As part of Complex Pop Culture's best-of-2013 coverage, staffers and contributing writers will pen short pieces on their favorite TV episodes of the year. The week-long series continues with contributing writer Jason Serafino.
Even if you read the books and saw it coming, there was no way you could have prepared yourself for the gore, brutality, and heartbreak of "The Rains of Castamere," or, as it has come to be known, the Red Wedding.
For fans unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin’s book series, the lead-in to the ninth episode of Game of Thrones’ third season wasn’t met with much more anticipation than usual. Most viewers were anxiously wondering what would happen during the season finale, which would air the week after. But once "The Rains of Castamere” reached its bloody end, it was clear that this was the episode that would serve as the line of demarcation for the rest of the series. This is what fans will look back on as the moment when Game of Thrones took it to another level and put all of our favorite characters on notice.
Multiple storylines are juggled throughout "The Rains of Castamere," with the most important being Jon Snow's (Kit Harington) time in the North, Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) conquest of the city of Yunkai, and Robb (Richard Madden) and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) attending the wedding of Lord Walder Frey’s daughter, Rolsin, and Edmure Tully. The first two-thirds of the episode are as good as any on TV, but, really, they’re nothing out of the ordinary for the series. Political intrigue and deep character drama run rampant, and the season seemed like it was heading towards a memorable conclusion the following Sunday. Then the last act hits and instantly propels the show into elite small-screen company.
Let’s set the scene. As the wedding between Roslin and Edmore begins to wind down, Catelyn Stark grows suspicious of the night’s festivities when she notices that Lord Roose Bolton is wearing chainmail under his clothing—a sign of war, no doubt.
Just then, Lord Frey orders the wedding musicians to play "The Rains of Castamere," the ceremonial song of the House of Lannister. The tension then comes to a sudden and bloody climax as a hail of arrows rains down on Robb, Catelyn, Talisa (Oona Chaplin), and Stark’s confidants, courtesy of Lord Frey’s army. This was revenge for Robb Stark refusing to be the one to marry his daughter, leaving Frey no other choice than to fulfill the Lannister clan’s bloodlust for them.
Not only does half of the main Stark family get wiped out before the audience can even process what’s going on, episode director David Nutter forces us to watch every brutal kill in plain sight, like a medieval Zapruder film. The lasting image of this entire massacre is Robb’s pregnant wife, Talisa, being stabbed repeatedly in the womb, her face frozen in horror. In that one moment, all of the hopes and aspirations for the Stark family’s future are instantly turned into a somber memory of what could have been.
It’s more than just the destruction of the Stark family. The Red Wedding was the final blow to my naïve thought that any character on this show would go riding off into the sunset in the end. "The Rains of Castamere” made it obvious that, no matter which characters I find myself attached to, there's nothing but bloodshed and tragedy in their future.
If Game of Thrones continues to be as haunting and brilliant as "The Rains of Castamere,” I’ll gladly continue to put myself through the anguish.
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