Warning: contains majors spoilers for episode 3.9 The Rains Of Castamere.
It’s an oft bandied around term but Game Of Thrones represents somewhat of a game-changer for the small screen. Faced with a mammoth task, HBO has managed to do justice to this lavish, world-straddling epic, and given the high artistic standards of digital effects work on display, the breath-taking vistas of George R. R. Martin’s universe have been fully realised, too. But this world wouldn’t succeed without the beating heart of its unforgettable roster of characters, and the impressive ensemble who portray them.
Last week we were invited to a Game Of Thrones evening which included the revealing of a gorgeous-looking, specially-commissioned Red Wedding-themed cake created by chocolatier Choccywoccydoodah, alongside a short Q&A with Arya Stark herself, Maisie Williams. The event was ostensibly to launch the third series, released on DVD and Blu-ray this week, and following Williams’ chat, we were treated to an hour-long making-of documentary of the celebrated episode, The Rains Of Castamere. It should come as no surprise to fans of the show that the segment to receive the most analysis is the aforementioned catastrophic post-nuptial massacre at House Frey.
It appears to have been the deliberate intention of showrunners and co-creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss (both on scripting duties here) to use the penultimate episode of each series to showcase the most dramatically-involving moments which bring each book to a close. We saw Ned Stark tragically lose his head at that point in season one, while the ferocious and bloody siege on King’s Landing (entitled Blackwater) was devoted to the entire ninth episode in the second series.
It speaks volumes about the quality of the source material that the Red Wedding is able to raise the stakes even higher than what has come before, and in smaller and more intimate surroundings (although no less barbaric and blood-thirsty). As Weiss states in the opening to the supplementary material, this event was one to the primary reasons which motivated both himself and Benioff to take on the colossal challenge of bringing this sprawling fantasy world to life.
The beat-by-beat deconstruction of The Rains Of Castamere offers a fascinating glimpse at the painstaking effort and imagination brought to the series – from the intricate and subtle touches achieved by the art department and set designers, to the slew of extraordinary performances from a mixture of seasoned and fledgling cast members. Episode director David Nutter talks about allowing the marvellous David Bradley (An Adventure in Space and Time, The World’s End) the opportunity to really go for broke in his portrayal of the conniving and egregiously misogynistic Lord Walder Frey, and it’s that willingness to trust in the performers which yields such great results.
Nutter also reveals how a real tragedy befell the set when one of the series cinematographers Martin Kenzie passed away during production, adding an emotional frisson to proceedings (Kenzie is dedicated in the third episode, Valar Dohaeris). The director talks about invoking the memory of the (clearly beloved) DP for a pivotal scene involving Stark matriarch Catelyn Tully (Michelle Fairley). In regards to Fairley, her character is undoubtedly a huge factor in establishing the heightened emotional resonance felt throughout the third series, and it’s a towering performance right up until her (literal) last gasp. Her absence going forward will be greatly felt.
It’s no surprise that The Rains Of Castamere received a nomination at last year’s Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Sadly, what’s less of a shock is that it failed to pick up the statuette, and indeed that Fairley was absent from the Best Actress list. With the exception of Peter Dinklage’s win in 2011 and some technical nods, these snubs perhaps speak at the reluctance to offer the recognition and praise this genre rightly deserves (it could be argued that Homeland, which actually took both of those winning slots, had itself slipped into the realms of fantasy by then).
Debuting over here on Sky on the 7th of April after an HBO premiere on Sunday the 6th, it remains to be seen whether season four can match what has come before, and if the makers can raise the emotional stakes set by the third series even higher this time around. Whatever the outcome, it’s safe to assume there will be further, horrific surprises in store, but at least we’ll now be prepared for when we’re delivered that collective shock to their systems. Hopefully.
Game Of Thrones season 3 is out now in the UK and the US on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download.