the pains of castamere

A Game of Thrones Reader’s Dread vs. a TV Fan’s Shock: The Two Reactions to the Red Wedding

The last celebratory moment at the Game of Thrones Red Wedding Photo: HELEN SLOAN/HBO

On last night’s Game of Thrones, the infamous Red Wedding proved one of the most shocking surprises of the year in TV. (Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t yet seen the episode and who have managed to stay away from all of the Internet, except for this post.) And yet, to a large portion of the audience, the massacre wasn’t a surprise: Those who have already read George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, on which this season is based, knew this bloodbath was coming, and had been anticipating it with mounting dread. And so the viewership was divided between people whose very foundations were shattered and nights ruined, and those who had been anxiously awaiting these brutal nuptials, perversely curious how they would be enacted. How did their experiences differ? We had a Vulture editor who is obsessed with the books talk through the episode with a TV-show-only fan, New York editor Raha Naddaf, who is still wobbly legged from the show.

John Sellers: It is with a bit of glee exuding from my face that I write to ask, “How do you like Game of Thrones now?” I’m genuinely curious! As an obsessive fan of George R.R. Martin book series, and in particular A Storm of Swords, the installment containing the events depicted in last night’s gonzo episode, I would love to hear what someone who hasn’t read the novels thought of the nutty stuff that transpired at the so-called Red Wedding.

For me and, I imagine, the millions of other Martin fans familiar with A Song of Ice and Fire who are watching the HBO series along with newbies like you, it’s a relief that we now live in a post–Robb Stark society. I’m not saying that because the eldest son of Ned Stark was a hateful character — although, let’s face it, the dude was pretty boring! It’s because we can finally talk about the Red Wedding freely. We can finally discuss what just might be the series’ biggest game-changing moment without the risk of incurring the wrath of those who say “Spoiler alert!” We can finally break the monotony of the next painfully dull wedding reception we attend by saying, “Well, at least our hosts haven’t slit our throats yet!”

Okay, maybe we still can’t get away with that last one. Anyway, sorry for the nerdgasm. Did “The Rains of Castamere” blow you away or what?

Raha Naddaf: I’m glad last night’s episode offered a moment of catharsis for you and other book nerds (forgive my hostility, I’m a wreck today). But while you were finally able to feel  unencumbered in a post-Robb Stark world, I was left shattered, mouth agape, watching the eerily silent credits roll. The one damn family I cared about in this glorious, fantastical world (although I wouldn’t mind more dragon face-time, but that’s a rant for another time) has practically been obliterated, save for a few fierce Stark kids, one of whom can see through other people’s eyes or some such. I’m confused by how that’s going to come into play later, but I’m willing to be patient. And I guess I shouldn’t forget Jon Snow, but he feels so disconnected from this throne-related land grab that I can’t be bothered to count him. Just like that, within the span of a few minutes, we’ve lost characters we’ve been rooting for for two whole seasons: the matriarch (who, yes, hasn’t had much to do this seasons, but still), her first-born (who, yes, is a bit boring and whose candlelit butt I was tired of seeing), and the first-born’s unborn (that particular stabbing was unbelievably hard to watch). Three Starks, plus a Stark’s wife, gone. Poof. Just like that.

I know that Georgie R.R. (are TV fans allowed to refer to him so familiarly?) is known for killing characters we love, and I understand that we live in a post-Sopranos era where anything can happen, and I’m also coming to grips with the fact that they’re never going to bring Sal back on Mad Men, but I guess a part of me hoped that we, the audience, would be spared after the original shocking moment of the show: the beheading of Ned Stark–slash–Boromir. My whole understanding of what was to follow from that plot point was that every Stark of every age would avenge their father’s death in their owns ways. But now … now? What the hell is going to happen? Who are we to root for? Khaleesi? Sure. Fine. She’s anti-slavery and we can all get behind that. The brainwashed man with his witch mistress who reminds me of Tori Amos? No, thank you. Obviously no to the Lannisters, unless Dinklage somehow takes over, which doesn’t seem remotely possible. I just feel bereft. Lost. How could they do this to us again?

JS: Believe it or not, even though I knew exactly what was going to go down, I, too, watched with mouth agape as the credits rolled by silently. (And hats off, by the way, to the show’s brain trust for keeping the important post-mayhem quiet rather than commissioning, say, an Icona Pop interpretation of “The Rains of Castamere.”) My amazement stemmed more from a feeling of relief that they didn’t pull a boner with my favorite scene from the book series. Even more than the passages in book one that ended with the beheading of Ned Stark–slash–Boromir–slash–the bad guy from Patriot Games, the Red Wedding segment of the third novel hit me hard — not unlike Roger Sterling getting socked in the nuts by a minute former underling/Buffy the Vampire Slayer villain. I’m not ashamed to admit that, upon reading those gruesome pages a few years ago, I closed the book, sat back in my seat, and uttered a phrase that can only be spelled “Guhhhhhhn-wowwwwah-uhhhnn.” Needless to say, I was worried how the show producers were going to depict the sequence. At times in the past, I’ve felt that the ten-episode format has resulted in huge moments being rushed — most notably, last season’s Battle of the Blackwater. But even the most contrarian fan of GRRM (which I pronounce “grim,” anyway) would have to admit that last night’s episode came very close to how it played out in the book.

Anyway, I do sympathize with your post-viewing plight, as I felt much the same way after reading that scene. But despite proving many times over that he’s very willing to kill off major characters, Martin can’t be blamed for the brutal slaughter of Ned Stark’s first-born’s unborn — well, at least not Martin the author. Robb’s wife doesn’t actually attend the nuptials in the book version and, I believe, survives to this day. Much like The Walking Dead, which strays frequently from the plot lines in the comic books, the GoT showrunners veer from the path set by the novels every now (see also: Gendry vis-à-vis the Tori Amos look-alike). But would anyone be surprised if George R.R. Martin the TV producer devised that end for the poor little Stark fetus?

As for who is left to root for, I would suggest the direwolves. But they also seem to keep getting killed off, don’t they?

RN: Ah, the wolves. I don’t know what it says about me that the moment that made me want to cry the most — although I somehow got through last night without shedding real tears, it just felt like I was bleeding internally — was the sight of Robb’s wolf being killed in its cage. Couldn’t the wolf have been spared? Must every living thing directly or tangentially related to the Stark family have to die? And Arya. Poor little terrifying Arya. She was so close to being reunited with her family, and again, she has to (kinda) witness their slaughter. How much angrier and darker is she going to get? She’s already boiling over with rage 87 percent of the time. And how will she cast her final genie wish with that guy who can kill anyone she asks him to (like many TV watchers who haven’t read the books, I can’t for the life of me remember most of the character’s names)? I’m just hoping that next season I’ll get to watch her really hack her way through all the bad guys with her child-sized sword, starting with the guy who didn’t care one way or another if his wife got slashed. I realize that’s a violent thought, but not as violent as having to watch a fetus get stabbed. And it didn’t even happen in the books! That seems like a massive divergence. You sure other GRRMs are as forgiving as you are? And are we to believe that the Lannisters are somehow behind this? That one guy who was wearing chain mail under his clothes said something along the lines of, “This is for the Lannisters” … or “the Lannisters send their regards … or “Raha, prepare to be unable to sleep tonight” or something along those lines right before killing Robb. I’m paraphrasing, clearly, but is the Lannister father — the hand of the king who strikes fear into the hearts of all the other Lannisters — behind this? I’m not asking for a real answer here, John. That would be a spoiler. I think I’m just shouting questions out into the void, hoping that a dragon will come, pick me up like an eagle out of Lord of the Rings, and carry me somewhere else where bad things don’t happen to characters I love.

JS: The direwolf death affected me a lot more last night than it did when I read it on the page. I chalk that up to (1) the expressive face of the actress who plays Arya, which, as we are repeatedly made aware, is able to convey so many emotions in one look, and (2) sad, bloody, dead wolf head peeking out from under the cage!

Anyway, I wish I could assure you that you will indeed get to watch Arya hack her way through all the bad guys with her child-size sword, starting with wizened slaughter architect Walder Frey. But I am more scared of spoiler freakouts than I would be of riding in an elevator with Orell the skinchanger and his face-destroying hawk. But don’t lose hope! The Starks will rise again! (Or maybe I’m confusing them with the Lannisters, who, based on the quote from the chain-mail dude — a.k.a. Roose Bolton — do seem to have had at least something to do with last night’s villainous act, which, let’s face it, Robb Stark has kind of been asking for.) I implore you to keep shouting your questions into the void, especially if that void is centered on Santa Fe, New Mexico, where our chum George R. R. Martin resides. That seems to be where all beloved Game of Thrones characters go to die, suddenly, gruesomely, and, as you are learning, frequently.

RN: And let the record show that if Dinklage ends up on the business end of a child-size sword, I’m done. Out. Dethroned.

Dread vs. Shock: The Two Red Wedding Reactions