Game of Thrones Revisited: 3.09 The Rains of Castamere
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO’s programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world. Now we reach the infamous Red Wedding as Game of Thrones continues its trend of game-changing ninth episodes...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven…
You can't help re-watching The Rains of Castamere without a sense of rising dread. I had read the book upon which it was based, A Storm of Swords, before I originally watched the episode and knew roughly what was going to happen. This time, I had visions of Talisa's brutal attack and Catelyn's anguished screams in my head the moment the episode even began. And yet, even when you find yourself prepared for what is going to happen, the Red Wedding remains one of the most harrowing pieces of television ever committed to screen.
Robb Stark's doom had been set all season; the moment he married Talisa in the season two finale and broke his vows to Walder Frey, he was in trouble. And then loosing half his army over the execution of Lord Karstark, there was a moment of desperation even going into this episode. It began with Robb and his mother looking at the pieces on the map, trying to fathom what bold move they could make to win the war and ended with their vicious murders in the hall of their guest and supposed ally.
And yet, The Rains of Castamere plays like a turning of the tide, suggesting hope in the conflict as the marriage of Frey's daughter to Edmund Tully genuinely seems to appease him. Sure he is a vile creature - his blatant leering over Talisa's body in front of Robb - and parading his daughters and granddaughters before his guests like cattle, but there is a sense that as dangerous as he is, he is still an ally to the Starks. There's even a bit of well-timed humour; Edmund's visible relief that his bride is pretty is amusing and there are times in the following celebrations where everyone seems genuinely happy.
There is also the desperate hope of Arya being reunited with her mother and brother; the Twins are in her sight for the entire episode and you can imagine that if the Hound and her had been quicker, she would have been reunited in time. Of course, she would be dead too and poor Arya has to suffer even more before the end. Still arriving just as the Freys and Boltons begin slaughtering Robb's men is perhaps the worst case of timing ever.
After the happiness of the celebrations (a far cry from Tyrion and Sansa's wedding last episode), ings take a more insidious turn; director David Nutter really ramps up the tension as Catelyn begins to notice the signs that things are very wrong. While Robb and Talisa share an unknowingly final kiss and discuss their unborn son, his mother picks up on the doors to the hall being sealed, Bolton acting suspiciously and the dreaded 'Rains of Castamere' beginning to play. By the time she has worked it out, it is too late; Talisa being gutted in the stomach by one of Frey's sons is still shocking. Robb is showered in crossbow arrows and even an attempt to hold Walder's young wife hostage fails to change anything. Robb is stabbed in the heart by the betraying Roose Bolton, now a fully fledged villain as he utters those infamous words "the Lannisters send their regards".
Tywin and his children and all absent from the episodes, but his ruthless actions are keenly felt. And that harrowing cry from Michelle Fairley as Catelyn grieves for her son before having her own throat slit stays with you long after the silent credits have finished.
Of course there is far more happening in The Rains of Castamere than just the Red Wedding. It's the end of Jon and Ygritte's doomed romance as he fails to execute the man the Wildling war band has captured. He has been fighting his loyalty with his bourgeoning love for the flame-haired Wilding girl and you could have imagined him going through with the execution to keep her and his cover. But his heroic nature wins through and he makes his perilous escape, but not before killing the treacherous Warg Orell. Rose Leslie imbues Ygritte with heartache and rage as she realises that the man she loves is against her and that rage will see her exact vengeance on him in the season three finale.
Observing the bloody events below are Bran and company, holed up in the windmill as the Wildlings fight Jon below. This is the episode where we see Bran warg into Hodor, a disturbing prelude to the revelations of season six and Jojen Reed forces him to hone his powers to possess his direwolf and lead the enemy away. With the immediate threat over, its a moment of goodbyes as Natalie Tena's Osha and Art Parkinson's Rickon Stark make their exit from the show until season six. Osha has come a long way since her season one days when she tried to kill Bran and her farewell shows genuine love for the young Stark boy that has welcomed her into her home. Of course, their choice of joining the Umbers will result in tragedy but for now, there is a moment of safety for Osha and Rickon.
And after the dramatic sacking of Astapor in episode four, Daenerys takes another slave city this episode as new ally Daario Naharis sneaks Grey Worm and Jorah Mormont in the enemy city. There's a great little brutal fight scene as they take down the attacking guards in style, while the approach of the second wave of Yunkai teases a little mid-episode cliff-hanger before the reveal that the slave soldiers laid down their arms and joined Daenerys' cause. It's not hugely dramatic compared to the rest of her arc this season, but it is largely satisfying and continues her rise to power as 'breaker of chains'.
But the taking of Yunkai, the betrayal of Jon Snow or the departures of Rickon and Osha are not what The Rains of Castamere is remembered for - as engaging as all those stories are. This is the episode that saw the swift and brutal exit of three key players in the show - Richard Madden's Robb Stark, Oona Chaplin's Talisa Stark and of course Michelle Fairley's Catelyn Stark. If Ned's surprise execution in season one's ninth episode was the moment the lead hero died, this ninth episode of season three is where the good guys truly loose.