Episode 9 - The Rains of Castamere
5 June 2013
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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