the king in the north

This was the episode that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss set out to make when they took on the enormous task of bringing George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ novels to the small screen. The penultimate episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones changes everything. If there was any doubt that this saga wasn’t meant to change the expectations of sagas, The Red Wedding puts them to rest.

The 9th episode of Season 3 was called ‘The Rains of Castamere.’ The official background: House Reyne were a minor noble family of the Westerlands sworn to House Lannister. The story goes, House Reyne openly defied a young Tywin Lannister as the new Lord of Casterly Rock. Partly to overcompensate for his father’s weakness and partly to show that House Lannister does not suffer slights in any way, the young Lord destroyed the Reynes of Castamere root and stem. It is one thing to kill a Lord that feels some comfort knowing his sons and grandsons will carry the name of his father and grandfather. It is something else to destroy the entire family. A singer wrote the ballad about the downfall of the ancient House and it became a warning to other Lannister bannermen and Lannister enemies. How does this relate to season 3, episode 9 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones?” Before Catelyn fully realizes something is wrong, the musicians begin to play the song- the same song that Bronn led the Lannister men in singing at the tavern in Kings Landing before the battle against Stannis Baratheon, and the same song performed by The National over the closing credits of the same episode. (Season 2 Episode 9 “Blackwater”)

I consider myself an expert in both the novels and the television show. I also consider this episode to be the best of the television series thus far. The Red Wedding scene, the final scene that shows the violent death of 2 main characters, was so horrifically directed and shot that the images will stay with me for a long time. Though I knew what was coming, I was shocked. It doesn’t happen identically to The Red Wedding in the ‘Catelyn’ chapter of the book, but considering how far the show has deviated from the source material, I don’t think we will see a scene so dead on the rest of the way. The shock of Talysa being stabbed in the belly after telling Robb she wanted to name the child she is carrying Eddard is so sudden and so brutal. The look on Robb’s face is that of a King and a man that doesn’t even realize what is happening. The way Catelyn grabs Walder Frey’s young wife in the midst of the slaughter is true with her character reacting quickly in dire situations (like when the catspaw came to murder a comatose Bran and found her there). The smirk on Roose Bolton’s face as his plan came to fruition was priceless. The sinister way Walder Frey says ‘The King in the North rises,’ as Robb struggles to his feet after his wife dies in his arms is as evil as anything on television. The lighting and tone and spacing of the wedding, the eerie sense of unease and the growing anxiety suck the viewer in.

Consider this, the last 2 of 3 episodes were relatively boring, all things considered. They were plot development without much payoff. But this episode changes that. Bran wargs into Hodor and then into Summer to save Jon Snow from Wildings. Jon Snow has a swordfight (a stiff swordfight but I give it a pass) and kills Orel, who wargs into an eagle and attacks Jon Snow. Jorah, Grey Worm and Daario Naharis take on like thirty slave soldiers and slice some Yunkish ass, thus winning Daenarys the city. Arya finally gets to her mother. Edmure gets laid. Things are looking up the entire episode and it is hard to believe that something will go so terribly wrong for a fan favorite such as Robb.

When Eddard dies on the steps of Baelors Sept, it is a statement that nobody is safe in this world. Ned is the main protagonist for season 1 and book 1. And he gets his head chopped off! Holy shit, right?!? But his son picks up his sword- not literally as Ice is still at Kings Landing- and marches south to get revenge. Thus far, the series is about Stark versus Lannister… A complicated war that involves three other Kings. After the Red Wedding, the series becomes a saga about a realm in complete turmoil and how the pieces fall apart and come together. In fact, it turns out that Stark vs. Lannister was just the tip of the iceberg and not the main conflict of the narrative.

Book Robb is not a Point of View character. No Kings are Point of View characters. And book Robb makes mistake after mistake in the throne room while winning victory after victory in the field. It is easier to see this horrible turn of events coming in the book… especially on a re-read. (Maybe that’s why I thought the non-book readers saw it coming?) But the internet is proving that they didn’t. This episode will go down in television history. Nobody will ever forget The Red Wedding.

It is fascinating that so many book readers were looking forward to this episode more than any other. They were excited for it. Not because they wanted to see Robb Stark die but because this turning point in the story is so major and so shocking and every person that reads it wants to see it translated to the screen.

Now A Song of Ice and Fire really picks up. It opens up and new, more interesting characters get an opportunity to shine. Now, the North is in chaos. Now, the Lannisters must deal with having won The War of The Five Kings. Now, Arya must figure out what to do with her life. Now, Sansa realizes she truly is on her own. Now, Bran’s journey seems very important. Now, we actually give a shit about what Jon Snow is doing North of the Wall. Now, Stannis Baratheon becomes a true contender for the Throne.

Truth be told, I am not sure if Game of Thrones can work without Robb and Catelyn. It seems all of the non-readers were behind Robb. It makes sense as he is Ned’s firstborn and the King in the North. But he broke his oath. And he made a lot of mistakes. And his mother made a lot of mistakes. And they were actually carving out a bigger Kingdom in the Riverlands in the name of vengeance when they should have been taking care of The North. And  now they’re dead. And nothing will be the same. As far as non-readers believe, there is nobody that can kill that asshole Joffrey and his bitch of a mother.

The bad guys seem to have won. But by now, viewers and readers need to know that there are no good guys and there are no bad guys. This works in literature but not so much on television. The Sopranos” had no “good guys” but they had interesting and complex characters that were in the series for the long haul. Game of Thrones” has interesting characters also… but too many and they all die. So Benioff and Weiss have the challenge of keeping viewers invested in this story.

So next week, when record viewers watch the season finale, Tyrion and Daenarys and Jon Snow and Arya and Sansa and Jaime will all have time to shine. Hopefully viewers will realize that those characters are the reason they’ve been watching the entire time and that, although they have been rooting for King Robb because he is Ned’s son, Robb Stark’s campaign was doomed from the start. You can’t beat Tywin Lannister. And if you try, you end up dead.