(Lainey: first of all, Kathleen is so dramatic, and dramatically on brand – look at those exclamation points. Second, as we continue our series this week of our favourite Game of Thrones episodes counting down to the final season premiere, click here to visit the GoT main page for previous posts you may have missed. Carry on, Kathleen.)
Technically, the name of this episode is "The Rains of Castamere." LOL no sis, the nuptials were bloody as hell and upsetting as f-ck, and we’re all still recovering from the trauma together. “The Rains of Castamere” sounds like a nice goop-ass event in the Hamptons attended by people named Bethannee and Bijou. Before you GoT nerds yell at me, I know it’s a reference to the sinister anthem of House Lannister and Tywin’s victory over House Reyne but “The Red Wedding” is savage and just reading those three words triggers a twitch in my eye and a pang in my gut. They are the three words most synonymous with Game of Thrones, aside from maybe “You know nothing (Jon Snow)!” or “Hold the door.” So, it’s “The Red Wedding.” No further questions.
“The Red Wedding” is the best episode of Game of Thrones, despite what my colleagues have written/will write to try to convince you otherwise, because it encapsulates some of the show’s simplest and defining principles: Good guys don’t survive. Actions have dire consequences. And most importantly, evil always has the upper hand. After Ned Stark’s soul-shattering murder at the end of Season 1, I should have known George RR Martin was a sadistic f-ck who delights in ripping out our hearts and feeding them to direwolves, but I didn’t see it coming. I haven’t read the books so when “The Red Wedding” started, I truly thought, “Oooh I love wedding episodes!” but this was not a “what does Meghan Markle look like walking down the aisle?” kind of TV wedding. This was not a “will Randall’s vows make me cry?”kind of TV wedding. THIS WAS NOT A SAY YES TO THE DRESS KIND OF TV WEDDING.
The wedding of this episode, in case you forgot after all the bloodshed, was between Edmure Tully (Catelyn Stark’s brother) and Roslin Frey. Some backstory: Robb – the eldest and eternally hottest Stark—and Catelyn promised Lord Walder Frey that one of his daughters would become the Queen in the North aka marry Hot Robb. His daughters were all homely and Robb was hot for Talisa Maegyr (now Queen Talisa Stark) so he broke Catelyn’s promise, knocked up Talisa and they got married. They travel to The Twins, castle of House Frey, in The Riverlands to make amends for their broken agreement and to celebrate the wedding of Edmure Tully, who was offered up to one of Frey’s daughters instead of Robb. It does not go as planned AKA EVERYONE GETS DUSTED. Walder Frey is Thanos. He came for all our faves and won.
“The Red Wedding” also drove home another GoT trope: happiness foreshadows death. Robb Stark was happy – too happy. His hair was too perfectly coiffed (Richard Madden has never looked better). He was gleefully flirting with his wife in front of his enemies. Before the fateful celebration, Robb gives an impassioned speech about love conquering all and spews some bullsh-t about making it right with the Freys. In hindsight, he was too confident and not contrite enough. In hindsight, this mother-cker was dead as soon as he stepped foot in Frey territory. Walder Frey explicitly tells Robb, “You shouldn’t have brought her here in the first place” about Talisa, his pregnant wife. Right before the most horrifying sequence of events I have ever seen on television, Robb and Talisa have a super cute moment where they banter about naming their unborn baby NED STARK. Oh, these poor fools. How did I not see this coming?
George RR Martin told EW that the fact no one would see this twist coming is why he had to kill Robb after killing Ned: “The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. Everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do.”
Welp, there’s a disturbing glimpse into George RR Martin’s mind. Killing Robb Stark – no matter how devastating – was a crucial moment in the series that catapulted GoT into television history. After Ned, we knew that no one was safe but after “The Red Wedding,” we knew that there was something else this show was ready to kill at a moment’s notice: hope.
This episode aired in 2013. Barack Obama was President of the United States. The walking vessel of hope in human form was the most powerful man in the world. Life seemed simpler then. Our timelines were lighter. The world wasn’t as used to feeling hopelessness with every click of a headline and despair after any read of the political climate. You could say that GoT prepared our hearts for fallen heroes and triumphant villains. Too far? Even if you don’t think that the murders of Robb and Catelyn Stark, the two most morally pure characters on the show until that point, were a strange foreshadowing of the Trump reign or a signal of the demise of our collective trust in anything good, you can’t deny in the world of Westeros, the power that it had, the influence that it had, the international implications that it had!
The biggest moment of hope during “The Red Wedding” came from Catelyn Stark. I know Catelyn isn’t everyone’s fave. Lainey has made it clear how she feels about Catelyn Stark, but in the final 20 minutes of this episode, when hell is about to break loose, it’s Catelyn who figures it out first. It’s Catelyn who hears the band start playing “The Rains of Castamere,” and sees the doors of the hall being closed. It’s Catelyn who looks down at Roose Bolton’s arm, notices he’s got his fightin’ chain mail on (F-ck the Boltons) and makes a heart-wrenching final effort to save her son. I mean, at that point she should have listened to me yelling at my TV and RUN HOLY SH-T JUST RUN but it was a valiant effort anyway. She’s the only one who went out with a fight.
Queen Talisa is already dead from brutal stab wounds to the belly. While Robb is on the floor mourning his wife, Catelyn holds one of Frey’s wives hostage with a knife to her throat. Until her last breath, Catelyn underestimates Frey’s regard for human life, especially when that human is a woman. The man didn’t f-cking care if his wife died. Read the room, Catelyn! Roose Bolton then delivers one of the most chilling lines to ever be uttered on GoT before stabbing Robb: “The Lannisters send their regards.” At that point, we know it was Tywin who orchestrated the betrayal and that the Lannisters are exactly who we thought they were.
The entire sequence, from Queen Talisa’s stabbing to Catelyn’s throat being slit (after she still kills Frey’s wife – Catelyn is hard as f-ck) is so upsetting, watching it again made me nauseous. It brought me right back to the time I cried in front of my boss talking about “The Red Wedding” the next day at work. It brought me right back to the instant Twitter and YouTube reactions that made me feel less alone in my devastation and tears. Whew, I know a lot of you are on your Game of Thrones re-watch. This episode is easily the hardest to revisit.
On second watch, you remember that sh-t happens in this episode other than the red wedding. Let’s run it back real quick: Jon Snow and his wildling wifey Ygritte are battling over Jon’s ability to kill with abandon (he chooses to do good as usual, which means there’s no way he’s surviving this thing). Bran Stark discovers his gift of getting into people’s minds. Daenerys is taking over another city and flirting with her new captain Daario, but this was before Daario was played by Michiel Huisman so no one cares. Arya and The Hound travel to The Twins only to arrive in time for Arya to watch the Frey soldiers kill Grey Wind, Robb’s direwolf. Yep, they out here killing direwolves too. NO ONE IS SAFE. I CAN’T STOP CRYING. Arya’s almost reunion with her family, only for it to end in mass murder is just another example of hope getting snuffed out before it has a chance to even flicker. All the revenge in the world couldn’t make up for the optimism that was lost in this moment. It broke me.
Whatever you’re hoping for the final season, let it go. My hope died with Baby Stark (do doo doo do do). Everyone will die. At least this time we’ve been warned.