Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Raining Blood

Oh, well. There you go. Game of Thrones: Episode IX: The Rains of Castemere has aired, and everybody interested in the series has of course watched it already (and many have probably re-watched it already). Winter is Coming has collected a number of recaps/reviews here, and have set up threads for both non-readers and readers alike; I've been through them to gauge the general reaction and it seems to me that the episode is a hit. But what strikes me the most is just how many fans seem relieved somehow, as if the cat's out of the bag, and now they can finally talk about the anticipated scene of the Red Wedding without fear of spoiling anything.
It is a powerful scene, both in the novel and in the show. I prefer the book, of course. I will never forget the day I read this scene for the first time and consequently threw the book across the room - I physically reacted - like so many others have done upon reaching this particular scene. I love stories with betrayals so it hit me in the right way, but over the last couple of years I have also come to realize that the Red Wedding essentially marks the beginning of the decline of quality in the story. Before the Red Wedding, it is all fairly coherent, mostly through the Lannister-Stark conflict which runs through the three first books; with the slaughter of Robb and Catelyn, that conflict is essentially ended and the books become even more sprawling, with the 'core' gone, and Martin continues to heap new characters on the reader and not really killing off enough for balance. Sometimes I wish that, after the Red Wedding, the story would go in a somewhat different way, with Daenerys coming to Westeros in the aftermath and the remaining Stark kids getting into action. Instead, the story begins to drift.
I used to feel that the turning point in the story's cohesive quality was the death of a certain privy-visiting lord  of the west, but I've come around to think that the Red Wedding is actually the point at which narrative control seems to slip. Granted, there are still interesting chapters in A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons and the remainder of A Storm of Swords, but from here on, the story loses its focus, and with the advent of a host of minor POV characters (Arianne Martell, a score of Greyjoys)...Now, don't get me wrong. I love the fact that Robb and Catelyn are betrayed because it is just a gut-wrenching turning point, and it feels so properly medieval and all that; I just wish the story could be kept cohesive somehow; I admit, though, that it seems that Martin is pulling together the story again somewhat through A Dance with Dragons, reminding us continually that the North Remembers...

Anyway, I have some faith in the TV show managing to keep the story more cohesive than the books, it will be interesting to follow (also, the Cersei chapters from A Feast for Crows could be interesting on the screen; hopefully they'll scrap the Maggy backstory as it is totally unnecessary in my opinion).

This week's episode, then. Like other readers I came to the episode with some foreboding, some excitement and a lot of curiosity. How would they pull it off? Will it be as devastating as in the books? Lots of questions I wanted to have answered, and answers I got. All the other scenes in the episode became somehow a little less interesting to me as I was continually looking for the 'signs' building up to Edmure Tully's wedding. The other scenes become overshadowed by this event, and no wonder, for what an event it is! Completely turning the tables, even if well foreshadowed, its the greatest literary shocker I know of, and seeing it come to life (er...) was fabulous. And mostly, they nailed it. The atmosphere, the props, the acting, the words said...it was all very very good. A minor quibble from me would be Roose Bolton, who just doesn't convince me, and I still feel he needed a little more screen time before the scene; perhaps a scene where he arrives and Robb greets him and says something like, "Lord Bolton, my only remaining loyal bannerman," now that would a) add to the devastating betrayal later and b) remind the audience who this guy is (Lady Slynt, at least, is still unsure about his role in this - but I suspect there will be some clearing up in the next episode).

See? The Red Wedding just takes over my thoughts; I wanted to start out writing about the episode but was really writing about the last scenes. So let's review the episode scene by scene.

Scene 1: Robb and Catelyn at the table of war pieces (looks like they are playing a good-looking board game). Kind of a weak scene to open the episode with, though it obviously functions as a "book-end" (the episode begins and ends with these two); Robb admitting that he should have listened to Catelyn is a nice touch, and their acting is great; also note the lighting; dark and ominous. And look at all those Lannister lions! I wish we could have some glimpses of the great armies marching across Westeros to remind us there is war. The war has kind of been lost in all the character interactions and events going on. A few scenes with Ser Gregor Clegane butchering about would have been nice. I like Cat's line, "Show them what it feels like to lose someone they love," but I'm not entirely sure who she's talking about. The Lannisters? Is there anyone in Casterly Rock to love? They are all in King's Landing.

Scene 2: The northerners arrive at the Twins. Well that was quick! I was hoping for that beautiful and foreboding scene where Catelyn visits some ancient tomb. Guess that wasn't a very necessary scene of course. I do like that we get a glimpse of Grey Wind, I wish we could have him growl at some Freys.

Scene 3: Salt and bread. As the rest of the Internet has already said, the point of guest right doesn't come across clearly enough for non-readers, but this may be explored further in the next episode. I wish they had given this concept more time, as it adds to the betrayal. Walder Frey is well acted and I love his lines and voice, and the interaction with Robb and Talisa is good stuff. And they even added a Heh. I love Walder's hehs. Always have. And I love that they keep the character roughly as he is in the book - I had to laugh when one of his daughters correct him when he names her, and he's like, "Fine." Talisa has that look in her face that makes me feel sorry for her; she knows she's the cause of all this trouble yet there's nothing she can do. Walder is his usual crude rude self to her. Also seems that Walder realizes that Talisa is pregnant (which is confirmed in the last scene of the episode, somewhat brutally). Ah, what a gloriously dirty bastard Walder Frey is. Great acting. "The wine will flow red, and the music will play loud, and we'll put this mess behind us." Nuff said, eh, Walder. Heh.

Scene 4: Daenerys and her many men. After ruling the season, Daenerys' story falls a little flat here; I don't know why, but it could be some fatigue creeping in; she's basically repeating what she's already done this season (take a city, free the slaves), only now with two more new characters to assist her, Daario and Grey Worm. Also, I feel sorry for Dany for not having awesome pieces to put on her map. Dany, Daario, Jorah, Grey Worm and Selmy discuss an attack through a secret gate, but the scene is mostly to set up some rivalry between Ser Jorah and Daario (or so it feels to me). Gotta love that lingering look between Dany and Daario; it is so very obvious that she's infatuated with him, much to Jorah's detriment.

Scene 5: Sam and Gilly. They reach the Wall, love the shot of the Wall through the trees, and I think it's a good choice to have Gilly think of Sam as a "wizard"; it's actually a nice moment, perhaps the nicest, in the episode. Finally someone gets some recognition. If there's one thing I find lacking in these scenes from beyond the Wall, it's real snow. Nice music though! Suits an epic seven-hundred feet wall of ice. And people are smiling!

Scene 6: Arya and the Hound. Well, wipe off those smiles. Not a scene from the books, but it serves to set up the Arya/Hound relationship. I love how tough Arya is, and she shows that she's not afraid of Sandor anymore. "You are very kind," Sandor tells Arya, "someday it'll get you killed." Do the writers know something we don't? Or just a random throwaway phrase?

Scene 7: Bran & company. Some exposition on wildlings which is kind of funny with Osha's looks; "there's a storm coming"; Hodor gets afraid, lots of subtle details in this scene. Short, but fulfilling.

Scene 8: The Wildlings Attack. Having read the books, I felt that Jon's chapters just took an endless amount of time; I so wanted him to get on with it, and here in the show, clap! He's beginning to show his true (black) colors. Love the imagery of the wildlings running, weapons in their hands, toward the cabin, pretty cool. Exciting, even. Where is Mance, though? And why couldn't we have more? Seriously why don't they split the book in three seasons so we could get all the character interactions and nuances?

Scene 9: Arya/Hound. They have arrived at the Twins, beautiful mournful music supporting Arya's feelings; she's finally close to her family. Good lines from Sandor, which show that he does, after all, have some humanity. I'd love to see the scene where they cross the swollen ford, but again, it's an unnecessary scene for the TV show. Arya tells the Hound that one day she'll kill him - and again I am wondering if the writers know something I don't. And I know they know something I don't, but do they know that Arya will one day kill Sandor?

Scene 10: Bran & company/Jon & company. Inside the mill, raining and thundering outside, very nice scene. Love how they mix together the scene with Jon and the wildlings arriving outside, so that for a moment we have two (well three) Starks in close proximity, interacting but not really interacting, a very interesting and exciting scene with Orell hearing Hodor shouting, "No more hodoring!" is a great line. Bran going into warg-mode is also a good choice, I was cheering when I saw Shaggydog and Summer lusking about, but where is Ghost??!

Jon shows he's still a man of the Night's Watch, which may come as a relief to the non-readers; I like Tormund's moment of indecision before saying "Kill him", the action here is great, there's something about sword fights in rain. Tense moments, perhaps my favorite scene of the episode. The eagle clawing at Jon's face was nice, it had Lady Slynt going, "Nooo!" Muhahaha. The mud, the blood, the rain, the tension! Great scene, vividly portrayed. I like it better than the Red Wedding because the wedding is just so damned gut-wrenching.

Scene 11: The Three Musketeers. I didn't care much for this scene, I don't know why. I found the setup somewhat lacking; the fight feels a little bit too different from what we've seen so far, this is more in Conan-territory methinks. Fun to watch, of course, but ultimately it didn't give me much, maybe because it doesn't feel as if anything really is at stake. Daario, Grey Worm, Jorah...they seem too invulnerable kind of; heroic, if you want. "That's what you call a few guards." I'm almost thinking of Indiana Jones-style adventure here.

Scene 12: The Red Wedding I. An emotionally taxing scene even for me as a book reader of some ten times. They spend just the right amount of time on it, they spice it up with a few funny shots even (Brynden Tully's look when he realizes he's being checked out); Edmure's look when he sees Roslin's face is simply priceless. Great acting and for a moment I can forget that EDMURE DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THAT AT ALL.!!11398r384 And how sweet isn't Roslin? She's the swan among the ugly ducklings, I'd say; however, I thought her line, you know, "Lord Edmure, I hope I am not a disappointment to you" is unnecessary. The look on Edmure's face, and the wondrous (and hopeful and uplifting, but still somewhat sad-sounding) music really adds to the scene, very nicely done I have to say. It could have had more impact if we got to know the Tullys earlier in the show, but they still manage to give the scene life and emotion with what little character investment we have. As for the unnecessary line, I just feel that it's whacking the audience over the head, we can clearly see that Edmure is pleased, but she hasn't proven her skills neither here nor there yet, nor displayed her personality so what she's basically asking is "Do I look good enough for you?" and I find that, if not offensive, at least that it kind of degrades Edmure (and men). Now I'm not saying that a mighty pretty face can be enough to make a man fall in love at first sight, and.. Ack I don't even know where I'm going with this. On with the wedding.

I do like Walder's look to Robb, however: It's as if he's saying, "See? That's what you're missing because you betrayed my trust." And it works on two levels; it gives us a false sense of Walder not being such a bad man after all but still wanting to rub it in (the slight on his House), but it could also arouse our suspicions as we wouldn't expect Walder to marry off the one spectacular daughter he has (and now I'm degrading the Frey daughters en masse). I love how they let the actual wedding ceremony play out, with Edmure and Roslin saying the words.

Scene 13: Bran & co. Bran decides to split the party (you should never split the party!); Bran confirms to have seen Jon Snow through Summer's eyes; Osha is taking Rickon to Last Hearth where the Umbers, bannermen of the Starks, reside. It's a lovely, emotional scene, with great acting from the children, and if I had been more invested in Rickon I'd probably shed a tear, maybe. So...when will we see these two again, you ask? Earlier than in the books? And what's that about Osha saying about Rickon, "He'll learn to walk in darkness"? I am intrigued! But I can't be bothered to speculate, knowing that we won't see them again - in the books so far.

Scene 14: Dany & Selmy. "How long does it take to sack a city?" What kind of stoopid question is that, Dany? You sacked a city only a few episodes ago. Love Jorah's look when she asks for Daario, at first I thought it felt out of place but then I realized he gives her that look not because they are trying to have the audience guess whether Daario is dead or not, but because he realizes Daenerys is falling in love with the guy, which he obviously doesn't like. At least, that's how I choose to view the scene, otherwise it feels silly. It worked when Roose Bolton did the same trick to Jaime Lannister, because Roose is a sick bastard and did it on purpose. Jorah pausing dramatically doesn't work unless he reacts emotionally. So there. Daario appears, and the city is hers. So the sacking of Yunkai was three guys fighting off everything - that's how the show portrays it - more in line with Rush Hour. I wouldn't mind a few shots of Dany's army of Unsullied and Second Sons fighting through the streets of the city to give a better impression of what's been going on.

Scene 15: The Red Wedding II. The scene opens with the musicians on the balcony, and for anyone who understands the true meaning of Frey hospitality, it's a fantastic way to start off the scene, isn't it? Instantly recognizable, and I have to say they nailed the look of the musicians and the gallery, it's about how I imagined it (only I imagined the gallery to extend along both long walls, can't remember how it's described in the book). Even though the music at first is festive and people are talking and laughing, the decision to keep everything inside Frey's castle darkened gives me the feeling that something is going to go wrong (now, maybe I wouldn't have felt this if I hadn't read the book, I don't know, but to me it feels as if the use of lighting in this scene dampens the feelings of festivity kind of). And then the hints begin to drop; Roose Bolton doesn't drink; Roose has married a Frey daughter and got her weight in silver as dowry, an allusion to Judas who betrayed what's-his-name for silver; Catelyn realizing Roose is after wealth; Walder's creepy glances; that small moment between Robb and Talisa; all too soon, Walder calls out for the bedding; Edmure looking so happy, and note how he looks Roslin up and down while Walder speaks; I like how Talisa thinks this a coarse tradition (in contrast to Daenerys viewing the Dothraki wedding traditions - which were far more disgusting of course but still there's a contrast of views, are they trying to say something about cultural differences I don't know quit yapping).

Lame Lothar closes the door, and everywhere around the world fans of Ice & Fire braced themselves. And yet, and yet, they managed to shock me to the core by having Talisa stabbed in the belly so brutally I actually flinched and closed my eyes for a second there. Yeah, I'm getting soft. Age and all that. And having children, especially having children yourself - that really makes a difference when watching stuff like this. It's as if everything becomes a little too hard to bear.

Catelyn turning around to look up at the gallery as the Freys begin playing The Rains of Castemere is, in my opinion, a great decision. And then the scene switches to outside, with the Hound and Arya arriving, while the music drones on in the background; Arya realizing something's wrong, they really nailed this, didn't they? They couldn't come much closer in palpable atmosphere. I do miss the Umbers, though. I do miss all the small details from book. Catelyn discovering Roose's armor is there, though. Talisa's death really freaked me out. It's so sudden, so brutal and so the Red Wedding managed to shock me a second time. Well done, well done! Getting the chills.

Arya watching the northmen being slaughtered outside; the death of Grey Wind; what a culmination, what a tragedy! Giving us a little hope that Arya might rescue Grey Wind, that was naughty. The look on Arya's face, oh my. The last glimpse of Grey Wind closing his eyes. Sandor catching up with her and knocking her down and taking her away to haunting symphonic music. Catelyn crawling along the floor, lethally wounded, breathing raggedly; Robb crawling towards Talisa to the sound of people being stabbed. Walder chuckling as he says, "The King in the North arises..." Catelyn's last desperate pleading, oh my this is seriously captivating yet disgusting story-telling. Roose shows up to stab Robb to death, Catelyn's howl and slitting the throat of Walder's wife, then the silence as she just stands there and every book reader knows what is going on in her mind, and then she too gets her throat slit...and then credits, without music. Brilliant. Takes your breath away (at least Catelyn's).

How many sensitive viewers will call it quits? I don't know. How many will return to see how this tragedy affects the continuation of the story? Hopefully most. The without a doubt most fantastic, intricate and interesting part of Ice & Fire is over; but there is still much to be told. I think this episode, upon review, is a triumph in televised story-telling, and I don't feel I should be even allowed to complain about this or that niggle (I did, though). The episode makes me want to go right back into re-reading A Storm of Swords (which I sadly can't, at the moment). And I want to watch the preview for episode X, which I'm going to do right now.

Sounds like Tyrion will give us some needed exposition on bread and salt. Is that Roose standing atop the castle walls watching the Stark banners burn? Is Bran inside the Nightfort? Sure looks and sounds like it. Maybe he'll meet Sam and Gilly next week, then. Stannis decides to go north. Jaime returns to King's Landing, Sansa is sad (O'Really?!), Theon is in pains (you don't say), and hey! We are getting a scene with Asha Greyjoy, I've kind of missed her, I really like the actress though I can't explain properly why - and Pyp is back, too, I've missed him as well. And Daenerys lets her dragons go; I assume that will be toward the end of the episode. It looks like an episode that will pick up some of the scattered pieces, and prepare us for the fourth season. Can't believe season three is almost over. It has been a pretty interesting ride, with more goodness than awkwardness. I'd like to rewatch the entire monster from season one episode one, but where does one find thirty hours of free time to do such a thing?


  1. "but where is Ghost??!"
    Ghost is on the other side of the Wall

  2. Why mention Judah but avoid Christ?