Tales From Westeros – The Rains of Castamere
I write this one a heavy heart, fellow Geeks. I think that’s all the intro I need today.
This week’s episode of Game of Thrones opens with Robb Stark trying to figure his shit out. (Again.) At the risk of sounding dramatic, his next few moves are incredibly important ones. The distraction of rekindling the Frey alliance with Edmure’s impending marriage mustn’t steer his mind away from what we’ll affectionately call the Lannister Problem. That giant wolf/lion chess set is all set out and he comes up with a plan to capture mineral-rich Casterly Rock, the ancestral Lannister seat where all that famous gold comes from. Surprisingly, the Young Wolf consults his mother about the plan and after her initial shock, she consents fiercely: “Show them how it feels to lose what they love.” Meanwhile, they finally arrive at the Twins, those dual castles that straddle the Green Fork of the Trident River. As we learned in Season 1, the Twins are an important gateway between the North and South of Westeros and that is the true source of Walder Frey’s power. Inside the castle, bread and salt is passed around to the Northerners as a representation of the ancient Westerosi tradition of the sacred vows of hospitality called “guest right,” in which a guest eats the food offered under a host’s roof. It’s a gesture of good faith, since when invoked, guest right means that both guest and host are protected during the entire length of the guest’s stay.
Regardless, it gets a bit awkward: Robb is still trying to make amends with Lord Walder and painfully prostrates himself in an eloquent apology. Obviously Walder Frey is a huge asshole and literally gives him the slow clap, but what did you expect? He doesn’t stop there, but goes as far as sexually harassing Robb’s wife and even his own kin. All the eligible Frey ladies (about a hundred it seems, each named Walda, Waldina, or some other variation of his own name) are spoken to like cattle about to be sent to slaughter. What’s more…they’re all pretty plain to Edmure’s dismay.
As the Starks and Freys assess the situation, it seems that other plotlines must progress too, even though we’re only really invested in the above proceedings (or am I just speaking for myself?). In Yunkai, Dany entrusts Daario with staging a coup to overthrow the current leaders of the city and he succeeds with great success; the ensuing battle scenes were some of the best in the series (which ironically seems to deny us viewers epic swordplay). Daario also manages to alienate the still-enamored Ser Jorah, but what can you do? It was never gonna happen, Jorah. Daario is a little more age-appropriate for Dany, I’d say, and it seems she likes the longhaired barbarian type anyway.
The scene between Sam and Gilly seemed entirely superfluous, though it was nice to see Sam’s ecstatic expression at being likened to a wizard.
During all this, Bran’s Band of Outsiders still wander the North and eventually take shelter at an old abandoned castle of the Night’s Watch. Meanwhile, Jon—still with the wildling group making their way South—is physically so close to his half-brothers that it’s all I can do not to yell at the screen like I do during horror flicks. The wildlings are still not convinced of Jon’s loyalty, and rightfully so as he tries to minimize their intended violence once again. Of course, this further intensifies their mistrust and a fight breaks out. A bad one. Like, 10 crazy wildlings against 1 Northern bastard. Conveniently, Bran has just demonstrated that he’s able to slip in and out of people and animals. He’s a warg, Jojen Reed informs him. There are other known wargs, especially Beyond the Wall, but they don’t have the skills to inhabit people-shells like Bran just did with Hodor. So Bran does his thing, slips into his direwolf Summer, and saves Jon’s ass just in time. Jon takes this opportunity to do the sensible thing and get the hell outta there, but not before muttering a well-placed “You were right all along” to the antagonistic wildling that tried to steal Ygritte. Speaking of Ygritte—Jon left her there, too. To recap: Bran has crazy powers and Jon’s probably heading back to the Watch.
After that experience, Bran realizes that Jojen was right all along and he knows what he must do. He’s on the wrong side of the Wall, and must turn around and go further North to find the three-eyed crow. The wildling Osha has her own Beyond the Wall sob story and is violently opposed to this idea—but she can’t go anyway. No, Bran means to split up the crew and send Rickon and Osha to Last Hearth while he goes on with Jojen, Meera, and poor Hodor, who seems to be in a post-being-occupied stupor. Little Rickon is understandably distressed.
Arya and the Hound get a fair amount of screen time during the episode too, but they’re really just an extension of the main event, as they’re traveling toward the Twins like most everyone else.
And this brings us to the wedding feast. In my opinion, the aesthetics were spot on. From the long, dim hall lit by flickering fire to the overwhelming brown tones—you could almost smell the ancient planks of wood that generations of Freys sat their weaselly butts on; hear the reverberation of the musical instruments throughout the large room; taste the wine and mead and mutton. Then, almost imperceptibly, the taut thread of tension that has wrapped itself around the neck of the entire episode begins to unravel. It twists even as Edmure happily marries the prettiest Frey, gets to its final thread when Catelyn hears the opening strains of the titular Lannister song “The Rains of Castamere,” and finally snaps as she slides back Roose Bolton’s sleeve to reveal the protective metal mail he had no cause to wear to a wedding. At that point, we know something’s amiss but did you really think it was going to be like THAT? Did you think it was going to be the slaughter of everything you know and love to an epic degree?
Well, if you’ve read the books like I have, then yes, you knew what was coming. Yet it didn’t lessen the blow or make it hurt any less as these (fictional, I keep reminding myself) characters met their dishonorable, grisly ends. It was just so…shady. It went against all the established laws of Westeros: the guest right, the fact that the lesser vassals were sworn to protect their lords (in Bolton’s case, the Starks; in Lord Walder’s, the Tullys—which makes Catelyn double betrayed), and for God’s sake it was a WEDDING! Now we’re left to mourn and sulk, to shake our fist at Robb for not having seen it coming, and to hear Catelyn’s tortured scream as she tried to save what she believes to be her last remaining son in our minds for days to come.
If Ned Stark’s tragic flaw was his honor, then it seems Robb’s were love and youth in equal measures. I don’t buy Walder Frey’s assessment that his relationship with Talisa (and subsequent oath-breaking with the Freys) was all for “a pair of firm tits.” On the battlefield, Robb Stark was an equal to his foes, but his personal decisions were riddled with the common errors of youth: choosing emotion over strategy, trusting others too much, and overestimating the kindness of others. If this sounds overly cynical, I welcome you to real life.
And poor Arya Underfoot, that mischievous little girl from Season 1 we’ve watched transform into a tougher, jaded version of herself. So close to being reunited with her family—after all she’s been through—only to watch as Frey men kill her brother’s wolf and knowing what must be happening inside the castle. I know this weekend I’ll be pouring some out for my homie Grey Wind. It seems that once a Stark loses its direwolf, it’s all downhill from there…just ask Sansa.
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