Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 3, Episode 9 on HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "The Rains of Castamere."
I can't decide if I envy or pity those of you who didn't know what was coming in this episode.
I interviewed Michelle Fairley last week about this episode, so I had a pretty good idea of what was to come. And yet, even so, I feel pretty devastated right now.
Knowing that the episode would end the way it did cast a pall over everything that came before -- the strategy meeting between Robb and Catelyn, in which they kissed and made up over their shared determination to stick it to the Lannisters at Casterly Rock; the haunted, defeated faces of every single person in the Frey household as Walder faked hospitality to Robb, Talisa and Catelyn; Robb's sadly prophetic apology to the Walder girls: "All men should keep their word, kings most of all;" the oh-so-Stark efforts by Arya and Jon Snow to protect those innocent old men; Jon's escape from his Wildling captors, which could have positioned him to give Robb some much-needed help in his war against Tywin; even Bran's sudden realization that he can control not just animals, but humans -- or at least Hodors -- with his mind, coming a moment too late to make any kind of difference for his family.
Yep, it was all one big capital-"I" Irony in the old, Greek-tragedy sense of the world. Our heroes didn't know they were doomed, but those of us who'd succumbed to spoilers (or read the books) sure did.
Anyway, let's backtrack a bit. I guess we can stop worrying about this big Casterly Rock plot, since Walder Frey did anything but cooperate. Still, it was nice to see Robb and Catelyn bury the hatchet before being buried themselves.
And so it was on to the Twins, where that fool Edmure Tully was set to wed the Frey household's very own Marilyn Munster. My houseguest, who has read all five books, tells me that was salt and bread they were passing around -- a symbol of hospitality. Once you eat it, you're supposed to be safe within your host's walls. Another irony, I guess.
For a minute there, Walder was behaving reasonably well, but it all started going south when he slow-clapped Robb's apology. He really skeeved everybody out with his unsolicited appraisal of Talisa's physical attributes. "He betrayed me for firm tits and a tight fit," he said, not without admiration.
Usually, I like to take one storyline at a time, but we're going to have to come back to this one.
On the outskirts of Yunkai, Daenerys is testing out her new boy toy, Daario Naharis, who has a plan to sack the city by sneaking in the back door with two good men and turning the slave warriors against their masters. Ser Jorah, who has been crushing on his Khaleesi since the Khal Drogo days, doesn't like the way Daario touches her hand and fears a trap. But Grey Worm likes the cut of Daario's jib, so they do the job. As it turns out, Daario is the best whistler in the world, but his ruthlessness is what really matters. It takes him about three seconds to dispatch the first few guards he encounters and not much longer to fight off the next round in a scene that had all the production values of The History Channel's "The Bible."
The Starks, by contrast, are hopelessly wishy-washy. Arya won't let the Hound kill the old salt-pork vendor, even though "dead rats don't squeak," as the Hound succinctly explains. I was reminded of Brienne's decision to spare the fellow who spotted her and Jaime Lannister -- and who later turned them in. And though I'm a peaceful man who generally opposes using homicide to silence senior citizens, I'm beginning to think that, for the purposes of this show, slitting someone's throat is always the way to go. Hesitation is death.
Just ask Jon Snow, who likewise can't bear the thought of letting his Wildling friends murder the old man who keeps horses for the Night's Watch. Somehow, the Wildlings' idea of a stealth attack formation ("Everybody, run as loudly as possible across this completely open field!") doesn't catch the old man off-guard, and he escapes on horseback. First, Jon pulls an A-Rod on Ygritte when she's aiming at the guy ("Miss it!"), and then he refuses to slice his throat when Orell demands a show of loyalty.
The whole thing with Bran learning how to control everyone's minds in the heat of battle was pretty cool, and I love me some direwolf action. It was also exciting when Orell's eagle swooped down, drone-style, and tried to pluck Jon Snow's eyes out. But the craziest thing that happened here was when Jon abandoned Ygritte. Look, I'll give him this: She's pretty scary. I've lost count of how many times she's threatened to cut off his nuts (OK, it was at least once). Also, fast-forward 10 years and I can see him getting tired of being addressed by his full name every time she can't remember where she put her keys. But I thought these two were in love! Was it all part of his cover? I think not -- and, knowing how hopelessly honorable Snow is, I suspect he felt Ygritte would be safer with her friends than riding away with him.
Before we get to the wedding, let's pause for a moment in that clearing with Arya and Sandor Clegane. This was such a great scene. Maisie Williams kills it week in and week out as Arya, but give credit to Rory McCann for going toe-to-toe with a 16-year-old without ever condescending or pulling punches. The Hound starts this round, taunting Arya about her (well-founded) fear of not making it to the Twins in time to reunite with her family. She jeers back, reminding him of the time his brother "pressed your face to the fire like you were a nice juicy mutton chop," to which he responds with a line about the man who "snipped your daddy's neck." And then she trots out this conversation-ender: "Someday, I'm gonna put a sword through your eye and through the back of your skull." Don't try that one at home, kids.
OK, here we go. The Red Wedding. Well, it started pretty well, didn't it? Edmure's betrothed turns out to be the one Frey girl who doesn't look like she answered an open casting call to play Broom-Hilda. (How great is that smirk Walder Frey gives Robb when the hottie is unveiled?)
But then it's on to the reception, where the band is playing rather badly and Roose Bolton is suddenly on the wagon. Robb and Talisa, meanwhile, can barely keep their hands off one another, but what else is new? "Don't insult them," Talisa says, when Robb leans in for a kiss, but thankfully he manages to get one in. Sadly, it'll be their last.
Walder Frey is a master of repulsive lines no one wants to hear an old man say, and here's a prime example: "A sword needs a sheathe, and a wedding needs a bedding. To bed!" Turns out Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister are the only grooms tough enough to spare their brides from this tradition.
Ugh, that conversation between Talisa and Robb about naming their child Eddard Stark. And then a guard closes the door behind the bedding couple, locking the guests in the reception room, and the band starts playing the "Rains of Castamere." Catelyn spots chain mail under Roose Bolton's sleeve, and then Frey gives the word. A man attacks Talisa, stabbing her pregnant belly, and archers rain arrows on Robb, Catelyn and the rest of the Stark-Tully contingent.
Arya sneaks away from The Hound and witnesses a group of conspirators kill some Stark soldiers and then slay Robb's dire wolf. And then Sandor finds her. "It's too late," he says, before knocking her out and hauling her away. Poor Arya's kill list is getting very long indeed.
Robb is paralyzed by grief for Talisa. Say what you want about those two -- they were seriously in love. Catelyn drags Frey's wife from under the table, where she's cowering for safety. She begs Frey to spare Robb, and says she'll kill the girl if he doesn't. "I'll find another," the vicious old bastard says.
"The Lannisters send their regards," Roose Bolton says as he stabs Robb to death.
Part of me wants to watch Michelle Fairley's performance here a hundred more times, and part of me never wants to see it again. She screams. She slits the girl's throat, blood spraying outward. She drops to her knees. And then she dies as a guard draws his dagger across her throat.
And that's that. The credits are accompanied by silence.
So ... what did you think?
The Season 3 finale of "Game of Thrones" airs Sunday, June 9 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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