The Starks and The Tullys really shouldn't have been that surprised by the ending of last night's episode. If they'd bothered to look at the bridal registry they could have seen that all the Freys had signed up to bring BETRAYAL and DEATH!
I have been waiting for this episode since before the series even started airing. For the past few weeks people have been saying, "I don't know about this season; it's had some good episodes but it just doesn't seem to be going anywhere." If you haven't read the books I can see that point of view. But if you've read the source material, you know that a lot of things that seem minor, bordering on inconsequential, have actually been occurring at a fairly rapid pace in S3, and they have been paving the road to some major moments. Readers also knew that this week's shocking ending was coming, and the expectation of that alone was exciting.
I'm watching the show with a group that has - for the most part - stuck only to the show. So it was super fun to watch last night as their stunned silence turned into "Holy shit!/What the fuck?!" The Red Wedding is, for my money, THE biggest shocker in the books (the ones that have been published, anyway), and the scene lived up to its potential. The show did a very good job, although by the nature of the medium some of the details were lost. So let's go over a few of those, because they really add to the richness/tragedy of the situation. Spoilers on!
*The show did a great job communicating the ominous nature of the Tully/Frey wedding once the band kicked up. Cat (Michelle Fairley) realized that the door to the dining hall had just been locked, that Lord Bolton was wearing armor (and would not drink), etc. But the book was far more successful in building up a sense of unease as this event grew closer and closer, to the point where readers knew something awful was about to happen, but were still totally unprepared for what it turned out to be. The big "Oh Shit!" moment for Cat also might not have been communicated effectively in the show: the song being played by the band was "The Rains of Castamere," which was referenced in a previous episode by Cersei. The song is about a family that pissed off the Lannisters and which was subsequently literally wiped out by the Lions in return. So once Cat heard that at the wedding, she knew they'd been sold out. It's a chilling moment and Fairley played it very, very well. She was amazing in general this episode.
*The show has also not done a great job with establishing its tertiary characters -- this season it has done particularly poorly with the Reeds -- and that hurt this sequence vis-à-vis the significance of Roose Bolton. Bolton was at the wedding, the guest who would not drink wine and who was wearing armor under his fine dress clothes. Bolton was one of Rob's bannermen. He is also the person currently in charge of Harrenhal (in the show at least) and is the man who received and then released Jaime Lannister. His change of allegiance is significant. It demonstrates that the shrewd people of Westeros realized that there was no way Robb could win that war. There is also another important connection for Bolton that has yet to be verified by the show, but I assume is coming: his bastard son is the psychopath torturing the hell out of TheonGreyjoy. There's a reason House Bolton's standard is the flayed man.
*A minor detail, but one the show visually focused on: when the Starks and Tullys entered Lord Frey's home, dishes of bread and salt were passed around. This is an important Westerosi custom, and is essentially a contract between host and guest that no harm will come to either party during the visit. The fact that Lord Frey deliberately went through the custom, knowing full well he was leading these people to their deaths, is basically an affront to the gods old and new. But as you may have guessed by Frey's nonchalant reaction to Cat holding his wife hostage, Lord Frey is out of shits to give.
*It's interesting that I've seen the strongest reactions to the Red Wedding from women who were horrified by the murder of Talisa and her unborn child, specifically the viciousness with which she was stabbed in her belly. I don't know if this helps or not, but Talisa does not exist in the books. Robb has a totally different character for a wife, and she is not present at the Red Wedding - I believe she's still alive. I don't recall whether or not she was pregnant with Robb's kid. I remember people talking about the possibility, but I don't recall if it was ever confirmed. So basically, the baby murder was all for the show.
*The books also do a better job explaining that while the slaughter was going on inside the keep, Robb's army was similarly being demolished in its camp outside. I believe large tents that were set on fire were involved.
*I'll be curious to see if the show goes so far as to give us Robb's final fate: he is beheaded and his direwolf's head is sewn on to his body. It is unspeakably grim, but a) the show did show us Ned's head on a spike, and b) the show made a point of showing us Grey Wind for the first time in episodes, and specifically showed the wolf's death. That may have been so that Arya could actually witness yet more horror, instead of just realizing that she was standing right outside the castle inside which her brother and mother were being murdered. Arya bearing witness to the systematic snuffing out of her family is actually a key part of her character progression.
So, that's it for the Red Wedding. Robb is dead. Talisa is dead. Cat is dead. (I remember when reading the book I thought Cat MIGHT somehow get out of it gravely wounded, because Cat was a POV character from the very beginning of the series; her death was truly the most shocking to me.) The Stark Rebellion is over. But don't think for a second that things are going to settle down. The actions at the Twins serve to spin several characters onto totally different paths. (Ask yourself: what does Arya do now?) I'm very curious to see where the season finale leaves us, because the Red Wedding was the most shocking event of the third book. Well, until the OTHER wedding, but that's going to be in Season 4...
Some other thoughts on the episode:
*I have not been the biggest fan of Rory McCann as The Hound, but I thought the scenes between him and Arya this episode were terrific. I am realizing that part of that is the fact that Maisie Williams (Arya) may be incapable of delivering a bad performance (remember how amazing the Tywin and Arya Show was last season?), but there was the beginnings of an understanding between the two characters that felt very natural to me. And The Hound's line about Arya being terrified that everything was going to go wrong now that she was just seconds away from finally being safe...that is basically Arya's entire existence in a nutshell. Really good stuff.
*Bran got his first significant scene of the season, although it was largely set up for his arc in Season 4. I honestly believe that the Bran plotline has been the most poorly handled of the season. I don't know what the showrunners could have done - they had so many things to do in S3, and Bran's current situation isn't all that gripping. But trust me when I say that all of this Three-Eyed Crow stuff is building to something interesting. Unfortunately a lot of it has to deal with Westerosi legend that has been totally ignored by the show thus far. Have they even mentioned the Children of the Forest? The Green Men?The nature of the Godswoods?Bran the Builder? Expect the show to focus a lot more on Bran and his crew in S4, and expect things to get more exciting and creepy as they're joined by a mysterious new party member. (I am also glad that we finally got Osha and Rickon off the board in this episode. In the books they departed when the gang split up after the fall of Winterfell; I'm not really sure why they kept either of them around for any of Season 3. It's also curious that the show is sending them to a totally different location than their destination in the books, which frankly sounded way more interesting.)
*One last note on the Bran sequence: that tower setpiece is WAY cooler in the books. The tower is an interesting structure named for one of the former dragon queens of Westeros, it stands in the middle of a lake with the only access coming from a submerged foot bridge, and the whole battle with the Wildlings takes place at night, in a horrible thunderstorm. Production-wise it would have been nightmarish to execute, but it was kind of a bummer to see how much of that sequence was just thrown away. There was another interesting difference here: in the books, since Rickon and Shaddydog are long gone, they're not part of that scene at all. And I believe that Ghost is still with Jon at that point -- and senses that Bran/Summer is with them -- but I could be wrong. I honestly have totally lost track of the direwolves in the show. Have they even mentioned Nymeria since Season 1?
*Jon finally got away from the Wildlings and in the process majorly pissed off Ygritte. Note to guys out there: do not ditch your fire-kissed girlfriends in the midst of battle, because that is not going to end well for any party involved.
*The Sam and Gilly scene was largely pointless. It didn't even establish whether or not Sam left the dragonglass in the forest where he killed the White Walker, as it appeared that he did last episode. It did set up some important information that will come up next episode (I'm guessing) but the show really needs to work on making both Sam and Gilly more interesting. Right now they make me sad every time they're on screen, and we're actually going to see more of them as this all goes along. Unless they fix the chemistry between the two actors the upcoming boat sequence is going to be unwatchable.
*Lastly, we got the sack of Yunkai at the hands of Daenerys's captains, DaarioNaharis, Grey Worm, and Sir Jorah. This was largely offscreen and the entire point of the exercise was to establish that Dany can trust Daario at least somewhat, and that Jorah is intensely jealous and distrustful of him. What I noticed in this episode is that Dany herself seems to be fading into the background of her own plotline. Jorah is almost becoming the point-of-view character here. I don't mind that, necessarily, because I think Jorah is great. But the show has to be careful with Dany here, because since they've introduced Daario she's started to lose some of the regal nature that she's been growing into all along. That's obviously part of the point of Daario. But it's especially troublesome here, because the casting of Daario makes it unbelievable that Dany would be so swoon-prone around him. Puny McGirlhair is supposed to make the Mother of Dragons quiver? I don't buy it. (BTW: Have we skipped over Dany's betrayal prophecy?)
NEXT WEEK: I honestly don't know, because the preview showed us barely anything of consequence.