“I’ll find another.”
With that one sentence it became clear that there was no way out, no last minute rescue, no reprieve. Sure, there’s been precedent for this with Ned Stark but at least he went out with a clean stroke of the sword. The red wedding, though? No. Here we see a horrible, ugly, mass murder. Totally unfair, disgustingly brutal, and like a knife through the heart.
And that was just how it felt reading the book.
Here, the aptly named red wedding, the deaths of Robb and Catelyn Stark, along with all of Robb’s bannermen, is somehow even more emotional because we see it play out on the screen. We can’t try and soften an image in our head because it’s all right here on our TV.
It’s that last moment that is the true killer. We see Catelyn’s grief as she stands with her knife against Walder Frey’s wife’s neck. Her face is pale and twisted. She’s lost so much that the thought of losing anything more is simply unbearable, unbearable enough that she’ll kill an innocent. And she does just that when Walder Frey tells her, “I’ll find another.”
When she slits the girl’s throat, drops her body, and just stands there in shock, gazing out at her dead son and all his bannermen? That right there is one of the most disturbing images I’ve seen on TV and I’ll be remembering it for some time.
Then one of the Frey men comes up behind her and slices her neck open.
We get silent credits after this but I don’t think it makes much of a difference because no viewer would be able to process anything after that scene. As a book reader I’ve known this was coming since the first time Robb Stark popped up on the screen and I’ve been awaiting it since the initial episode. With that much excitement it seems almost impossible that the red wedding sequence could deliver.
I can say that not only did it deliver but it did an even better job than I thought it could. My stomach twisted into a knot (and I was already pretty anxious since I knew the moment was coming in this episode) when the Frey man closed the door and the Rains of Castamere started playing. Once Walder Frey lifted his hand I froze up and then felt a wave of emotions hit me as everything happened. I was excited, scared, depressed, angry, and shocked. The emotion of the scene went beyond making me cry (I teared up when Rickon left Bran earlier on so admittedly it doesn’t take much for a show to moisten my eyes) because it was so harrowing. I was more in shock than anything else. Still am, a little. Normally when I write these recaps I don’t recap so much as talk about a specific idea that flows throughout the show and why I think it’s important. Tonight I can just barely catch my breath.
Okay, let’s take a step back here. I need to breathe. Let’s talk about Robb as he was before tonight. The show has made Robb a more central character than he was in the books as he didn’t have a point of view chapter; we only saw him through the eyes of Catelyn Stark. While he had characterization in the book, all of Martin’s characters do, the show tried to branch out and make him more pivotal. Did it succeed? To an extent, yes, but Robb was never that interesting of a character in the books because he was just trying to mimic his father, a character much more interesting than himself. I don’t know that he escapes that in the show. Actor Richard Madden gave Robb a likeable feel which is important because we see Robb making some stupid decisions and still have to be engaged with him when he dies. If we shrug and go, “Well, he’s an idiot who deserved it for being such dumbass” then the show hasn’t done its job.
On the other hand, with so many other characters around, I can’t say that I’m upset we won’t be spending more time with Robb. For me, this was by far the best Robb moment in the books and the same is true of the TV show. I was incredibly upset when his death happened but at the same time I didn’t find him so engaging that I’m pining for more of him.
Catelyn Stark is another matter. Catelyn was one of my favorite characters in the book and Michelle Fairley has done a great job with her. Tonight, though, boy, she hit it right out of the park. I mentioned Catelyn’s facial expressions above but I need to take a moment and give Michelle Fairley credit, and a ton of it, for her acting in the last fifteen minutes of the episode because half of the sequence’s emotional impact was due solely to the various looks on her face.
So I could say that Game of Thrones likes to show the effects of war and I could say that this theme has been present all season but fuck it, guys. The Starks just got slaughtered.
I need a drink.
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.