We hope you’re recording your reaction as you read this week’s The Wars to Come, because our Game of Thrones rewatch has finally reached the episode showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) created the series for: “The Rains of Castamere.” Last week, the two gave us a surprisingly decent (albeit frustrating) episode, while this week, Kylie, Julia, Musa, and Dan are here to analyze their magnum opus.
We’re taken briefly beyond The Wall, where Sam and Gilly reach the northern side of it. Sam tells her that they’ll travel back through it, while explaining to her some history of The Wall. When Sam reveals he knows all this information from reading, Gilly calls him a “wizard.”
Just a bit south of that, Bran & company take refuge in a mill. This is very coincidentally near Jon and his own company of wildlings, who see an old man breeding horses. The wildlings move to kill the man, but Jon makes noise, alerting him and allowing him to run off. Unfortunately, the man only makes it as far as the same mill Bran is at before he’s caught. A thunderstorm comes, and Hodor begins shouting “Hodor” in fear. With all the wildlings below, Bran fears they’ll be noticed, and miraculously skinchanges into Hodor in an effort to quiet him. Jojen encourages Bran to then warg into Summer, below.
It’s a good thing Bran listens, since on the ground, Orell tells Jon he has to kill the old man himself to prove his loyalty to the wildlings. Jon can’t so Ygritte does, causing Tormund to order the wildlings to kill him, since it’s clear he’s not on their side. However, Bran comes to his defense through Summer, who creates an opening for him to escape (though not before taking out Orell). Ygritte is held back by Tormund, who tells her that she shouldn’t die for him.
After the incident, Bran realizes that he must go to the far North with the Reeds to figure out his magical destiny. Osha and Rickon agree to go to the Umbers at Last Hearth, while the rest of the company continues towards The Wall.
Over in Yunkai, Daario proposes a plan to take the city by having him and Dany’s two best men sneak in through the back streets, to let the full army through the front. Jorah is suspicious, but Grey Worm says he trusts Daario. They enact the plan, and though they have to fight through many soldiers, they eventually emerge victorious. The slave army of Yunkai threw down their weapons and surrendered once Dany’s army appeared. Dany seems to take a particular interest in Daario’s survival, to the chagrin of Jorah.
Finally, in the riverlands, it’s time for Edmure’s wedding. En route, Robb fills Cat in on his plan to take Casterly Rock, which she supports. Arya and the Hound are also en route, and the Hound finds a man with a cart of meat intended for the wedding. He knocks him out to steal his cart, and plans on killing the man, which Arya does not support. She convinces Sandor just to leave him knocked out. Sandor realizes that Arya is having a lot of anxiety about reaching the Twins and feels like she’ll never actually get there.
At the Twins proper, Walder Frey gives Robb bread and salt, though makes Robb apologize to the women of House Frey. Robb does so, and Walder goes on to make inappropriate comments about Talisa, too. However, all seems forgiven at the wedding, when Edmure is presented with Roslin Frey, who is very attractive. The feast afterwards seems upbeat, with Edmure and Roslin partaking in the bedding ceremony, but the mood quickly changes when the wedding band begins to play “Rains of Castamere.” Walder Frey announces that he hasn’t yet shown Robb the “hospitality [he] deserves,” and suddenly, the Freys in attendance begin massacring everyone from the North, starting with Talisa.
This massacre is outside too, with all of Robb’s troops, which is witnessed by Arya. She watches with horror as Freys kill Grey Wind, though Sandor prevents her from trying to run in. It’s for the best; Robb is shot many times. Catelyn, in desperation, holds a knife to Walder’s wife and says that she’ll forget everything if he just let Robb go. Walder, however, is indifferent, and Roose Bolton finishes Robb off with a knife to the heart. Cat slits the Frey wife’s throat, before being killed herself.
It’s a lot to discuss, so let’s dive in and break it down.
Initial, quick reaction
Julia: I’m kind of shocked at how few emotions I felt watching all these characters die. Maybe it’s my extreme cynicism, because I can see most aspects of the whole sequence were reasonably well done, yet I felt nothing. The Yunkai stuff was devoid of any emotional content, like, unless I was supposed to be worried about Daario dying, and the Bran stuff made me angry for entirely Doylist reasons.
So just, yeah. I’m dead inside.
Kylie: I, too, was pretty numb during this. I think what honestly turned me off the most was the over-the-top blatant ways D&D worked to ~make it hurt~ for us. Sure, tell us more about lil’ Ned learning to ride horses, and really talk up that Casterly Rock plan. I can’t find many flaws with how it was done either, though it is fun to realize that Edmure and Blackfish are about to disappear for three years, and Arya and Sandor are about to leave the scene to head an entire season of nothing. Where the hell was the tree Bryndon pissed on? Dorne?
Musa: The reputation this episode has definitely preceded it for me, even the first time I saw it. I remember vividly having made popcorn for the big moment in this episode because I’d already read the books and knew what was coming. At the time, aside from the really tasteless stuff done with Talisa in this episode with the manner of her death, I was actually really pleased with how it turned out. But looking back, there’s definitely issues with it that I see now that I didn’t see then.
Dan: *Kicks in the door, enters with a boombox on my shoulder blasting “The Rains of Castamere”* Wassup my dudes? Who’s got two thumbs and didn’t sell out his entire kingdom for some rando from Essos? Tywin Lannister, that’s who. This is very much the “original sin” episode for the show, the big shock that they spent the next 4 years trying to top. This was probably the best episode to be a reader for, as we got to revel in the pain of the Unsullied. Yeah, there’s a lot of tasteless stuff but beyond Talisa, it wasn’t too far from the tasteless stuff that Martin already wrote. It’s best to just sit back and enjoy the fireworks, cause it’s all downhill from here.
Kylie: I’m trying to think what a highlight would even be. Probably Roose Bolton’s eyes. That man is expressive. I guess scene-wise, the only one I legitimately enjoyed was Sam and Gilly’s, because it was cute.
I think my lowlight was how they tried to play up the Dany/Jorah/Daario love triangle. I don’t know what it is about the rewatch and feeling like there’s nothing between these characters (probably just that I’m far enough removed from my reading of the books that I’m no longer conflating), but this was a case where I especially felt nothing. Glad the camera captured Jorah’s face falling for a full 10 seconds. Griffin even asked me why Jorah was sad since he knew Daario would survive (I told him about the recast), completely missing that it was over ~love~ feelings.
Musa: I have a small issue with just how expressive Roose Bolton seems to be. He’s supposed to be the exact opposite. He’s supposed to be scary because he has NO emotions ever and doesn’t express anything that doesn’t seem like contempt for those around him. My personal highlight though would be Catelyn during the entire Red Wedding sequence. She nailed the dread and horror and anguish that’s supposed to be there for Cat during this sequence of events. If only her character hadn’t been so badly neutered before this point. My lowlight would be the fact that the shock twist itself comes right out of nowhere. That sounds like a weird copout, but I have an explanation that I’ll get into in the adaptation section.
Julia: As I said above, the Bran and Rickon stuff just made me angry. Not because it was badly done, but because it was well done and it moved me and just made me so pissed knowing that in season 6 they’re going to have the Umbers betray Osha and Rickon with seemingly no angst and then kill them both in a totally perfunctory fashion. Choosing this as a lowlight may be against the spirit of a rewatch, but I’m so angry about it I don’t give a hoot.
My highlight is David Bradley’s performance as Walder Frey. Man is that character the most despicable example of both the patriarchy and the feudal order in Westeros and gosh golly does Bradley just lean into it in the most delightful way. I could watch him creep on Talisa and forget his granddaughter’s name all day long.
Shoutout to the literal bread and salt. Never not funny.
Musa: Is the literal bread and salt actually not how the extension of guest-right is supposed to work?
Julia: I…can’t tell if that’s a serious question… This show has totally broken my irony-meter.
Kylie: I always interpreted it as not actually being a hunk of bread and a bowl of salt, but rather, food and drink offered by the host. I guess bread and salt might be the traditional choice? It’s the Manischewitz of seder wine. Some cheese would have helped even the whole thing out.
Dan: I know it’s a little morbid, but my highlight was the very beginning of the Red Wedding. Specifically, when the doors close with a clunk that echoes through the halls. The music kicks in, somber and quiet, as Cat slowly looks at Walder in the soft glow of the torches and candles. The atmosphere of it all still gives me chills, especially knowing what’s to come.
Lowlight is the “Little Eddard” scene. It’s just such a cheap ploy to make you feel for Robb and Talisa, the latter of whom we BARELY know but they have to make us care because they chose to kill her rather than let her live like Jeyne Westerling. And, of course, to get make the literal knife in the gut feel that much worse.
Quality of writing
Julia: There are a lot of book scenes in and around the Red Wedding that are kept pretty intact, notably much of Walder Frey’s dialogue, which I think was the best choice they ever made. Maybe it’s just because I know the text so damn well, but the stuff that wasn’t book content, like Talisa and Robb, and Cat and Bolton’s conversations around the bedding ceremony, really stuck out to me. Not necessarily as worse, but as quite different in, like, tone.
Kylie: Ned forbade the bedding ceremony! Talisa talking about a baby Eddard was just like, that quintessential D&D “oooh let’s make it hurt!” Actually, ditto for Robb’s scene with Cat when he tells her about the Casterly Rock plan. Let’s just give them that last glimmer of hope.
All in all I think the writing quality this episode was actually pretty fine. Nothing is jumping out to me at being badly done, even if the staging of the mill scene felt a little bit off to me. This is the episode of season 3 that’s followed the books the most closely, probably just by the nature of what set-pieces were occurring. I am surprised the dialogue was as intact as it was, since D&D’s creative liberties only increase each year. But it was a mostly pleasant surprise, even if I was numb through most of the viewing.
Dan: Outside of the cheap pathos sprinkled in here and there, I think the writing is pretty damn good. Even the changes in the story necessitated by Talisa slotted in pretty well, and I actually think Walder’s reactions to her were better than his stuff in the book. We’re at that point where the non-book stuff can still slot in pretty well without big gaps showing. I’m gonna miss that.
Musa: So it was my brother who pointed this out to me a while back, and I don’t know whether this is to do with the writing or just the direction and cinematography, but when Catelyn slaps Roose Bolton, he runs out of frame and seems to be running around the table. Then when he comes back in to stab Robb, he rushes back into the frame very suddenly to do so. I don’t know why but since he pointed that out to me, I cannot help but laugh at the way Roose seemingly ran all the way around the room while the massacre was going on before coming back in to deliver his one liner and stab Robb.
Julia: He was supervising!
Kylie: He also really wanted to make sure he gave the Lannister’s regards, I guess.
As I side note, I really cringe at how that bit of writing turned out. In the books, Jaime just kind of sarcastically tells Roose to give Robb his regards. Roose then passes the message on before stabbing him, and it’s not meant to be super connected. It’s a nice way of saying, “yeah, we struck a deal with Tywin,” but with or without the regards, Robb is getting stabbed.
In the show, it’s twisted into the generalized, “Send my family’s regards,” even though Jaime has no clue what’s about to happen. Then Roose has to apparate and disapparate to stab Robb, and tell him “the Lannisters send their regards” with a lot of anger in his voice. Then, in Season 6, the “words of the alliance” between the Freys and the Lannisters are, “The Freys and the Lannisters send their regards,” as if everyone was three inches from Roose when he said it, and thought it was some great zinger.
D&D have a pattern of fundamentally not understanding aSoIaF’s most iconic lines, and this is a great example where their own confusion over its importance (and function) made for just some bizarre set-up.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Kylie: The best I can do is something cautionary about love. Daario taking Yunkai for Dany nearly got himself killed (based on the blood stains), Robb’s love for Talisa got everyone in the North killed, and Ygritte also was nearly willing to lose her life for love. Why is that the message of the episode? Who knows!
Julia: I think it’s going to be pretty impossible to tie the three threads—Dany at Yunkai, Arya and Sandor travelling, and the Red Wedding—together in any coherent way.
I guess I’ll try. All three think they’re approaching the solution to a problem, but actually the problems are only just beginning. Dany is getting herself truly tied up into the knot in Slaver’s Bay, Arya thinks she’s about to reunite with her family but at the end of the episode she’s further from them than ever, what was supposed to revive the fortunes of House Stark leads them to the total nadir of them?
Dan: I think I may have used this in the past, but it’s definitely something Martin uses a lot, and that’s the idea of honor. The successful people in this episode (Tywin/Dany/Bran) accomplish their goal thanks to being pragmatic and probably a little evil. Yes, I’m counting warging into Hodor. The people who come out dead or at least worse off (Jon/Robb), are the ones who are trying to stay honorable or “good.” Ned’s death already set the stage for this, but the Red Wedding is probably where it’s truly hammered home for the audience. There’s no honor at killing a few men at dinner, but it did win an entire war in one go.
Kylie: It’s a few men at dinner, plus the thousands and thousands outside. I’d argue that Tywin was well beyond “a little evil” here.
The Butterfly Effect (cracks in the plaster)
Julia: I think the biggest effect from making the Red Wedding the climax of the season is for Arya’s plot, since she really needed to be there but all the heavy stuff for her is before. She really has nothing at all to do next season.
Kylie: She was done poorly by this season, too. What are we to make of her arc? There’s a reason her getting on a boat to Braavos was supposed to be the endpoint for her in this chapter.
Overall though, this is it. This is the ~shocking moment~ D&D would and still do strive to reach in all other seasons. How can they top this? How can they have more and more reaction videos like the one around this? How can it hurt even more? The reception to this episode is why we get Shireen burning after scenes of her and Stannis bonding, as well as Cersei’s big boom. It all begins here, and even taking it from the books, D&D had to add in their own methods of turning the screws.
I think stepping back, I find it increasingly upsetting that the slaughter begin with a close-up shot of the pregnant woman getting repeatedly stabbed in the stomach. It’s just so indicative of what’s to come, as well as being the end of Talisa, a character who only existed to give Robb someone “better” than the books. Who was she in her own right? Never mattered.
Dan: Can you fridge a character for audience angst? She’d fit for Robb but he doesn’t really get a lot of time to be troubled by it before he gets some regards.
I fully agree that this is the “high” that D&D and HBO have been trying to capture again and again ever since. And, like most junkies, they’re never going to. Without Martin’s careful plotting all the subsequent twists just get cheaper and cheaper, and I’d argue they’re still coasting on this episode in the public consciousness.
The Red Wedding as a whole is also just bloodier and gorier than the book, with Talisa being the standout example. It’s the jumping off point for the show to go from “violent and visceral” to “torture porn.”
Musa: There’s something to be said about the way they handled the sequence. The mood lighting of the all the scenes at The Twins works, but it’s also really dim at parts. This is just a problem that gets progressively worse throughout the series where eventually you can barely see anything that’s going on in the scene. I’ve commented on this on episodes past as well, but there’s a difference between mood lighting a scene for dramatic purposes and just plain ol’ forgetting to light the scene altogether.
Julia: You know, I don’t think I’ve noticed that the no-lighting thing isn’t a problem yet, but you’re right. Even when the Brotherhood without Banners was in a literal dark cave I had no trouble seeing anything. Compare that to the House of Dark and Vague just two seasons later.
Kylie: Coldplay was very well lit.
Julia: Wow, well. It’s a well known fact that the Red Wedding was the big thing that D&D wanted to adapt when they started making this show, so how did they do?
The one detail that I found most jarring was when Cat comments about how good the musicians are and I was like, “No! They’re supposed to suck! And the food is supposed to be shitty!”
Dan: While I agree to some extent, I do like the greater contrast between the trappings of the wedding and the massacre. Having it seem like an extremely obvious setup just makes Robb and Co. seem ever dumber, though it also reflects the hubris of the Freys.
Kylie: I’m actually with Dan on this. I honestly don’t think an inept band would have worked in a visual medium. It’s a little too silly.
Dan: Still, the inclusion of Talisa is always gonna stick in my craw for adaptation purposes. Always felt two-dimensional, not as interesting as Jeyne (which is a feat), and fridged for a character who dies like five minutes later.
Musa: Talisa aside, I do have a serious bone to pick with the way this episode framed and led up to the Red Wedding. Barring the fact that all the supernatural foreshadowing of dreams and visions was pretty much entirely excised from the show because of their arbitrary ‘no magic but the dragons’ rule, the Red Wedding should have been a sequence that is foreshadowed and built up properly. Martin did this stupendously, not just with the magical foreshadowing but just the building of dread and unease in the actual chapters leading up to the event, as well as the event itself.
The Catelyn chapters at The Twins are some of the most disturbing and eerily depressing chapters of the entire series. In contrast, up until the massacre actually happens in the show, it’s basically a regular Game of Thrones episode. Even the wedding itself seems oddly uplifting and cheerful, which was definitely NOT the mood of the corresponding chapters in the books. There’s no ‘DOOM BOOM’ here, which is disappointing to say the least. I’m inclined to say this is just the writer’s obsession with shock and awe twists that compelled them to go the complete 180 degree turn route rather than a slow build up to the inevitable that was in the books, but it could just be incompetence as well.
I’ll also say that the scene with Jon where his cover is finally blown doesn’t really work for me if Ygritte knew all along that Jon had not actually defected. There’s no betrayal there anymore. She KNEW Jon was still “a crow” and yet she STILL acts as if he’s let her down somehow? There’s just no conflict there that the writers aren’t pulling out of thin air. They were so intent on having Ygritte be a “strong, independent, sex-positive woman” that it couldn’t be true that she was actually falling for a guy who, unbeknownst to her, was still an enemy. There’s really no tragedy to this break-up in the show, though I wasn’t really as compelled by it as you guys were to begin with, so I don’t know.
Kylie: It was framed like, “I guess she thinks she’d change his mind” or something. Then there’s a mini-betrayal when Jon won’t let her defend him and run off with him, because he’s…you know, going back to his celibate order. Which she knows. But they did a good job the past few episodes of showing how Jon and Ygritte clearly know the situation they’re in is fleeting and hopeless. So you’re right, the “betrayal” set up just was never a thing.
It also made Jon’s, “You were right about me all along” to Orell rather silly. So was everyone else, Jon.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Kylie: The Fat Walda exposition was seamless. I’ll also admit to being a little in love with Michael McElhatton. He can exposit at me all day, if the situation requires it.
Julia: The only other exposition I can think of is the two attack planning scenes, one for Robb and Cat, and the other for Dany and her squad.
The Robb and Cat plan to attack Casterly Rock is a staircase to nowhere, but it seems like a serviceable staircase? I suppose it does a good job establishing why he’s willing to demean himself to get the Frey’s support and updates us on where all the armies are.
The Dany scene is fine too. It’s good at letting us know that Dany has the hots for the guy that burst in on her in the bath last week.
Kylie: Oh, and the bread and salt as protection was mostly implicit, rather than some clunky dialogue about its meaning. I do think that since we never saw it established before, it actually detracts from just how much of a horrible social taboo this was, but I guess we’ll learn about that in post next week via Bran.
Dan: Agreement all around, which is surprising because the Essos scenes are usually only clunky exposition. And ditto on McElhatton expositing at me.
How was the pacing?
Julia: One thing I will say, all three plotlines seem to have taken place in a similar time-frame, that is, about a day and a night. 10 points to Gryffindor for that because in a few years that will be an impossible bar for them to clear.
Dan: I think either the stuff in the North or the stuff in the East could have been cut. While neither drag in any way, they just seem to fill the need for the camera to show us where they are. Either would have been fine shunted to Episode 10.
Kylie: There was something about the mill showdown that didn’t work for me, pacing-wise. I felt very restless. Meanwhile at the wedding, I was shocked we got to the bedding ceremony as soon as we did. I remembered there being more of a build-up. But I’d say it was at least a decently paced episode, all things considered.
There was no sex, baby
Kylie: Just some sexy map touching, yet again. What is with D&D and that?
Musa: Map touching is just one step away from fucking on your map table. Oh my god! Cersei’s going to have sex on the Floor Map™ in season 8! Confirmed here first!
Dan: Michael McElhatton had some lines so…that’s pretty close in my book.
Julia: This show has a thing for minor characters being played by actors with sex voices. Iain Glen and the dude who plays Beric Dondarrion come to mind, too.
The camera really wanted Dany and Daario eye-humping to be about Jorah’s feelings didn’t it? Is this that thing I’ve heard about on the internet called the “male gaze,” by any chance?
Kylie: The more I think about it, the plotline since Dany got the Unsullied has been Jorah’s. His feelings on Barristan joining, his reactions to Daario, his seeking of her acceptance. Yay.
In memoriam…The North, old man with horses
Kylie: I just want to start with a big thank you to director David “It would have been gratuitous to show Stannis’s death but here’s a pregnant woman getting stabbed in the stomach multiple times to open things up” Nutter.
Okay. We’re naturally going to care the most (or be the most disgusted) by Robb, Cat, and Talisa’s deaths. Oh, and Greywind too. But I do think this episode did a decent job of showing the entire Northern forces being wiped out, and I really want to jam it into the face of anyone who finds Tywin’s remark about killing a handful at dinner compelling.
Dan: This is basically RIP to Osha and Rickon too, right? We just don’t see them anymore after this outside of what, a brief bit of murder that makes no damn sense? This is arguably where the show gave up on them, so I count it as a death.
And don’t forget about our good buddy Six-Skins, who was the only wildling able to see through Jon’s paper thin disguise. At least he gets to be a dope bird now.
Musa: Pretty sure that was Orell, not Varamyr. Not like it matters much, he’s dead all the same.
Julia: I agree with Dan, and I’m still mad about it!
Kylie: Well in fairness, had Bran known that Roose Bolton was about to betray the Starks to take control of the North, and then Ramsay would impressively kill his own father to bring “new blood” in, he might have realized that Lord Umber would clearly support that action, and put Shaggydog to the knife. Duh.
But as obvious as that might be to us, D&D still have to spend the next few years getting there. Which means we will have to pick this up next week. What were your thoughts on the Red Wedding? Did it live up to memory? Are Julia and I soulless? We’re curious to hear, and as always, we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.