Game of Thrones "The Rains of Castamere" Review: Four Funerals and a Wedding

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Game of Thrones S03E09: "The Rains of Castamere"

"The Lannisters send their regards." —Roose Bolton, handing Robb the worst wedding gift ever

It's typical to get a little misty at weddings, but this was ridiculous. No pat of a handkerchief could dry the eyes of Game of Thrones fans who attended last night's Red Wedding, one of the most suddenly savage and devastating pieces of storytelling filmed, printed, or told around a campfire. Readers of A Storm of Swords knew it was coming, but it didn't matter. Reliving the nightmare that I read about years ago opened up old wounds and watching it was even more painful than before. As for those of you experiencing the bloody betrayal for the first time, I am so, so sorry. Now you know why getting invested in Game of Thrones comes with the disclaimer, "Okay, but know that you are in for some deep, psychological trauma."

"The Rains of Castamere" was violent, horrifying, and depressing. It also happened to be one of the best episodes of the series, right up there with and arguably surpassing fellow episode-number-niners "Baelor" and "Blackwater." Crush all hope and make no mistake, Robb Stark and Catelyn Tully-Stark are dead. Killed at the hands of Walder Frey's men because Robb broke his oath to marry one of Frey's oily little girls, instead choosing to wed the fair maiden Lady Talisa. Robb couldn't have known that falling for Talisa would end up with hundreds of his men ambushed and slaughtered at his uncle's wedding, but this world has things like oaths and arranged marriages for a reason. Robb didn't just spurn a young Freyess or her decrepit old father (or grandfather), he spit in the face of a whole family line. And I don't know if you've picked up on this yet or not, but family lines tend to be pretty important in this show. Especially to that vile collection of dust Walder Frey, a man who procreates like he's on an assembly line. The Freys were a swing state, and when Robb didn't live up to his campaign promises, their allegiance swung over to the Lannisters. Those damn Lannisters!

Planning a wedding is tough work, but planning a wedding–communicating via birds, no less–where the groom's side is butchered must be even tougher. The amount of collusion that took place to pull this off was astounding. The Freys, the Lannisters, and now Roose Bolton (you are the worst, Roose) all plotted together to set up Robb and his men for a blow so crushing to the efforts of the North, that resistance to King Joffrey Baratheon may never recover. Game of Thrones makes every effort to show how rich it is with important, often violent, empire-shaping historical events, and The Red Wedding just happened to be one we were witness to. 

Aside from Robb's direwolf Greywind, who was turned into a crossbow pin cushion, I can't help but think that the person who got screwed hardest from all this was Catelyn Stark. While she probably didn't think it would come this far, Mama Stark knew Walder Frey would not take kindly to Robb's breaking of vows to give vows to another. Knowing Robb's place in the shifting landscape of Westeros, she pleaded with her son to make the right decision. Unfortunately, Robb just wasn't cut out to play this game of thrones. He wasn't able to suppress his humanity (i.e. throbbing hormones) to play the role of king-in-the-making, and it cost him much more than a crown. Robb was a good man, but he's got too much of his father Ned in him to be top wolf. Noble men like Robb and Ned make great Hands of the King, not actual throne-warming kings. To be a king in this world takes old-fashioned-rules-abiding-complacency and the impossible task of pleasing everybody, not silly notions like honor. But even Ned would have recognized the err in Robb's ways when he broke his oath to Walder Frey. As Rickard Karstark said, Robb lost the war when he married Talisa. Sure the two of them were "Hottest Couple" by Westeros Weekly, but couldn't Robb make a mistress out of her like all successful kings? 

While Robb's weakness for a pretty face was the impetus for The Red Wedding, it's too hard to blame him for ALL of this. Instead, let's point our blamey fingers where they deserve to go. Walder Frey orchestrated everything, but it's Roose Bolton who came out looking the worst. There's no denying Walder Frey got screwed over and perhaps if you look down into the deepest parts of your hearts, you can understand why revenge was on his senile old mind. But Roose Bolton fought alongside Robb. Roose's men shouted "King in the North." Roose was Robb's buddy! The Lannisters (and at this point we should be blaming Tywin, not Joffrey) wanted Robb dead, I understand that. Walder Frey was ticked off at Robb, I get that. But Roose Bolton's backstabbing which lead to frontstabbing was as dishonorable of a move as there could be. House Bolton, go jump off a cliff!

For all the shock and horror of The Red Wedding, can we also admit that the entire sequence was an incredible watch and masterfully put together? Its early ominous tone when Walder Frey paraded Talisa out before the attendees to publicly comment on the tautness of Talisa's package raised concerns that something bad might happen, but those worries diminished as other storylines became more dire. Then the wedding actually became a scene of celebration, with talk of baby naming foretelling a bright and prosperous future. And with the first notes of "The Rains of Castamere," the dark clouds of a shitstorm hovered overhead and when it hit, it hit hard. Talisa stabbed in the gut. Robb struck with arrows. Robb's men slaughtered where they sat, bellies still full of wedding feast. Greywind murdered before Arya's eyes. Catelyn taking Walder Frey's wife at knifepoint to bargain for Robb's life. Robb stabbed in the heart by Roose Bolton. Catelyn slicing the throat of Walder Frey's wife. The horror of seeing a weeping and utterly broken Catelyn stand motionless and defeated before having her own neck opened. And it was all punctuated by a cut to black and silence. You should feel sad, you should feel angry, but you should also be very impressed. 

One of my favorite A Song of Ice and Fire anecdotes came from an old coworker who told me about his experience reading The Red Wedding for the first time. At the end of The Red Wedding chapter, which ends just as savagely and suddenly as "Rains of Castamere" did, he literally threw his book in anger across the room with the intent to chuck it through the wall. He was furious, as I'm sure many of you are. After a few contemplative deep breaths, he leaped across the floor to pick the book up and immediately started reading again. This is one of the types of reactions that the best works of fiction should elicit, but because it's rooted in anger it's particularly unique. The fact that my friend could swear off the book forever and them immediately dig in for more is exactly what was supposed to happen. This is where it becomes so difficult for show watchers versus book readers. Whereas my friend could quickly pick up the book and jump back into the story, we can not start up Episode 10 to see what happens next. It will be a badly needed break for a few, and absolute torture for everyone else. Good luck with that. Keep hoping it was all just one of Bran's dreams.

Sure, the deaths of Catelyn and Robb are the talking points of "The Rains of Castamere," but let's not forget that the rest of the episode was fantastic. Before you take back your wedding gift for Edmure, let's talk about the rest of "The Rains of Castamere."


"You're very kind. Someday it will get you killed." —The Hound

Uninvited wedding guests Arya and The Hound continued to be delightfully at odds with each other as they made their way to The Twins. What's a road trip with someone without a few death threats? What attracts me to this relationship so much is the fact that despite outward appearances, they both know they need each other. Arya knew she was better off in The Hound's custody than on her own, and The Hound sees Arya as a coupon for a moneybag. 

But there are moments when things between them appear much more complex. There's a budding father-daughter-type relationship developing, obvious more in the way that The Hound treats Arya than vice versa. Just look at the way they share a saddle or how The Hound gently lifts Arya off the horse. Or the lessons in porcine cuisine from The Hound. 

And it's most noticeable at the end, when The Hound searches for Arya during the chaos of The Red Wedding to snatch her out of danger. He has a fondness for her that goes beyond her value as a trade-in chip even if Arya doesn't recognize it because the girl holds grudges like a Frey. We've seen this man abandon his king and army, but here he wouldn't abandon Arya for fear of the danger she'd find herself in. Yes, he had to whack her over the head to grab her, but there wasn't time to discuss what was best for her, especially when we know she would just act like a teenage daughter being taken off the family texting plan.

But it wouldn't be a discussion about Arya without talking about how miserable her luck was. There she was again, so close to being reunited with family only to see betrayal turn to murder. Despite Westeros' expanse, she was in the same zip code as the site of both her mother, brother, and father's murder. People have a habit of dying around this one, and if it weren't for The Hound's tardiness, she may have joined them. Is Arya slowly becoming the Angel of Death or does she, like her mother, just need a thousand-leafed clover to balance out her bad luck?


"You were right the whole time." —Jon Snow

Even with all the spectacular deaths, "The Rains of Castamere"'s biggest accomplishment might be making Bran's storyline interesting. Bran the Boring became Bran the Badass With Eyes Rolling Back in His Head. After weeks of talking about how special Bran was, we finally saw it when Bran mind-jacked Hodor to shut the oaf up while Jon Snow and his wildling buddies were outside Bran's hiding place. It's been a long time since two stories intertwined like this, but the payoff was thrilling.

It's almost as if the writers decided to hold back everything interesting about Bran for Episode 9, and here we saw several huge plot points develop in a matter of minutes. Bran warged into Hodor and the Direwolves outside of Dreamland, Jon was pegged as a traitor by the wildlings, Ygritte got dumped in the worst way possible (her dumped face was brutal), and Rickon had his longest scene ever. 

It was like atom-smashing Jon, Bran, and Rickon together to have them explode and head off in new directions. Jon is going where ever he's going (probably back to The Wall?), Rickon and Osha are heading towards safety, and Bran, the Reeds, and Hodor are moving north too look for a mutant bird. There are no Game of Thrones reunions, just near misses (see: Arya). 


"The city is yours, my queen." —Daario Naharis

Umm... how great was the ragtag team of a salty old knight, a lithe freed slave warrior, and the handsome underwear model? There wasn't a whole lot to digest in Dany's storyline this week, but it was tasty nonetheless. Compared to Dany's last city sacking, Yunkai went down rather easily. The plan was simple: Send in three badasses under the cover of night to kill everyone, and it worked! The fight scenes were fantastic, particularly the Jorah-Daario doubleteam on that one unfortunate Yunkaite. And Daario's late entrance to announce that the city was hers was wonderfully overdramatic. I get the feeling the putz (we all agree Daario is a putz, right?) was waiting around the corner listening for Dany to say with worry, "Where's Daario?" And then BAM! "Here I am, queen! Miss me much?" Flash that awkward smile and watch her melt.

What I really liked was Jorah's verbal takedown on Ser Barristan after Barristan volunteered to help them take the city. These two have been going back and forth for some time now, and Jorah used Barristan's own reasoning against him. "If we truly are her loyal servants, we do whatever needs to be done, not matter the cost, no matter our pride." Translation: "Stay back, old man. Jorah's got this."



WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS

Each week, I'll rank the episodes of Season 3 from best to worst. But remember, these are just my opinions! Feel free to post your own in the comments!

This week:
What can you say about an episode like "The Rains of Castamere"? The most anticipated episode of the series delivered, creating a whole new generation of fans that want to hunt down George R.R. Martin and strangle him. But this is what great storytelling does. It challenges its audience with myriad emotional states and leaves them powerless but leaves them asking for more. This was an hour that was so powerful it ruined people's weeks as the events of The Red Wedding continue to rattle around their heads. Unpredictable for those who didn't know what was coming, a painful reminder for those that did, "The Rains of Castamere" was like nothing you'll ever see again.


1. "The Rains of Castamere" (Episode 9)

The Red Wedding. But also Bran warged his way into Hodor and Ghost, Yunkai fell, and Arya almost made it to the wedding.


2. "And Now His Watch Is Ended" (Episode 4)

Jaime vomited horse pee-pee, Varys crafted a plot to derail Littlefinger's plan to marry Sansa, the Brotherhood Without Banners brought the Hound to trial, Dany got her army with a little trickery, and anarchy took over the Night's Watch. 

3. "Walk of Punishment" (Episode 3)

Dany concocted a plan to buy the Unsullied from their slave master and offered a dragon as payment. Jaime and Brienne found out that being untrue will cost them a lot more than their honor. Tyrion got a new job as Master of Coin, Catelyn attended her father's funeral, Hot Pie said goodbye to Arya, and Jon was headed to the Wall.


4. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" (Episode 7)

Jon and Ygritte looked at a windmill, Dany brought her dragons to Yunkai and laid down some terms, Robb learned that he's going to be a father, and Jaime Lannister became Brienne's knight in shining armor. George R.R. Martin wrote this one.


5. "Kissed By Fire" (Episode 5)

Themes of loyalty and oaths were explored with the help of Bryan Cogman's excellent script, creating an episode unlike most. Jon and Ygritte went hot-tubbing in a cave, Jaime and Brienne went hot-tubbing in custody, and Stannis's dead babies went hot-tubbing in jars. 


6. "Second Sons" (Episode 8)

Tyrion and Sansa got married in one of the kingdom's most awkward unions, Dany and Daario showed each other what they have to offer, and Gendry got sucked on by Melisandre's leeches. 


7. "Valar Dohaeris" (Episode 1)

The season premiere found Tyrion wondering why he wasn't getting dap for saving King's Landing, Jon getting pledged into the Wildling fraternity, Davos pissing off his friend's girlfriend, and Dany shopping for an army.

8. "Dark Wings, Dark Words" (Episode 2)

We saw Arya, Jaime, and Bran for the first time in this season. But the most exciting parts of the episode were the introductions of the Queen of Thorns, Thoros of Myr, and the Reed super siblings. And we may as well mention that Joffrey got a boner from imagining Margaery killing things, that pervert.

9. "The Climb" (Episode 6)

Jon and Ygritte climbed a big ice cube, and Tywin got his way with the King's Landings marriages. Sansa cried, Edmure was betrothed to one of Walder Frey's daughters, and Gendry was taken away from Melisandre.




NOTES FROM THE RAVENS

– Maybe it's just because she's my favorite, but this face of Ygritte's was the hardest image for me to stomach. Everything just crashed down around her, poor girl. Not even a glance back from Jon.

– I liked how HBO's version of the Red Wedding managed to be even more heartbreaking than the book's. The addition of Talisa getting stabbed in the babymaker (she wasn't in the book) was an extra layer of suffering that made it that much harder to watch. Add to that Robb's much stronger presence in the series, and the book's depiction of the Red Wedding feels rather tame by comparison. It's going to be a bummer moving forward without Richard Madden, but he'll move on to other things and be a star, I'm sure.

– An extra special round of applause for all the actors involved in the Red Wedding, but a standing ovation for Michelle Fairley, who nailed the desperate grief of a mother who witnessed (what she thought might be) the last of her children murdered.

– Who caught the bouquet?

– The Blackfish had a well-timed piss to escape this whole mess, right? He made it out alive, didn't he?

– Let's not forget how funny this episode was, too. Arya knocked out that poor pig farmer to save his life, Edmure's facial expressions all night long were priceless, even Walder Frey had some hilarious lines in his own disgusting way. The Red Wedding will dominate everyone's memories of "The Rains of Castamere," but everything that led up to it was great.

– Congratulations to Edmure! Nice pull, man! Totally worth it. (I wonder what he'll say the next morning?)

– Are you mad? Sad? Glad?