SPOILER ALERT! This article contains spoilers from "Game of Thrones" Season 3 Episode 9: "The Rains of Castamere." Stop reading now if you haven't seen the episode yet.
There's always been a clear division between "Game of Thrones" book fans and "Game of Thrones" TV fans. How could there not be? Fans of beloved pre-existing material have good reason to gloat over newbies: they knew this stuff first. It's theirs. For those who prefer the HBO series, an endeavor that's decidedly less committal than reading George R.R. Martin's colossal books, navigating the Internet has been a bit of a pole-dance this season. It's widely known that book three, for which this third season is based, has one cataclysmic event that's so shocking and brutal, it drew outbursts from devastated readers, some of whom gave up on the series altogether. To non-readers, this event had a tantalizing monicker: RW.
I saw those letters on message boards, in Yahoo Answers and Tumblr posts for years. I was largely against reading the series when I first started the show - I enjoyed the thrill of watching this saga unfold on my screen, and I knew reading the books would spoil that fun. But my immersion in the show, which hit a high point at the tail end of season two, curdled that desire. I caved, read the first book, loved it, and decided that I'd follow up each season with a book read-through. But once again, I changed course after finishing book two. Enough was different from the show by this point that it seemed ok to continue reading. I could let the two exist on separate planes, and love each one for other reasons.
And so I did. And that was easy enough because both are great. But still, those letters. What did they mean? How could they inspire even die-hards to squeal and moan whenever they cropped up? I diverted eyes so I never caught on, but it happened inevitably eventually. I knew Robb Stark was going to die. I figured RW had something to do with it. I didn't know that the body count would extend well beyond our goodly Stark son.
When I finally read the passage, it all fell into place: RW stands for Red Wedding, the pivotal scene wherein Robb Stark attends the wedding of his uncle Edmure and Walder Frey's daughter, Roslyn. It starts out happy, if a little uncomfortable. They eat their salt and bread (a medieval custom that guarantees the safety of the guests - HA!), the vows are exchanged, the wine flows. But as Edmure and his bride are marched off to their bed chambers, the door of the hall is slammed behind them and the rest of the wedding party is enclosed. Walder Frey, in all of his old man nastiness, smiles and tells Robb he forgot to get him a wedding gift. That gift, it turns out, is a flock of arrows in his back, and the backs of his men, his lady and his mother.
Well, almost. Talisa, Robb's wife, doesn't die in the books because Talisa doesn't exist in the books (her counterpart, Jeyne Westerling, is safe in Riverrun when the wedding unfurls). But the rest of the closing scene of "Rains of Castamere" plays out pretty much beat for beat. Cue that haunting Lannister tune for which the episode is named and Catelyn's sudden realization that something is up. She lifts Roose Bolton's sleeve to see he's dressed in mail. It's like nails on a chalkboard, everything screeching to a halt. As the Frey men slaughter the Stark men, everything us readers – and now viewers – held sacred is lost.
The gut-wrenching brutality of the scene was something I wasn't prepared for. Well, I was. But not to that level. I wasn't expecting to see Talisa's pregnant belly stabbed repeatedly. That was certainly horrific. I wasn't expecting to see Grey Wind shot to death in the stables (as Arya looks on). And though I knew Robb would be stabbed by Roose Bolton, that moment, and Bolton's line "the Lannisters send their regards," was a punch in the stomach all the same.
But what I'm most bent up about is Cat. Poor, poor Cat. On the show, it's hard to see how soft and good Catelyn Stark truly is. She gets a few heartfelt monologues per season, but she's mostly known as Ned's steely wife who hates Jon Snow and lost the war with her foolish decision to set Jaime Lannister free. But in the books, she's layered and effective - she's the brains behind Robb's operation. And though fallible, she's still strong, resourceful, intelligent, brave and loyal. So when she begged for her son's life, "on my honor as a Tully, on my honor as a Stark," it was the ultimate character pledge - Cat at her most vulnerable, still upholding her best self.
And then she watches her son get stabbed in the heart, and has her own throat slit from ear to ear.
It's all a bit hard to process. Robb and Catelyn (and Talisa) are hardly the most popular characters on the show, but there's so much inherent goodness in them that they've become a safe, reliable presence in this dredge of a show. Sure, Robb has been screwing up left and right since he foolishly married Talisa, but he was never without his honor. His wife, whose existence continued to irk me up until her dying breaths (so much great development stolen from Cat and given to this made up character!), was still beautiful and funny. She exuded a warmth that the often way-too-serious Robb lacked. They were a great pair. And Cat's eventual softening to their relationship was such a nice, happy thing to witness. To have that all ripped away, in a blood bath to top all television blood baths, felt almost unnecessarily cruel.
But these are the stakes. This is what happens in war (in real life, too: the Red Wedding is inspired by the Black Dinner - Wikipedia it). As gruesome and sad as it is, it's nice to know the powers that be aren't fond of sugarcoating the struggle for a happier realm.
Other things happen in this episode, but they pale in comparison, so they seem almost foolish to talk about. Jon finally breaks free from the Wildlings after he refuses to kill one of his men. He kills Orell in the process, and Orell wargs himself into his eagle and tears up Jon's face before he flees (another big moment from the books). This shocks Ygritte, who watches her boyfriend run off with wide-eyed betrayal. While all of this is happening, Bran and his crew are in a tower literally right next door - so close that when Bran puts himself into his direwolf Summer's mind, he sees Jon. That so many character's are only a stone's throw away all episode adds another layer of melancholy to every note. Oh, and Bran can jump into Hodor's mind now, too, so... that should be fun?
Bran eventually asks Osha and Rickon to split up from their group so they can cross the Wall easier and ensure the safety of at least one of the remaining Stark brothers. It's sad to see them split up (I'll miss Osha a lot), but it's also pretty relieving - the character count is narrowing, which means a more focused story for the rest of the season and presumably the next one as well (let's hope).
Oh and Daario and Jorah conquered that city for Dany or whatever. Who really cares about that in an episode like this, that ends with the slashing of Catelyn Stark's throat and concludes with a credits sequence absent of music? The world is changed - the Lannisters have no major immediate threat, even more Starks are dead, Sansa is married to Tyrion, Arya (I forgot to talk about Arya! Arya is with the Hound! She was right outside when the Red Wedding was happening! But she's ok!) has just second-handedly witnessed something even worse than her father's beheading, and even the direwolves aren't safe. EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE: The Show. Let's hope Dany's dragons can swoop in and blow up something before we all slump into a never-ending depression.
Only one episode left!