thrones. Going into “The Rains of Castamere”, I assumed that such a climax would occur and actively prepared to be shocked and amazed as I read Twitter comments from book readers warning viewers about what was to come. Luckily, I was one of the few who remained unspoiled about the episode’s final moments. Colloquially described as “The Red Wedding” by those who have read the books, the final scene is one of the most gruesome moments in television history, a bleak reminder of how ugly humanity can be to each other.
Though the episode spends most of its time at the Twins, home to the Freys, it also provides some interesting moments in the North and Across the Narrow Sea. In the North, Jon Snow and the wildlings nearly converge with Bran and his gang, marking one of the first times the former Stark clan are in the same location since the beginning of season 1. There is another, more unfortunate chance convergence of Starks later in the episode, but more on that later. The wildlings raid an old farmer’s horse camp and try to persuade Jon Snow to kill the man to prove his loyalty. He immediately makes his hesitation apparent, and Ygrette is forced to kill the man. The wildlings unleash hell upon Jon and Ygrette, but he manages to escape. Little does Jon know that he was aided greatly by a Stark boy a few hundred feet away.
Bran and his group of misfits take shelter in an old mill very close to Jon Snow and the wildlings. When thunder causes Hodor to begin screaming in fright, Bran channels his warg powers and manages to singlehandedly silence the giant. Everyone is in awe of his ability, which was originally thought to not have an effect on other humans. Bran is clearly a very special boy, with powers that even reach beyond the imaginations of the characters in the show. Like Arya, Bran is someone who could do a lot of damage in the near-to-distant future and his increasingly powerful abilities could make him a force to be reckoned with. Bran manages to get inside the mind of his direwolf Summer and force it to attack the wildlings. Jon Snow owes a debt of gratitude to young Bran, though it seems that he may never find out. It’s interesting how the two departures in this location feel so different. Jon Snow essentially abandons Ygrette entirely, leaving her to look on in astonishment as her presumed lover rides away on horseback. It’s kind of a dick move on Jon Snow’s part and I don’t know if we were supposed to feel more sympathy for him or Ygrette, but I definitely felt myself leaning towards the latter. Comparatively, Bran’s insistence that Osha take care of Rickon and stay behind while Bran and the others go to the Wall is much more emotional. Rickon has not had much of anything to do on this show, so it’s not a huge loss, but his relationship with his big brother shone through in his departing scene. As I don’t see any reason why we would follow Rickon and Osha, this will probably be the last time we see either character for a long time so I’m glad they had proper goodbyes.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys and her men plot the invasion of the city of Yunkai with new warrior Daario taking the lead. When Daario, Ser Jorah and Grey Worm invade the city in the dead of night, they appear to be vastly outnumbered by the Yunkai slave warriors but the group later returns with smiles on their faces having officially completed their task. The most revealing part of this storyline in this episode is the expression on Ser Jorah’s face when Daenerys asks if Daario made it out alive. She has clearly become infatuated with the long-haired, Fabio-esque warrior and Jorah can’t seem to make her feel the same way about him. He clearly has a deep love for Dany but she won’t ever see him as anything more than a loyal warrior. So essentially, Jorah has been friend-zoned. Poor guy. I hope something becomes of this plot development, as I’d rather not see Jorah suffer in quiet desperation for the next five seasons.
These storylines definitely served their purpose in advancing their respective characters’ plots, but nothing compares to the happenings at the Twins. Robb and Catelyn plot out their next moves after the wedding of Edmure and one of the Frey girls, mapping out their attack on Casterly Rock. They visit the cantankerous Walder Frey, played with crusty delight by David Bradley, known to many as Argus Filch from the Harry Potter film series. There is a great bit of comedy as Walder Frey lists off the numerous Frey girls in contention for marriage, misremembering the names of some. He makes a curious comment to Talisa about always knowing what’s under a woman’s dress, which seemed to indicate that he knew she was carrying Robb’s baby. Obviously, Walder Frey is meant to be seen as a dirty, despicable old man but I don’t think I could’ve predicted the extent of his treachery to come.
In the beginning, the wedding goes along as it should, if not better than originally expected, when Walder Frey reveals the girl to be much more attractive the Edmure ever imagined. Robb and Talisa seem happier than they’ve ever been, deciding that if it’s a boy, they are going to name their baby Eddard, after Robb’s late father. Robb hasn’t been the most exciting character over the course of these three seasons, but I’ve generally come to respect him and his relationship with Talisa, especially in this episode. Catelyn’s smile at the couple indicates that the world-weary mother is happier than she’s been in a long time. Her son has reconciled with her, he is happily married and expecting a child and they’ve just made major headway in the war against the Lannisters. Nothing could be better for the three of them. So this is why the plans and idealistic expectations of their lives together are soon completely destroyed in a blaze of hellish brutality.
The scene that follows plays out in such a way that is almost beyond words. It is unlike anything I have ever seen on television, demonstrating the mind-boggling, infuriating savagery that man is capable of inflicting upon their fellow man. It is evil in its purest form. Edmure and his new wife are taken out of the hall for their official bedding ceremony and the doors close behind them. Immediately, the musicians begin to play “The Rains of Castamere”, known throughout the land as the official song of House Lannister. Catelyn looks around the hall in horror, desperately trying to process what’s happening. Roose Bolton indicates to Catelyn that she look under his cloaked sleeve. She discovers that her presumed ally is wearing chainmail, an indication that a battle is about to commence (after all, one does not wear chainmail to a wedding). Catelyn immediately slaps him and pleads to Robb to prepare him for what’s to come.
And then, out of nowhere, a man comes up to Talisa and begins stabbing her stomach. With blood gushing out of her stomach, Talisa falls to the ground and dies in a pool of her own blood. It is truly a horrific scene, especially to see all of it in full view. It seems that Walder Frey intended to get revenge in the absolute worst way possible for Robb not making good on his agreement to marry one of his girls. The scene shocked me on a visceral level, but I will admit that I wasn’t entirely shocked that they killed her off, especially since she hasn’t made that much impact on the show since her introduction in season 2. I assumed that this would be the big climax that book readers were talking about (as it turns out, Talisa isn’t even in the books). Then the unthinkable happened. Robb is shot by crossbows. Catelyn is shot by crossbows. Everything is happening so fast that I desperately hope it’s all just a nightmare that Catelyn will soon wake up from. Unfortunately the scene is very real. Catelyn grabs Walder’s wife and swears she’ll kill her unless he lets Robb go free. Walder shrugs it off, and in what may be the most despicable comment he’s ever made, claims that he’ll just as easily find another wife.
Roose Bolton immediately lunges at Robb and stabs him in the heart, stating one last phrase of betrayal: “The Lannisters send their regards.” He immediately falls to the ground and dies. Robb Stark. The eldest son that was destined to avenge the death of his father. Dead. The leader of one side of the show’s central conflict lying there dead on the ground. The pained fading into numb reaction of Catelyn really said it all. Under the assumption that her entire family is now either dead or missing, Catelyn really has nothing left to live for. She has no reason to go on. That is exactly why it feels like an act of mercy when her throat gets cut by Walder’s son. And then the episode cuts to black, remaining silent throughout the entire end credits. At this point, I can barely move.
Adding another dose of tragedy to the proceedings, Arya comes within a few hundred feet of reuniting with Robb and Catelyn after the Hound takes her to the Twins to sell her off. She witnesses the slaughter of Grey Wind, Robb’s direwolf, and hears the massacre ensuing in the hall. I can’t even begin to describe the level of sorrow that girl has gone through over the past three seasons. Arya’s shocked looks of horror mirrored the reactions of millions across America on Sunday. This isn’t something that rarely, if ever, happens on television. Not one but two main characters are killed off barely four seasons into what is sure to be a much longer series. The main conflict of the series is gone. The Lannisters have won. Robb’s heroic act of justice has been cut short. Evil has conquered over good. It is easily the most shocking moment I’ve experienced from television in a very long time, and it’s a testament to the true, visceral power of the show that it was able to pull off such a massive, game-changing scene. I absolutely cannot wait to see where the show goes from here, and I dread having to wait until next year for season 4.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that Lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o’er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall,
MVP: Michelle Fairley
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Michelle Fairley
Directing for a Drama Series: David Nutter
Writing for a Drama Series: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss