GAME OF THRONES “The Rains of Castamere” Recap
As always, my Game of Thrones recaps are done from the point of view of, and for the benefit of, those who have not read the books. Mucho spoilers follow.
This should be clear to everyone who follows either the Game of Thrones books or television show (or both), but let it be said anyway – George R. R. Martin isn’t one to pander to cliched tropes. Fantasy/adventure sagas, like so many other genres, have largely and comfortably settled into a verse/chorus/verse archetype for so long that once you, the reader, have established what the main crux of the story will be, there’s almost no point in finishing the book. Your experienced brain has already finished it for you.
A generally good man has temporarily ascended the throne of a fantasy kingdom, beset on all sides by intriguers and dangerous enemies. Obviously, through many trials and dangers, the good man will prevail against evil and usher the kingdom into a prosperous period of harmony and happiness. What’s that, you say? His head was cut off? In that case, his eldest son, at the head of a great army, will fight his way to the seat of power from faraway lands and righteously defeat the cowards and villains who betrayed his father. Sweet vengeance! … What’s that, you say? …
Us fans of Game of Thrones who haven’t read the books should have known better, I suppose. To be honest, I’m a little pleased with myself for partially stumbling onto the problem a few recaps ago. Game of Thrones foreshadows events, as all shows must. After all, part of the satisfaction in watching a great show is that one never exactly knows when a puzzle is being presented to you. Is this scene all that it appears? What did that character really mean when he/she said that? Is this plan a brilliant stroke or a crucial mistake?
So when I said a couple weeks ago that Robb Stark’s dilly-dallying and almost purposeful blow-off of Lord Walder Frey (again) and his creepy brood of backwoods weirdos could come back to bite him in the ass, I turned out to be right. But I could have never envisioned just what that cataclysmic misstep would entail – the virtual annihilation of the Starks, the family set up at GoT’s very beginning as the nominal ‘good guys’. That kind of thing just isn’t supposed to happen. And yet there it was last night in all its arterial blood spraying glory.
Before the fall, for a heartbreakingly short while, it seems as if Robb Stark is on the cusp of finally righting the sinking ship that has been his northern campaign and will begin a fourth season of the show in a position of power. The Starks and Freys both eat of Walder’s salt and bread, the solemn and unbreakable oath of hospitality and protection under one’s roof. And for the first 50 minutes, it appears that crotchety Frey’s anger over Robb’s earlier refusal to marry one of his daughters will confine itself to leering at Talisa, making offhanded comments about Robb betraying him, and sitting in the seat of authority while his supposed liege sups at the benches below like a common soldier. Despite these minor slights, for a bitter old man whose claim to fame is that he owns a bridge and never forgets a betrayal, Frey seems awfully understanding of the situation. He even marries Edmure off to a heretofore unseen Frey that just happens to be a stone cold fox and then gives a surprised Robb an almost affectionate grandfatherly shrug when the young Stark catches his eye. And then the wedding is over. And the party begins. And the doors close. And the band strikes up the Lannister victory song ‘The Rains of Castamere’, while Catelyn Stark begins to dimly comprehend, too late, the coming horror. And Stark ally Roose Bolton, who had traveled from Harrenhal to The Twins for the special occasion, motions for Catelyn to pull back his sleeve, revealing the chain armor underneath.
And then the nightmare begins.
‘The Rains of Castamere’ is a shockingly direct takedown of the ‘true love’ motif. Just moments before their mutual butchering at the hands of Walder Frey’s men, Robb and Talisa have a moment where they reflect on her pregnancy. If it’s a boy, she means to name him Eddard, after Robb’s late father. Young Eddard will learn how to ride horses from his father, a wise Robb, King of the Iron Throne, hair graying at the temples, having defeated the treacherous Lannisters and brought power and honor back to the Stark name. It is a devastating scene in retrospect. The path to ultimate Stark victory and a long and happy life for Robb and Talisa are rolled out like a red carpet in our mind’s eye. And then Robb’s and Talisa’s bloodsoaked corpses are rolled back up in it.
So perishes the last truly lovesmitten couple in Westeros, while Walder Frey gleefully surveys the detritus of two oaths broken. Tyrion and Sansa’s pairing is wholly loveless, as will it be with Cersei and Loras. Margaery certainly doesn’t love Joffrey and vice versa. Stannis and Melisandre don’t share anything resembling a natural love and have merely embarked on a jointly and supplicative love for the Lord of Light. Jaime and Brienne have managed to travel from outright hatred to mutual respect but to consider them ever falling in love is a pipe dream at this point.
That only really leaves Jon and Ygritte, a pair who are ostensibly in love but both ignoring a hell of a lot about each other in order to keep their love alive. So naturally ‘The Rains of Castamere’ f’s with them, too. Jon’s plan to eventually turn traitor on the Wildings is the worst kept secret in the world and that cat finally leaps headlong out of the bag when the Wildings come across a Watch-protected horse breeder and mean to kill him and Jon Snow not only intentionally botches the plan but then refuses to murder the old man when prompted by Orell to prove his loyalty. All hell breaks loose, with Snow and Orell locked in combat while Giantsbane is forced to wrestle a conflicted Ygritte to the ground so that she can’t help Snow. Orell is slain (although not before warging into his eagle, clawing the shit out of Jon, and then flying off) and Jon jumps onto a horse and… promptly books it the hell out of there, leaving a shocked Ygritte behind. Is Jon just waiting for an opportune time to sneak back and see if she’s receptive to running off with him? Or is that simply one of the most hilarious “wham, bam, etc.”s that you’re likely to see? I guess only time will tell. But either way, in one fell swoop, ‘The Rains of Castamere’ not only destroys (for all intents and purposes) one of the show’s principal families, but it also does a hell of a job absolutely crippling the concept of Westerosian true love. Sure, a ‘happily ever after’ may eventually come for a handful of characters in the end, but it has never seemed so far away.
– I hesitate to say this, but the Daenerys storyline is drawing closer and closer to boredom territory for me. I’m of the opinion that Khaleesi winds up on top of the mountain in the end, because I’m having a hard time seeing how anyone stops her whenever she fiiiiinally gets around to traveling across the Shivering Sea to Westeros. Three growing dragons and a gigantic army isn’t something I see anybody in a position to stop at this point. Anyhow, I’m really hoping that whatever is in store for Daenerys in the short term, it’s something a little more varied than ‘Khaleesi arrives at a slave city, slaver lord laughs at her, she has his liver for breakfast, another city falls, Khaleesi’s army grows yet again by an alarming margin’. This probably won’t happen until well into season 4 at the earliest, because if memory serves, I think there were three major slaving cities in Essos that D had her heart set on liberating and she’s only taken care of two of them.
– That being said, Jorah, Grey Worm, and Daario make a decent fighting trio, don’t they just? Holy hell.
– Arya continues to be saddled with the most rotten timing in all of Westeros. Moments away from finally reuniting with her family via a simple ransoming, she instead becomes witness to yet another Stark tragedy. At least Arya had the good sense to stay hidden during the first one but this time she avoids certain death only through the intervention of The Hound, the same guy whose head she vowed to stick a sword through earlier in the episode. I like this pairing a lot, but what is The Hound supposed to do with her now? There are no Starks left to pay Sandor’s desired ransom.
– Bran and the gang are holed up inside an abandoned tower of sorts mere yards away from the whole Jon Snow vs. the Wildings incident, having taken refuge during a storm that just passed. Bran finally figures out, with some prompting by Jojen, that he can warg at will and briefly possesses a couple dire wolves to tear out a few throats and drive everyone off. In other words, BRAN WAS LIKE 40 FEET FROM JON SNOW AND NEITHER OF THEM KNEW IT. DAMMIT.
– Osha leaves with Rickon that night towards some unnamed place of safety, the idea being that if something befalls Bran at Castle Black, Rickon will be fine. Let’s hope that Osha hasn’t decided on taking him to The Twins.
– Samwell and Gilly make a brief appearance, the two having reached The Wall. Samwell’s ability to speak at a 10th grade level once again dazzles Craster’s former wife/daughter, who calls Sam a “wizard” for being able to read. Don’t get ahead of yourself, sweetie. Samwell still hasn’t managed to figure out the special properties of the dragonglass dagger that he killed the White Walker with, nor did he think it might be a good idea to go back and retrieve it, so a wizard he ain’t.
– A rough episode to watch, especially for my wife, Leora, who does tend to get a little emotional when invested in a show’s plotlines, but doesn’t usually shout “NO NO NO NO!!!” at the television like she did last night.
– No Jaime & Brienne. No Tywin, Tyrion, Sansa, or Cersei. No Littlefinger. No Varys. No Joffrey. No Margaery or Olenna. No Stannis or Melisandre or Davos or Gendry. The Red Wedding brooks no outside distractions.
What did you think of this week’s stunningly-nuts Game of Thrones episode? And what is in store for our GoT characters in next week’s season finale? Say your piece in the comments below!