Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Game of Thrones (S3E09): "The Rains of Castamere"


They did it! The most anticipated episode of the entire series (not just the season) of HBO's adaptation of Game of Thrones, S3E09, titled "The Rains of Castamere" which depicts the second wedding (of three) in the book A Storm of Swords and the fateful events following it, finally aired on Sunday night and it was a doozy! For people not "spoiled" by reading the books the scene now known as "The Red Wedding" must have come as a horrendous shock, but even for people like myself who knew what was coming S3E09 still contained some of the most emotionally lacerating 15 minutes of television I've ever seen.

"The Rains of Castamere" is a song known throughout the land of Westeros as the unofficial theme song of the Lannisters. We learned in S3E08 that the catchy tune is really about the massacre (by Tywin Lannister) of an entire family named the Reynes who dared to think that they would try to move up from their position as the #2 most prominent family in a certain region of the kingdom, and the #1 family (the Lannisters) responded by slaughtering the entire family. On the show, the wedding between Catelyn Stark's brother Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey is an act of contrition to try and get in the good graces of the odious Lord Walder Frey (played with impeccable disdain by David Bradley). Robb Stark had sworn an oath to marry one of Lord Frey's daughters but he fell in love with someone else and married her instead. Robb needs Frey's men in order to execute his strategy of trying to capture the Lannister family domicile of Casterly Rock. The show points out how Robb Stark (King of the North) and his mother Lady Catelyn are given bread and salt when they enter Lord Frey's castle and the significance of this in the religion of the Seven of providing hospitality and safe passage to all guests. Frey even sonorously intones some words indicating the safety of all visitors under the protection of his roof. However, as we see later, Lord Frey is a very, very evil man who is willing to violate all manner of oaths in order to get his way.

Frey conspired with Lord Roose Bolton and Lord Tywin Lannister to bring Robb Stark and his bannermen to the Twins and then, after promising his protection he has Robb Stark, his wife Talisa, his mother Catelyn Stark and several dozens of his loyal men brutally murdered. Talisa is killed first, stabbed repeatedly in her stomach (clearly targeting the growing Stark heir in her womb) and then Robb is hit by multiple crossbow bolts, with Catelyn only hit by one. Catelyn is able to beg Frey for the life of her son, but she can only watch while Lord Bolton walks up to her staggering child and stabs him in the gut and says "The Lannisters send their regards." This causes a  scream of anguish to erupt from Catelyn and she slits the throat of Lord Walder's wife she has been holding hostage, just a few seconds before her own throat is cut. All of the deaths are shown explicitly and graphically on screen, with an impact much more visceral than the usual cartoonish violence of a hailstorm of bullets and multiple explosions. The events of the Red Wedding have long been talked about by fans of the books and the producers have explained that it was reading the scene in the 3rd book that convinced them that they needed to adapt the entire series for HBO as a multi-million dollar, multi-year, grandly staged television epic.

Besides the Red Wedding there were some other fairly important events that happened in this episode. Jon Snow finally revealed to the Wildings that he has been a "double agent" the entire time, that he is still loyal to the Night's Watch, and then he killed Orell the Warg and abandoned Ygritte. In addition, Brandon Stark is revealed to have powers even more important than controlling animals with his brain, more powerful than any previously known Warg, because it appears as if he can enter the consciousness of other humans (well, starting with Hodor at least). And Arya Stark came within 100 feet of being reunited with her brother and mother, only to get clos enough to see the aftermath of their brutal murder, as well as witness the death of Robb's direwolf.

The entire Red Wedding sequence was a highlight, of course, with an extra special mention of the exquisite acting displayed by Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark. She has not always been a fan favorite because of the brittle personality of her character and her bad treatment of Jon Snow as well as some questionable decisions (i.e. the release of Jaime Lannister). But the shriek of anguish she makes (and the look in her eyes) as she sees her eldest (and she thinks only remaining living) son killed before her eyes as she decides to kill her hostage before being kille herself is a sound that will live in the memory of everyone who heard it and saw it for a very long, long time.

There were no low lights.

Grade: A+.
S3E09 is probably one of the best episodes of the series, as well it should be, since the source material is some of the most important and significant of the entire multiple volume series A Song of Ice and Fire. It's hard to imagine how the producers will op themselves in the final episode of the Season next week, with S3E10's "Mhysa." It should be remembered that in Season 1 after the shocking execution of Lord Eddard Stark in S1E09 ("Baelor") was followed up by the thrill of seeing the birth of Daenery's dragons in S1E10 ("Fire and Blood"). In Season 2, the slaughter of the Battle of the Blackwater in S2E09 ("Blackwater") was followed by S2E10 ("Valar Morghulis") with the escape of Arya and the appearance of the White Walker army. What will it be this year?

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