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Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones, "The Rains of Castamere"

Season 3, Episode 9 
Grade: A
Verdict: Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely heard that something huge happened on Game of Thrones's penultimate episode of season 3. The show runners did an excellent job of leading up to this epic moment on the show, sprinkling in some additions to make the moment even more powerful. For its sheer success in shocking the audience, leaving us in a stunned silence, this episode deserves an A.


So let's talk about Game of Thrones. The series made a bold and shocking move Sunday - they gave Rickon Stark lines! Also, they killed a bunch of people. 

My friends and I have spent all season guessing when and how the infamous Red Wedding would show up. In the books, it's randomly nestled smack dab in the middle of the story, and punches you with its out-of-nowhereness. This season of GoT retained that same shock value, but having this event at the end of the season instead of in the middle gave the writers something to slowly build towards. There were also some notable changes in the way it was handled: 

- Robb's wife didn't accompany him to the wedding, wasn't killed, and also wasn't pregnant in the book. So that whole stabbing was... wow. That was shocking. 
- Arya came a lot closer to reuniting with her family than she did in the book, getting right up next to the castle and seeing her brother's direwolf. It made it all the more heart-breaking when she failed to reach them in time. 
- The book made it a VERY big deal when the Freys offered the Starks food. This is a custom that implies the family has safety and protection under a roof, and the savage violence after the Starks have eaten the Frey's food made the Freys look even more despicable. The custom was portrayed in the show, but with less emphasis. 

One of the smallest but best touches in the portrayal of the Red Wedding was actually in the credits. There have been some distracting/dubious music choices in the credits this season, and in this episode the credits roll in silence. The impact of that choice was enormous, I feel, and very thoughtful. 

The ironic and tragic thing about this episode is that though it ends with the slaughter of several Starks, it begins with the Starks trying to save innocent people. Arya and The Hound are making their way to the wedding, and The Hound tries to kill an innocent merchant to take his things and impersonate him. Arya stands up for the man and saves his life. In parallel, Jon Snow is helping the wildlings steal some horses from a stable. The wildlings want to kill the man who runs it, and Jon makes some noise to warn him. Unfortunately the wildlings catch up with the man and kill him anyway, turning against Jon. 

This part of the episode was probably the weakest, just because it was handled strangely. Jon sees the direwolves come to his aide - doesn't he wonder where they came from, and if they belong to his family? Ygritte also defends Jon, and he leaves her alone even though almost everyone else is dead. Why'd he leave her? 

Elsewhere, Danaerys sits patiently and waits while her men sack a city for her by taking it in the dead of night. It's an important victory, but a quiet one. I think this could have been an epic moment, but because of the other developments in the episode, it was played in a more subtle way, and that worked.  

We also finally had a scene where Bran and his crew weren't annoying or doing something boring. We see Bran inhabit the body of a human (Hodor) for the first time, making him even more powerful than your standard-issue-guy-who-inhabits-animal-bodies. Although the move saves him and his friends from being detected, their scenes end on a sad note when Bran decides that his path north isn't safe for Rickon. Rickon was genuinely heart-breaking when he cried and begged Bran to change his mind, but Osha was openly relieved and quickly moved on with Rickon by her side. 

Episodes like these are gut-wrenching, but they're also what makes Game of Thrones so amazing. No one is safe, and good guys don't always win. Rather than muting the violence and shock of the scene as portrayed in the book, the show actually took it several steps further, and I think it worked really well. Even if everyone on Twitter is cursing George R. R. Martin's name right now. 
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