“Walder Frey is a dangerous man to cross”
–Catlynn Stark. S2 E10: Valar Morghulis
Catlynn Stark warned her maturing-but-still-young son Robb on the eve of his marriage to Talisa that he was making a mistake. If we know anything about the Starks it is that their reputation throughout the Seven Kingdoms is one built on honor. Dearly departed Ned was honest to a fault, which led to his downfall in the end. He could have seized the throne when he had the chance, as Lord Baelish encouraged him to do, but that’s not Ned Stark. Robb sacrificed that hard-earned rep for love, or as Lord Frey put it, “firm tits and a tight fit.” Another medieval tradition along with marrying one’s children to join houses is that of hospitality. Even while enemies were fighting, if the custom of hospitality had been extended then no harm would come while they were under the others’ care. We can see the custom extended here when early on in the episode they show the symbolic passing of salt and bread. At the Red Wedding (a term used by the producers to describe the scene), Walder Frey chooses to retaliate for Robb’s broken promise by breaking another tenet of the ancient world. Another week, another depressing wedding.
DO NOT DISCUSS THE BOOKS WE HAVE NOT READ THEM.
The Red Wedding was reportedly the scene/plot point that Benioff and Weiss most wanted to show when they had the idea for creating the series. Should we have seen it coming? Of course. All the telltale signs were there:
There is the classic HBO penultimate episode rap. This is a recent trend where the biggest events of a season occur in the 2nd to last episode rather than the last episode because everyone expects them to occur in the finale. Look no further than Thrones itself for the evidence. In Season 1 it was Ned Stark who met his maker. In Season 2 it was potentially the best episode of the show: Blackwater. And now this. Always be wary of episode 9. As a side note, I have seen some commenters (rest assured I don’t read any reviews before writing my own, but I do religiously follow Twitter), say that ‘now we know no one is safe,’ but I firmly disagree. We knew this back in Season 1 when Ned was killed. The best attribute of a story in this day and age is unpredictablity, and Thrones has certainly upheld their end of the bargain
Then there is the Lord of Light. As has been discussed numerous times in these reviews, the Lord of Light has delivered unlike any god in any show EVER as far as I know. By a basic process of elimination we can easily determine Robb had to be the one to go. Stannis cast 3 Baratheon blood-imbued leeches into the flames last episode as he cursed their names: Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey Baratheon. Killing Balon simply wouldn’t have been a big deal because we as viewers aren’t invested in his character at all. On the opposite end, killing Joffrey would be too big a deal, as he is the most evil villain in television history (yep I said it, your move Walter White). That leaves us with Robb. If you watch as much TV as I do, you know at some point after you get some familiarity with a show you can trust in certain things. In Breaking Bad if they show you a weapon in Act 1, it will be used by Act 4 (see: Chekov’s Gun). In 24 you know that Jack Bauer’s instincts are never wrong. In The Wire you know that at least once a season McNulty is gonna go on an epic bender. In The Newsroom you know every episode is gonna suck. And on and on. One way this general principle of TV reliablity has manifested in Game of Thrones is that the Lord of Light is for all intents and purposes a true god. That’s why when Stannis put those leeches in the flames, we should’ve had no doubt that one of those 3 wasn’t surviving the season.
There is also the obvious foreshadowing delivered by The Hound to Arya. In another typically stellar scene for Maisie Williams where she points out Clegane’s fear of fire and announces she will one day stab him through the eye (a proclamation I have no doubt she will be apologizing for at some point next season), The Hound has a way of needling her too. He functions as a stand-in for the viewer, pointing out that every time she gets close to her family something bad happens. Of course, although the Hound is unaware of all her exploits over the past 2 seasons, we know this to be true. She is on the road to her brother Jon when she is intercepted by Tywin’s men. Then she is on the road again when the Brotherhood Without Banners takes her ‘hostage.’ After they decide to sell her back to her family she is seized by the Hound himself. Clegane sees the fear in her eyes of someone who is familiar with things going wrong. She proves to be right again.*
*As an aside while I’m talking about The Hound and Arya, the relationship between them is much different than that of him and Sansa. While he saw himself as Sansa’s (‘little dove’) protector, I think he has much more respect and admiration for Arya, who puts forth the attitude of someone who can fend for herself even though she obviously can’t yet. She is a precocious little scamp.
There is finally, as quoted earlier, Catlynn’s warning from last season. Surely we couldn’t be so fooled that Walder Frey would accept a relative of Robb Stark as a suitable replacement for losing out on being the father of the potential Queen of Westeros. The first words of this episode are Catlynn saying to Robb, “are you sure about this?” While this is ostensibly referring to a siege on Casterly Rock, it can doubly be addressing Robb’s choice of mate. And yet, director David Nutter does a phenomenal job of making us forget about all the warning signs. How does he do this? By showing everyone having fun at a joyous feast. Edmure is pleasantly surprised by the attractiveness of his bride. Robb and Talisa are bantering playfully. Everyone is drinking and laughing and this whole mess of Robb turning down one of Frey’s daughters has been forgotten.
Until ‘The Rains of Castamere’ starts to play. That isn’t a song of celebration, but one of grief and mourning. [kyra update: this is in fact inaccurate. The song is a Lannister victory song. Still foreboding for the Starks though] Catlynn senses something is amiss, but it is too late–the doors have already been barred. What comes next is one of the most gruesome scenes in television history. First is Talisa, stabbed repeatedly in the chest as if they knew she was pregnant. She doesn’t even have time to react before she is dead. Subsequently Lord Frey’s men spring into action, slitting the throats of all Stark bannermen while the archers shoot both Robb and Catlynn. Lord Frey looks on with a sadistic glee as the family who spurned him is shown their comeuppance while cries of pain and agony ring in the background. Catlynn makes a final plea/threat, but surely even she knows she has no bargaining power even before Frey says he could give two shits if she kills his wife (HBO’s special features says that he has already been married 8 times). Perhaps Cat’s killing of Frey’s wife is supposed to convey some type of courage and ferocity, but to me it simply indicates she is defeated. Knowing there is no solution to her problem she does the only thing possible in the moment: take another person’s life.
The final image of Catlynn standing, emotionless, colorless, I thought was pretty horribly choreographed actually. Not only did they stay on her image in silence for a painstaking number of seconds, but then the guy slitting her throat seemed like he was doing it for the camera. It came off as incredibly fake to me, but not enough to take away from the impact of what just transpired. Do I miss Robb and Catlynn? I must confess, not really. Robb was done in by his own mistakes. Cat was causing trouble as well. I’m actually quite excited to spend more time with the more important characters on the show then watch more of Robb planning another battle or making love to his 1-dimensional character of a wife. However, for the impact on the other characters, this will truly be a startling event.
The other significant event of the episode involved another two Stark children having a near run-in: Jon and Bran. I don’t want to dwell too much on it, but we learned a couple things. From Jon’s side, he didn’t even consider trying to bring Ygritte with him as he escaped. Yes his plea likely caused her to miss her shot at the old horse-breeder, but when push came to shove he turned and ran without a second thought. While he surely did not intend it this way (he would argue he is simply fighting and running for his life), Ygritte must see this as a betrayal. She has not only put down her guard for him, but has also defended him against the constant cries of ‘once a crow, always a crow.’ She must be absolutely devastated by his departure.
Then there is Bran, the newly minted Lord of Winterfell. We have seen Bran in the past delegating and ruling with a maturity well beyond his years, and he continues it here. He knows he must find the 3-eyed raven (why? Because Jojen says so and his dreams tell him so), but he also knows it is not safe for Rickon beyond the Wall. He orders Osha to take Rickon to the Umbers with the confidence of a leader. Before I go into much depth on where this storyline will go though, I want to wait for the finale.
Missing Character Count: King’s Landing en mass; Jamie & Brienne, Stannis & Co.; Theon
I hesitate to even acknowledge Sam and Gilly’s presence by giving them some words in this review. That’s it.
While I will save my predictions going forward for next week, I do believe there is one issue that MUST be resolved in the finale: who the fuck has kidnapped Theon? Based on seeing Robb move his pieces on the big chess board map, I am pretty much convinced it is Roose Bolton. It simply has to be a deliberate choice to have those X’s keep showing up. If it is not him, then I will feel like we have been given a serious red herring.*
*Another question which I didn’t think was a question but some friends have wondered, is whether or not Theon was actually castrated. I believe that he 100% was, but some believe because we didn’t actually see the aftermath he may not have been.
Loved a couple things from Dany and her advisors this week. Firstly was Jorah quoting back to Ser Barristan something he had said only a couple weeks before about being faithful servants of Dany even if it means sacrificing personal glory. Classic jawing with no comeback. Secondly was the way Jorah and Grey Worm walk back into her tent at first leaving it ambiguous whether or not Daario was killed. As my buddy G-Ross pointed out (although I honestly didn’t consider this myself and am not sure we were supposed to), this may have been suggesting/alluding to the possibility that Jorah killed Daario himself out of jealousy. Whether or not this is true, it did allow the Khaleesi to show her rapidly increasing affection for the man from Braavos. Daario, like Dany, has a strong distaste for slaves, which I’m sure makes her go wild in the bedroom. Unlike the love triangle of Jon Snow-Ygritte-the warg that I didn’t want to see in the North, I think Dany-Daario-Jorah is rife for interesting possibilities going forward. Finally, I just want to comment further on the choice of Ed Skrein to play Daario Naharis. Not only does he look like a Braavosi (based on the two men we have met so far), but he even talks in a similar fashion to Jaqen. I just think this guy is doing a great job.
One thing I did have a problem with though, was the poor transition. One minute Daario, Grey Worm, and Jorah are surrounded by 50 men (watching live I pointed out I felt like I was watching Neo fight all the Agent Smiths in The Matrix), next scene they’re in they have taken the city. I didn’t really connect point A to point B.
Roose Bolton is up to no good. He’s got a bunch of tricks up his sleeves and just seems like an absolute scumbag. I’d keep an eye out when he’s on screen.
When Kristian Nairn read his script for this week, was he thinking ‘all right Hodor, this is your moment to shine!’
Given two weddings the past two weeks could Joffrey-Margaery make it the trifecta? Tune in next time on the most fucked up show on TV!