***WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM GAME OF THRONES SEASON 3 EPISODE 9 ‘THE RAINS OF CASTAMERE’***
After a few initial thoughts here is the full episode review of a classic installment of Game of Thrones
While much can be said about the final shocking moments of ‘The Rains of Castamere’, these reactions have in many ways overshadowed the rest of what was an absolutely outstanding hour of television. The compact nature of the show’s structure ensured that the pace was kept at a steady tempo while several character arcs very nearly intersected.
Jon Snow’s refusal to execute someone lands him in trouble again. His delay in killing Ygritte landed him in the hands of the wildlings in the first place, while this time it revealed his true allegiance to the Night’s Watch. Jon choose his honour and loyalty over his love for Yrgitte and the devastation in her eyes as she watches Jon ride off was heart wrenching. It was easy to criticize a couple of episodes in this season for their heavy handed attempts at romanticism (and I did), however retrospectively these scenes worked well to establish a sentiment of doomed lovers for both Robb and Jon. It’s easy to forget how young these characters are suppose to be (mid to late teens) and that for Jon and Robb these are their first loves and as blissful as that feels, the first heartbreak cuts even deeper.
Bran awakening of a hidden power also added another layer of intrigue to the show. It’s sometimes been hard to ascertain exactly what Bran’s role in the saga is. The revelation that he can enter the mind of animals, plus the apparently unique ability to do the same to humans makes him a vastly more interesting prospect. A keen eyed observer may have also noted that after Orell died his eyes went white and then his eagle started attacking Jon.
While Robb, Catelyn and Talisa’s departures made the headlines, it was also time for a tearful farewell to the wildling Osha and little Rickon Stark.
Daenerys’ conquest of Yunkai provided a perfect foil for the events to come. Now that the city is hers she has to decide what she will do with it and as history has shown, the liberation of slaves is not an instant fix and the social ramifications are drastic. Daenerys is also going to soon have to decide what kind of leader she is. While her conquest of Astapor had a relatively clear outcome, thousands of expertly trained soldiers and few repercussions, Yunkai is a city of ‘bed slaves’. While Jorah echoes Barristan’s sentiments of personal sacrifice, one facial expression from Ser Jorah in reaction to Daenerys asking after Daario reveals his true motivations.
Some people may be wondering if they scaled back the fighting scenes in Yunkai for budgetary reasons, but on actual fact you see more fighting in this location than in the books. The main difference is that the planning is much more intricate and Daenerys tactical aptitude is much more apparent.
The series’ complex array of characters and their defining motivations make for compelling storytelling. The first season brought us Joffrey’s abrupt display of cruelty and absolute power while now we have Walder Frey, a man portrayed as caring only of his family honour, orchestrates a massacre for the sake of a sleight against his family. Everyone is playing their own individual game and seemingly minor ones such as Littlefinger, Varys and Roose Bolton can have an enormous impact upon the political maneuvering.
Bolton’s marriage to a “young, fat” Frey wife in exchange for her weight in silver may have aroused some suspicions. As may the lingering shot of his sigil chess piece. I also managed to spy the mermaid symbol for the northern House Manderly, which is a reminder that the Starks were by no means the only people betrayed at the Red Wedding.
The Red Wedding could not have been portrayed anymore effectively and kudos has to be extended to both the showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss as well as the director David Nutter. Every single member of the SOIAF fandom had been waiting with bated breath for this scene and I think it was pulled off spectacularly. Yes, there were some changes but only those which added to the telegenic impact. The audio cue of The Rains of Castamere has been used with great efficiency this season and the moment in which the wedding band (featuring Coldplay’s Will Champion playing drums) strikes up was chilling. Nutter’s precision perfectly encapsulated the rollercoaster of emotions swirling through Catelyn’s head in that final scene, begging for any way to save her son and that last shot will haunt the memories of any viewer a long time after the silent credits rolled.
The general audience reaction to this episode has broken new ground for contemporary dramatic television. I can recall moments of TV that have been as staggeringly unexpected and unpredictable (for example Lost S3 finale and Dexter S4 finale spring to mind), but none that have caused such a ripple. While The Red Wedding could on its own be justified as one of the most devastatingly shocking moments in TV history, the nature of Game of Thrones viewership and social media created the perfect vortex for the shockwaves.
In my anecdotal experience, few TV shows have ever inspired such a large ‘event’ style viewership. Each episode is treated as a cause for a communal get together and this shared viewing experience means that watching Game of Thrones isn’t like watching a casual installment of any show, but more akin to a sporting event. A similar example is the final season of Lost and I doubt by that never quite generated a similar moment of hysteria.
Social media also lent this event an unprecedented impact. As soon as the show aired in the US Twitter and Facebook went haywire and the reverberations are in many ways still being felt as more and more people post their astonishment online. Even people who have never watched the show have noticed the inundations of posts and tweets. Tracking reactions across the world have made for fascinating viewing and I hope that other shows can learn how to cultivate a similar viewing experience to Game of Thrones.
As someone who has read the novels I have a general idea of what’s going to happen in each episode. But what makes the TV experience so amazingly different from reading the books is this shared community response. When reading a book you can be transported off into another world; you see the world through their eyes, hear their thoughts and this makes it very much a personal experience. When I read the Red Wedding chapters and had to stare silently out the window for 15 minutes, unable to tell anyone what had happened. Watching on TV however this became a shared experience where everyone felt the horror, betrayal and hopelessness at the same moment.
While there are certainly further twists and turns to come in this tale, for readers and viewers alike, none will surely ever have quite the same impact as The Red Wedding.