Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "The Rains of Castamere"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Rains of Castamere continues the wedding season in Westeros, as the Starks assemble at the Twins for Edmure Tully's marriage, and the hope of some rapprochement with Walder Frey. The Hound and Arya make their way there, while in the north Jon finds his loyalty tested again, and Bran realizes he's come to a crossroads in his journey. Daenerys plots her attack on Yunkai.

This one will go down in the annals of Game of Thrones history as the most shocking episode (to date, at least), bringing the series in line with an epic moment in the books that fans (and the show writers) have been anxiously anticipating. To say that I was left emotionally ruined at the end of it is an understatement. In fact I can only say it came in one level below the Spartacus finale on the cry scale.

With its heavy focus on the Starks (and few scenes with Daenerys that was greatly overshadowed), Rains of Castamere was a success in writing, acting and delivery, building tension over the last few weeks with the ominous explanation of the meaning of the song, and an incredible ending that leaves storylines in chaos. None of this was played for mere shock value. What makes it all so satisfying is that the seeds of this were planted right back in season one and came as a logical result of all the decisions characters have made since. It's a tough watch, but an amazing moment to experience.

Spoilers Now!
Robb continues to plot his assault on Casterly Rock, despite Catelyn's doubts. He admits he ignored her advice about trusting Theon, now the north is overrun with iron born, and Bran and Rickon are gone. So he asks her advice about his plan. If Frey cooperates they have enough men. If reinforcements arrive from King's Landing before they take the castle, they'll be defeated, she warns, and they'll lose the war. Then Catelyn urges him to show the Lannisters what it feels like to lose what they love.

Robb's army arrives at the Twins. Walder Frey welcomes his honored guests and extends his hospitality by offering food. Robb makes his apologies and begs his forgiveness. Walder points out it was his daughter he spurned, not him. His daughters and granddaughters file out and line up before him as Frey introduces them all. Edmure listens intently as he lists them off, wondering who he is betrothed to. Robb addresses them all that he did what he did because he loved another. He begs their forgiveness and pledges all he can to make amends. 

Frey spies Talisa and asks her to come closer. Commenting on her beauty he suggests it's not love that Robb fell for. He proceeds to insult her, but Catelyn stills her son. Frey confesses he would have broken 50 oaths to get into her dress. He allows Robb's men to make camp and promises to put the mess behind them.

Daenerys conceives her attack on Yunkai with Jorah, Selmy and Daario. The latter shows them a back gate that would allow them access with very few guards to stop them. Daario suggests he take Jorah and Grey Worm with him to open the front gates for the army. Jorah points out he might lead them to the slaughter, while Daario counters that only an untrustworthy person would consider such a thing. Daenerys asks Grey Worm's impression. He trusts Daario, so Daenerys opts for the plan. Selmy wants to join them, but Jorah reminds him he's the queensguard now and must remain at her side.

Sam and Gilly make their way towards the Wall where Sam knows of a secret gate at the Nightfort, courtesy of all his book reading at Castle Black. The whole notion of reading is beyond Gilly, who thinks he must be a wizard, which is a perfect compliment for Sam. They finally get within sight of the Wall, which leaves her in awe.

The Hound and Arya come upon an old pig farmer fixing his wagon wheel. Clegane offers him a hand to fix it, but then punches him. Arya tells him not to kill him. Clegane says dead rats don't squeak. Arya declares she knows a real killer far superior to him, and begs him to spare the man. The Hound comments she's very kind and it will get her killed some day. As the man wakes up Arya knocks him out again and walks away.

Later they looks down upon the Twins and Robb's camp. Clegane notices her apprehensiveness and tells her she's afraid she won't make it now that she's so close. No point in trying to hide it. She shoots back that she saw fear in him too—fear of fire when Beric's sword went up in flames. She knows why too, as she was told what his brother did to him. He asks if it gives her ideas. Someday she'll put a sword through his eye, she says, and goes back to watching.

Jon and the wildlings stake out a farm that Jon explains breeds horses for the Watch. Jon urges them to just take the horses and go, and not harm the old man. Ygritte points out a spear through the heart is a better way to die. Tormund and his men charge the farm, so Jon makes a sound to betray their approach, allowing the old man to get on a horse and ride off. Ygritte tries to shoot him with an arrow. 

Meanwhile, Jojen, Meera and the Starks reach an abandoned fort. It's empty due to the wildling raids in the area. With a storm coming they take shelter there and discuss how he might get north of the Wall. Bran asks Osha how they got through, and she says they took a boat across the Bay of Seals, but that's a two month journey. Jojen explains one of the unmanned forts will provide access. Meera spies a rider approaching, and then wildlings following close behind. Hodor, upset by the storm, starts making a commotion. 

Outside, Orell hears Hodor's yells. Bran abruptly goes into a trance and Hodor drops fast asleep. Bran has no idea what he did, but they hear a horse dying, and the escaping rider has been brought down by the wildlings.

Tormund doubts if Orell heard anything, and goes on to disarm the farmer, asking where he was riding. Bran and Rickon's wolves watch from behind the wagon. Orell decides Jon should prove his loyalty and kill the man himself. Jojen tells Bran he needs to possess the wolves, but Bran doubts he can do it when he wants to.

Jon puts the blade next to the man's neck as Ygritte presses him to do it. Tormund warns him to hurry up. When it becomes obvious Jon can't, Ygritte shoots the man with an arrow. Orell and Tormund realize he's never been with them. Ygritte stands by Jon's side as he fights Orell. Tormund goes after Ygritte. Bran goes into a trance, taking over the wolves and bringing down two of the wildlings. Jon finishes off Orell, admitting he was right the whole time. As he dies, Orell escapes into his eagle, which flies down to attack Jon's face. He makes his escape, knocking Ygritte down in the process and rides off, leaving her and Tormund watching.

In Yunkai, Daario leaves Jorah and Grey Worm to go to the back gate and gain entrance. Once he vanquishes the guard, he summons them with a whistle. Several men abruptly appear and engage them, but they manage to dispatch them. And then they're set upon by considerably more soldiers.

Daenerys and Selmy wait impatiently for news, but find Jorah and Grey Worm return, bloodied but proclaiming Yunkai's slave soldiers surrendered. She asks of Daario, and he appears behind them, kneeling before her with the banner of the city, proclaiming Yunkai is hers.

At the Twins, everyone is gathered for Edmure's wedding. Frey presents his daughter Roslin to him and Edmure is relieved to see a beautiful young woman beneath her veil. The priest finishes the ceremony as Robb and Frey share a look that suggests all has been made right.

The wildlings have left the keep as night falls. Bran is surprised he could control the wolves. Jojen says he's more powerful than the wildling wargs—he got into Hodor's mind. No one can do that anywhere. Bran reveals when he was looking through Summer's eyes he saw Jon. He'll be heading back to Castle Black, so they should follow, Osha suggests. But Bran maintains he has to find the three-eyed raven. He's not asking her to come with him, given the journey won't be safe for Rickon. Osha will take Rickon and Shaggy Dog to the Umbers at Last Hearth. If something happens to Bran, Rickon is the heir to Winterfell. Rickon is distraught about leaving his brother but Osha tells him they'll have some adventures of their own. Bran tells her she doesn't have to do this, but his family took her in and was good to her, she replies. Osha decides to leave with Rickon in the night so he can learn to walk in darkness. The brothers say their good-byes and she asks the Reeds to keep Bran safe. 

The wine is flowing freely at the wedding with everyone pleased that the Starks and Freys have mended their grievances. Catelyn muses to her uncle that Edmure complained about the wedding the entire ride, but is now enamored with his bride. Bolton refuses wine, commenting that it dulls the senses. He reveals he's been promised a granddaughter of Frey to wed, as well, along with her weight in silver. Blackfish excuses himself to go to the bathroom.

Frey silences the room and announces Edmure and his daughter are not yet man and wife. The wedding needs a bedding. Robb agrees that if Frey thinks the time is right then they should get the bedding ceremony underway. The men and women rise and take the couple off through the hall as Catelyn tells Roose that Ned forbade the ceremony at their wedding.

Talisa thinks it's a very strange custom. It's tradition, Robb says. As they consider their unborn child, she wants to name it Eddard if it's a boy. Catelyn is pleased to see them kiss. Then one of Frey's sons closes the doors to the chamber and Catelyn notices the musicians begins to play The Rains of Castamere. In camp, Robb's wolf starts howling in its cage.

Arya and the Hound arrive at the Twins but are stopped at the gates. Clegane is posing as a pig farmer for the feast, but he's told firmly that the feast is over, despite his requests to enter. When he turns around he finds Arya gone from the wagon.

Frey silences the music and addresses Robb to give him a toast. Catelyn is suddenly very worried and Roose shares an ominous look with her. She follows his eyes to his arm, where she finds he's wearing chain mail under his clothes. She abruptly slaps him and calls out to Robb. It's too late, as Frey's son rushes forward and stabs Talisa repeatedly in the stomach while the minstrels in the balcony rise with crossbows and begin to fire on the wedding party, including Robb and Catelyn.

Outside in the camp, Arya finds Grey Wind in his pen just as Frey's forces begin to kill Robb's men. Horrified, she watches as Frey's soldiers fire into the cage and kill the dire wolf. Arya makes her way towards the castle gates as the camp erupts into chaos. The Hound grabs her and knocks her out, telling her it's too late. He takes her with him.

Catelyn drags herself under a table as Frey watches the bloody spectacle. Robb crawls to Talisa. Frey stills his soldiers and laughs that the King of the North remains alive. Talisa dies in Robb's arms. Catelyn grabs a knife and hauls out Frey's wife from under the table and puts the blade to her throat, calling on him to let it end. She begs him to let her son live and she'll forget what's happened and take no vengeance. He reminds her she already swore him one oath in his hall. She screams for Robb to get out and threatens to kill Frey's wife. He'll find another, he replies simply. Robb rises and turns to his mother as Roose steps forward, tells him the Lannisters send their regards, and stabs him in front of Catelyn. He dies. Catelyn wails and slits the woman's throat. She stares in shock at the scene around her as Frey's son comes up behind and cuts her throat.

The Verdict:
It's been very difficult to remain unspoiled about the Red Wedding, but with this episode's title and the explanation of the song's origin in Second Sons, the level of tension was heavy right from the start as Robb offered his apologies to Frey. In hindsight it would have been so simple to return north to recapture Winterfell and dig in for winter, allowing things to settle down and perhaps even be reunited with Bran and Rickon (and eventually Arya). Robb lost his drive to fight as soon as he married Talisa, and I wonder how much of their vengeance was driven by his mother who wanted the Lannisters to suffer (who, in fact, started this whole mess by kidnapping Tyrion). Catelyn never seemed to rise above this tragic flaw, even as she admitted how vile she had been to Jon. Robb's final words to her showed he was ready to die and let it end.

It was a brutal scene, but effective on an epic scale that is pretty rare for television (considering the Internet exploded shortly afterwards). Talisa's surprise death (Robb's wife in the book wasn't even there, or pregnant) added an extra bit of tragedy to the whole affair. Up until that point there was a possibility she might deliver a new Stark heir.

With all the destruction befalling the Starks, Arya's plight was the most heart wrenching. She (and Rickon and Bran) haven't seen their mother since the second episode. There was always a hope that the family would be reunited at some point, but that's gone. After watching her father beheaded, and now her brother and mother dead, she's likely heading into very dark places (and I don't think she's even heard Winterfell has been destroyed). Her relationship with the Hound is one of the more fascinating interactions on the series now, and I imagine it's only going to get more compelling given he really has no one he can ransom her to unless he decides to turn her in to the Lannisters (which seems unlikely). Oddly enough, the moment he knocked her out seemed one of the more poignant moments.

Another near miss is Bran finding himself so close to Jon. It's sad to see Osha leave with Rickon, and I hope that doesn't mean they're shipped off to the Umbers not to be seen for a very long time. Perhaps they do encounter other plotlines on the road south. This was certainly the most Rickon has ever spoken and his declaration "We're not southerners!" was very apt. Bran's grown much more interesting with his magical powers and the fact that he can control people opens up a host of possibilities. Could he control dragons? Or kings?

As for Jon, I've never warmed to Ygritte, so I was amused to see him ditch her for the time being, at least. Though to her credit it appeared she was rising to his defence. She likely won't be as amenable when next they cross paths. But does Tormund even have enough men to get into Castle Black and pose any threat at this point?

Daenerys' storyline was heavily overshadowed by the wedding, but it was a necessary distraction so that the audience wasn't steeped too heavily in the goings on at House Frey the entire episode. HBO obviously couldn't give us another large battle, but it sufficed given the more interesting events happening in Westeros and we already had an epic Daenerys moment when she defeated Astapor. Poor Jorah looked so crestfallen when Daenerys pined over Daario. If he moves against Daario, that could mean the end of his time with Daenerys, who still may find out of his role in spying for Robert. And I'm sure Selmy isn't above aligning himself with Daario to get rid of Jorah either.

Loyalty and honor are big themes here. Daenerys must rely on her intuition to trust Daario or not. Roose has betrayed his loyalty to the Starks, and Jon has revealed he remains loyal to the Night's Watch, and not so much to Ygritte. Jon and Arya remain honorable Starks by both trying to save a couple of old men.

Of additional note is the idea of hospitality shown in the offering of food at the beginning, which is sacrosanct to the religious of Westeros. Frey severed that sacred pact by killing the Starks and their bannermen while under his protection, so I'm curious to see what might befall him. As for Bolton's betrayal, the seeds were certainly planted to anticipate something when he set Jaime free on his own accord, and it's obvious now that he was in communication with Tywin for quite awhile to engineer the massacre. He seemed to take great pleasure in revealing the imminent betrayal to Catelyn.

I'm excited to see what political fallout occurs in the finale. Where is Blackfish? Did he excuse himself for a reason or was it simple coincidence? And does that mean he escaped? What will Edmure's fate be? Will he be allowed to return to the Riverlands, or was he killed? Who is even left in the north who might avenge the Starks given so many bannermen and soldiers have been killed?

There's plenty more to address in the finale, too—Theon's wandering plot, Daenery's next move, and a host of machinations at King's Landing. I'm doubting we'll get another assassination on the heels of this week's (either Tywin or Joffrey) to provide some catharsis. But the last two seasons have ended on a more supernatural event (dragons and White Walkers), so perhaps something similar is in store.

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