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Welcome to “It Is Known – Season 3 Deconstructed”! Every week, you will find my extensive review of the week’s episode of Game of Thrones.
I will explore the narrative that the show weaves. And what a narrative indeed! The story is complex, the characters are manifold, the twists and turns unexpected. I will deconstruct the episodes piece by piece, moving from character to character. This is an unusual approach, I admit, and a bit cumbersome at times, but the show basically does the same. The episodes are just parts of one, epic story, and as parts we have to examine them if we hope to get everything that happens.
This Week's Episode: "The Rains of Castamere"
Catharsis. I know the term doesn’t fit exactly here, since you don’t feel purified, more soiled. But boy, the Red Wedding was a cloud that hung over the whole season for book readers like me. We always knew it was coming, always knew what it meant, and had to try not to spoil it for those who haven’t read the books. It was way harder than to pretend Eddard Stark wouldn’t die back in season 1. Now that it’s finally over, it’s like a veil has been pulled back. It was an emotional ride that I hadn’t expected, again, knowing exactly what would happen. That speaks for the quality of HBO’s adaption. But let’s cover all this in excruciating detail, shall we? Man, I’m still shaking.
We only get a small glimpse from north of the Wall this episode, in form of Sam and Gilly finally reaching the Wall. I liked the shot between the trees, and Gilly’s awe at looking upon it. Her naïve line about how Craster told them that you die upon looking on the Wall made me smile, but sadly. Oh girl, you’re not safe yet. You should know by now in what kind of story you are. It’s also pretty efficient how they seem to introduce the Night Gate: instead of all that Mumbo-Jumbo-Coldhands-business from the books, Sam just read in an old book, which seems to become a meme of its own. Fandom will inevitably asks whether or not we’ll see Coldhands. I’d say yes, but Sam won’t necessarily meet him, too. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the passage under the Wall. Should get us a haunting picture.
South of the Wall, Bran and Rickon arrive at the mill we already saw and which I mistook for Queenscrown. Well, it is Queenscrown, which has just transformed from a tower into a mill and isn’t situated in the middle of a lake anymore, which really doesn’t make any difference. The show merged the two storylines (Jon’s and Bran’s) very cleverly, with both groups coming so close to each other but making no contact. I’ll talk about them separately since the contact is only superfluous anyway. First, let’s talk about warging. In the books, we had much more time with Bran up to this point, so he could already warg (and talk lots and lots with Jojen), so using the threat of the discovery and Jon’s impeding death is a pretty nice way to speed things up in a dramatic manner. I also really like the blind-eye-effect that they use for warging, it looks awesome. I wonder whether it will have any implications for later that Bran admitted to being able of warging into Hodor, but I wouldn’t really think so.
The second really good part about Bran’s storyline this episode is, of course, the breakup of the group. Having seen his powers, Bran goes full believer on Jojen and buys into venturing north of the Wall to find the three-eyed-raven. Obviously, this trip is serious business for a crippled ten-year-old, so taking a six-year-old on the ride is out of the question, and the group finally splits up. Osha is set to Last Hearth. In wonder whether we’ll see them in season 4. Osha has been developed into a great character, in contrast to her cardboard-personality from the books, and it’ll be a shame to lose her. On the other hand, I don’t know how much plot you can wring from “wildling women drags a six-year-old through the north”, so that’ll be interesting for sure. This season, my gut tells me, we won’t see them again for sure.
Let’s jump to Jon. He has to partake into a raid of a horse farmer who provides horses for the Watch (I loved the wildlings: “Why does anyone possess eight horses?”) and tries to rescue the man by making some noise to stir up the horses. The wildlings running on the hut is also well done: it is entirely deprived of any epicness that would be misplaced in such a scene and reduced to running as fast as you can in order to kill your opponent before being noticed, although “opponent” should properly read “victim”. The guy can escape, and Jon prevents Ygritte from hitting him with the arrow (or was that on purpose? Hard to decide). Unfortunately, we get a cut to Queenscrown, where the wildlings finally corner the man (without explaining how they got him, without horses and all). Unfortunate, since we don’t get an reaction of either Ygritte, Tormund or Orell.
At Queenscrown, Tormund is surprisingly sympathetic to the man he wanted to assassinate only a scene prior, and he wants to grant him an honorable death (hoorah, to quote Dolorous Edd). But Orell fucks it up, demanding that Jon kills him, as to prove Jon’s a traitor to them. Jon doesn’t fail to deliver and refuses to kill Orell (who seems to have forgotten already that he heard someone in Queenscrown but might remember pretty fast once this business is done with), so Ygritte shoots him, which leads to Orell giving the order to kill them both. Ygritte seems ready to die beside Jon, but Jon isn’t ready to die at all. He starts slicing at the wildlings, when Bran attacks them with both wolves. That’s just the opening Jon needs to kill Orell, who served as kind of a boss-monster in this sequence since Tormund’s busy saving Ygritte’s live for the nonce, preserving him for the finale in Castle Black. So, Jon killing Orell and the latter warging into the eagle who in turn attacks Jon gives the whole storyline more meaning than in the book, where Orell was one of the watchers killed by Qorin Halfhand’s party and simply hated Jon for killing him (good reason, but not with the resonance of the added jealousy about Ygritte).
The attack of the bird subsequently establishes this relationship well enough, and with face marks rivaling Tyrion’s, Jon escapes, leaving Ygritte behind without a second thought. Now, this deserves another thought and yet another book comparison, where Ygritte never sided with Jon against the wildlings and possibly shot an arrow in his leg. I’m a bit torn about the change. On the hand, they already set Ygritte up as not just dedicated a wildling as in the books, but on the other hand, that deprives her of a defining characteristic. I guess much of how to rate this change depends on the role she plays in the fight for Castle Black, which might just happen in episode 10 yet. Plus, the question what happens with Tormund still hangs in the air. My guess is that he will be captured and later used as a bargaining chip or ambassador when Mance “lights the biggest fire the north has ever seen”. I’m psyched.
And with that, to the Riverlands, which is the only other place in Westeros we visit this week. No King’s Landing, no Lannisters, no Stannis. And that’s only fitting, because the Lannister’s presence need to be felt without them being visible, and boy, does the episode deliver on that count. The Red Wedding certainly is the emotional strongest piece yet delivered by the series. D&D have stated that this particular scene was the main reason why they wanted to do the show, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s just such a punch in the guts. Really, it was painful to watch the whole episode knowing what was to come. It only added to the tension. Yes, the whole setting was foreboding before, but my heart beat like hell in every scene at the Twins. It was nigh unbearable to watch, regardless of me having read the scene about ten times by now.
The setup for this is masterful. Not only do they deliver us the wedding piecemeal, as to pretend that it’s just a normal plot point. They also nourish the illusion that Arya might finally reunite with her family, so let’s talk about her first. Maisie Williams delivered some really strong performances this season, but in this episode, she gets some really meaty stuff. She stares down the Hound and tells him outright that someday she’ll plant a dagger in his eye through his skull, which leaves the Hound speechless for about the first time. And then she saves the farmer the Hound wants to kill by sheer force of will. That takes some serious guts, and Arya shows them in spades. It also seems like she doesn’t have any regard for her own life left, which is a pretty troublesome development regarding her psyche. And then, at the Twins, we see her come close first to entering the castle (where the bloodshed is already going on) and then to rescue Greywind before she has to witness the wolf being shot in his cage, in yet another emotionally super-strong scene. The imagery was haunting, and haunting, and haunting. At last, the Hound knocks her out and rescues her. It seems like the beginning of a small redemption arc if you ask me. He doesn’t need to rescue her, since there’s no ransom coming from any Starks, as he well knows. But he does anyway, like he rescued Sansa before. He’s still no good guy, but there’s some decency at least.
And now, to the wedding proper. As already mentioned, the whole setup was so well done. At first, we see for the first time the sacred meaning of bread and salt (granting the holy guest right that Walder Frey’s about to violate). Then Walder Frey, smirking gleefully, directs a whole host of insults at Robb and his wife, even more of them than in the books (which makes Robb’s decision there to leave his wife at Riverrun all the more clever) and parades his daughters and granddaughters, one uglier than the last. I simply love Tobias Menzies’ performance here, making faces at the choices he is presented with, fearing that Roslyn (who is conspicuously absent) is the ugliest of them all. I really hope we’ll see more of Edmure in the episodes to come. Then we have the wedding, with Walder Frey presenting Roslyn at last, drawing out the moment until Edmure can’t bear it anymore, to reveal that she really is a peach. I loved his gesture at Robb, like “let an old man have his fun”. With that gesture he eased the tension he created before and really made them all feel secure, as evidenced by the following feast.
Here, the main problem seems to be that Robb shouldn’t kiss the bride in plain view as not to insult lord Walder. Also, there’s lord Bolton, who smirks at Catelyn while telling her that he took a Frey bride as well. Remember that initial scene in the tent, where among the markers Robb had on his map were three towers of Frey, but also one X with a flayed man, tied to it? The sigil of Bolton? If you don’t have figured out by now who holds Theon, I can’t help you. It’s the first time Robb implicitly acknowledges Bolton as a factor in his planning that is decisive. And boy, will it be. For now, D&D try to calm all fears. The Blackfish and Roose Bolton joke about drinking, Bolton and Catelyn talk about marriage, Robb explains the bedding to Talisa (with Bolton making the remark that “the woman has to endure this all the time”, hitting the mark: the woman. For the man, it’s cool), and Cateyln goes off canon again telling Bolton that Eddard forbid the bedding as not to break anyone’s jaw. Well, why not.
Just before it’s going to start, the Blackfish narrowly escapes, taking a piss just at the right time, and Bolton goes armoring himself. After Edmure is off fucking his bride (which he presumably does throughout the whole wedding), the band starts playing “The Rains of Castamere”, and one of Walder’s brood closes the doors to the hall. That seemed so…final. And it was. Bolton sitting right next to Catelyn, as if to flirt, taunting her to see the armor he wears and looking at her that way he does…creepy. Absolutely creepy. I wonder how this was for people who don’t know the books. I mean, I know Bolton is who he is. Did this come as a surprise? Did it have a real impact or was he just “another traitor”? Let me know.
And then, madness ensues. Kudos to Walder Frey (and D&D) to stage this as he did. It was orchestrated to the last detail. At first, some son of his stabs Talisa IN HER PREGNANT BELLY, over and over and over again. Nothing else happens, because Robb is meant to see this. Then, the whole fray starts. Crossbolts are fired, nailing Robb down and slaughtering much of the people in attendance. Even Catelyn gets a bolt in the back. And then, when only Robb and Catelyn are alive, and Talisa is dying on the ground, everyone stops to let Robb crawl over to her and see her perishing in his arms. Walder Frey fully revels in Robb’s wordless anguish as Talisa dies. And she doesn’t get any last words either, community. No “I love you”. No other last word. She doesn’t even to see Robb. She just suffers from stabs in the belly and dies ugly on the floor. She doesn’t get to get any meaning out of her death. She dies ugly, and pointlessly.
And then it’s Robb’s turn. While Grey Wind is killed outside in his cage, Catelyn’s desperate attempt to blackmail lord Walder fails, he chilly uttering the line “I can get another [wife]”, rendering Catelyn’s threat meaningless. The desperation and resignation on the wife’s face is visible painfully and plainly. In yet another piece of the carefully staged plan, Roose Bolton steps up to deliver the killing thrust to Robb, muttering “the Lannisters send their regards”, delivering Jaime’s message (that Jaime certainly didn’t intend that way) and setting the stages for Catelyn’s descent into madness. And dear community: that the show changed the line from “Jaime Lannister sends his regards” doesn’t mean shit. Please don’t rage about it, ok? It doesn’t change a fickle, and you guys rage about way too much meaningless stuff already.
Robb falls, slowly and in slow motion, as to hammer home the point again: there’s no point. As Sean T. Collins points out in his brilliant review (getting stuff said in way fewer words than I do), there goes the idea that Game of Thrones is about the conflict between Lannister and Stark. Whoops. The conflict is over, the Lannisters won, case closed. Obviously, we’ll go into another direction henceforth, guys. I hope you stay with us, because the quality doesn’t decrease (despite what some say). So, intermission over, let’s kill Catelyn. After she slit the throat of lady Frey, she stands upright, eyes closed for a moment, already engulfed by her madness until her throat’s slit, too. She falls down, bleeding, and the Starks are essentially done for.
In other news, Dany conquered Yunkai. I don’t care at all.