Games of Thrones – 29

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“The Rains of Castamere”

I’m not sure which was harder – watching this episode knowing what was coming, or watching it and being surprised.

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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  1. M

    A marvelous and all too sure harrowing accomplishment for the cast and crew at HBO.

  2. M

    I'd guess for the non-readers the inclusion of the Yunkai sacking provided a healthy distraction for the ferocity of events to come at the Twins. When the focus tightens as much as it did this episode you've gotta sense that something is up.

  3. j

    Oh my God, i didn't know any of this was going to happen….

    oh my god….

    And yes, as a non-reader, I was always tense watching that wedding ceremony&celebration, because there were ever so often some worried faces that didn't let you relax, "Wait, why is he/she frowning? This is a celebration, right? Right…..??" Example: The wife's shocked face when they took her to the bedding ceremony. Surely, if it was a tradition, she had seen it coming, right?

    And then that music began to play…I thought the episode would end with Arya embracing her mother in a tragic melody that would end in a happier note…Or maybe Walder would suddenly threaten them and demand inconceivable requests for his supports, but…

    Oh my God, I was so wrong…This series…

  4. Oh, ironically the bedding ceremony is 100% a Westeros tradition. Nothing abnormal there at all.

  5. j

    That's my point – if it was so normal, why would the wife start frowning and look worried? Was it because she sensed something was coming (the killing)? I was saying these were the kind of stuff that kept me on the edge of my seat – there were every so often bizarre looks and frowns that didn't let me relax entirely.

    Admittedly though, a bit later, they (I think it was Cat) talked something about any wife being worried in that situation, explaining why the daughter looked scared in the first place.

  6. M

    The actress playing Roslin Frey was probably trying to portray a sense of embarrassment and anxiety at the bedding situation. The bedding ceremony can be pretty humiliating experience for the couple which is part of why Tyrion (also for Sansa's sake) wanted no further part of it during his own wedding. I doubt any daughter is happy to be married off to a stranger like that either.

  7. j

    ^Agreed on all points.

  8. b

    As someone who hasn't read the books, there was something about how everything went way better than expected – Edmure got a pretty wife, everyone was merry, Robb and his wife were making plans for the baby – that made me think that something was bound to go wrong soon enough. It was Cat’s expression when the music changed that sealed it for me.

    But I NEVER thought it was going to end like that. NEVER. I am still in shock.

  9. A

    As someone who read the books, I thought the adaptation was well done – with the exception of Arya at the Twins.

    Here, she realizes the betrayal (death of Grey Wind, Stark soldiers) and still tries to get inside the hall, but Sandor Cleagane knocks her out and carries her away from the carnage.

    In the book, Arya realizes the betrayal, and runs as fast as she could. Cleagane is riding a horse, and throws an axe that hits her in the back of her head.

    I thought he killed her… Until the next Arya chapter.
    I had hoped this episode would end on that grim-dark note just as well, but can't have everything. 🙂

  10. It's possible that they dd this to paint The Hound's actions in a more obviously sympathetic light than they were in the book.

  11. G

    Did they kill Edmure as well?

  12. A

    Unlikely. They already got him wedded to a Walder, which gives them control over Riverrun (Edmure is likely the next Lord).

  13. S

    @Awet. Possession of a man doesn't give you possession over Riverrun, that's a ridiculous notion you have right there.

  14. A

    Your anachronistic projection of modern morality is cute.

    As long Edmure sires a son, they'll have control of Riverrun.

    Rewatch a few episodes earlier this year: Tywin Lannister ordering his son to marry Sansa Stark, who is the key to the north.

    Inasmuch Emdure is key to Riverrun, a city close to the Twins, gives credence to the political machinations. Why else marry anyone to anyone, indeed?

  15. e

    The bad kind of oh!noes out first: Daario/Fabio. I just can't take him seriously (oh the power of bad romance cover snark imprinting). I feel like headdesking in anticipation at the results of his oh-so-not-subtle seduction&bluster – whatever they will be -. Relatedly: poor Jorah.
    And yes I agree those scenes felt quite out of place in this episode.

    The bread and salt implications were clear enough for me but I can't say if it's by merit of script alone or because sharing food and bread+salt is a pretty common tradition for both hospitality and sacred/unbreakable bonds (the ancient Roman confarreatio marriage rite had that for instance).
    Walder Frey's lines and delivery were pretty unpleasant and ominous enough signs to me though. Catelyn's tension was another one. If that's the last we see of her she exited by leaving a mark: Talisa dying via pregnant belly stabbing made me jump on my seat but Catelyn delivered a world of pain pouring from the screen. Great acting.

    So much Bran this week(AND RICKON – he speaks! and we can have a good look at his face!) *glee* .
    Now… among the commotion has Jon realized those are his half(?)brothers' direwolves? I mean… direwolves are rare enough creatures aren't they :p?
    I was also rooting for Arya to save Robb's wolf but alas. Btw… is her Nymeria supposedly still alive and roaming somewhere? Seeing as the direwolves seem to be something of a parallel or familar to the Stark children I keep wondering what can be inferred from their presence or absence – TV production issues notwithstanding -.
    In case she's roaming somewhere I'd like for her to pop up by Sansa's side later on while Arya goes assassin or whatever dark path Melissandre has divined by staring at her in the eyes a couple of episodes ago.

  16. There's no doubt Jon noted the presence of Bran's wolf, though I never thought he connected the dots completely in that moment. He simply doesn't have enough info at his disposal.

    And I really wish they'd stuck to the book's description with Daario. He really is preposterously Fabio-like, which makes Dany's attraction out to be quite shallow.

  17. i

    I was rendered speechless twice in a row these two days. First from 'Now you see me' and then with GoT. To answer your question I did not know something was wrong until the doors shut. Even then I didn't think much of it. But when the stabbing began, I was petrified, unable to look away and wanting more than anything to do so. It was the GoT shock factor like never before. You always praise the cast in it and while I've never been as giving with my compliments, they go out in droves tonight, mostly to Cat. That was truly the face of despair, of mental death, of dying inside with nothing happening to the outer (until it did). And how it showed the blood spewing from their necks. No black screen, no cutaway, no song for the credits. It was GoT at its pinnacle.

    I feel it overshadow what happened to Bran this week though, because as you said this week, Brandon Stark become very interesting. Its obvious why but the other thing is what if Bran can do what he did to say a dragon or the Others. The two beings are bound to clash at some point and I feel Bran will be at the center of their battle.

    Agree on Dany's arc, it really should have been in next week's episode. I also think its brilliant that the climax of the series is in the penultimate episode as always, because as you say watching the crescendo from a climax can as much fun as the climax itself.

    Also if this was most other fantasy novels, Jon would have taken Ygritte with him. I would have, Rose Leslie is easily the most beautiful actress in the series for me. I think the other crows will pick up the glass dagger and use it to track Sam. Next week's episode is sure to feature Sansa bailing her eyes out and for good reason. I'll respect her more for it.

    Wondering about the thing Stanis did. Did he somehow cause this with that leech in fire thing?

  18. Nope,sorry – can't let that go…

  19. j

    haha I think you went a bit overboard there, Enzo. I don't read the books and I have no clue how that could have spoiled me. But hey, your blog your rules.

  20. A

    Right, Justinnm.

    A line from season two, from a character at that leech scene, is somehow spoiler?

    Nope,sorry- can't let that go… 😉

  21. I think what you were hinting at was pretty obvious.

  22. i

    I know how it spoiled it, so thanks a lot Awet M. It wasn't obvious to me (Tv only) but at least I hit a mark

  23. A

    I apologize for not being cryptic enough, and will refrain from doing so in the future. But calling a line a character has said a couple of times already, in seasons past no less, a full blown spoiler is exaggerating it.

    When I was watching Fate/Zero, and I knew the existence of spoiler-happy readers, I avoided blogs and other likely infested locations like the plague to ensure peace of mind.

  24. M

    To be fair Ishruns you did raise the question. If you've connected any dots from what Awet M may or may not have inferred then nice deducing.

  25. L

    I only just finished the first book, so this episode was a complete shock to me. The massacre at the end completely blindsided me and I was left speechless 15 minutes after the episode ended. The silence during the credits fit my mood exactly.

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