<<SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this review if you intend to watch this episode of Game of Thrones and have not yet done so.>>
In the penultimate episode of Season Two of Game of Thrones, HBO presented us with easily the best episode of that entire season, and in my opinion of either season to that point. With tonight’s episode, the penultimate one of the current, third season, they come close to doing so again. What with the resolution of two major plot lines (which, as is the nature of this story, actually open up several more possibilities), and the greater focus on fewer stories, tonight’s episode is the best of Season Three. It does not, however, quite live up to the high standards set by “Blackwater” last year.
Of course, those are some pretty large sails to fill. “Blackwater” provided writers and producers with the biggest set-piece battle of the books to that point, whereas the events in “The Rains of Castamere” are of a more intimate nature, with three major fights (well, two fights and one massacre) each involving fewer than one hundred participants, and no flaming oil being tossed about. And there is some important character development, something we haven’t seen much of this season outside of the Jayme/Brienne subplot. Interestingly, this was the second time running that they haven’t had any story arc, but they were the dominant story for several episodes earlier this year, so fair play and all. I was a lot more disappointed in the complete lack of Tyrion in this episode. He is without question my favorite character, both here and in the books, and I missed not having him around tonight.
There was one throwaway scene tonight, namely Sam and Gilly. While the last time they were seen, it was to place the nominal gun over the mantelpiece – we learned that Dragon Glass (obsidian) does something pretty nasty to White Walkers – tonight’s moment was simply to stare at the wall, and to mention that there are other ways through it that aren’t that widely known. Also, reading makes you a wizard, so I guess that’s good to know. We do get to visit Daenerys for a couple of brief scenes, but it’s mostly her standing around trusting men she barely knows, and then worrying about them. It’s a good thing she’s blonde, or the grey might start showing. The best action on that side of the world takes place when Darrio (the head of the Stromcrows, Daenerys’s new mercenary group and a prospective paramour), Ser Jorah (who would love nothing more than to be a prospective paramour), and Grey Worm (who makes Varys look overtly sexual) enter Yunkai, with the intention of opening the main gates to let in Daenerys’s Unsullied. They meet more resistance than they expect, but just as the fight is getting interesting, we leave them and head back to Westeros.
Here, we see a bit more of Jojen and Meera than we have in previous episodes, and Bran learns that he can briefly possess not only animal bodies, but humans as well – at least Hodor. He does so in a panic, as Wildlings have appeared below them. He possesses Summer to get him and Shaggydog to kill the Wildlings, only to enter into a fight between his half-brother Jon Snow and the rest of the group he’s been travelling with (they had appeared earlier in a scene which seems largely intended to show just how unsympathetic Mance Rayder’s men are, as they want to cut down an old horse breeder for his horses, and his silence). Bran uses Summer to protect Jon, who gets away, leaving Ygritte behind with Tormund, but only after gutting the always suspicious skinchanger Orell. We also get some character growth between The Hound and Arya. She convinces him not to kill a peddler, but shows she’s no pushover when she knocks him out without a second thought (the peddler, that is). They have a good talk about fear, and they finally arrive at the Twin Towers. Fortunately, they are a bit late for the wedding, and this is an opportunity to again see a different side of Clegane, as he prevents Arya from walking to her certain death – and his motivation for doing so is less clear than his earlier motivations, as there may no longer be anyone to pay a ransom.
The wedding. This is the event that fans of the books have been awaiting with a great deal of trepidation. Not only because this is probably the most uncomfortable moment so far in a series full of uncomfortable moments, but because, even more so than “Blackwater,” the wedding between Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey marks perhaps the decisive turning point thus far in the series (both in the books, and on the show). Spoken of, often in hushed and reverent tones, as “The Red Wedding,” the ceremony begins well enough, with the marriage of Edmure and Roslin providing a relative moment of peace in the turmoil the civil war has wrought. Despite some rather insulting comments Frey makes to Talisa, Robb appears to pass the test, and the marriage goes forward. During the ceremony, Walder and Robb even share a moment when Robb sees how beautiful Roslin is – Edmure is pleasantly surprised. The fireworks really come after the ceremony, and I don’t mean the bedding (although that is done with the sort of bawdy raucousness one might expect).
One of the Freys closes the hall doors, the band begins to play “The Rains of Castamere,” Catelyn notices that Roose Bolton is wearing chainmail under his shirt, and Old Walder Frey decides to gift his “King” for the betrayal of his word. He does this by having one of his men stab Talisa in her pregnant belly multiple times, while a group of crossbowmen cut down anyone trying to fight back. In the end, Catelyn holds Frey’s young wife at knifepoint, and demands that Robb be allowed to go. Roose Bolton, announcing his betrayal for Lannister gold to all the world, stabs the already injured Robb in the heart – he dies, falling across Talisa’s body. Catelyn cuts Lady Frey’s neck, and her neck is cut in turn. Fade to black, as “The Rains of Castamere” plays. The scene was played extremely well, and the combination of Catelyn’s extreme empathy in a moment of utter tragedy with Walder Frey’s utter contempt showed some of the best acting this season.
This episode, while not as sweeping in scale as last year’s “Blackwater,” still felt epic in nature, especially when compared to the hodgepodge of episodes so far this season. While a great deal of that has to do with the fact that so many stories are now being juggled, this episode’s focus was a welcome change, and a necessary one due to the heavy nature of the content. Tonight’s episode had no King’s Landing stories (no Tyrion, Tywin, Cersei, Sansa, Littlefinger, et al), no Stannis/Melisandra arc, nor did we see anything of the Brotherhood (Beric and Thoros). This allowed us to spend some good solid time with stories that, sadly, needed a great deal of attention tonight.
Steve’s Grade: A
Following in the footsteps of Seasons One and Two, a very strong penultimate episode to bring Game of Thrones to a climactic end to its season. One more episode to pick up the pieces, and count the bodies.