It’s possible that "Game of Thrones” fans are suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome: No matter how badly the show wounds (or decapitates, or impales) those characters we’ve come to care about, we keep expecting increasing amounts of torture. One Stark death in the first season was a shocker; so in season 3, the natural progression is to a massacre.
“That’s what ‘Game of Thrones’ is,” one fellow viewer said after the credits rolled on the season’s penultimate episode, “The Rains of Castamere.” “It’s a gut punch.”
So Walder Frey, after making a grand show of asking for an apology from Robb and forcing Edmure Tully to take his place as a groom, turns out to have thrown in with the Lannisters. (Now, you might understand why Tywin Lannister spent so much of the season writing letters.) Lord Frey broke his own oath to take his revenge, slaughtering Robb, Talisa (and her unborn child), Catelyn, and most of their men.
One detail that might have escaped notice for the less obsessive, show watchers was the sharing of bread and salt before the wedding. According to Westerosi tradition, that means you’re bound to not harm those under your roof that you’ve shared that food with. Lord Frey’s insistence on honor clearly only flows in one direction.
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The wedding scene plays the audience pitch-perfect. There’s Roslin’s reveal to Edmure, who was visibly relieved by her beauty; Catelyn’s tense moments with Roose Bolton – and that chilling reveal just before the slaughter, when she sees his chainmail and realizes that he’s in on the betrayal -- Talisa and Robb talking about naming their son after the late Ned Stark. But then the Lannister song begins to play, and the crossbow bolts start to fly, and the blood flows along with the wine. And Arya, who was so close to reuniting with her family, sees them snatched away from her again – forever, this time, it seems.
In fact, the end of the episode might come a little too abrupt for some. One wishes for a kind of coda, a beat at the end, to acknowledge the significance of what happened. A shot of Tywin receiving notice that his scheme had borne fruit, perhaps?
Amazingly enough, we also had time to check in with some other characters this week. Daenerys sent Daario Naharis, Jorah and Grey Worm to enter the city of Yunkai through the back gate and overthrow the slavers from within. Jorah returns with news of their success, but Daenerys wants to hear it from Daario's lips.
Another trio of Starks just missed running into each other as well. Bran, Rickon, Osha, the two Reed kids and Hodor are in a tower taking refuge from a fierce thunderstorm when an old man rides up on a horse. The man’s pursued by the wildlings that Jon’s been riding with, and the warg Orell catches wind of Hodor’s frightened yells. Bran, without thinking, wargs into Hodor and quiets him down. Taking control of a human, as opposed to an animal, is a pretty rare feat, according to Jojen.
The wildlings are about to force Jon to execute the old man – to prove he’s no longer a man of the Night’s Watch – but he refuses. Ygritte shoots the man, and the wildlings are about to kill Jon – but Bran manages to warg into the two Stark direwolves that happen to be nearby, and saves him. Jon rides off back to Castle Black, leaving a distraught Ygritte behind. Afterward, the kids up in the tower decide to separate: Osha will take Rickon to the Umbers, a Stark-sworn house, while Bran, the Reeds and Hodor will venture north of the Wall to find "the three-eyed raven" that will help Bran hone his warging abilities.
Book readers will now be finally breathing a sigh of relief, since what’s infamously known as the Red Wedding is considered a major station of the cross in becoming a fan of “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It's truly a turn of the tide; we’ve witnessed The Fall Of House Stark. For anyone that’s tuning in without having read the books, the story might seem largely over: with Robb and his men slaughtered and the Stark forces seemingly obliterated, who’s left to challenge the Lannisters? Daenerys is off in the East collecting slave cities; the Ironborn are more of a pesky bunch of pirates than a serious threat to King’s Landing; Stannis was beaten back to Dragonstone. The remaining Stark children are basically in hiding.
The Red Wedding is also a turning point in a reader's or viewer’s engagement with the story. We’ve seen so many characters set up as major sympathetic players brought low – Ned, Renly, now Robb – that it can start to seem foolish to stay invested in anyone that looks like a protagonist. Still, there’s no doubt there’s legions of fans that will keep coming back for more gut punches.