Every week in the Game of Thrones TV Club, Rachael Larimore will IM with a different fan of the show about the goings-on in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea. This week she discusses “The Rains of Castamere” with Slate senior editor Dan Kois.
Rachael Larimore: Dan, welcome. I would offer you some bread and salt as a sign of my hospitality and protection, but that tradition has been a little sullied. This was perhaps the most dreaded/anticipated episode of Game of Thrones ever. Did it live up to your expectations?
Dan Kois: It was a nice night for a Red Wedding, all right. The best part of tonight's episode was watching it sitting next to my wife, who has never read the books.
Larimore: I make a point of not spoiling these things for my husband, who also has not read the books, but I think in hindsight he would have maybe appreciated a heads up that trouble was afoot. He was, as you can imagine, shocked and horrified.
Kois: Way more than the death of Ned Stark, the Red Wedding was the moment in reading the Game of Thrones books in which I thought, well, shit, I guess he'll do ANYTHING. I think for my wife and your husband, this serves the same purpose for the show.
Larimore: I can relate to that, because I still had my maidenhead, if you will, during Season 1, and I spent the entire episode of Ned's beheading wondering how exactly he was going to escape. But that did inspire me to read the books. By the time I read the Red Wedding scene in the book, I had been spoiled on the basics, and yet, I was so disturbed that I had to put the book down and would not pick it back up for about a week. I was dreading the episode quite a bit. In your mind, did the show pay the proper respect to the source material?
Kois: Not quite. The Red Wedding episode captured the shock of the moment but not its horror.
Larimore: I agree. I think they were trying to capture the shock so much that they left out the buildup that would have given us the horror. Fans of "Book Catelyn" complain loudly about the way that "Show Catelyn" has been handled, and this is more fodder for that argument. Book Cat was seemingly paranoid about the bread and salt that symbolized the guest right, and she was suspicious the entire time that they were at the Twins.
Kois: Right, so in the book the whole sequence is one of slowly dawning awfulness. It just gets worse and worse, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Here a trap door swings open and everyone falls, and it's scary and surprising, but there's nothing I'll remember about the televised scene the way I'll never forget the feeling of that cold knife drawing across Cat's neck in the book.
Larimore: In the book, every detail was telling and led up to the madness. The way the music was played poorly seemed just odd, or maybe Frey being cheap, but in the end, it's because the "musicians" were actually in on the massacre. And in this episode there was just a little too much poignancy leading up to it all. Cat and Talisa (who—spoiler alert—in the book is not only a different person but not at the wedding, at Cat's insistence) are warming to each other, Robb and Talisa are being playful. I don't know if there would have been a better way for them to put us in Cat's head as we are in the book, but it would have made it more powerful. The book's execution of this scene was masterful, and it would have been hard for the show to live up to it, but I was hoping for a bit more. (Sidebar complaint: The CGI on the deaths of Frey’s wife and Cat was really bad, I thought.)
Kois: Yes, this was a case where some Sam Raimi–style practical effects would have been far superior to whatever crap it was they used for those scenes. But still, I think it serves as an appropriate cap to this season, which was all about how the Lannister/Stark war is getting somewhat irrelevant to the actual fate of Westeros. (However, props to the show's writers for duping my wife so badly, as when the Hound and Arya rode up to the Twins, she said, "I really hope there's gonna be a reunion—I need something good to happen.")
Larimore: Yes, there is much else going on in Westeros besides the Lannisters and the Starks. Even if the wedding was not quite as horrifying as we hoped (that’s a strange sentence to write), I was surprised—and sort of impressed—that so much other important material was packed into this episode.
Kois: I know it goes against everything that Game of Thrones the show does well, but I sort of wish the producers had dispensed with all the other characters in "The Rains of Castermere" and just given us a bottle episode. I think that spending the whole episode in this wedding as it got worse and worse would've really blown people's minds—and I also think this show would benefit from a little formal experimentation now and then. Did we really need to see, say, Sam and Gilly tonight?
Larimore: I wondered—briefly—beforehand if they might try this. But even breaking this book into two seasons doesn’t allow for every story to be told from the books, so I would have been shocked. Too much ground to cover! Elsewhere tonight, Danerys sets about sacking Yunkai, Jon Snow breaks from the wildlings, and Bran wargs into Hodor. But that scene with the Hound and Arya that you mention was lovely. They can read each other very well. The Hound might never admit it, but I think he knows that Arya will never stop trying to kill him.
Kois: Once you're on the list, you never get off! That Hound/Arya unwilling partnership really rivals Jaime and Brienne's for the most unexpected delights of this season. Watching how angry the Hound gets when Arya forces him to acknowledge his humanity—and how sad he gets when she still treats him as a monster—is really compelling.
Larimore: And both of those traits are on display at the Twins. His humanity, of course, because he saves her at all. There is no one left to pay him ransom for her, so he easily could have left her behind. And while it might have been necessary to knock her out so that she didn't cause a scene and draw attention to them, well, he was pretty cavalier about it. ... All in all, it was a pretty dangerous episode to be Ned Stark's child. Jon Snow can't bring himself to kill the old horse breeder and gives himself away as a crow, and so the wildlings turn on him. Luckily, his brother Bran just happens to be nearby, and he's just learned that he can warg himself into something willingly so he jumps into his direwolf to make the wildlings go away (not realizing until later that he was helping Jon Snow). Now, while some viewers might dismiss this as just too much coincidence, I was glad it played out as it did, because this instances of people bumping—or nearly bumping—into each other happens in the books but it's been hard to portray that in the show.
Kois: I do want these near-misses to be more maddening, though. The fact that Bran almost gets to see Jon Snow, or that Arya almost gets to see her mom, should feel totally crushing. We're witnessing the destruction of one of the great families of Westeros but the show has diluted my feelings toward the Starks somewhat, I must say. Speaking of crushing, how about ol' Jorah Mormont's face when he realized his khaleesi only has eyes for Faabio LongHairis?
Larimore: Oh, Jorah, that dirty old man. I don't dislike him, but you can hardly blame Dany for wanting someone who's closer to her age (and with whom she can share hair-care tips).
Kois: Aw, I feel bad for Jorah! He's just a past-his-prime slavemonger looking for somebody to love him. Preferably a hot Khaleesi half his age.
Larimore: It seemed to me that, even though the sacking of Yunkai is important, the show was more interested in setting us up for something bigger with Dany—and her dragons maybe—next week. And in teaching Jorah that Dany needs more help than a past-his-prime slavemonger can provide, if she wants to take back her throne.
Kois: Well, hard lessons all around. But in the end no one is gonna remember this other stuff. This was the Red Wedding episode. EW has a nice interview with George R.R. Martin, who talks a little about the totally gruesome historical precedents for this scene. I'm sad the black bull's head didn't make it in! Instead as a harbinger of death we had Roose Bolton's chain mail. I think in the end the Red Wedding hewed more fans to the books than it drove away. I bet this episode will be the same. Now that you've seen THIS, Jesus, why would you ever stop watching? Don't you want to know what kind of crap they'll pull next?!
Larimore: You might be right. And the show does know how to liven up a wedding. Maybe we can repurpose those gifts we got for Edmure and Roslin Frey for the next round of nuptials, whenever that might be.
Kois: OK! I'm RSVPing now. And it's late and I'm turning in. A wedding needs a bedding, and so do I.
Editor’s note: Please remember to keep the comments a spoiler-free zone. Do not discuss specific future happenings from the Song of Ice and Fire books for the sake of Slate readers who are familiar only with the show. (Obviously, you can talk about the book depiction of the Red Wedding.) Violators will be betrothed to a Frey daughter or granddaughter.