I confess I missed my guess that the Red Wedding would be the finale for this season, but it’s my own fault. The adaptation has made it clear that it goes for the big moments in the penultimate episode of the season, not the last – and while the Battle of the Blackwater was bigger in terms of sheer volume of carnage, the Red Wedding is a more grisly affair in every way.
Once again we have a tightly focused episode by GoT standards (though not quite as much as as “Blackwater” was), the second in a row – only a few threads were followed, and effectively four of them were physically merged into two. I like this as a change of pace at least – it’s not possible to do often with a story this size, but it undeniably makes things feel more manageable. And even with arguably the biggest single event in the series to date, there were other elements that made an impression.
I think this episode, at long last, gave proper respect to Brandon’s arc. Heck, even Rickon got to have a couple of Emmy moments, and Art Parkinson fared very well with them considering how little acting he’s had to do in three seasons. I thought all of the scenes in the Queen’s Crown were beautifully handled – the emotions were spot-on, the tension was high, and Bran’s storyline was arguably advanced further in one moment than it had been in three seasons. When he surprised Jojen Reed, you knew Bran had done something of consequence.
As with any scene involving the Starks, seemingly, tragedy underlies everything. It was a theme of the episode, so close and yet so far: Bran only a few yards from Jon, Arya a moments walk away from Cat and Robb. The universe, it seems, just doesn’t want the Starks to be happy. It’s been easy to forget at times this season that they’re the main family in this story, but so it is – and they struggle on, with the long reach of evil forever conspiring against them. It’s striking how unusual it was to watch those six people in old watchtower because they’re all kind, decent souls who care for each other – and that makes them oddballs in this story. Bran forcing a goodbye with Osha and Rickon was incredibly hard for him, but it was the act of a true Lord of Winterfell, and I think the series managed to convey that point.
The arcs in the North have tended to be underrepresented in the TV version, and Jon’s is no exception. I don’t feel as if we ever got to know Tormund well enough to understand why it was so hard for Jon to do what he did this week, but apart from that I thought the scenes with his thread were quite well done. Of Sam we got only a small glimpse, and it does indeed appear that he left behind the dragonglass dagger – an interesting change from the books that may or may not be of significance later. There’s another change that seems likely based on Sam’s dialogue this week, involving a character who may now not appear – we’ll see.
More so than ever I felt disconnected from Danerys’ story. There was nothing wrong with the way it was adapted, but it seemed out of place with the tragic events happening elsewhere. This was an episode about the Starks and profound sadness (is there a difference?) and it felt almost disrespectful to throw the scenes in Yunkai in with the rest of the episode, with Daario’s preening and Jorah’s transparent jealousy. I’ve never “felt” Dany’s story the way I have the others – even in the books – and it still feels like a different series. The fact that it’s totally self-contained at this point is probably the main reason, but certainly not the only one. This is a vital part of the story and I suppose the sacking of Yunkai had to be shoehorned into this episode to make the season fit, but I wish David & David had made a different decision and left that part out of “The Rains of Castamere”.
I’d be curious to know if new viewers sensed what was coming at Walder’s castle, especially as the episode did a good job throwing off the scent with humorous asides (especially involving Edmure). For me the entire episode felt tense and ominous, but the reason is obvious – did it feel that way to those who didn’t read the books? The Red Wedding is a scene I’ve been dreading seeing on screen since I read it on paper: it’s brutal, ugly, despairing and brilliant. The sheer scope of what Walder Frey did is pretty monumental – in offering bread and salt to his guests and offering him the protection of his house, he’s basically pissed all over the most sacred vows possible in Westeros – this was made clearer in the books than in the TV, perhaps intentionally so. It’s unthinkable to do what he did, and anyone feeling a measure of sympathy for Tywin Lannister should now have an idea exactly what sort of man we’re dealing with there.
Cat, of course, knew what was coming as soon as the band began to play “The Rains of Castamere” – the import of which was made plain by Cersei two weeks ago. What a vile man Walder Frey is, and Roose Bolton besides. What happened pretty much speaks for itself, and I can honestly say it was every bit as gut-wrenchingly awful as I hoped and feared it would be. Only one thing didn’t go according to plan – The Blackfish went to find a tree to piss on, at exactly the right moment. The worst moment for me is the last one, as Cat slits the throat of Walder’s wife before the same is done to her. Her face and her voice are the epitome of pure hopelessness and despair.
The adjunct to all this of course is The Hound and Arya’s journey – The Hound at last getting the chance to show what a marvelous character he is. It’s exactly as he tells Arya – the closer she gets the more she fears what she wants so desperately will be taken from her. Little can she possibly have known what was to happen, of course – not more so than The Hound did – but in the chaos following the massacre, it’s he who acts quickly and flees The Twins with her in tow. The Hound is no less than he seems – a broken man, scarred internally and externally, and hard as the ice in The Wall. Yet to the Stark girls, he’s been kinder than almost anyone outside their own family whether they know it or not. As her father’s supposed allies are butchering her family, it’s The Hound who gets Arya out of harm’s way – not at all willingly, though that’s no fault of his. It’s ironic but in this terrible world, Starks should take kindness wherever they can find it.