Monday, April 28, 2014

[Re-read] Catelyn VII: Yeah, it's *that* chapter


[Spoilers for everything, particularly everything you don't want to know if you haven't read this far]

It's that time of the week again - a new episode of Game of Thrones has aired, but just like last week I am avoiding all related Internet sites so that I can see it without having other people's thoughts about it running through my mind. I still don't know what to think about last week's entry, and I hope 4.4 Oathkeeper feels closer to the narrative of the books - though I know there have been warnings about a continued and increased divergence from the actual book the season is based on, which would be that lil' nice tome known as A Storm of Swords. I've come to Catelyn's seventh chapter (I wonder how coincidental it was that this chapter would be her seventh - I am sure a Septon would see it as a sure omen), the fifty-second in the book, and of course it's the infamous Red Wedding. What can be said about that wedding that hasn't been said a gazillion times before? I don't know, I'll give it a try. But before I start, here's some bread and salt for you. Go sit by the hearth-fire, to dry your soaked cloak. After all, it's been raining like never before or since in the history of fantasy literature.

"Frey Hospitality" © Fantasy Flight Games


Fourteen fricking years ago, and it's almost to the day as well, because I remember it was sunny springtime, and I was living in a dilapidated house somewhere in nowhere with a few other students. I was still a student back then, sigh. One of my roommates had recommended me the series earlier, and now I had come to the fifty-second chapter of A Storm of Swords. I had become deeply immersed in Martin's world. It was the first work I read in English. Before this, I had read The Lord of the Rings in Norwegian, and The Hobbit, and tried a few translated Dungeons & Dragons novels which I never finished. I remember I wasn't all that interested in tackling these books, but my buddy kept insisting I should, so I bought them, the original big Voyager UK hardcovers, and they still stand proudly on the shelf. By the time I reached this chapter, Martin had made me a voracious reader, and changed the way I ran my role-playing games. Gone were the goblins and throwing hammers of much smiting, replaced by devious characters, intrigue and murder, warfare and feudalism. With this chapter, he would further hammer home the fact that a few shocks here and there could really add to a story's tension (and only later have I learned to see how effectively he built up the Red Wedding; at the time, it did come as a hammer to the teeth).

So there I was, student who should be studying, curled up on the bed with this tome, and I was wondering what the heck was going on - re-reading sentences here and there to catch their meaning, and then, like so many others have done, I threw the book at the wall...only to pick it back up, to see if I got that correctly, and to see what the heck would happen now. Most of all, I felt a twinge of sadness for Arya Stark, who was so close by now, yet so far away. Just a twinge, folks, these are fictional characters. But still; no work before or after has moved me to throw it across the room, and though in hindsight I'd argue that this is the moment when the story loses some of its qualities (I'll get back to that), it is also the moment that made reading anything else...just not as much fun. Now, of course, the whole world knows about the Red Wedding, but back then it was a well-kept secret among fellow nerds, and we knew we were reading something special, but little did we know that thirteen years later, people would be filming their spouses as they watched the scene to catch their surprise. In the TV series, they upped the violence a notch, but it is still the book version that brings the feels, as we see the proceedings through Catelyn's eyes as her mental health deteriorates rapidly throughout the text until there is nothing left of her sanity. It's dark, it's horrific, it's awesome, and it was such a fresh breath / death, in effect launching the whole "gritty fantasy" thing (I am aware I am exaggerating a little, but this is how it feels), paving the way for other fantasy authors with a more cynical bent.

Best of all, in my humble opinion, is that Martin showed that you can write a series of books and have some of the main characters die, even this far in (though he did cheat a little with Catelyn, of course). To be honest I don't understand all the people claiming Martin kills off so many characters, because most of the fallen are minor characters at best, and really, we've only lost Ned Stark as a true major character. I can understand that some readers find it off-putting, but I prefer the perspective that you can lose characters if that's best for the story. That being said, I think Martin made a mistake in killing off Robb, Joffrey, and Tywin in this novel, as it means the glue holding together much of the first three books - the conflict between House Stark and House Lannister - is now gone, and leads to a wholly different story than what we might have had; this is of course purely a matter of taste: I always loved the conflict between the two Houses and the wars between the Young Wolf and Lord Tywin, and with this element gone and more focus on stuff elsewhere in the world, a little of the glowing interest waned. On the other hand I don't know how it all will end, but so far I haven't felt that the story from here on improved with the falls of Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister. It's a topic that requires its own post, I suppose. Of course, we wouldn't have such a provoking, evocative chapter without this toll. Also, Robb had it coming.


Martin launches straight into a headache with drums pounding along with Catelyn's head. The effective use of repitition (pounding, pounding, pounding) ensures that we get his point. Pipes are wailing and flutes are trilling, fiddles screech and Catelyn thinks to herself that Lord Walder Frey must be deaf to call this noise music. Of all the hints that something's wrong, this is the one I love the best, because it is both subtle and not so subtle. It is clear that the people playing aren't really the best musicians in the world, but you don't necessarily think of it as a hint when you read it the first time. When it turns out these guys molesting the instruments are actually hiding crossbows and are soldiers ready for ambush, you're like oooh... 

Catelyn drinks wine, watches Jinglebell prance to the sounds of "Alysanne", though she again notes the musicians play so badly she can't be sure that's the actual song being performed. We're reminded that it is still raining outside but inside the air is thick and hot, and the hall is filled up with wedding guests. She's on the dais (unlike in the TV series), placed between Ser Ryman Frey and Lord Roose Bolton,  and she's tired of their stink - Ryman stinks of wine and sweat, Roose of hippocras - a sweeter smell to Roose than Ryman, but no more pleasant, Catelyn thinks, the author gleefully putting in that good old message of not judging a dog by its hairs.  She also notes how Roose seems to lack an appetite, as the food presented isn't what you'd expect at such a wedding - another hint not taken. I mean, thin leek soup, cold mashed turnips, jellied calves' brains, stringy beef? Compare this to the seventy-seven courses in a later wedding and you're bound to realize Walder is being rather skimpy, but of course, this can be seen as a little insult from the lord of the Crossing. In a way, it makes the betrayal even more effective because you're thinking, "What a weasel this Walder is, treating his guests like this," and you're lulled into believing this is Walder's way of getting back a little at Robb breaking his agreement with House Frey, and you're happy that's it (like Robb, who pretends to be all happy about the food being given), and then WHAMMETYWHAM in your face bitch.

Edmure is totally lost in Roslin Frey, kissing and giggling and Catelyn is kind of annoyed that he was complaining all the way from Riverrun. Now, though, he's happy as a clam (or trout, I suppose) and has, by the looks of it, already fallen head-over-heels in love. It's sweet, and makes the upcoming betrayal that much more poignant. Masterful. However, Catelyn does note that Roslin's smile seems false, but she supposes Roslin isn't looking forward to the bedding. 

We learn that Robb has honored Walder's request of dancing with his daughters, and he has danced with each one, including Roslin and the eight Lady Frey, the widow Ami and Roose's wife Fat Walda, even the six-year old Shirei. She tries to talk to Ryman, but he isn't very companionable. If the food's bad, Walder has at least made sure there's enough alcohol provided (oh really!), which will make it all the easier of course for him to destroy the Starks. Some of his own brood are drinking heavily too, but of course the Freys outnumber the Starks so it doesn't really matter. She overhears Fat Walda talking to Ser Wendel, speaking of how everyone believed Bolton would choose Fair Walda as her bride, but he picked her because that would mean more silver for him, at which she laughs, showing that intelligence isn't one of her strong suits. There is a hint that Walda has slept with Bolton ("I'm Lady Bolton now and my cousin's still a maid (...)") which might suggest a baby Bolton in a future book. Which again suggests a conflict between Roose and Ramsay. 

"The Twins" © Fantasy Flight Games


Catelyn thinks it is a joyless wedding, then remembers her own daughter Sansa was married to Tyrion Lannister. Not that she was there to witness it, but she supposes it wasn't a very happy ceremony. Another note is made of how unskilled the musicians are - we get it now (but did I get it the first time?) A few more hours, and the worst will be over, Catelyn thinks, which is ironic as, at least for her, as her grief and pain and sorrow will continue to burn even beyond this wedding. The music is so loud she barely hears Jinglebells' bells as she thinks that Robb will win his battles and that Ned taught him well. So, how did Ned end up? Oh, right. Damn.

Martin loves to add detail here, to give us a real good insight into where everyone is seated, and what is going on. You could argue that adding a paragraph about two dogs falling upon each other over a scrap of meat doesn't advance the plot, but it adds to the atmosphere (aggression) and Lord Walder laughs at it (no compassion) - and one could argue that the two dogs, symbolically speaking of course, represent the conflict bubbling beneath the revelry. The dogs also lead Catelyn to think of Grey Wind, so that Martin can remind us once more that the direwolf isn't allowed inside the hall - Robb had protested the decision, but in the end Walder had won, having the best arguments (yes, really). Robb had been angry but complied, so here we are, and the fact that Grey Wind isn't around should be another nice little hint for the new reader that things might just go wrong. After all, we know that Grey Wind is protective of Robb.

The Greatjon is literally roaring drunk, creating dissonance when the musicans are playing "Flowers of Spring" while he is roaring "The Bear and the Maiden Fair". I like how Martin uses the music to give that sense of unease, of, indeed, dissonance. Without ever telling us something's wrong, things just feel wrong, and when Roose Bolton murmurs words too soft to hear and leaves to find a privy, a quick sentence just tucked in there, that sense of discomfort on Catelyn's behalf just increases. Apparently there's a second feast going on in the other castle, and she thinks that maybe some guests here are going there instead, in case it's more fun. Which it probably is. "The bastard feast" they call the party in the other castle, and we learn that Frey has provided enough wine and ale and mead for the common soldiers outside, as well. He wants them drunk, Catelyn, can't you see that?! Arf. 

Robb sits down in Roose's chair so he can have a chat with his mother. He soothes her, tells her it's soon done, then asks Ser Ryman Frey if Olyvar can continue to squire for him as he marches north. Ryman, however, replies, "No. Not Olyvar. Gone...gone from the castles. Duty," and the way Martin writes this line of dialogue is a way of showing Ryman being taken unawares, and he quickly has to make up an excuse, I love it. It adds to the unease, the feeling that something's going on that we're not seeing, and Robb seems to think Ryman is lying, though we don't know for sure because we're not inside Robb's head. Robb then asks Catelyn for a dance, but she declines. The musicians are playing "Iron Lances" now, while the Greatjon is singing "The Lusty Lad" - love the contrast between the song titles - another hint. Catelyn asks Ryman about Alesander Frey who is supposed to be a singer, and now Ryman begins to sweat and tells her Alesander's gone too, and he rises and leaves. Yes, Catelyn, you might just wonder why Alesander, who actually can sing, isn't present to sing....or you can just shrug it off and watch Edmure kiss Roslin, or watch Ser Marq Piper and Ser Danwell Frey play a drinking game, or watch Lame Lothar crack a joke, or watch your son lead Dacey Mormont in a dance. Sigh. 

Finally, Lord Walder Frey claps his hands and the noise from the gallery stops (finally - Martin writes it so vividly I can practically hear them play). He calls out to Robb, asks if it is time for the bedding. Frey men begin to bang their cups and shout "To bed!" Roslin goes white. This is so clever because Catelyn assumes the obvious, that the girl is afraid of the sexy time to come, yet she might just know that something else is going to happen. We're given a quick glimpse of Catelyn's own wedding night and we learn that Jory Cassell had actually torn her gown off, and Desmond Grell had made naughty jokes, and Lord Dustin upon seeing her naked had told Ned he really liked Catelyn's breasts. Dustin's dead, though. You'd think this little bit of information is there for the sake of world building, but lo! and behold, the Dustins make a comeback of sorts in A Dance with Dragons. Briefly she wonders how many of the men in the hall will be dead before the year is done, in the service of House Stark. It's so sadly ironic. Robb agrees to Walder's suggestion, and the hall roars in approval. The musicians begin to play "The Queen took off Her Sandal, the King took off His Crown" and Alyx Frey calls out, "I hear Tully men have trout between their legs instead of cocks", which is kind of rude if you ask me, "Does it take a worm to make them rise?" Obviously, Alyx is deep in his cups and has become bold. However, he gets an appropriate retort from Ser Marq Piper, and everybody laughs. Phew. And so Edmure and Roslin are carried from the hall. Others remain; Catelyn thinks that Robb might be insulting Walder by not joining the bedding, but she sees that there are more people not attending. And the drums are pounding again, pounding and pounding and pounding. And so everything begins to unravel before Catelyn's eyes.

Dacey whispers something to Edwyn Frey, but he wrenches himself away "with unseemly violence", telling her that he doesn't want to dance with her. A doubt grips Catelyn's heart, but she tells herself she must stop worrying so much. She decides to go after Edwyn, probably to ask him why he was so rude, but as she crosses the hall she hears the musicians on the gallery play "The Rains of Castamere". Edwyn is hurrying, but she catches up to him. And she feels iron rings beneath his silks. She slaps him hard, and realizes that Roslin wasn't weeping for her loss of virginity, and that the absence of Olyvar, Perwyn, and Alesander has another meaning. Catelyn is shoved aside, and suddenly Robb has a quarrel sprouting from his side. Another bolt pierces his leg; half the musicians - well, the half that aren't musicians - have their crossbows out now and are shooting down into the hall from the gallery. Chaos ensues. 

Smalljon Umber, heroically, flings a table over Robb to protect him; Robin Flint is butchered by an onslaught of daggers held by Freys; Ser Wendel Manderly gets a quarrel right in his mouth and out through the back of his neck; and Catelyn is hit and thrown to the floor as well, though she doesn't know what hit her - sounds like a quarrel. The Smalljon bludgeons Ser Raymund Frey with a leg of mutton, but is driven to his knees by a bolt. Catelyn thinks, In a coat of gold or a coat of red, a lion still has claws, which seems a little random perhaps, but allows the author to tell us, perhaps bluntly, that this treachery is Lannister-approved©. Gore flies, and we're given a few more descriptions of the fights going on. Catelyn cries for mercy, but isn't heard. Dacey Mormont gets an axe in her stomach; now we know why Martin spent a paragraph on her earlier in the chapter (when she danced with Robb), to make her death now feel more dramatic. The doors open, Catelyn rejoices as she recognizes the men streaming inside as northmen, but that hope is quickly dashed as one of them chops the Smalljon's head off. Not the Smalljon, you bastards! He was cool! 

In the midst of slaughter, the Lord of the Crossing sat on his carved oaken throne, watching greedily.



She decides to get hold of a dagger she spies on the floor and kill Walder Frey. Robb gets to his knees, looking a bit like Boromir when he was peppered with Orc arrows, and Lord Walder raises a hand. The music stops (but one drum, I wonder why Martin chose to let one drum continue to pound - maybe to keep the tension, the beat if you will, in the text?) She hears Grey Wind howling outside. 

"Heh", Lord Walder cackled at Robb, "the King in the North arises. Seems we killed some of your men, Your Grace. Oh, but I'll make you an apology, that will mend them all again, heh."

Catelyn grabs Jinglebell by the hairs and drags him out of his hiding place, shouting for Lord Walder. Enough, she tells him. Walder has repaid the betrayal with a betrayal of his own, now let it be. She pleads for Robb, her only living son, she swears they will not avenge themselves for this slaughter, just let him live...poor Catelyn. I think they realized this part very well in the TV series - the dialogue is almost exactly like it is in the books. Walder listens but isn't about to let Robb go. She presses the blade deeper into Jinglebell's throat, Ser Ryman and Black Walder circle behind her back. She is losing all hope now, she doesn't care anymore, she just wants Robb to live. She wants to trade the lackwit for Robb, a bad deal if there ever was one (I'd say the TV show's decision to have Catelyn hold Walder's wife instead gave it more punch). Walder tells her the lackwit was never much use anyway. A man in dark armor and a pale pink cloak steps up to Robb, tells him Jaime Lannister sends his regards, then thrusts his longsword through Robb's heart and twists (for good measure). Obviously, it is Lord Roose Bolton, but why doesn't Catelyn name him? Because she is losing her mind, perhaps? She begins to saw at Jinglebell's neck, such a vividly grotesque image right there as she does indeed lose her mind. Someone takes away the knife. It hurts so much, she thinks, and, fans of Weirwood Heart Trees take note, "The white tears and the red ones ran together (...)" She begins to scream madly, and then, just like that, someone says "Make and end", and someone cuts her throat (though she is worried they will cut her hair, further cementing her descent into madness).

Whew, and that was the red wedding! Not the cheeriest of chapters to read on a warm sunny day, but now I'm through it again. It doesn't evoke the same feelings it did the first time anymore, obviously, but I still find it a particularly strong chapter for the way Martin builds up the tension, and of course, the shocking and brutal end to it. There is little subtext beyond the Frey threat under everything, but that final mention of red and white blood does suggest some link to the Old Gods for Catelyn, as if they have accepted her as a Stark - or maybe it's just the author's way of telling us she dies like a Stark - to be resurrected in the name of the Lord of Light. I am rather curious about Lady Stoneheart's further role in the series, and hope to see her in The Winds of Winter. The Freys must pay.

I hope you enjoyed this week's Game of Thrones episode. I am looking forward to it. 

1 comment:

  1. Alyx Frey is said to be girl by Westeros.org, not boy.

    ReplyDelete