Warning: This post will contain spoilers for pretty much every single thing you can imagine regarding George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire book series up to the most current book (A Dance with Dragons), as well as the HBO series Game of Thrones, up to the most recent episode “The Rains of Castamere.” If you do not watch the show or have read the series, what the hell are you doing here, we aren’t friends anymore.
But seriously, stop reading if you don’t want to get spoiled for the books or the show. For real. Stop.
I have been a reader of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series for only two years, but I can’t really imagine my life without it. I was first told – no, ordered – to read the books when I was about 19 and I saw a friend of mine from drama school toting it to Movement class. “Are those books any good?” I asked while we got changed into our dance clothes. He nodded vigorously. “Ally, you have to read them. I can’t believe you haven’t read them already.” (Chris, I finally listened. Are you happy?)
Over the years after we graduated from college I kept telling him I’d read the books until finally they were staring at me in the face for a super low price at a bookstore that was going out of business. I figured, screw it. I bought the first four, knowing the fifth one was just about to come out (this was 2011, remember).
I started reading the books around when the first season of the show started, and I decided to hold off on watching the show until I read the first book. I completely devoured it. You all know how much I love Lord of the Rings. Well, this series is what would have happened if Lord of the Rings and Breaking Bad had a baby. And instead of meth, there’s DRAGONS.
I loved Robb, and Arya, and Tyrion. But my favorite was Dany. Daenerys Stormborn the Unburnt, of the House Targaryen, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. Dany starts out as this completely controlled, submissive, helpless slave to her psychotic despot brother Viserys who tells her he’ll have the entire Dothraki army rape her if it means he’ll get to sit on the Iron Throne, and she ends it GIVING BIRTH TO DRAGONS. That moment at the end of the first book when she rises from the ashes and the dragons are screeching? I was sitting on my couch and I literally leapt off of it, fistpumped, and shouted “FUCK YES”.
I have a lot of feelings.
I was also really shocked when Ned died, and told this to some friends who are equally fanatical about the books. Their response was both funny and horrifying – “Don’t get attached to any major character. They’re probably going to die.”
I thought they were at least a little bit joking. And then I got to The Red Wedding.
I had heard about The Red Wedding from the moment I picked up the first book. Thanks Tumblr. Me being me, I assumed it was some sort of weird bloodsoaked orgy similar to what the Dothraki had done when Dany married Khal Drogo.
Then when the second season introduced the love interest to Robb I wanted to know what her name in the book was (they changed it for some reason), so when I googled “Jeyne Westerling” the Wikipage informing me that she stayed married to Robb until his DEATH at the “Red Wedding” flabbergasted me. So I Googled “Red Wedding” – dumbest idea ever – and sat in shock as the page unfolded. Cat and Robb? Both of them? Roose Bolton’s actually working with the Lannisters? (That asshole!)
If you want a major plot summary of this event, go to the Wikipedia page, or go to Funny or Die and watch a gay hairdresser sob his way through it. But needless to say I spent the rest of the week devouring A Storm of Swords because the faster I read, the faster I’d get to the point that I could get through The Red Wedding. When it came, I was sitting again on my couch, and I actually had to put the book down and walk away from it. It was so horrendous, so upsetting, so tragic, that I couldn’t bear to look at the words. What made it worse was Catelyn’s POV experience of watching her son shot with numerous arrows, and then the almost hallucinatory style of writing GRRM employs in how Catelyn threatens and finally kills Jinglebell, then has her throat slit. It’s a stark (pun intended) ending to one of the viewpoint families in the series. Well, not ending. We’ve still got most of the kids alive! But they didn’t know that! Catelyn died thinking she had just watched her final surviving child torn apart in front of her. If that isn’t bleak, I don’t know what is.
Anyway. The most recent episode of Game of Thrones contained this infamous scene and, as I suspected, the Internet proceeded to shit its pants.
As someone who had read the books and knew what was coming, you would think I’d experience the scene with a modicum of calm. Nope. I watched that episode with about 10 people who had also read the books and we were freaking the hell out. The minute “The Rains of Castamere” began playing and Catelyn peeled back the sleeve of Roose Bolton to reveal chain mail (UGH, ROOSE BOLTON), we all buried our heads in the couch and wailed. And that final shot, of Catelyn just bleeding out and falling to the floor, and the entirely silent credits? David Nutter, you are a talented emotionless bastard.
But I had a friend of mine ask me a question. She wanted to know why this event, more than any other event, is so unbelievably shocking when, really, it is quite on par with the tenor of this show and also the entire event was seriously telegraphed? I mean, think about it. We have been told for an entire year that Robb nailing and then marrying Talisa was probably not the best strategical move considering he was due to marry Roslin Frey as a contract to hold House Frey’s allegiance in the North. Marrying Talisa instead was bound to stir up some seriously bad juju.
For me as a book reader, it’s shocking because GRRM essentially rips apart a common literary trope – Ned Stark had died in book 1, so Robb Stark was the King in the North and the ‘avenging son’, coming to seek revenge on those who had murdered his father. Nearly every single fantasy or sci-fi hero is a take on this trope, from Aragorn (haunted by the weaknesses of the First Men) to Luke Skywalker (coming to terms with the fact that his father is Darth effing Vader), and nearly 80 percent of the time, the son succeeds. So even though Robb has made a lot of bad decisions and never listened to his incredibly smart mother and beheaded people he should NOT have beheaded, we assume as the audience he’ll succeed because that’s just the way these stories tend to go. The fact that Robb fails, and fails in such an awful way, is fascinating. It’s also shocking to the audience because hell, even if you figured Robb was toast you probably would have wanted him to die on the battlefield and not with a crossbow to the back! But this is such an intimately sick way to go for someone like Robb. It would be like watching Tony Stark actually die when he went into the wormhole at the end of The Avengers.
Also, in my opinion, the way the scene played out on the show is even WORSE than how it goes in the book. In the book, Robb’s wife Jeyne Westerling isn’t anywhere near the Twins. She’s still at Riverrun, and after the news of the massacre is spirited back to her family and is never heard from again. Obviously there needed to be some more done with show!Robb’s wife Talisa, because we’ve seen much more of her than we did of Jeyne, mentally and physically (and yes, that also refers to all the times we saw Oona Chaplin in her al-together). I didn’t know what exactly they would end up doing with Talisa, but part of me didn’t want to see her die at the Red Wedding. The instant I saw her with the party as they partook the bread and salt, I knew she was screwed. I just didn’t think she’d end up getting killed first! I ended up peeking from my position behind the arm of the couch just in time to see her get stabbed in the stomach – way to really force that symbolism down our throats, David and Dan. It’s interesting to note that yesterday I re-watched the scene in episode 8 of season 2 in which Talisa and Robb finally hook up, and that scene plays incredibly differently now that we know where that couple is headed.
Another reason why I was so mad when I found out about The Red Wedding? Richard Madden pleases my eyeballs. I’m sorry. I find that man really, really, really, ridiculously goodlooking. Good thing he’s going to be a literal Prince Charming in his next screen role, right?
Quite simply, as the A.V. Club noted in their article “Why Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding Packs Such An Emotional Impact”, “past that first shock, the Red Wedding floors readers and viewers because it’s the death of hope.” We thought we would get justice for the Starks, because they are and were the most honorable family in this fight to the Iron Throne. The Lannisters are a bunch of assbags, Stannis and Melisandre are too obscured in their own imagery to really make an impact right now, Jon Snow is on the run from the wildlings, Bran and Rickon just got split up because Bran has to concentrate on his role as a warg with Jojen and Meera, and Dany is still assembling her giant army with Fabio and the Super-Eunuchs (seriously, Daario Naharis looks NOTHING like that in the books; he has a green beard and a gold tooth. This guy looks like he got hired off of his appearances on Harlequin books). The Starks were our eyes into this crazy Westerosi world. And now they are all but obliterated.
But what of what’s to come?
The White Walkers. Stannis at the Wall. The Bastard of Bolton. Shae. Tywin. Alayne Stone of the Eyrie. Cat of the Canals. The Faceless. The Martells.
Shit, guys. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, George R.R. Martin. Stop doing press and interviews and please finish The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. You wonderful, brilliant, talented gnome.
PS. I realize that this post is absolutely the kind of stuff you would see smeared in poop on an asylum wall. I think I got possessed by a warg. Or I’m just actually nuts.