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Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere

“If Walder Frey cooperates...”

George R.R. Martin may have made fantasy history with the infamous Season One Game of Thrones death of the purported hero, but it’s the events of this episode that have always struck me as the truly risky and shocking event, because they drastically narrow the possible endings for this series, and make it clear that this is not a series—TV or book—in which the good guys win.

In both the books and in the show, the events of the Red Wedding are obvious in retrospect to the reader, the viewer, and astute characters like Catelyn. But mixed up in the middle of it—as during a first read, for a newbie watching, or for Robb Stark—it’s a shocking turn of events. In the opening scene, Robb and Catelyn were so preoccupied with making Walder Frey agree to let them use the bridge across the river, and add his forces to theirs. It never occurred to them that he would violate the custom of hospitality.

But why wouldn’t he? Westeros is lawless—and even more so now that the chewy moral center of Team Stark has taken the big dirt nap. The king kills whores for sport, the North is overrun with Ironborn, and Tywin Lannister is governing in all but name. What’s the point of guest-rights in a culture like that, when revenge is so much sweeter and more lucrative?

Robb told Catelyn that if their bid for King’s Landing failed, they would die like Ned. And, in fact, Robb did die like Ned: utterly surprised by the treachery of those around him. And what treachery it was: the Freys started with Robb’s heir by stabbing his wife repeatedly in the stomach. That was horrific, and it wasn’t the worst part.

Robb’s death was touching, but it is Catelyn’s that sticks with me. Walder Frey was willing to sacrifice his wife (“I’ll find another”) for revenge, and Catelyn was so ruined by the death of Robb and Robb’s child that she lost all sense of scale and killed the wife anyway. She was dead, in all the ways that mattered, before her throat was slit—convinced she’d lost almost everything, and overcome with a desire for revenge that likely outweighed Frey’s own killing urge. Michelle Fairley did an incredible job of portraying that inner death without words.

And, of course, the deaths of Catelyn, Robb, and the rest of the Stark contingent (except the Blackfish, who had to take a convenient bathroom break) means major developments for Westeros, for the North, and for characters like Jon, Bran, and Rickon who don’t know yet. But those deaths also have an immediate impact on Arya, whose sense of foreboding was horribly accurate.

We know from the Hound’s treatment of Sansa that he won’t hurt Arya (aside from a necessary concussion, of course), but it’ll be interesting to see what he does with her, now that he can’t sell her—he obviously feels some duty to protect her, and I think he admires her Starkian stance on unnecessary killing, as well as her pragmatic, Tully-esque willingness to knock a man upside the head if necessary.

Arya is willing to act pragmatically, and Bran showed himself equally willing to do what he must: however unintentional his “possession” of Hodor was, he quickly got over his freak-out and possessed Summer to help Jon win the fight. Jon, of course, wasn’t willing to kill the old man in order to maintain his cover. He shares with Robb the type of wooly-headed moralistic thinking that leads to being eaten getting killed.

Grumpkins and Snarks:

• Note for newbies: the bread and salt that the Freys offered the Starks are part of the Westeros custom (imported from Russia, I believe) of making the protection of hospitality official by offering symbolic food to one’s guests.

• Gilly: “You know all that from staring at marks on paper? You’re like a wizard.” Ah, if only it were that easy for us readerly types to impress others.

• I loved Jorah, Grey Worm, and Daario going all Thermopylae in Yunkai. Way to go on another conquest, Dany!

• Osha, Shaggydog, and Rickon are headed for the Umbers (whose ranks were depleted during the Red Wedding). Bran, Hodor, and Summer venture onward with the Reeds.

I feel like I should say something profound about the nature of death on this show, or the way that everything has changed now that we don’t have any good characters to root for—only characters who are less bad. But I think I’ll stick with the decision made by Benioff and Weiss, who chose to show Catelyn’s throat being slit and then cut to completely silent credits. Sometimes, silence is the only response to an event like this.

Four out of four Starks.

(Reminder: book spoilers go here.)

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Is Daario wearing Margaery's season two wig? I feel like he is.

    I thought Talisa's death was absolutely brutal, but it would definitely seem like something Walder would do: Kill the woman Robb slighted his daughter for in front of his eyes.
    Just goes to show that you don't mess with Argus Filch.

    Also, hello Coldplay drummer!

  2. Whelp, that was grim. Knew it was coming due to a spoiler courtesy of my brother a few years back, but still, pretty sad stuff. Great episode though. I liked the Kansas City Shuffle for the people who weren't aware of what was to transpire. Before all of that unpleasantness it was a fairly uplifting episode. There was even some levity.

    One thing I didn't really care for throughout Robb's story is that all this nonsense basically happened because he had the stupid "love at first sight" nonsense going on. Whereas in the book he did all of this to preserve a woman's honor, which is totally a Stark thing to do. I think altering that particular story piece, while small, weakens the character of Robb and dulls the mirror of Ned.

  3. That still at the top is really freaky! (Fairley deserves an Emmy for that).

  4. Nice to hear Blackfish survived, I totally missed that. I assumed that him being part of the party got massacred just the same. I wonder what will happen to newlywed Edmure now. Poor fella can never catch a break. :)

    I'm sad for Talisa, going to miss her. Good riddance to Robb and Cat though, their storylines never amounted to anything the least bit interesting. It will be refresing that they can now spend all that useless Robb filler time on characters that have more interesting things happen to them.

    And is Tyrion already Lord of Winterfell as far as anyone knows? It's not common knowledge that Bran and Rickon are still alive.

  5. I was totally taken by surprise. At a loss for words. Mute.
    Such a shocker, but I really liked being totally oblivious to what was going to happen. I'd had the feeling, for quite a few episodes, that Talisa would be murdered but this...this just blew me away.
    Totally logical though. Why wouldn't the Lannisters arrange something like that?
    Very much looking forward to what happens next!

  6. I've been on edge all season waiting for this episode... and yet, even knowing going in what was going to happen... I'm still in shock!!! They did one hell of a good job with it!

    Poor Arya... she just can't catch a break! :o(

    And no, it's not common knowledge about Bran and Rickon, so yes Sansa should be declared Lady of Winterfell and Tyrion its Lord! (I can hear Ned Stark turning in his grave!) :p

    PS: Damn those silent credits were powerful! Just like that silent scream by Cat...

  7. And I thought I would be prepared by this butcher by having read and having got shocked by the book. I couldn't be wronger... It was gruesome and cruel to see Robb go as his dad and poor Catelyn dying inside seeing her eldest son go. I was speechless for long trying to digest it, and came up with an even harder thought: Poor Stark girls, Arya again almost witnessing her family die and Sansa, who may hear about the killings of her mom and brother from King JOffrey. I hope it's Tyrion who gets to tell her. There is no end to torture here! And now Tyrion is the Lord of Winterfell! Which makes me think that this whole treason was thoguht of long before by Twynn. And what about that talk that Cersei had with Margaery? Was she only threatening the queen-to-be or was there some sort of foreshadowing there? Either way, it was hard to watch and now who to root for? I just hoe R.R. Martin stops killing the good guys, please!!!!! I'd really hate to see Westeros become a zombie-land...

  8. Oh.

    The famous red wedding. This one left a powerful impression. Oh my. We've started the series with the Stark family, and of course, I grew fund of them. Seeing them going harshly one by one (or more) is just as hard as in real Life (I still shocked by Ned's beheading, and that was quite a while ago now). And I can only expect than Ygritte's anger will be immense if she catches Jon again.

    Powerful. And once again, top notch acting by all.

  9. It's quite a trick that they managed to surprise even the book readers: I was totally shocked by Talisa's death and it kills off one of my book theories. Oona Chaplin played the part beautifully, I loved her line that Cat needed less protection than any woman she'd ever known. Talk about foreshadowing.

    Michelle Fairley just owned this episode: her swansong was just sensational. When she dragged Walder's wife from under the table, that looked like it *hurt*. The line "I'll get another" hit like a fist - wonderful delivery by David Bradley.

    I was pleasantly surprised by Grey Worm: he was a great fighter and that was a well-put together scene. They're laying Dany's infatuation with Daario on a little thick but I can just ignore that plot.

    I've also loved Natalia Tena as Osha. She imbues such a one-dimensional book character with so much soul.

  10. Arya is definitely the one I'm feeling the most pain for. The shot of her on the hill looking with fear and hope towards the Twins got to me. Knowing what was coming, and that she would once again be stripped of a parent who was so close, I came damn close to crying.

    A few days later though, I'm not really feeling the loss of Cat and Robb. The slaughter was visceral and well rendered, but it didn't ultimately affect me that emotionally. Partially because I knew it was coming, but partially because Robb and Cat have been so marginalized this season, that my connection to and affection for them has waned a good bit. Michelle Fairly was great in this role, but I wish she'd been given more to do this season, and been closer to the stronger version of the character from the book. Or even closer to the character from Season 2!

    Worth noting: Gilly's comment about Sam being a wizard is a call back to his conversation with Jon, when he told him he'd always wanted to be a wizard. I loved his delighted little smile when she called him that!

    Josie, you managed to make me chuckle several times in this review --- what with your 'dirt nap' comments and your Principal Snyder allusions --- and now I feel kind of dirty. I shouldn't be chuckling over reviews of the episode featuring the Red Wedding. :)

  11. "Principal Snyder allusions" ?!?!

    Now, I hate being a "newbie"....

  12. No worries, celticmarc. The reference is from 'The Puppet Show,' an S1 episode already covered with the re-watch, so newbie-ism shouldn't be a problem. :)

  13. Jess, I do tend to deal with negative emotions by using inappropriate humor. :-)

  14. Jess

    Ah. OK. You buff-experts are so ahead of me !

  15. Wow that was brutal. I have remained spoiler free and had no idea what was coming. I had an intense visceral reaction to that final scene. I was heartbroken and shocked, and felt extremely depressed and shaken for hours after those silent credits rolled. Talk about effective storytelling.

    I think what really made the scene so effective was the way it totally goes against my narrative expectations as an audience member. The Starks have been the "good" honorable characters since the start of the story, and to see them killed off so suddenly in such a brutal way was such a shock for me. Especially the way they went out. It wasn't a glorious "heroes'" death, dying for their country, or to save a family member or for the greater good....an honorable heroes death, such as many I have seen in movies and television over the years. It was a senseless death, a brutal revenge ploy that wasn't glorious in any form or manner, merely viscous and brutal. It certainly showed that no-one is immune to the violence and backstabbing in Westeros. The tables can turn at any moment. Cersei's quote to Ned from season 1 "When you play the game of thrones you either win or die" certainly seems to be true. But I am totally ready to see the Lanisters to begin to see some of the violence inflicted onto them! If this series has taught me anything, it's that every action has a consequences, and I'm sure eventually the Lanister's brutal backstabbing will begin to catch up with them.

    And I didn't even mention Arya. Which is perhaps the most tragic part of the whole story. My poor Arya, so close again. I had hope that she would actually be reunited with a family member after being isolated for so long. I should have known better.

    At least Dany had a victory this week!

  16. And that's probably my favorite Principle Snyder line ever by the way! haha.

  17. Here's a fun little compilation of reactions to this episode.


  18. I don't like that the direwoles importance isn't really shown on the show. And now another one is gone :(

    Brilliant but utterly sad and terrifying episode. Walder Frey, Joffrey and Roose Bolton are beyond bad...really! Hatetrain becomes crowded!

  19. And this is why I love the show (and the books even more). GRRM is fearless in whathe does with his characters, and that takes a lot of guts. It doesn't make for an easy read, as your heart is in your mouth all the time wondering who he's going to off next, but wow, it's powerful.


  20. Paul: lol! She's fun!!!

    Anonymous, I get the feeling the direwolves are too expensive for the show to use on a regular basis. :o(


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