Monday, December 19, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 3.9: "The Rains of Castamere"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

3.9 “The Rains of Castamere”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Nutter
Commentary by Richard Madden (Robb), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn), and David Nutter

Well, here we are. The episode that spawned a million reaction videos on YouTube and practically broke the world when it aired. The extinction-level event for the Starks. All the chickens coming home to roost (okay I’m done).

Before they actually head into the Twins for the wedding, Robb and Cat have a moment where Robb admits he was an idiot for not listening to her about Theon. (He doesn’t admit that he was an idiot for not listening to her about Talisa, Lord Karstark, or Jaime.) He asks for her advice on his plan to take Casterly Rock, and she decides it’s a good plan if they can get the men they need from Walder Frey.

Outside the Twins, Arya’s staring down at the army with a hungry yet terrified look on her face. On the “behind the episode” thingy, Benioff and Weiss claim that she’s afraid that she won’t make it to her family after all this time—and that’s what the Hound tells her, as well—but there’s much more to it in the books. Arya’s been through a lot. She’s changed. She’s killed people. She’s terrified that Catelyn won’t want her back. It’s an irrational fear, but she’s ten. Only so much of that can come across on screen, though. (Again, we lose so much by not being in these characters’ heads.)

Walder, of course, has to be as gross as possible before getting the festivities started. He forces Robb to face the girls he rejected in favor of Talisa and apologize to them. (Edmure’s face looking at all these plain and unfortunate-looking girls is hilarious.) The look on Talisa’s face is hard to read; is she sad for the girls? Guilty about helping Robb break a vow? Maybe being faced with the girls who could have been “the Frey girl” is different than having an abstract notion of “the Frey girl,” and Talisa is beginning to understand that they made a decision that actively hurt people. It’s hard to tell.

Talisa doesn’t get off scot-free in this encounter, either; Walder insists on seeing her and makes exceptionally gross remarks about her body, one of which (“I can always see what’s going on under the clothes”) sets up Talisa’s particular death later. He’s clearly trying to provoke Robb, and it almost works, but Cat puts a hand on his arm and holds him back.

The actual wedding goes off without a hitch; Edmure is pleasantly surprised by Roslin’s looks, Talisa and Robb exchange goo-goo eyes during the vows, and Brynden studiously ignores the older Frey women who are giving him goo-goo eyes. The feast is uneventful, as well, until the bedding. All the “innocent parties,” as Nutter puts it, leave the hall, and Black Walder closes and bars the doors. Cat starts to notice that something’s wrong, and then the band starts playing “The Rains of Castamere” and she’s certain of it. Walder calls for attention, and as he’s talking, Cat realizes that Roose Bolton is wearing chain mail under his finery.

At this point, all hell breaks loose. Black Walder comes up behind Talisa and stabs her in the belly five times. Robb takes a crossbow bolt. Cat takes a crossbow bolt. Throats are slit, everyone’s dying.

This scene is meant to be horrifying and shocking. Martin intended it to be. It’s obvious for anyone with eyes that this is the inevitable outcome of all Robb’s decisions, but it’s still horrifying. There are rules in this society that are supposed to protect from things like this, and Walder breaks all those rules. In case anyone got complacent after Ned’s death, here’s a reminder that this society is unforgiving and brutal and even “heroes” aren’t immune. That said, Benioff and Weiss turned it up to eleven with Talisa. Not only did they bring her to the wedding (Jeyne Westerling didn’t go; Robb thought it might be too much of an in-your-face insult to Walder), not only did they make her pregnant (Jeyne never did manage, despite all their trying), but they killed her in a very specific way—by stabbing her in the belly and letting her bleed out on the floor. So the manner in which she’s killed focuses specifically on her femininity and her status as an almost-mother. They don’t just slit her throat; they make a point of killing the baby first (sort of; they stab kind of high for that considering how early in the pregnancy she is).

So not only have they replaced a perfectly reasonable love interest for a young king with a sassy, not-like-other-girls, exotic, mysterious young woman who doesn’t mind getting dirty and tends to dress below her station, they’ve made her pregnant, brought her to a place where her very presence is actively insulting to a man whose honor has already been shown to be “prickly,” and then make her death all about her pregnancy by stabbing her in the belly. Not only that, they made the Red Wedding all about her—her existence, her marriage to Robb, her pregnancy, her attending the wedding—instead of about the power plays that were going on and consequences to Robb and Cat for the choices they’ve made up until now. In short, Benioff and Weiss dropped every possible ball in trying to replace Talisa, and then those balls bounced over to the Red Wedding (and I’ve lost my metaphor here) and I’m really glad Martin forced them to change her name, because they were going to call her Jeyne (as if she’s remotely the same character anymore). I can see tying up loose ends by getting rid of her at the same time as everyone else, but the way they went about it was super gross.

Arya’s outside, and it’s her point of view that shows us all the Stark bannermen dying, as well as Grey Wind. She tries to get into the Twins, but Sandor knocks her out and hauls her off.

Interestingly, recording the commentary was the first time Michelle Fairley had watched the episode, and by the end of it, she’s sobbing. That sets Richard Madden off, and the end credits (completely silent; no music) are punctuated by the lead actors of the episode crying, not just because the episode is rough, but because they miss working with each other so much.

The Red Wedding isn’t the only thing happening in this episode, amazingly enough. Daenerys is also sacking Yunkai—or, sending a small strike team in to Trojan Horse the city. It’s Daario’s idea; he knows the back gate will be open for him because the Second Sons have been using it to visit the brothels. Dany waits nervously and impatiently for the battle to be over, with Barristan refusing to give her any indication of whether her nerves are justified. Just as she’s on the verge of a panic attack, Jorah and Grey Worm pop up and tell her they were successful and the city has been taken. Dany’s first question is about the whereabouts of Daario, which makes Jorah’s face do a thing; he does everything for her and it’s never quite enough. 


This scene has some different undercurrents than in the books, wherein Dany has grown progressively more frustrated with Jorah and less likely to trust him. A lot of this is driven by the “three treasons will you know” from the House of the Undying, which they dumped in the show. They also lost a chance for a bit of historical exposition; Barristan spends this time in the books telling Dany about Rhaegar and the Great Tourney at Harrenhal. Finally, the announcement of victory shifts the entire focus from Dany’s great tactical win to her thinking Daario is pretty. In the book, she immediately asks how many men they’ve lost (maybe twelve) and whether Mero (alive in the books because they consolidated the Stormcrows and the Second Sons for the show and it’s the Stormcrow leaders’ heads Daario brings her) or the Yunkish emissary have been captured. That’s it. She doesn’t ask after Daario at all. She asks questions that make sense for a leader in wartime. To the best of my knowledge (and my notes), she doesn’t ask Jorah this question after a battle at all. She thinks Daario’s pretty, but doesn’t let that distract her from waging a war and ruling a city. (Daario actually gets pretty cranky that he can’t distract her from ruling the city.)

Bran and Jon have one of their near-misses; Bran, Osha, Rickon, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor are at the windmill Ygritte admired last episode, taking shelter from a storm. The Wildlings (and Jon) are chasing down the guy with the horses, and catch him at the windmill. The storm and the sounds of battle start to freak Hodor out and he starts bellowing. Jojen tells Bran that he needs to calm Hodor down (how he expects him to do that stuck on the floor is a different question). Also, this whole scene reminds me of this:

Because they took a perfectly reasonable and careful tone of voice—“Be quiet, Hodor. Bran, tell him not to shout. Can you get the sword away from him, Meera?”—and turned it into make him shut up or they’ll hear it and we’ll all die! Either way, the end result is pretty much the same: Bran wargs into Hodor and puts him to sleep, then kind of freaks out by what he just managed to do. The fallout of this is different and slightly troubling, too. In the books, they don’t really have the time to figure out what Bran managed to do, and later the story of another warg hammers home that warging into other people is wrong. Bran’s continued warging into Hodor (which he never admits to anyone he’s doing) is clearly set up as a violation of Hodor’s bodily autonomy, and is described in terms that sound remarkably like rape. Yet in the show, Jojen figures it out immediately and thinks it’s cool. That it shows how powerful and fated Bran is, because nobody, not even Wildling wargs, can do what he just did. The books set up and question toxic masculinity, in which only a man’s ability to enforce his will on others, primarily through physical means, is truly respected, regardless of how hard these standards are to live up to and how much all that violence takes a toll on everyone involved. Bran complicates that in the books; he’s got a different kind of power and makes massive waves in the world despite not being “whole” and having people think he should kill himself rather than “live like that.” That the showrunners took this incident and Bran’s ability to warg into people as a positive thing just further shows how they don’t understand Martin’s point about toxic masculinity at all and instead showed him mentally overpowering a disabled man as a positive show of strength.

And wow, that was a lot more italics than I intended to use going into that paragraph.

Meanwhile, the Wildlings are pushing Jon to kill the farmer to prove that he’s not a man of the Night’s Watch anymore, and Jon can’t quite bring himself to do it, so Ygritte does it for him. All hell breaks loose, and Jon kills Orell, who wargs out at the last second, and Jon gets a hawk to the face. Jon steals one of the horses and rides off, and Rose Leslie does some of her best face acting all season.

So at the end of the penultimate episode of season three, we’ve reached nadir Stark. This is about as bad as it gets for them (in the books; we’ll discuss how much worse it gets for Sansa in the show later). The fall of the Lannisters isn’t far off, though.

RIP (oh, geez):
Robb Stark
Catelyn Stark
Talisa Stark
Grey Wind
Wendel Manderly
Joyeause Frey
Horse farmer
Uncounted numbers of Stark bannermen and soldiers
Lots of Yunkai guards

Next week:  Happy holidays! But after that: Sansa and Tyrion bond until she gets the news. Joffrey gloats. Gendry goes on a trip. Dany crowdsurfs.

Images from Harry Potter gif from

1 comment:

  1. Another spot-on piece of work, this. Thank you for keeping it going; we're lucky to have you!