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Episode 9 - The Rains of Castamere

5 June 2013

Credit HBO

Synopsis: Sam and Gilly approach the Wall. Bran and company take refuge in a windmill while Jon and the Wildlings converge on the same place. Jon refuses to kill the horse breeder who lives there and Bran takes control of his wolves to help Jon escape leaving a shocked Ygritte behind. Bran sends Rickon away with Osha. At the Twins the wedding of Edmure and Walder Frey's daughter goes ahead with no apparent hitch. Arya promises to kill the Hound but lets him take her to the Twins. She arrives just as Walder Frey slaughters all the wedding guests including Catelyn, Robb and Talisa. Daario leads Ser Jorah and Grey Worm in the back gates of Yunkai and the city soon falls to Daenerys.

The Unknown: That was the most depressed I've ever felt after watching an episode of television. To see good people so brutally betrayed and hacked down was unnervingly affecting. I suppose given the weight of emotion I felt toward it this ought to be one of the great moments of television. Instead, as you can tell by the lone standing of "The Unknown", I feel conflicted.

Undoubtedly this was a well told story and executed with unflinching brutality. We knew Walder Frey was a despicable old man and that by breaking his oath Robb had made a huge mistake. Is it implausible that a man with resources, close to the end of his days would decide to be so vengeful? Probably not. Did it deliver a huge plot twist that utterly transforms the dynamics of the story? Absolutely.

But I do feel concerns which are genuinely unknown. One is just the coarse brutality of Game of Thrones. I gather that TV viewers have actually been spared from even worse details that the books give out. But the sight of Talisa's belly being violently stabbed makes me feel pretty sick. The various throat slitting that accompanied it were in themselves fairly horrific visuals. I have no problem with horrific things if a story calls for them. And certainly not if they are an accurate reflection of the world they are set in.

To me there are two reasons to show that kind of violence. The first is if you plan on making what Walder Frey did a major part of the story and in some way it will resonate or be answered down the line. The second is if you just want to demonstrate that this is a brutal world where brutal things happen.

My fear is that it was the latter and not the former. By wiping out the fighting men of the Stark army I don't see who is going to deliver vengeance on Walder Frey. Presumably what's left of the North has its hands full with Greyjoys and Wildlings. And between House Frey and Bolton it seems like the North is in the hands of men who are as bad if not worse than the Lannisters. So was this horrible act just a warning that more ultra-violent destruction is on its way? Was this mass murder just the start of many more such instances or was it a key moment that will shape the characters we have left?

Please understand that I don't say this as a response simply to this one episode. I have commented repeatedly that I think Game of Thrones has problems with tone. On the other side of the world Daario and Ser Jorah take Yunkai in the kind of lightweight fantasy sequence that is more familiar to our TV screens. While at the Twins we are subjected to an act so vile that it should demand that Walder Frey become a main character on par with Joffrey whose destruction we now root for.

But as I explained above, who is left to tackle Walder Frey? I don't know whether the Tully's were all slaughtered too or if they are left to continue the struggle. As far as I can tell House Tyrell is the only House I know with a shred of decency attached to their name and I know little about them. My fear is that Game of Thrones has gone too far in depicting a harsh world where power is all that matters. If all the good men are dead then who is there to be shocked by these acts? Am I left only with Daenerys to support? A woman I don't feel I know who burns her enemies alive? Do I want to watch a show which features mainly horrible people doing horrible things to one another?

As for the other plots - things in Yunkai felt very easy for Dany. While Jon Snow's betrayal of the Wildlings should have come as no surprise to anyone. I felt equal parts sorry and pity for Ygritte. She was willing to betray her people for Jon and then he left her. What happens next? She finds him, forgives him and then slits his throat?!

Best Moment: As soon as those doors were gently closed I began to feel sick with tension. I have to call it one of the most memorable and well executed sequences I've ever sat through.

Conclusion: So hard to score. I feel less than 75 wouldn't convey the skill with which the story was told but any more would betray the unease I feel.

George RR Martin makes me uneasy. I've commented before that it doesn't feel healthy to hear the word rape thrown around so often. To lose the Nights Watch and all the Stark men this season seems to leave us in a world inhabited only by sadistic or extreme people. As someone who studies history I am well aware of what people with power are capable of. But there is always a balance. I worry about the balance on this show.

We've seen such exquisite horror that I don't know if there's enough good left in the narrative to weigh down the other side of the scales.

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  • I will definitely post better comments on this in the near future. It deserves much more than what I am writing now. Television at it's best.

    You had asked the question, who could ultimately avenge the Starks. My thoughts went immediately to Jon Snow and Edmure Tully.

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Fluids, 19/03/2014 8:01pm (4 years ago)

  • I have recently just discovered your podcasts, and have enjoyed both this one and the Walking Dead podcast, and look forward to working through more of them!

    This was the most impacting fictional hour of television I have ever watched. Almost a week later I am still reeling. Normally I rewatch the episode a few times during the week, but I have not been able to rewatch this one yet. It was so beautifully shot, the acting supurb, and so very important to the story. But I am a little scared to continue watching and eventually read the book, because you just never know what line he will push in the telling of the story. I will continue, but I'll be watching warily. I worry about my favorite character, Arya.

    Thank you for your podcast, it's wonderful.

    Viewer score: 80 / 100

    Posted by Melissa, 07/06/2013 1:46pm (4 years ago)

  • Hi Robin, after watching the episode last night I, like you, feel really depressed! Call me macabre, but I can't get the image of the pregnant belly stabbing out of my head.This is powerful stuff, and the narrative must be true to the books. Has George RR Martin always written the screenplay? I only noticed his name on the opening credits this season. I agree that the tone needs to lighten up to keep viewers engaged and able to identify with the characters. I know the story's about a war, but with such a visceral show, it's now unnecessarily painful and uncomfortable to watch. Maybe the books leave more to the imagination? I'll have to read them and compare. A friend who has read the series warned me it was going to get worse before it gets better!

    Viewer score: 80 / 100

    Posted by Sarah Bryant, 05/06/2013 10:10am (4 years ago)

  • Hello Robin and Roberto;
    As a fellow book reader I am sure Roberto will agree with me that this was one of the most anticipated events in the entire book series. Even with the knowledge of what was to come, I was prone on the edge of my seat the entire time. The actual events in the tv played differently than in the books, but no less effectively. It was painful to watch, but I couldn’t look away for a moment. It’s no wonder that I didn’t sleep well on Sunday night. It has been interesting seeing the reaction of tv viewers to the “Red wedding”. You guys should be glad that you witnessed this with millions of other viewers. Imagine how I and Roberto felt reading this alone in our own little worlds. I remember cursing out aloud and reading that chapter two times over just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Even after I finished I had no one to talk to about it, except just mournfully go about my day. Guys just be glad you have the podcast to vent to.
    My score for this was an 85 just because of the emotion it drew out from me.
    Now we get to the core of what makes this series so brutal. Like Robin asked, who in this world can we look to for justice? Which large force will stop the evil of the Lannisters? Darny is still too far removed from the events of Westoros and everyone else is just too young or powerful enough. Obviously this game is meant to be a long one, but I have to ask if all this can be successfully brought home. This series was originally supposed to be a trilogy, then was expanded to a 5part series, now it’s a seven part series. I refused to keep reading the series until the last book has been published and I do hope he finishes it soon.
    With it’s ever expanding cast of characters and scope I have always been worried about the conclusion of this epic. But what can be satisfactory at this point? No amount of Stark triumph can wash away the blood that has been shed. For this world, even the bright days wont shine as brightly anymore.
    Thanks for the forum
    Kayode

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 05/06/2013 5:37am (4 years ago)

  • Hi Robin, that's fine if you left out my response to Silvannus in the podcast. I imagine you probably have many voice mails alone to sort through since this will be the most talked about episode this season. LOL. Regarding Silvannus post, I don't think there's any spoilers in Silvannus' post. From what I gathered, it's a lot of guesses and what ifs scenarios from Silvannus. So anyone thinking they got spoiled, it's safe to say you guys weren't.

    Posted by Dave, 05/06/2013 2:12am (4 years ago)

  • What a gut punch of an episode. The clues were all there too. It looks like Ayra has more names to add to her hit list and I can't wait her to start extinguishing those lives.

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Dave Lopez, 04/06/2013 11:56pm (4 years ago)

  • Silvannus - Your comments sound so certain that I assume they contain book spoilers. I'm not saying you did this intentionally but I'm not going to include them in the podcast on those grounds.

    Sorry to have to cut. Ditto Dave, your response will be left out even though you made excellent points. Apologies if I am overreacting.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 04/06/2013 10:38pm (4 years ago)

  • As if my Sunday wasn’t bad enough.

    If we’re going to have a scale that goes to 100, then there must be some theoretical show which can actually earn a 100. Had the Dany scene been omitted, this may have been a contender. Taken by itself, “The Red Wedding” earns a 100. Any show that can make me lose my appetite, sit in silence at a blank TV screen and prevent me from getting a good night’s sleep is worthy of this consideration.

    While I didn’t dislike the Dany scene, it seemed out of place, being a bit more traditional in that our “heroes” win the day, seemingly effortlessly (and without dragons) and against seemingly impossible odds. But at least we had something easy in this episode. Poor Jorah, though, fought valiantly – still won’t get the girl. But the scene in general gave us some levity.

    Speaking of levity, it is ironic that in what will be one of the most iconic and brutal episodes in this show’s history, that there was actually a decent amount of comedy. The wink and a nod between Walder Frey and Robb upon the unveiling of Edmund’s bride was – at least at that specific time – pretty funny. Arya even gave us some slapstick with the knocking out of the trader.

    But here’s what I’ve learned from this episode:

    1) No matter how close you are – you’re nowhere near enough. It would be nice – just for once – to have some people meet up again. It would have been nice if Jon, Bran and Rickon could have had a reunion – even if it were brief. And I suppose it was to Arya’s extreme benefit that she didn’t quite make it. It makes me wonder if anyone will ever actually get to where they’re going to. Will Jamie ever actually get to King’s Landing? Will Dany ever actually get to Westeros? Melisandre did return to Dragonstone, so I guess that’s something.

    2) Great acting needs no dialogue. Some of my favorite moments from this episode: the look on Dany’s face when she finally sees Daario after the sacking of Yunkai, the look of sadness/betrayal/disbelief/fear on Ygritte’s face as she watches Jon ride away, the aforementioned look that Frey gives to Robb as if to say, “hey buddy – you didn’t know I had a hot one, eh?”, and of course, most brilliantly, the many looks on Catelyn’s face as she realizes the impending doom. I’m not sure I’ve ever been haunted by 5 seconds of television more than at the moment the doors close and the musician-assassins begin playing “The Rains…” and knowing everything I need to know by simply looking at Catelyn’s face. I’ll say it again: haunting.

    3) The Starks are not ruthless enough for this world. The Lannisters are – and without any doubt – Tywin Lannister is at the top of the leaderboard of the Game of Thrones.

    4) Sam is a wizard! (he just might be)

    Viewer score: 90 / 100

    Posted by Jeff, 04/06/2013 8:17pm (4 years ago)

  • silvannus, I was to disagree that both Bolton and Frey are fools to side with the Lannisters. Don't get me wrong, both of them are back stabbing bastards, but this move wasn't foolish. Robb multiple mistakes sadly lead to not only his demise but to Catelyn, Talisa and his army. His mistakes like breaking his oath to Walder Frey who himself is known to be pretty a shady character even before we get to see him, beheading Lord Karstark that caused him to lose a good amount of forces and sending Theon to the Iron Island that caused him to lose the North. While the Lannisters allied themselves a major house like the Tyrells. It's also has to be said that Robb admitted to Catelyn he missed an opportunity to ally with the Tyrells when he refused to exchange Jaime for Sansa earlier on. Lord Bolton and Frey knew that fighting with the Starks is a lost cause. So in their eyes it was the smartest thing to do to ally with the Lannisters. Yes, the RW was a horrible act, but for them, it's better than to die honorably by the swords of the Lannisters. Robb's death runs parallel with Ned. Both died because both made horrible mistakes and both stubbornly choose to keep their honor when it wasn't the smartest thing to do.

    Good point about the Boltons, the remaining people not killed by the Iron Men and not counting Boltons own men, won't take kindly to Lord Bolton's betray. Though it's not like the Boltons will be alone in the North. The Karstark's army who abandon the Starks earlier won't mourn Robb's death anytime soon, so I can see themselves side with the Boltons.

    As for Tywin, I won't get much about him until next week. I really hope that next episode will have the scene when Tywin hears the news of the outcome of the RW like in the books. All i have to say, it made me look at Tywin in a totally different way and that's all I have to say.

    Posted by Dave, 04/06/2013 4:20pm (4 years ago)

  • Both Bolton and Frey are fools manipulated by the Ruthless Tywin Lannnister. They have taken public blame for an act that "benefits" only Tywin. I suspect that Frey betrayed the Starks for Harranhal. Harranhal may have once been an impregnable fortress, but its not any more and its placement in the middle of the country strategically isolates him (who, in any case, would ever make common cause with him against the Lannisters? If Tywin ever decides to destroy him, he is a sitting duck with no allies: no one will ever make a treaty with him again after what he has done.). You must be a great fool to place yourself at Tywin Lannister's mercy, especially having seen what he has seen. And Bolton, having massacred the Northern army, is going to have to go back and live among their families? How stupid does one man need to be? How long does he really expect to live? Of course, if the Northerners kill Bolton, all the better -- for Tywin. Tywin believes he has the key to the North (Sansa Stark) in his pocket. When the Bolton's are dead he'll send in the rightful heir who he married off to his own son). But the fly in the oatmeal is that he is unaware of Rickon (just as in a pervious episode he was unaware (when Joeffery asked) that Dany is a rising threat) and Rickon's claim to the North is prior to Sansa's. If Rickon becomes king in the North, it will takes dragons to unseat him (Do you think Dany will loan Tywin one?). All this leads me to suspect Tywin as a minor-league Machiavelli who doesn't see others clearly. In the first episode this season he told Tyrion that all he possessed was "low cunning." The Red wedding is an example of low cunning if one ever was. Moreover, I was really unimpressed with the fact that he left Sansa hanging out there until various factions starting competing to steal her away like so much low hanging fruit. If he's so smart why didn't he pocket her immediately? He also told Circe that he didn't trust her because she is not so smart as she thinks she is. On those grounds, he should not trust himself. If Joeffrey's killing Ned Stark was stupid, I suspect the Red wedding will go down as triple stupid.
    My reason for saying has to do with the counter story juxtaposed with the Red Wedding, the sack of Yunkai. One of my favorite scenes was the council of war when Dany and her generals were arguing strategy. Jorah and Daario could not agree so Dany turned to Grey Worm and asked his opinion. He looked at her like a duck who had been hit on the head: no one ever asked his opinion before. When he gives it to her, she takes it as the deciding vote. And then after the trio overpower the guards they are surrounded by the slave army who knew Dany's intent (there were slaves attending the Yunkish diplomat who, no doubt, spread the word that if they made common cause with Dany against their slave masters they would be set free). As the Tyrells demonstrate so shrewdly there is a value to PR, to making the ruled think their interests line up with their ruler's. Royal Weddings are expensive, as Lady Olenna points out, but cheaper than revolutions. The Lannisters have created a situation where everyone else is their enemy (didn't Cercei explicitly tell Joeffrey that way back in season 1?). How do you fight every one else? While I have no idea how this shakes out, I suspect the Red Wedding will mean doom for the Lannisters and not for the Starks.

    Viewer score: 80 / 100

    Posted by silvannus, 04/06/2013 7:13am (4 years ago)

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