SPOILER WARNING! It’s best not to read this review unless you have already seen Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 9
This week’s Game of Thrones was the one we’d all been waiting for – and, if you’d read the books and knew what was coming, excitedly dreading with every fibre of your being. Directed by David Nutter, and scripted by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, The Rains of Castamere is season three’s ‘event’ episode, culminating in an incident that has come to be known as the Red Wedding. This bloody affair has left us with three dead main characters, and a whole host of supporting corpses. Not only that, it’s also split the GOT fandom right down the middle, leaving some of us hungry for more, and some of us furious and vowing never to watch Game of Thrones again. In short, it’s kind of a big deal.
Instead of concentrating the entire episode on the goings on at the wedding, Weiss and Benioff chose to sprinkle in a few of the other storylines. Although the gradually building pressure of an episode set solely at the Twins would have been almost unbearably brilliant, the inclusion of the other characters allowed us to see just how geographically close the remaining members of the Stark family have become. The Starks have been effectively cut off from one another ever since they left Winterfell right back at the beginning of season one, and from that day to this we’ve been longing for even one heartfelt reunion. It almost looked as though we were going to get our wish this week, but instead we had to watch, agonized, as they passed each other like ships in the night.
Jon (Kit Harington), Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and the rest of the Wildlings finally make their way far enough south to very nearly cross paths with Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Rickon (Art Parkinson) and the rest of their gang. The Wildlings finally turn on Jon and Ygritte, accusing Jon of still keeping faith with the Night’s Watch. Hiding in a nearby abandoned tower, Bran uses his Warg powers to set Summer and Shaggydog on Jon’s attackers, giving him the chance to escape – leaving Ygritte behind. The look on Rose Leslie’s face as Jon rides off into the rain is pure gold; Ygritte is about 10% heartbroken, 15% betrayed, and 75% furious.
Heartened by the knowledge that Jon is alive, Bran’s resolve to travel beyond the wall with Jojen (Thomas Sangster) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick) is renewed, but he decides that Osha (Natalia Tena) should take Rickon to the nearby stronghold of the Umbers (Stark bannermen) to keep him safe. In this scene, Rickon really becomes a character in his own right for the first time; he gets angry with Osha when she calls them Southerners, and his heartbreaking utterance of “I never want to swing a sword” is exquisitely timed. The whole scene involving Bran’s group, who haven’t been getting very much screentime at all of late, is masterful.
Meanwhile, the Hound (Rory McCann) is still dragging Arya (Maisie Williams) towards the Twins, where he hopes to sell her back to Cat (Michelle Fairley) and Robb (Richard Madden). Cat, Robb, their entourage, and the entire Northern army are at the Twins, stronghold of Walder Frey (David Bradley) for the wedding of Cat’s brother Edmure (Tobias Menzies) to one of Frey’s many progeny. The action at the Twins opens with an excruciatingly awkward ‘welcoming’ scene, in which Robb is forced to apologise to all of the Frey women he rejected when he married Talisa (Oona Chaplin). In order to secure the men he needs to conquer Casterly Rock, Robb humbles himself before them all.
Edmure, convinced that he is about to marry the ugliest lump in all of Westeros, is pleasantly surprised to find that his bride is in fact young and pretty. The wedding takes place, the feast begins, everyone seems happy, and it looks as though any and all grudges are being put to rest. But, a strong and sickly atmosphere of uneasiness begins to permeate the scene. If we’re honest, it was there from the very beginning, but we only start to notice it when the signs finally become too obvious to ignore. Why are certain guests refusing their wine? Why are doors being quietly closed? Why is Robb’s wolf, Grey Wind, whining in the stable? And why has the house band broken into an unsettling rendition of The Rains of Castamere?
Walder Frey calls a halt to proceedings on the pretext of giving Queen Talisa a long overdue wedding gift. Unfortunately for her, this wedding gift involves one of Frey’s men stabbing her, viciously and repeatedly. Suddenly, every Stark and Stark bannerman is set upon by the Freys. Robb and Cat both receive arrow wounds, but manage to survive long enough for Cat to beg Walder to spare Robb, while enterprisingly holding a dagger to the throat of his wife. Walder clearly isn’t feeling in a merciful mood, however; Robb is unceremoniously gutted, while Cat is slashed across the throat mere seconds later. Then the screen goes black, and the credits roll in silence.
That’s right; they’re all dead. The whole lot of them. Talisa, Robb, Cat, even Robb’s wolf. And no, it wasn’t a dream sequence, or a coma fantasy, or an alternate reality, or any of the usual cop-outs. They really are dead. And the most intriguing thing about this turn of events isn’t the spot-on acting, or the poignant script, or the breathtakingly merciless choreography of the entire business – the most intriguing thing is the way the GOT fandom have reacted.
The internet has already been deluged with reaction videos, with GIFs and tweets and status updates. The Game of Thrones Facebook page is a smoking hole in cyberspace. I received a good old-fashioned phone call from one of my friends who, unable to express herself accurately in words, simply screamed unintelligibly at me for minutes on end. Not since Ned lost his head in season one have we, or any other fandom for that matter, been witness to anything even vaguely comparable to the utter carnage taking place right now amongst devotees of GOT.
Oh, and Dany also conquered Yunkai this week, but frankly, no-one cares. After the Red Wedding, the rug has been pulled out from under everything anyone thought they knew about this series. We already knew that anything could happen in Game of Thrones, but now we know it in our bones. See you back here next week for Operation Scrub the Blood out of the Carpet.
Best Kill: The death of Catelyn – the most shocking end to an episode yet.
Best Scene: The denouement of the Red Wedding.