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I’m writing this review, guys, but I don’t think I’ve really processed what I just watched, not yet. I mean, I get it—they’re dead. Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, the rest of the Tullys, Robb’s wolf, his unborn child. There wasn’t any uncertainty about what we just saw—the show doesn’t want us to have any false hopes, and neither did it want to be cartoonish about it. I don’t know what the toughest part to watch was. Talisa’s stabbing in the stomach (a work of overt symbolism by the Freys) was maybe the most graphic, but where Catelyn was emotionally, after all the horrors she’s already suffered, and that final scream she let out, well, it’s hard to think about.
I have long felt doom and portent surrounding Robb, ever since he married Talisa. In a world this obsessed with procedure and honor and the breaking of trusts, there was no way he could get out of his broken promise to Walder Frey easily, and the show kept reminding us of that, but subtly—we never really saw or heard much of the Freys again, and everything was probably kept quiet to keep us away from this brewing twist. Also, everyone who hasn’t read the books and watches the show has friends who have read the books, and has probably suffered annoying hints or winks about some huge event on the horizon in season three.
That is to say, I was prepared for rough shit to go down. I figured that Robb was in trouble, one way or another. The beheading of Lord Karstark signaled the end of his military chances, and while Robb had his plan to invade Casterly Rock and turn the tide again, tonally things had gotten very moody and grim in the Stark camp. Obviously the invasion plan was a red herring, but a necessary one not just to keep viewers distracted but also to get Robb back in the Frey household. He’d have no reason to poke that hornet’s nest otherwise.
But I didn’t expect the sheer brutality of the final scene, nor did I expect such a high body count, nor nasty little twists like Roose Bolton delivering the final blow with “the Lannisters give their regards” (an echo of his kiss-off line to Jaime a few weeks ago) or Arya being there, once again, to see the Starks decimated and her hopes lost.
Oof. I can only imagine what the unspoiled are thinking. My Twitter feed has certainly been blowing up, but not with much consternation or rage, more like melancholy and exhaustion and a feeling of shellshock. There’s no way the show can’t cut to black after Catelyn’s throat is slit. But that’s also an upsetting, tragic note that’s impossible to forget. It’s haunting stuff, and it’s to Game Of Thrones’ credit that the scene hits as hard as it does. Catelyn has only had a handful of scenes this season, although many of them have been powerful. But we’re still so rooted to these characters, especially the Stark family, that losing them feels colossal. Obviously, any time a show kills off a well-liked character, it’s a big deal. But there’s often some reason—maybe a storyline wasn’t working out, maybe an actor wanted to leave to become a movie star, maybe the show was in desperate need of a twist for ratings. But this comes right from the novels, so the sense of epic tragedy is totally earned. We’ve been building to this nightmare for more than two seasons; we just didn’t totally know it.
As a work of gripping serial television, how was this episode? It’s almost impossible to grade, much like all of Game Of Thrones’ big event episodes. But I think it worked pretty darn well. The Frey castle was foreboding as ever, even though it was nicely dressed up for the wedding. David Bradley has such a great time with that miserable old fuck, and even though it’s going to be tough to see any material concerning the Freys after this, I do hope we get a little more of him, because he’s a memorably evil dude in a very specific way.
For example, you can believe that Frey is not going to do anything about Robb’s broken promise in this episode, outside of publicly shaming/lusting after Talisa and taunting Edmure with his bevy of plain-looking daughters and granddaughters. Once Edmure’s bride was revealed to be very comely, I knew something was up. It didn’t fit with Frey’s agenda so far, and it suddenly seemed like everything was just going to be a little too easy. Then the song kicked in (the titular song “The Rains Of Castermere,” a Lannister victory song Cersei explained last week) and the doors closed, and, well.
The reveal of Roose Bolton as an ultimate traitor was wonderful, even though it had been so heavily foreshadowed in his dealings with Jaime back at his castle. But I just mean the actual reveal—Catelyn tugging at his sleeve to reveal chain mail, such a clever little touch that speaks to Roose’s practicality (earlier, he revealed he married the fattest Frey he could find, because he was promised his bride’s weight in silver) and his utter ruthlessness. He doesn’t even care that he’s been revealed at this point—whatever he’s been planning, certainly with Tywin, is too far along to be halted now.
But, oh God. The wolf dying—it’s a cliché that an animal’s death can be even tougher to watch, but there it is, especially after all the wolf heroics in the rest of the episode. Arya’s presence turned her season-long journey into something of a cruel joke, with only the Hound (whom she tried so desperately to flee) there to protect her at the end, an even less comforting (although possibly more helpful) friend than the Night’s Watch man was in season one at Ned’s execution. The dying Starks were given notes of heroism, of course—Robb crawling over to Talisa, Catelyn making one last bloody, vengeful grab to protect her family (which fell deaf on Walder Frey’s ears, one of the cruelest moments of the episode) but that’s it, right? That’s kind of it!
We still have Stannis, of course, but he’s very much licking his wounds (by the way: one out of three pretenders to the throne is dead now. Good job, Melisandre). Daenerys is across the sea, but she has a way to go liberating slaves before she makes it to Westeros. The surviving Starks are children, scattered to the wind. The concept of northern rebellion is basically done. The Lannisters have won, at least for now, and in the worst way imaginable, but we’ll be leaving season three on somewhat of a down note, it’s impossible to deny.
Other things happened in this episode, even though it was really 50 minutes of preamble to utter insanity. Jon’s storyline, which had been dragging for weeks, kicked into high gear again when his inherent honor got the better of him—he kills Orell in the subsequent battle, but I loved that moment of him jumping into the eagle in death, a creepy but clever concept for a warg (my question: can he jump back into another body, now that his is gone?). More surprisingly, he leaves Ygritte behind, even knocking her to the ground as she tries to protect him. Why? That I need to unpack (but I’ll wait and see what episode 10 provides).
In another cruel twist, the whole battle happens in front of Bran and company, holed up in a far-northern fort, which serves to tell Bran that Jojen’s visions are correct (Jon is with the wildlings) and activates a power apparently no one has as he enters the mind of Hodor to calm him down. Bran, then, is special, more so than any other we’ve met, giving us a little more reason to be invested in his journey to meet the three-eyed crow. We also bid farewell to Osha. Somewhat ridiculously, the focus of the goodbye is on Rickon, whom we barely know as a character—it makes sense that Bran would be broken-hearted to leave him, of course, but really it’s Osha I’ll miss (I can’t imagine we’ll see as much of her now).
Over in Yunkai, Daenerys quickly leaps into action, which I appreciate. If Daario being around means things get done quicker, then I’ll sleep with the guy, jeez. Jorah is (predictably) very prickly and suspicious of the dude, for both rational and irrational reasons. Barristan is more neutral, and Grey Worm digs him for some reason. The resulting battle as the three slip into the slave city is a blast to watch, and I wish we could have had more of it, just as a fun, gripping, gritty bit of action violence before the very real, graphic, upsetting violence that followed. I didn’t completely follow why this three-on-40 victory meant the fall of Yunkai, but it sounds like Daenerys’ status as liberator has followed her, so the slaves quickly rose up to greet her. All good. Again, we can unpack that more on an episode that doesn’t feature the death of so many major characters.
What does it mean? How is the next episode not everyone just sobbing or rubbing their eyes with disbelief? Apart from Tywin, who will of course do his version of cackling with glee—he’ll smile very slightly, get a squint in his eye, something like that. But everyone else should be as shellshocked as I feel. It’s the only rational reaction.
- How is there only one more episode this season? THIS ISN’T FAIR.
- “Someday, I’m gonna put a sword through your eye and out the back of your skull.” Arya is probably the most bad-ass Stark out there, even more so than Ned, who forbade a bedding ceremony at his own wedding.
- Talisa gives Catelyn one final, apt compliment before the chaos. “Your mother is less in need of rescue than any woman I’ve ever met.”
- Just before the doom, I was rolling my eyes at Robb and Talisa’s gooey talk about their baby and so on and so forth. Really, it’s kind of insane that he brought her to the wedding, although I’m sure he would have been doomed no matter what. But what a way to flaunt the grand affront of it all.