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Game of Thrones Watch: So Close. So Far.

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Spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones below:
“You’re almost there. And you’re afraid you won’t make it. The closer you get, the worse the fear gets.”

A confession: although I did not see last night’s Game of Thrones in advance, I knew what was going to happen. Everyone you know who read the source books, who cryptically told you, “Oh, just wait,” after Ned died—they knew what was going to happen. It is perhaps the single scene of the books (to date) we thought of first and most often when we learned HBO would make Game of Thrones into a series.

If you had no idea what was coming, if it’s any consolation, I don’t think that knowing made it any better. “The Red Wedding,” as it is known in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, was delivered in an episode that was brutal, heartbreaking, impeccably well-constructed, horrifying, and appropriately cruel. It was, like the betrayal itself, ruthless and efficient and left no doubt about the finality or ugliness of the crime.

Yet showing the Red Wedding—the brutal massacre of Robb, his mother Catelyn, and (in an addition to the books) his wife and unborn child—may not have been the cruelest thing that “The Rains of Castamere” did.

The cruelest thing, really, was that before more Starks met an untimely end—and the Stark war effort was seemingly quashed—the episode brought the long-suffering Stark family closer together than since Ned Stark made a huge mistake and went to King’s Landing. Arya came within steps of her brother and mother’s corpses; Bran was literally a shout away from Jon Snow, the half-brother he was on the road seeking. Yet by episode’s end, Arya was bereft and the Hound’s prisoner, and Bran sent Rickon away while he went off on his quest. In a series with a cast of dozens, “The Rains of Castamere” refocused on the central family (all but Sansa anyway), teased us with the idea that the Starks might be partially reunited, then ended with them more deeply separated than ever.

(MORE: Game of Thrones Watch: Sons and Daughters)

The episode was a nightmare, and it played out like one, beginning with a sense of vague anxiety that turned real and inescapable. That conversation between Arya and the Hound earlier highlights it: as he intuits the fear she’s feeling, it’s as if he’s describing an anxiety dream, one of the one in which you find yourself running slower the closer you get to your goal, or the closer your pursuer gets to you.

In this case, the bogeyman is the larger forces arrayed against the Starks. There are too many, their tentacles reach too far, and while Robb can push his pieces around on his battle map as much as he likes, the masterstrokes happen off the board—in this case, the Lannisters have gotten to his ally Bolton, who tells Robb as much as he finishes him off. The title of the episode, “The Rains of Castamere,” is the mournful song the wedding band starts playing as the bedding ceremony turns into a bleeding ceremony—and it’s also, as we learned earlier, a ballad that tells of the cruel ends met by people who cross the Lannisters. Robb, as we’ve heard before, may have won every battle he fought—but he’s lost the war, and is definitively outplayed in the game of alliance, treachery, politics, and back room dealing, the game of thrones.

The butchery would have been staggering regardless, a brutal reminder that when season one told us, through Ned, that no one is safe on this show, it really meant it. But I was really impressed with how director David Nutter realized it on the screen. This was unpretty violence, an inglorious mob hit, carried out without poetry or the chance for glorious ends. The closest Robb and Talisa get to a heartrending goodbye is his watching the light go out of her eyes.

It’s ugly in the best sense of the word. One thing Game of Thrones is always great at is showing war and violence for the unromantic thing it is, so it’s not surprising it should dash the hope that this story would end in a glorious Stark military victory.

And Michelle Fairley’s fantastic performance captures the horror, with the edge of desperation, anguish, and madness of a woman who has lost her sons (she believes all of them), lost her grandchild, may have lost her daughters, and for all she knows, is witnessing the extinction of the house she belongs to–all through the petty act of a crude old man. It’s pointless, as is her cutting the throat of Frey’s wife–but she does it, and the blood gushes out sloppily and the woman dies, and quickly her own throat is cut, and the blood gushes out sloppily and she dies.

(MORE: Game of Thrones Watch: Dragons and Eagles and Bears, Oh, My!)

All this is unromantic and ignoble, like the shooting of a trapped wolf in a stall. And it was an excellent touch, letting us see the carnage in that way, through Arya’s eyes (though again, she was spared seeing the death of another parent directly). We knew Robb as a handsome avenging son, and Catelyn as a long-suffering matriarch, but it’s Arya who’s the emotional connection to the story, and her survival in this way is more heartbreaking than the deaths themselves.

Arya will wake up from the merciful hit the Hound put on her. But the nightmare isn’t over.

Now a quick hail of bullets:

* I have no quibbles with the way the Red Wedding was adapted from the books, but for non-readers, one aspect that was underemphasized here was the ceremonial offering of bread and salt when the Starks and Tullys arrive as guests. In the books, this is not just a symbol of hospitality but essentially a religious offering: to harm a guest once they’ve eaten your bread and salt is an unholy abomination. In the book, in fact, Catelyn urges Robb to eat as soon as the arrives at The Twins, to ensure this protection; I wonder if it was cut so as not to foreshadow the ending too heavily.

* I’ve given the other stories short shrift, for obvious reasons, but Bran as a warg = much more interesting Bran.

* Besides the obvious sense of foreboding in the episode, there were some interesting parallel stories of mercy (or the lack thereof): Jon refusing to execute the old man (and did Ygritte plant her arrow in the tree on purpose?); Arya insisting that the Hound spare another old man (and knocking the old man out, to spare him, much as the Hound would knock her out later).

* And more foreshadowing: “We’ll lose the war and die the way Father died. Or worse.” “Show them how it feels to lose what they love.”

* After all this, Dany’s taking of Yunkai seemed like kind of an afterthought, but it did give us some scenes of large-scale swordplay badassery of a kind Game of Thrones generally doesn’t.

* Talisa’s mild horror at watching the bedding ceremony is, in a way, an inversion of the early scenes in which Dany witness the bloody celebration at her own Dothraki wedding–but here, it’s the Westerosi who are being seen, from outside eyes, as barbarians. As it turns out, not without justification.

* “I can always see what’s going on beneath a dress”: should we take from this that Robb wanted to hide the further offense of Talisa’s being pregnant, and that Walder Frey saw through it?

* “You know all that from staring at marks on paper? You’re like a wizard.” The one thing, as Sam once told us, he’d dreamed of being. At least someone besides Walder Frey should get what they want this episode.

* Rather than make you wait too long for this post—again for obvious reasons—I rushed it out faster than usual. If anything new occurs to me, or if something I wrote strikes me as especially stupid after sleep, I’ll update later.

The usual request/demand, this week more than ever: no spoilers of future events (or possible events) from the books. Thanks for playing nicely.

MORE: Game of Thrones Watch: The Game Is the Game (of Thrones)

131 comments
Poppersci
Poppersci

Across the country, the libraries of America have a new summer motto, if they dare to use it: Read! You'll Be A Wizard!" A mother and her little girl see the poster inside the library. The mother, being an avid GoT reader and watcher, is horrified. Little girl: "Mommy, why are you making that face? I thought you wanted me to read."

skibum
skibum

"If you thought this was going to have a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention."

Ramsey Snow

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

(others have referenced Glencoe earlier, and I used this piece as my FB comment this morning - still thought it worth a share here)  Still not certain GRRM didn't jump the shark with the RW - at least with one of its aftermaths. We'll see. One interesting sidelight - I was thinking about it ahead of time, and for some reason (after having read the books, and this one twice) had never wondered about possible templates. I knew he had used the chain across the Golden Horn as a template for the defenses during the Battle of the Blackwater (for non-book readers, the chain plays a major role in that Battle), but for some reason hadn't thought much about this one. Probably in shock for all these years. But then, out of the blue, came a vague memory: Glencoe. If you've already seen or read the RW, Google Glencoe. If not, Google it afterwards.

pnthorse
pnthorse

Anyone else notice that old man Frey was Filch from Harry Potter and Katherine Stark Herminonie's mom?  :)

Xyphactinus
Xyphactinus

I can't even understand this show anymore. It's top heavy, confusing and ridiculous. There is so much trouble going on 365 24-7 how does that place even function.

JohnSmith18
JohnSmith18

I knew what was going to happen so I didn't even bother watching this episode. 
The story actually starts to go downhill at this point and you begin to notice that it meanders way too much. 

I'm curious to see how the producers of the show will remedy the declining story line in the books.. 

JungleBoiTee
JungleBoiTee

I honestly don't know if I want to continue watching. Never read the books.  But for HBO, I'd never have known of them. Color me seeing #red.

rdc121974
rdc121974

There better be a serious measure of vengeance and redemption for the Stark's in this damn series. I become angrier and more disillusioned with the series and the books as time goes by. The characters that have any honor or humanity are wiped out in this series wholesale.  I am left wondering if there is any hope for this realm now that Robert Baratheon is dead. The Lannisters need to all die except for the youngest kids of Cersei and of course the imp. The last thing Westeros needs is another irrational, crazy and angry Targaryen on the throne again as well. I like the idea of Westeros becoming 7 kingdoms again in all honesty. There would be allot less bloodshed and more stability within the region as a whole.

Onionsauce
Onionsauce

I find it odd that of all the major houses in Westeros, House Frey is the only one without "words" (a motto).  And while the other families have animals for sigils - an exception being the flowery House Tyrell - the Freys use a manmade building, the Twins, on their banners, perhaps because they see themselves as self-made lords.  They seem like a clan that has never really made it to the nobility.  They come off better in the series than they did in the books.  George RR Martin made the Freys sound like a group right out of Deliverance.  Walder Frey has a huge chip on his shoulder and the one thing he will not tolerate is disrespect.  Honor means nothing to Walder Frey, but respect is everything.

StevenEvans23
StevenEvans23

I thought the television adaptation was pretty good.  They did downplay the foreboding that Catelynn had when they insisted that the direwolf be separated from Robb (which she always warned Robb against).  The heresy in harming a housegues was also emphasized more in the books.  Also, in the book I think the direwolf did some damage to the bad guys before they killed him and that would have been better I thought.  My wife has not read the books and was pretty horrified.  I wanted to warn her but she insisted that I not so it was interesting to watch her reaction.  They are wonderful stories if you can deal with the way the good guys are treated. 

WWEsAngel_Nef
WWEsAngel_Nef

I've read the books and there are times I actually question why I read them. Ramsay Bolton said it best: "If you think this has a happy ending, then you haven't been paying attention." I am literally shipping every major character with happiness because very few are happy. Unless you're a villain in the series, you're not going to have it easy and that's real life. The thing I've learned from reading/watching is that nice guys finish last. Robb and Ned Stark are perfect examples of this and let me tell you. Sansa Stark started off as one of my least favorite characters while Daenerys was a favorite. The longer the series plays on, Sansa becomes more of a favorite while Daenerys is beginning to work my nerves. Everyone is talking about the Red Wedding but take a moment to remember Jorah's heart breaking when Dany dismissively asks for Daario. I don't "ship" any of the characters really, but Jorah's face just broke my heart. Walder Frey has likely surpassed Joffrey in terms of cruelty and my God Roose Bolton... 

Next week is going to be a doozy. I don't think we'll see it this season but I am looking forward to Tyrion's big moment. He's earned it. But back to my original point. These books are not your typical "happily ever after". Good guys die all the time and even the good guys are flawed so it's sometimes hard to be completely sympathetic when they do dumb things (a la Robb). Nevertheless I will definitely watch next season, if only because Tyrion's arc gets very interesting and the introduction of new characters like The Red Viper.

Humdrum
Humdrum

Nice read, James. Thanks for your weekly take on all things GoT and ASoI&F. As far as the "guest right" is concerned at the RW, it was depicted very well, IMHO. When Robb first arrives at the Twins, the camera tracks the plate of bread and salt as it passes through Robb's wedding group. The show did not literally mention "guest right" but I think that quick shot was a nod and a wink to the book readers who were looking for it. It made the RW an even more unholy abomination and travesty. The North will remember!

kfraser007
kfraser007

It's HBO...they should have ended the episode with a little Journey.

capnkirksniples
capnkirksniples

Hey, i read the books a while ago, but I thought Robb's wife didnt attend the wedding? Maybe I'm losing it, but that was a great episode.  


IPFletcher
IPFletcher

I haven't read the books, so I had no clue whatsoever what was coming. As soon as that guard closed the doors to the party room though, my heart sank. Catelyn's reaction to the immediate music change made it sink even further; even though I had no idea what they were playing (I did find out later), the look on her face made clear that it was bad news.

Incredibly well done, right down to the silent credits.

AbbeyPickering
AbbeyPickering

As someone who purposely has not read the books, wanting to keep myself guessing with this series, I guess I got what I deserved. This episode's pacing was almost unbearably brilliant, I felt as if I worked everything out just when I was supposed to, that second before it was too late. The tone of the whole episode led you to feel uneasy, but you didn't quite know why, and then...well jesus. It was nothing short of fantastic. The brutality was also well done, it was real and honest, but of course crushing. If I am honest, I always expected Robb to meet an early end, but did not expect Lady Stark at all, for some reason I always saw her standing in the rubble alone at the end. Oh well. 

Although I must admit as the credits rolled I sat staring open mouthed at the screen for a good minute before exclaiming 'STOP IT. JUST STOP IT. THERE WON'T BE ANYONE LEFT', because really, the Starks will be lucky to have any great aunts twice removed under the family tree at this rate. 

I figure if you are left sitting asking 'how could they do that?' then you'll be sure to be sitting there the next week, but I can't help but wonder who else will be offed in the next season. Possibly whole cast? 

Either way, Game of Thrones has still managed to consume my soul. 

vrcplou
vrcplou

My heart was broken, BROKEN!  Having not read the books I innocently was hoping for a Stark mother and child reunion.  Although that Castamere song was a tip-off I didn't really see it as one until way too late.  This show is so breath taking, so bold - that they are able to surprise and shock at this level in the third season is spectacular.  I'm a little embarrassed to say it, but I actually lost sleep over this episode.  I can't imagine what next week will bring but with GOT I'm never disappointed.  I'm sure Cersi is cackling and humming her favorite tune back in King's Landing....

mikesmusingblog
mikesmusingblog

Not having read the books, nor spoilers on blogs or newspapers, this episode was the most shocking to me.  I guess I experienced the play out of the killings as the director and author intended with no foreboding that it was about to happen.

Of course, with so many families wanting the Throne, removing the Starks at this point only serves to intensify the other aspects of the overall plot.  And since the books span generations, there are still Starks out there to make their claim and obtain revenge.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

Apparently GRRM also referenced an incident known as the Black Dinner - another example of fun times in Auld Scotland, but one of which I had not heard until today.  George says he used both as inspirations.

suddendepth
suddendepth

@parkeradams026 Greatjohn Umber got no respect. That was really the main part I was sad about. The way the directors depict the rally to Rob when everyone realizes what is up was underplayed. I was also mad that they let the"queen" go with them to the twins. It was a much thought out process to leave her at Riverrun in the novels.

Poppersci
Poppersci

@Xyphactinus The people of Westeros require a really good dental plan. Finding the appropriately robust life insurance carrier can be murder.

sirprzemyslaw
sirprzemyslaw

@Xyphactinus There is so much trouble going on in the real world 24-7 365 days a year...how do you think it functions?

db09
db09

Honor?!?!  Remember that Robb broke his word so where was his honor.  Catelyn let Jamie free against the orders of her king.  Just because we like someone does not mean they have honor.

AlexCathcart
AlexCathcart

House martell (you meet them in the next season) have a sun pierced by a spear, another man made object. The only reason Frey doesn't have a motto is that Martin never bothered to write one since 99% of all Freys end up being worthless henchmen. Plenty of houses feature tools, weapons and buildings as sigils as well. *nerd snort. Adjusts glasses*

sidewinder3000
sidewinder3000

@WWEsAngel_Nef  dangerously close to spoiler territory! if you've read the books, please don't share anything that hasn't happened yet, or any overarching statements about who ultimately wins or loses. thanks.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@WWEsAngel_Nef I have the impression that Jorah loves the idea of Dany rather than the woman herself.  Jorah needs to find himself a wife or girlfriend.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@kfraser007 I thought silence was appropriate.  Sometimes, it cannot be improves upon.

KatieStark
KatieStark

Yes, your are right.  In the Book, Robb had Talisa stay at the Tullys place.  Also, in the books, Talisa was never pregnant.  In fact, Talisa was concerned because she had not conceived yet.

KatieStark
KatieStark

If you noticed, they rolled the credits at the end of the episode with no music.  They usually have music playing.  I think we all sat there when the credits went up on the screen, trying to process what had just taken place.

olsondan5
olsondan5

@vrcplou I know! Why don't the bad things ever happen to the bad people, and if they do have anything bad happen to them, they just get crabbier! Hehe.

Xyphactinus
Xyphactinus

@Poppersci @Xyphactinus Ha. The entire place has no infrastructure, food sources, maintenance crews, hospitals.... it's just a bunch of castle type structures that appear to have been created out of thin air...and wars... So how does it all work ? Then there is the Magic, Monsters, Wolves & Dragons to make life even more difficult. Too much going on to be a even remotely believable.  It's Harry Potter with nudity and gore.

Xyphactinus
Xyphactinus

@robbyzheng @Xyphactinus Not like "Thrones". I think the show took the ball and ran to far with it. Way to much detail for me to stay interested and focused. Plus there is some stereotyping going on that I don't like. Basically, it's getting preachy and a bit too much of a lefty message.  

AlexCathcart
AlexCathcart

I like the theory, though. I think the Crossing is only Frey's sigil because it's the only thing they've got going for them. As far as being the newest Great House of Westeros goes, they kinda suck at being lords.

olsondan5
olsondan5

@sidewinder3000 @WWEsAngel_Nef 

As far as winning and losing is concerned, isn't "Winter Coming" and the White Walkers with them? Just like in old Nan's bedtime stories. I can't help but feel that that is going to be the final battle.Happily, as 'lauriedtmann' reminds us, G RR Martin has a few more books to offer us. What a storyteller!

WWEsAngel_Nef
WWEsAngel_Nef

@Piacevole @WWEsAngel_Nef I'm not sure.  I believe in season II he confessed his love for her when she asked him to find her dragons. He said it in so many words and I'm sure it's been hinted at this season though subtly and not as blatantly as it was in the book. Maybe he loves her, but it could be more of an infatuation? To be honest, from what we've seen so far of the men in Dany's life, none have been much of a match for her. She's 13 when she marries Drogo and he's like in his 30s I believe. Jorah's way too old; an exiled knight whose wife left him. Targaryens were known to marry each other. Not sure HBO did much to imply that, but anyway, it was to keep their bloodline in the family. With that said, Viserys was a terrible match considering his temper or madness if you looked at it that way. I know age hardly mattered during this time period but when you look at Daario, it's hard--if you're a young girl Dany's age--not to look upon him with doe eyes and overlook the old man in Jorah. I feel bad for Jorah but I think last night he may have realized that he should give up on that dream. He does need a love interest.

sidewinder3000
sidewinder3000

@Piacevole @WWEsAngel_Nef  ha!  maybe he should. dany certainly doesn't appreciate him, anyway. he's the one guy who's been with her since her creepy brother sold her out to the savages for his personal gain, and it's likely she wouldn't have even survived without his counsel, yet she seems ungrateful or even oblivious to everything he's done. it's time for that boy to find himself a woman who will appreciate him and make things with dany purely professional. otherwise, the mother of dragons might eventually chew him up and spit him out.

therealdude
therealdude

@Piacevole I thought it severed several purposes--it emboldened the events that just took place, it let the viewer mentally "digest" what they just saw and it was also kind of a moment of silence for the Starks. Well played on the part of the crew.

grandmazter3
grandmazter3

@KatieStark In the books, Robb's mother-in-law was giving her daughter moon tea (which is supposed to be like the morning after pill) so she wouldn't get pregnant. 

pnthorse
pnthorse

@olsondan5 @vrcplou As the saying goes:  "only the good die young".  But stayed tuned this series has more twists and turns and so much foreshadowing.  I finished the 6th book recently and was gutted.  Then my son pointed out a couple things and I went AHHH, yeah.  BUT have to wait for the next book and it sounds like Martin hasn't even started it yet, he's to involved in the TV series.  

Poppersci
Poppersci

@Xyphactinus @Poppersci I don't remember if your concerns were addressed in the two-thirds of the so-far-published books I've read, but I do recall vaguely hearing answers on fan sites, and maybe Martin goes into the economy in the last two books. But of course, I'm going to respond by saying that one doesn't read the books and watch the show as a policy nerd on the infrastructure of the country; they're not econ or history academic histories; they're high fantasy, with very imaginative plots and complex characters. That's why people when they visit the Seven Kingdoms, stay, despite the very high mortality rate. And let me posit that if you have dragons, zombies, magic metal, then realism kind of went out the window. And what's wrong with Harry Potter? Those books and movies were also made really well. While I'm sure there's Potter porno fanfic, I choose not to imagine it, though there must be countless young boys and young adults who would with regards to Emma Watson. ,).

WWEsAngel_Nef
WWEsAngel_Nef

Viserys...yeah Dany's creepy brother. I think Dany did good. With the help of her handmaidens she was able to turn Khal Drogo into a real husband--as you stated. Jorah's like... I think the best way to put it is he has been permanently friendzoned. It seems like the more Dany gets, the less she needs Jorah? She's got Ser Barristan, Grey Worm and now Daario. It's obvious now that she doesn't appear to need Jorah despite all he's done for her. The flip side is that he WAS sent by Varys to spy for the Baratheons/Lannisters her for a pardon and I don't think she knows. I feel like he's redeemed himself but what if Dany wasn't beautiful when they met? Would he have still decided to stay on her side? Did he truly believe in her cause at first or was it just infatuation? It's really hard to tell.



Piacevole
Piacevole

@sidewinder3000 @Piacevole @WWEsAngel_Nef Perhaps I have misinterpreted something, but wasn't Jorah originally an assassin sent by the Lannisters to kill Dany?

 And Visnerys was one of the most oblivious little twerps ever: an abuser of someone he thought he could get away with hurting, never realizing his own relative helplessness compared to the Dothraki.  Dany was able, one way or another, to make an ally of Jorah, and convert Khal Drogo into  a real husband, rather than merely a breeding stud.  When Visnerys got his "golden crown," I thought he learned a needed (if very brief) lesson.

Jorah's problem is that he doesn't really see what Dany is becoming: as her dragons hatched in fire with her, her own metamorphosis will have an ending beyond Jorah's ability to meet.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

@Richard_Hertz @KatieStark Thank you.  I had forgotten her name.  But I got the idea in the books that she was a Lannister tool - or her mother was, and used her daughter, to ensnare Robb.  He was wounded in an assault on a Lannister bannerman's castle, and the mother and daughter "nursed him back to health," during which time, I assume, the daughter seduced him and the mother insisted on the marriage.  Now, none of that is played out (to my immediate memory) in the book, but it is hinted at, I think.  (and this is not a "spoiler" since we are now past that point and the story went a slightly different way)

MarcinBartnik
MarcinBartnik

It's obvious Tywin was behind this - from his constant letter writing, to the words Roose Bolton utters when he stabs Robb, you'd need to be blind not to see this.

And this is exactly Tywin's style. Yes, he would not break the protocols himself, but then he didn't - the Freys did. And we know already Tywin has no compunction of using oathbreaking psychopaths - like the Mountain - when he needs them - just the way one would handle a deadly tool.