The Red Wedding
The latest episode of Game of Thrones has come to pass, The Rains of Castamere, and it left a lot of broken hearts in the world. Fans of the show have come to expect a bit of darkness, but the Red Wedding still took many by surprise. It was no different for those of us that read the books years ago.
Although we share your pain, the Red Wedding is what every reader has been waiting for, not just due to the desire to see the powerful scene on screen, but to see the reactions of Game of Thrones fans that haven’t read the books. If watching Ned Stark beheaded at the end of season one didn’t clue people into Game of Thrones being a different sort of fantasy story, then the Red Wedding certainly did.
With the death of two more Starks, a family many view as ‘the good guys,’ social networks were abuzz with fans crying in distress after the episode, with many claiming to be done with Game of Thrones. Martin himself has claimed the scene was one of the hardest he’s had to write in the books, in fact skipping over it and coming back to write it after he’d finished the rest of Storm of Swords, saying:
I try to make the readers feel they’ve lived the events of the book. Just as you grieve if a friend is killed, you should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care. If somebody dies and you just go get more popcorn, it’s a superficial experience isn’t it?
But what of the reactions? Sunday night wasn’t the first time he’s had to deal with upset fans, many of us were throwing our books across the room years ago at this, and many other, scenes from his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series.
People read books for different reasons. I respect that. Some read for comfort. And some of my former readers have said their life is hard, their mother is sick, their dog died, and they read fiction to escape. They don’t want to get hit in the mouth with something horrible. And you read that certain kind of fiction where the guy will always get the girl and the good guys win and it reaffirms to you that life is fair. We all want that at times. There’s a certain vicarious release to that. So I’m not dismissive of people who want that. But that’s not the kind of fiction I write, in most cases. It’s certainly not what Ice and Fire is. It tries to be more realistic about what life is. It has joy, but it also had pain and fear. I think the best fiction captures life in all its light and darkness.
Why Kill Robb, though? Martin felt that Robb ‘had to die’ to subvert readers expectations.
I killed Ned [Stark] in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do.
But if you approach it from within the story, Robb made his own bed, in my opinion. As much as a reader, or viewer, might be drawn to the idea of true love with his bride, the moment he made the
decision to break his word was his downfall. This is a story of generations and Ned Stark may have died in long ago, but part of him lives on in his family. When Robb makes a decision Ned never would have, breaking his oath to Frey, he loses the respect of the north. It was that respect for Stark honor that brought the banner men to him, without it he was just a young man fighting a losing war.
This story was written long ago, and no matter how much we might hate some of the events, they will come to pass regardless. So the real question becomes, how well did they pull off the epic scene? From Ned’s execution, to the battle of Blackwater, they have managed to bring justice to every climatic scene each season, and the Red Wedding was no exception.
In the book, the event is told from the point of view of Catelyn (The “kings” never get their own POV chapters) making it an even more powerful scene, especially as she loses her mind watching, what she thinks is, her last son dying.
It hurts so much, she thought. Our children, Ned, all our sweet babes. Rickon, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Robb… Robb…. please, Ned, please, make it stop, make it stop hurting… The white tears and the red ones ran together until her face was torn and tattered, the face that Ned had loved. Catelyn Stark raised her hands and watched the blood run down her long fingers, over her wrists, beneath the sleeves of her gown. Slow red worms crawled along her arms and under her clothes. It tickles. That made her laugh until she screamed. “Mad,” someone said, “she’s lost her wits,” and someone else said, “Make and end,” and a hand grabbed her scalp just as she’d done with Jinglebell [ed note: it was Frey’s mentally ill son in the book, not his wife], and she thought, No, don’t, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair. Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.
As difficult as it is to compete with a book’s ability to show you what happens in a characters mind, Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) managed an amazing job of it. I felt my stomach drop with hers as the doors to the feast were closed and ‘The Rains of Castamere’ began playing. The subtle placement of Bolton’s arm on the table, with a small nod of his eyes, signaling her to look and find the chainmail under his clothing, was an excellent way to catch the attention of viewers that didn’t know what was coming.
A bonus, if you could call it that, for readers, was the addition of a pregnant Talisa to the wedding and feast. In the novels, she stayed behind as not to insult Frey further, but the show not only included her but offered a moment between her and Robb talking of naming their unborn child Ned if born a boy. The readers joined non-readers in shock and horror as one of the Frey boys stabbed her repeatedly in the stomach.
But it was watching Fairley, playing Catelyn, in desperation try to plead for her son’s life. Her scream of horror as Bolton finishes him off is gut wrenching. She’s already dead, you can see it in her eyes. Readers might know she’s thinking, “don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair,” but it’s not a requirement to feel the pain as you watch her soul die. By the time the steel is at her throat, she’s already dead inside. It was one of the most raw moments of emotion I’ve ever felt from the show, and that’s saying a lot.
What does the future hold for Game of Thrones? Martin himself has said many a time he anticipates a ‘bittersweet ending.’ But the line was already spoken best earlier this season when, as Theon is tortured, he’s told, “if you think this story has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”