“All men should keep their word. Kings most of all,” -Robb Stark
Nothing of great consequence happened on Game of Thrones this week, guys! Thanks for stopping by Loop and we’ll see you next week with our review of the finale. Here’s a picture of George R.R. Martin dressed like the guy on the cover of frozen fish stick boxes surrounded by sexy black women.
Ok, so that’s probably not going to fly. Give me a second to compose my thoughts…
In 2013, it’s hard to be just a casual TV viewer. The advent of things like streaming services and big budget “Lord of the Rings”-style adaptation of massive fantasy books that are revolutionizing the way we watch television. We must not only be engaged, intelligent viewers, but also keen pop culture sociologists with opinions on how the medium is changing and where it will eventually end up. The release of season four of Arrested Development this week is a prime example. Casual viewers had to be become TV critics over the span of a three-day weekend and watch 7+ hours of new material, process how they felt about the concept of watching one episode at a time vs. binge watching, AND share those reviews via their social media accounts. It. Was. Exhausting.
And I suspect “The Rains of Castamere” is going to bring along its own tired debate, this time about things like adaptations and spoilers and excessive brutality. Who enjoyed it more: those who didn’t know what was coming or those who did? Can we reasonably expect not to have major plot points spoiled? Are non-“Blackwater” episodes of Game of Thrones doomed to fail because of the narrative expanse of its source material? Much like Winter, those debates are surely coming.
But before they do, can we just take a moment to celebrate the achievement of “The Rains of Castamere?” I, of course, am referring to the events of the legendary (for book-readers, at least) “Red Wedding.” We’ll get to the rest of the episode as a whole, but this is what needs addressed first and you’d undoubtedly just skim this review until you see the words “Red Wedding” anyway.
Thematically, Robb, Catelyn, Talisa and what seems like half of the Northern Army’s deaths at the hands of the Freys, Boltons, and Lannisters, tell us nothing new. The “lesson,” if we can pretend that we’re in sixth grade English class for a moment, is that you can win every battle but still lose the war. It’s that honor won’t keep you alive in a world driven by power. It’s that you win the game of thrones, or….you know the rest. All of theses “lessons” were already taught to us by the end of the first season, when Ned Stark was sacrificed to the altar of George R.R. Martin.
But you know what? Maybe we needed it again. Sure, it bucks dramatic convention to off a story’s main character in the first season and that should indicate that said story will continue to buck dramatic convention. Still it’s hard not to expect as a conditioned television viewer that the prodigal son will find his vengeance, not suffer total, humiliating and painful defeat.
All of the scenes at the Twins are amongst the best Game of Thrones has ever aired. They begin tense with Lord Frey pervertedly examining Robb’s wife, then lighten up with his grim understanding “I call it a pretty face. Prettier than this lot, that’s for sure.” Then the noose tightens and loosens over and over again for fifty minutes. Some may be less than enthused with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ decision to intersperse other, non-wedding scenes throughout, but I think it jives well with the episode’s EKG-spiking nature.
By the time Edmure Tully finally sees his bride’s face and sighs with relief, it would be a truly hilarious moment if not for what comes next. There’s a school of thought that evolutionarily speaking, we laugh as an indicator that danger has passed, like when Walder Frey gives Robb a look as if it to say, “toldya I had some hot daughters.”
But then the band begins to play “The Rains of Castamere.” If nothing else, the show has done a marvelous job at acquainting the viewer with the history of Westeros and its culture. So we know that “The Rains of Castamere” is the Lannisters pump up song. From the first note of the National’s second best song (I like “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” but I’m not really a National connoisseur) to the bitter end, the cast and crew turn in their best work yet. Catelyn’s moment of immediate understanding. Her pulling up Roose Bolton’s shirt to reveal chain mail and his shit-eating grin. Talisa’s swollen stomach being stabbed over and over. Robb being turned into an arrow pin-cushion just like his father Boromir. Arya watching Grey Wind die. Catelyn taking Walder’s wife as a last ditch attempt at collateral and her subsequent failure. And then her scream. Oh God, her scream.
The whole thing is far more brutal than anything I’ve ever seen on TV…or maybe even any other medium for that matter. The worst (and by worst, I mean “best”) part is, that it all seems so pointless. We expect some sort Adam Smith-ian invisible hand hovering over the fiction we read that guides the characters in some sort of narrative direction to make a point. Even something as traumatic as death in fiction usually serves a purpose. But this massacre seems to suggest that no, there isn’t one. These characters aren’t at the mercy of George R.R. Martin’s murderous whims (however much it may seem like that), they are at the mercy of other characters. It doesn’t matter that Robb Stark was a noble King, the eldest son of the story’s “hero.” He was in the way of Tywin Lannister, a man who is smarter, Walder Frey. A man who is crueler and Roose Bolton, a man who is more ambitious. So they killed him. He’s dead and his death accomplishes nothing other than to make the people who love him miserable.
At the end of this episode, there are four Stark children and one Stark bastard left and they are all on their own, scattered across the globe. It’s no coincidence that the writers decided to separate Bran and Rickon during this episode in what turned out to be a surprisingly emotional scene. Game of Thrones is not only about family but stagnant, dysfunctional families. Old Houses like the Lannisters, the Tyrells and the Arryns have their position in society because their ancestors won it for them. No one, aside from Tywin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell would have earned their position through merit.
If there is anything positive to be gleaned by the Fall of the House of Stark, it’s that Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon and Jon now have a very rare opportunity: to create their own glory. They have no father, no mother, older brother with an army to protect them and no home. They don’t even have each other. With any luck, the Stark children can do something that hasn’t been done in Westeros since Aegon’s Landing: creating another great House from scratch. Only this time the new House is from the embers of the continent’s oldest House.
BULLET-POINTS FROM HERE ON OUT:
- I know it’s a little unfair to say that the non “Red Wedding” scenes were worthwhile and then relegate them to bulletpoints but you know what? Life’s unfair sometimes as we learned all too clearly tonight.
- Game of Thrones is very good at gratuity: blood, boobs, Bronns, you name it. But I don’t know if they’ve ever had an episode with as many good gratuitous action movie-style fight scenes as this one. Jon and Ygrittes’ scuffle against the wildlings was great and Jorah, Daario and Grey Worm’s Yunkai fight was AWESOME. Grey Worm in particular impressed me with his spear and shield skills. Somebody please make a flash game where Jorah, Daario and Grey Worm travel the country, kicking ass.
- HODOR YOU STUPID PIECE OF SHIT! SHUT THE FUCK UP! YOUR RELENTLESS HODORING IS GOING TO GET US ALL KILLED.
- “You’re a wizard,
- At least Edmure got laid.
- The Hound’s stunned realization that Arya really could one day kill him was stellar.
(photo via Winter is Coming)