Was any of this spoiled for me prior to viewing, you ask? Well, kind of. It's tough to watch this show each week, and perhaps impossible to write about it each week, without some foreknowledge inadvertently seeping in. When checking spellings one time, I unwittingly glanced upon a fan page that referred to Robb in the past tense. I'd heard—maybe from commenters?—that this wedding was called “the Red Wedding.” And I knew that the ninth episodes of the two previous seasons were calamitous. Those facts led to some speculation in my mind, and one theory I had was that, in fact, Walder would kill Robb, Talisa, and/or Catelyn in revenge.
Still, that didn't prevent me from gasping, leaning forward, and filling with real sadness and dread at the episode's climax. Besides, it's not like it hadn't been foreshadowed: The manner and magnitude of the Stark slaughter shocked, yes, but the it also felt like the completion of a puzzle. Ever since Ned's death in Season One, the show has sketched out just how much Robb is his father's son, again and again making hard but “right” choices—and again and again sacrificing esteem from his allies when he does so. In this ruthless world, could the King in the North really hope to prevail by trying to be a good, honorable man who only breaks vows for love?
His comments to the mother at episode's start, and the convo with Talisa about naming their son Eddard, underlined the symmetry of this killing—symmetry that no doubt ran through Catelyn's mind in those horrid closing seconds when she stood, slack jawed, eyes vacant, presumably reflecting on the enormity of her family's ruin. Now, we're left with the weirder, wilier Starks to avenge the fallen. Four of those five (Jon, Bran, Arya... Rickon, technically), had uncommonly interesting storylines this episode, which gives hope that the show will carry on entertainingly, even with a chunk of its core cast now gone.
Speaking of entertaining cast members, it was only till an hour or so after the finish that I realized we spent zero time in King's Landing in this episode. I look forward to seeing the fallout of the Red Wedding unfold there. With these killings, Tywin's really sewn up the Risk board for himself, no? He's got the now-eldest Stark heir married to one son, the presumed loyalty of Houses Bolton and Frey, and his most effective rival gone. The seemingly less formidable Balon Greyjoy and Stannis Baratheon are all that appear to stand between the Lannisters and total rule. Boring. Daenerys, Mance Rayder, White Walkers: Would you please invade already?
Ross, are you with Chris on this great episode not being as great as the books could have allowed? And should we talk about the other bloodlettings—of the Wildlings, and in Yunkai?
Douthat: I feel bad joining Chris's camp, because it's so predictable for a fan of the book to decide that Benioff and Weiss fell short here. Of all the challenges of the first three seasons, bringing the Red Wedding to life in a way that would satisfy Martin's fans looms largest, because of all of the books' gamechanger moments this is the most impressively executed, the most wrenching and tragic and brilliantly cruel, the most difficult to re-read without hoping irrationally that this time things might turn out differently. And it occurred to me going in to last night that the structure of the show made the challenge even more difficult: In Martin's novels, the Red Wedding happens smack in the middle of a big fat book, Storm of Swords, when the reader isn't necessarily expecting a major shock, which makes it easier to build to it slowly and remorselessly, with what Slate's Dan Kois aptly describes as a feeling of “slowly dawning awfulness.” But because that book has been cleaved in two for the show, we've reached the wedding at precisely the penultimate-episode-of-the-season moment when viewers—and HBO viewers, especially—are already primed to expect the tragic and horrific. So the show had to find a way to balance foreshadowing with surprise somewhat differently—giving us Arya staring at the Twins and other moments where dread crept in, but also leaning harder than the book on the deceptively happy moments (like when Catelyn's brother realizes that he's getting hitched to a nubile Frey rather than a hag) in order to keep the twist from becoming obvious to the uninitiated.