Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere, Review

In the bloodiest moment of television history, the hopes of a high fantasy lay with Robb Stark's crown

HOLY S**T! I am not one to curse much in my reviews, but HOLY S**T. This is the moment I have been waiting for and dreading as a longtime book reader. I knew it was coming and could not wait, but the second Lord Walder Frey’s band drew out the first note of “The Rains of Castamere,” my heart sank. A surrealist out-of-body realization took hold. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING. And it tastes of RED. As has long been the case with the ninth episode of each Game of Thrones season, we got the fireworks in the penultimate installment. But unlike watching Tyrion set the Blackwater on fire or even Ned Stark lose his head, there was nothing exhilarating here. Just sheer horror that increased exponentially with each of the many stabbing thrusts into Queen Talisa’s stomach. Robb died. Cat died. Hell, even Walder’s wife died. This may be the bloodiest hour in television history, but not because it reveled in the violence. It merely soaked the screen in a crimson mist that threatens to swallow up as many viewers as it did characters this awful night. But before we continue to discuss that (and we will), let’s do a quick look at what else important happened in this episode. Just give me a second to pull my jaw off the floor…. The stories in the North moved quite a bit this week. Indeed, there was even a semi-reunion between Bran Stark and Jon Snow. The former continued his trek to the wall. Reaching it just long enough to settle in for a Socratic discourse about the inherit abilities of wargs. Another way to put that is Jojen and Meera Reed continue to insist that Bran is special and must find a three-eyed raven on the other side of the Wall. Osha meanwhile is, for all intensive purposes, yelling, “ICE. ZOMBIES.” When they take cover from the rain, debate about the spiritual side of things is at least quenched when wildlings show up.
 While his little half-brother has been huffing it on Hodor, Jon Snow is having things come to a head with his wildling teammates. The group has cornered a horseman who works with the Night’s Watch and they plan to send him to the Great Stallion in the sky. At first, Tormund Giantsbane is going to do the honors, but the wildling warg who won’t accept that Ygritte is just not that into him forces the Bastard of Winterfell to end the poor farmer’s life. When Jon hesitates, Ygritte puts an arrow through the man’s heart, but it is too little too late. The wildlings have seen enough to know where Jon’s true loyalties lay. They’re with the crows. Fortunately so too are most of the wildlings who raise arms against Snow. As Jon enters in a swordfight against several wildlings, Bran, Osha and company listen from above. This gives Bran his first interesting moment of the episode. After using his warg powers to quiet Hodor, he uses them further to summon both his and Rickon’s direwolves, Summer and Shaggydog, to Jon’s aide. The wolves slaughter several wildlings while Jon has the long-awaited pleasure of running Mr. Third Wheel through. He even gloats, “You were right about me all along.” Too bad, Jon still doesn’t get this whole warg thing as the man just moves his soul into a bird that pecks at Jon’s pretty face. Still a good day’s work, considering the situation. Jon rides off and leaves a furiously heartbroken Ygritte behind. She even pulled arrows on her fellow wildlings when they first came for Jon. She may be kissed by fire, but Jon is surly playing with it when he spurns this gal. Let’s talk about what this scene means a little bit. Firstly, it actually displays the usefulness of Bran’s power. Up to this point, it seems evident that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss find Bran’s sections as laborious as I did reading them. The Reeds were totally cut out of Season 2, making their introduction a bit awkward this year. And even with the amusing siblings around, most of Bran’s scenes have been him cooling tensions between Meera and Osha. Finally, in an episode where this will be hopelessly overshadowed, Game of Thrones is explaining to viewers why this storyline is so important. Not only did it remind us that direwolves are almost as awesome as dragons, it also showed that Bran can even control other people. Perhaps people who wear crowns in the future?read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Everything We Know It makes complete sense for Bran to wish to continue forward to beyond the Wall and unlock his supposed destiny. That makes it a relief when he forces Osha to take Rickon to the Umbers. I like Tonks Osha as much as the next guy, but she really has become Debbie Downer. She may have a point about Whitewalkers, but dammit, Bran wants to have a cool subplot too! It was a nice little send-off of Rickon too. The young lad gets his most lines ever when he pleads to stay with Bran, but the older brother shows maturity when he notes that if he should die beyond the Wall (high probability there given that he is a cripple in a land of zombies and giants) who will carry on the Stark family? Well, there is Robb…
 Meanwhile across the Narrow Sea, Dany’s story continues to be killer from week to week. Daario the Braggart has devised a sketchy plan that involves he and Dany’s two best fighters sneaking into Yunkai and razing the city from the inside with rebellious slaves. It is unclear whether Ser Jorah dislikes Daario because he is constantly hitting on Dany or simply because the guy is a tool, but either way there is mojo blood there. Yet, Daario proves more resourceful than Jorah would have give him credit for. After a brief fight scene that felt more akin to Starz than HBO’s style, Daario, Jorah and Grey Worm successfully get past the guards in a little bit of swordplay. Then when the trio returns to the Khaleesi to tell her of the good news, they are drenched in the victorious blood of a battle hard won off-screen. The slave city is hers. This storyline is interesting this episode because rifts are seeming to form within the men around the Silver Queen. Still likely annoyed that Selmy suggested he leaves Daenerys Targaryen’s counsel before they reach Westeros (bad publicity and all that), Jorah openly refuses Selmy Barristen’s hand in combat. Denying the help of the most lauded warrior on either continent seems a bit prideful and foolhardy. Plus, Jorah is in need of friends, as he and Daario are never going to get along if they are both ogling their purported queen. One could practically hear Jorah squeal all the way from the friend zone when Dany showed pure delight at the sight of Daario returning from battle. Jorah, you’re too old for her, my friend. But you are right; there is just something so slimy about this Second Son crap. If things are getting awkward in Essos, try riding with the Hound and Arya for a day. Not dissimilar to how I imagine a Chevy Chase Vacation movie would be like set in the Middle Ages, it is nothing but shared annoyance and disdain dripping from both characters. Arya dislikes the Hound because he killed Micah. The Hound dislikes Arya because she runs her mouth like she is in charge of this little excursion. The truth is Arya is terrified of finally reaching her momma again. Just across the river in her first scene lies the beautiful Twins, an idyllic set of castles connected by a long bridge. The Hound is right to say she fears never seeing Cat or Robb again as she nears their location. After a little back-and-forth taunting, Arya promises to one-day stab the Hound through the eye. As adorably psychotic as that is, methinks there will be plenty of other names ahead of his on her prayer list. Almost all of them now likely ending with “Frey.” That brings us to the heart of the episode. I would even say the heart of the entire series thus far. The wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey. ‘T was a bloody affair. The tone is set early as the writers desperately promise that Robb is building to a comeback next season. He is going to join forces with Walder Frey’s army and invade Lannisport and Casterly Rock. Take the moneyed West from Tywin Lannister, just as the Ironborn have taken the North from him. Robb discusses these plans with Mother Catelyn Stark and removes all pretense that she is under arrest. As she has been sitting in on his councils for several episodes now, not that he ever listened to her, it all seems like a formality here.
 In fact, I am going to take a second to defend Catelyn Stark’s name. She has made some boneheaded decisions throughout the series. Her name is Stark; it comes with the territory. Ignoring her personal feelings toward Jon Snow, her one huge screw-up was taking Tyrion Lannister hostage on the King’s Road between Winterfell and King’s Landing. Granted, this is a big one that escalated bad blood between the Starks and Lannisters into the spilling kind. Yet, childhood friend Petyr Baleish, who INSISTED that the knife belonged to the Imp, egged her into that position. Perhaps, she should have known Littlefinger well enough to deduce that he is a sociopath. Even so, let’s just say Ned’s mistake of warning Cersei that he would tell Robert of her incestuous infidelity, as well as Joffrey taking Ned’s head, were far bigger warmongering blunders. Beyond that colossal FUBAR moment, Cat has honestly been one of the most reliably accurate of Robb’s advisors. Who negotiated a peace in the TV show between Renly and Robb? Catelyn. Who told him to be weary of Walder Frey? Catelyn. Who said sending Theon Greyjoy back to Pyke was a stupid idea? Cat. Who warned him of breaking the oath by marrying Talisa? Take a guess. Well, what about letting the Kingslayer go, you say? Excellent point, strawman!read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 Predictions and Theories Seriously, what were the truly negative consequences of that action? Karstark murdering the Lannister children? He would have murdered Jaime Lannister in much the same manner if the Kingslayer had stayed in the camp another night. The whole reason she let him go was Karstark was in a blood rage to avenge his dead sons. And if it had been Jaime’s blood he spilled instead of distant cousins, rest assured that Sansa’s head would be resting on a pike right now in King’s Landing (though she’d probably prefer that over her current circumstances). Instead, he murdered children. Meanwhile, Robb ignores everyone’s counsel and executes Karstark, thereby losing half his forces and having to go beg from Walder Frey’s table. Kind of like deciding to marry Talisa…well, we all know now how that judgment call played out. On to “death till we part!” At the Twins, the Stark men and women are all given food and drink by Walder Frey. This is an old Westerosi custom, which ensures that guests will not be harmed by their hosts. After sneering at tradition, Old Frey gets into his most pervy mindset while looking Talisa up and down and impugning Robb’s honor. The old man even makes Robb apologize individually to each of his homely daughters. This is all expected from a Frey host and is tolerable enough if it means more men to strike a crushing blow at Tywin Lannister. Unfortunately, Tywin already struck first. There is a brief scene of Edmure Tully meeting his bride and discovering that she is actually quite pretty. Why would Walder surrender to his liege lord his most attractive offspring? He gives a wry shrug to Robb during the ceremony, as if to say, it is all just a lark. Or mayhaps, he does not intend for it to be a long marriage. It is unclear to me if non-readers felt the mounting dread as we approached the wedding party, but my pulse quickened with each passing moment. At one table Robb is being all too lovey-dovey with the mother of his unborn child. At another, Cat makes grim small talk with the shifty-eyed Lord Bolton. Finally, Lord Frey demands the bedding: a Westerosi tradition where each spouse is disrobed by members of the other sex and is taken to the bridal chamber. It was the custom Tyrion politely declined two weeks ago. Edmure goes off happily.
 …Then comes one of the most horrific sequences ever put on television. Catelyn Stark is quick to notice something is off when the doors are shut behind them. Also, Walder’s band is playing something mournful. “The Rains of Castamere.” An ode to Tywin Lannister’s soulless slaughter of an entire family. It is not exactly something you play at a Stark affair. However, it is stark indeed when the violence begins. Walder stops the music long enough to mock Robb while Cat realizes that Lord Bolton has betrayed them. Abruptly, the Freys gleefully break the Guest Right of Westeros by raining crossbow arrows down upon the Starks and pulling daggers on guests sitting next to them. It is a literal bloodbath, as red drips over the wine and smoked pork and the bodies of dead Northerners pile up. The absolutely cruelest act in all this is who dies first: Talisa. Walder has Robb’s wife, mother of a potentially new Eddard Stark, gutted a half dozen times in the stomach. I am not even sure Robb felt the first or second arrow that entered his body. Outside, the carnage continues when Frey men massacre pleasantly drunk Northern men still dining in celebration the union of houses. Arya Stark and the Hound are even there to witness the merciless execution of Grey Wind, Robb’s direwolf. Trapped in a cage where the great beast and protector of Starks is helpless, the dog is shot by a half dozen arrows with all the thought of carving a turkey. Arya has come SO CLOSE to be in her mother’s arms, only to have them forever wrenched from her. In a moment of kindness, the Hound knocks the Stark girl out and carries her away from the dead an dying. Inside Walder’s dining hall, few remain alive. The old pervert taunts Robb as he crawls to his dead wife’s body. Actually, they toned down how petulant the old man becomes in his anger over a silly oath. Catelyn tries to save Robb by holding Walder’s wife hostage. If he but lets Robb go, she will release his wife and gladly allow herself to be the Freys’ hostage. “I will find another,” the Lord Host sneers. Bolton, who has been hiding like a snake in the corner since Cat confronted him, takes this as his cue to spring. “The Lannisters send their regards,” he crows when he plunges his sword into Robb’s flesh. Cat cries out anger and keeps her word by ending the life of Frey’s wife. In a moment of framing brilliance, the camera and editing does not even bother to show reaction shots of Walder, Bolton or anyone else in the room. With a simple medium shot, we witness Cat open the woman’s throat Sweeney Todd style and simply cry at the sheer ruination of it all. For her, all the children are gone. The Starks are truly damned. She does not even react when a Frey man comes up from behind to tilt her chin back and give her neck a kiss of his own blade. Cat tastes red in the final second before we drink the deafening silence of the soundless black credits. This is without a doubt the most anguished episode of Game of Thrones ever produced. Several weeks ago, we were promised that this story could have no happy ending. But, does it have to be so emotionally bleak? In traditional storytelling, Robb would be the main character of this saga. He is the Boy King of a murdered father out for justice. Yet, whatever justice the Starks can have is now almost meaningless. Avenging Ned’s horrible slaying is one thing. Yet, following this Red Wedding, the bodies are too many and varied for that wound to ever be closed. Arya’s prayer of death is too long to repeat and the children are scattered like snowflakes in the wind. Most of them are even considered dead. Conversely, the Lannisters prosper, as do their helpful toadies named Frey and Bolton. For those who have complained that they did not know where Season 3 was going or that it was a slothful, directionless drama: Are you not entertained? Perhaps not. Season 3 has revealed its final hand to the uninitiated. One wedding and Five Hundred Funerals. Is it possible to get PTSD from a TV show? Whatever the future holds now, it can only be a little emptier. Those looking for high fantasy can find it lying with Robb Stark’s crown.