This review contains spoilers.
3.9 The Rains of Castamere
One of the few predictable things about Game of Thrones is that the ninth episode of every season is going to be the one that everyone talks about. From the ultimate end of one of show’s anchors in season one to a pivotal battle in the War of the Five Kings in the second season, the ninth episode is the one where seasons are made or broken. If the pivotal ninth episode had failed to live up to the hype, it would have been a down note on an otherwise great third season. Fortunately, that was not the case as The Rains of Castamere proved to be quite possibly one of the most stunning events since Ned Stark’s noble head rolled in King’s Landing.
At times, this season has felt like moving pieces around on a chess board, without any real action. It was all set-up, no punchline. This week, we got the punchline, and it definitely delivered on all the building up the show has done with its scattered collective of characters across the continent of Westeros. All season we’ve seen Jon Snow and his wildlings head south while Bran and Rickon and their frog-eating retainers angle north. We’ve seen Arya Stark and The Hound moving towards The Twins, while Robb and Cat and Mrs. Robb were headed in that direction for the marriage of Edmure Tully and a random Frey.
With the pieces in place, the making is there for a brilliant episode of Game of Thrones, and this was not a disappointment. Watching the near-misses as reunions we want to see just slip past one another in between some pretty spectacular bits of combat is enough to create suspense, and then the episode’s real centerpiece happens. I’ve been careful to avoid spoilers as best I could, but I couldn’t help but sneak ahead and read about the events that close out the episode. Even with a vague idea of what was supposed to happen, watching the events actually play out live was incredible. There’s just the right amount of menace, just the right amount of utter shock, and just the right amount of bloodshed to make it a cringe-worthy, brain-melting moment of complete and utter insanity. Despite kind of knowing it was coming, I still wasn’t prepared for it.
There’s something to be said for the way that David Bradley plays Walder Frey that just makes me glad to see him on screen being evil. There’s a certain quality that people of a certain age have, where they’ve gone far past the point of caring what anyone else thinks or says about them, be they king or commoner, and Bradley captures this brilliantly. Walder Frey is a man who owns the fact that he’s the most important person in the kingdom (thanks to The Twins), owns the fact that he’s a sleazebag, and revels in his ability to make people uncomfortable with his teeth-sucking crotchetiness. Between Joffrey, Balon Greyjoy, and Walder Frey, Game of Thrones might have the best villains on television. He instantly makes anything more repulsive, and it’s great that the only people he seems to hate more than the rest of the world is his own family. It’s a great role for a great actor, and one of the better scenes written this week by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (though Catelyn Stark gives Michelle Fairley an Emmy moment this week, too).
Credit to director David Nutter for turning in a wonderful episode. The show usually looks great, but this week’s episode was beautiful in a far grittier way. I like the way it has built up a visual shorthand; we see one spear and shield soldier, and we know we’re with the Unsullied in Yunkai. One shot of a castle on a bridge, and we know it’s The Twins. An underrated note that the creative crew is able to get across is during the fight scene at Yunkai where Jorah, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), and Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein) are trying—and failing—to sneak into the city. All three men, if you watch carefully, fight with completely different styles. The show must have a genius fight choreographer, because Jorah fights with Westerosi hack and slash, Daario moves almost like a water dancer with his curved blade, and Grey Worm is the world’s most dangerous majorette with that spear and shield. The way he handled the violence, framing the various action sequences, was a very impressive, and he’s able to crank up tension without too many clues as to what’s going to happen. When the trap springs, it’s sudden and painful and leaves Game of Thrones with one of the most memorable final shots of any episode of the series thus far.
I look forward to stumbling through the next episode with a blank, shell-shocked look on my face. I’m not sure how I can possibly pull myself together for one more episode, but wow, I guess I have to. This might be the high water mark for the series. I’m not sure even a host of fire-breathing dragons can top the look on poor Robb Stark’s face.
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