Game of Thrones review: Now the rains weep o’er his hall, with no one there to hear
This is a full-spoiler look at the last night's Game of Thrones. If you have yet to watch it, go do so! We'll wait. It's worth going into this one unspoiled.
Robb’s problem has always been that he thinks everyone has to play by the rules, but he does not. His father could have told him the folly of believing that salvation results from being a relatively good person.
I’ve now read the first book in this series, although I intend to stay behind the show, and it’s striking how many chances Ned Stark is given to save himself. Over and over characters try to talk sense into him, and offer him ways out of the situation. Eddard remained sure, to the end, that his sense of honor would save him.
Robb fell into a similar trap by marrying a woman he claimed to love instead of honoring the deal he made for military gain, and he walked around believing that once he got what he wanted everyone else would be forced to return to the same rules of conduct and honor he so publicly abandoned for a time. It doesn’t work like that, not in this world. He’s going to be punished for that slight against the honor of Walder Frey, and it’s going to be public, and it’s going to change the balance of power in Westeros.
The Red Wedding
You can’t participate in the books or the show without some smug asshole hinting at this event, so it’s almost a relief to have it over with. The scene is much like the moment that Daenerys unleashed her dragons against the slaver that had been insulting her for so many episodes. We know it’s coming, but that doesn’t take away the impact of the moment. The entire episode feels like a rope being twisted in your gut.
Walder Frey goes out of his way to make his guests feel at home as they prepare for the wedding. The Starks eat the ceremonial bread and salt. Frey promises hospitality and protection. He leers at Robb’s wife, and forces the oldest Stark son to apologize to his daughters for his failure to marry one or more of them. The wedding itself is a happy event filled with wine, smiles, music, and a surprisingly pretty wife for Edmure. Talisa tells Robb that if their child is a son she will name the boy Eddard, and Robb’s eyes tear up before they kiss.
Then the husband and wife are taken out during the bedding ceremony (where the assembled throngs watch them have sex, I assume?) The doors are closed, and a slow dirge begins to play. Catelyn Stark recognizes “The Rains of Castamere,” and you can see the slow understanding, fear, and sadness creep into her face. The reveal of the chain mail on the arm of her dinner companion proves her fear.
Thus begins the slaughter.
The death of a major character can change the face of the series, such as Ned’s beheading at the end of the first season, but nothing has prepared viewers for this. Robb’s child is killed first as a man stabs his very pregnant wife in the belly, slamming the blade in over and over.
Arrows rain down, and throats are cut. Outside, a group of soldiers kill Robb’s captive direwolf. Catelyn tries to hold Frey’s wife hostage in exchange for Robb’s life, but what does he care? He can always get another wife.
Catelyn’s anguished howls and pleas for Robb to get up and leave are gut-wrenching. This is a woman who has lost nearly everything, and is now watching her last hope of a continuing Stark line literally die before her eyes. Keep in mind she doesn’t know if the rest of her children are safe, and Snow is of course not of her blood. For all she knows, this is the last stand of a once-great house.
There is some hope that Robb, Catelyn, or both of them will still escape and see to their wounds for a few moments, but no. Robb is stabbed once more, after being given a message that the Lannister’s say hello, and Catelyn’s throat is cut.
This happens with Arya right outside the feast, and the Hound quickly realizes he won’t be paid his reward for returning the Stark daughter. All he can do is knock her out and escape. The Stark line is now smashed, the name now only being held by children scattered around Westeros. The King in the North has fallen.
All because he married the wrong woman.
It’s a gut punch of a scene, and fans of the books have been waiting for this moment since the show was announced. Those who haven’t read the books were hopefully able to avoid spoilers and watch the moment without preconceptions. My guess before all this happened was that Joffrey was going to die, or Sansa.
Why was that my speculation? Both characters could be removed from the show without altering the political landscape; Joffrey’s death would remove a Baratheon from the throne, but the Lannister’s would retain their power, and the Starks would still be an ongoing threat. Sansa’s death would remove one of the few “innocent” characters on the show, but again very little would be changed. It made sense. This is how the game of drama is played, the stakes can never be too high when there is so much more story to cover. Game of Thrones doesn't play by those rules.
Instead, Robb is cut down. Catelyn has her throat cut. Talisa is killed, but she's alive long enough to realize her child was the real target. Robb's army is caught drinking and unaware, and they’re wiped out. This isn’t anything as simple as the pieces being re-arranged, this is George R.R. Martin throwing the entire table on its side and telling us to get fucked. It’s a brutal, brave move, and changes everything about the political landscape and power structure of the show we had thought we were watching.
Even Jon Snow, the “Stark” with perhaps the most intact sense of honor, barely escapes the wildlings when he refuses to kill a man for his horses, and he leaves Ygritte behind, even after she helps save him. The remaining Starks are interested in survival, and have few friends left.
While the show used to be set up as a battle between the Starks and the Lannisters, that conflict is all but resolved, at least for now. The Lannisters have won, although we don’t know what that means in the long term, and I doubt we’re watching a show where any one group will ever “win.” The only small victory here is Arya’s pledge to kill the Hound, and his quick look of fear when she does so. Also, her move to knock the older man with the cart unconscious while trying to save his life was a great moment. She may not want him to die, but she's okay with violence to make sure she's safe.
The season finale won’t be able to top this, nothing could, but I can’t wait to see how the show picks up the pieces and finds a new center for the storyline moving forward. The deck hasn’t been shuffled, it has been set on fire. I'm guessing Westeros is filled with people who have plans for the ashes.