As the credits rolled on Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” we were left with a sad, lonely silence.
Some might say it was welcome, given what everyone was forced to process over the previous 15 minutes. Over the past decade, a handful of elite television shows have tossed shocking deaths (or near-deaths) into their storylines, but nothing has ever come close to the size and volume of violence that closed the third season’s penultimate episode of “Game of Thrones.”
In a brutal sequence that is normally left to Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese, “The Red Wedding” gave us one of the most agonizing scenes in TV history; decimating a decorated family of Westeros in a grisly reminder that in the quest for the Iron Throne, “you win or you die.”
We open at another wedding, the Starks dragging Edmure Tully off to wed one of Walder Frey’s daughters in the Riverlands. Robb Stark hopes this entire jubilee will mollify any past hostilities and grant him the military advantage he desperately needs to defeat the Lannisters.
Clearly willing to do anything to please the Freys, Stark does all but beg for Frey’s forgiveness while ignoring Walder’s degrading advances toward his wife, Talisa. Robb assures Walder that this wedding will allow the Freys to once again trust in House Stark.
Outside of Yunkai, trust is tenuous as Danerys Targaryen is plotting to seize the city. Her three male confidants are at odds with one another over their plans, with Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy deeply skeptical about Daario Naharis’s ability to carry out his audacious covert scheme. Danys cedes to Grey Worm, who believes Daario’s plans will lead the Khalessi to victory.
As the battle rages, Daario’s plan to sneak Danys’s comrades through the back gates does come to fruition, but not before being confronted by a large number of Yunkai warriors. After disposing of a first wave without much resistance, the men are cornered by a large number of opposing fighters with seemingly nowhere to turn.
Cut back to an anxious Danys, who awaits word that her operation has succeeded. Never to fear, Jorah and Grey Worm return, battered and bloodied, but with news that Yunkai slaves have thrown down their swords. Yet the happiest our queen looks is when dreamboat Daario steps out from the shadows, informing Khaleesi that the ruling class of Yunkai has been dethroned and the city belongs to her.
A smaller battle takes place in the north, as the wildlings continue to creep toward Castle Black. The group comes upon an old farmer who breeds horses for the Night’s Watch. Tormund and Orell plot to murder the horse farmer, while Jon Snow warns the group that such an act will ruin their cover. Snow’s advice isn’t heeded, an attack is launched and the farmer escapes before Ygritte can fire an arrow into his torso.
The wildlings follow the farmer to an abandoned mill where the young Stark boys, the Reeds, Osha and Hodor are hiding. In the midst of the struggle to subdue the farmer, Orell hears the group clamoring inside a windmill.
The noise Orell hears is Hodor having some sort of anxiety attack. Knowing that the group will be found if this action continues, Bran wargs into Hodor, causing the giant man go to go limp and silent.
As the rest of the wilding group catches up, the farmer is subdued with the implication of being killed. Orell forgets about the noises in the windmill and focuses on ordering Jon Snow to prove his worth by killing a Crow.
In the meantime, two direwolves are protecting the group trapped in the windmill. Jojen Reed suggests to Bran that the Hodor incident minutes prior was proof that Bran possesses the ability to warg any living person or animal at his desire, and he should warg into the direwolf to save the farmer’s life.
While Bran comes to grips with his power, Jon Snow is ordered to behead his former brother-in-arms. After being called out multiple times, Snow finally reveals that he never swore off his loyalty to the Night’s Watch. A fight ensues where Snow tells Orell he was right about everything while plunging a dagger into his side, Bran wargs into a direwolf to maim a number of wildlings. To close, Jon Snow grabs a horse, riding off into the wilderness, while Ygritte is left watching her lover leave her in the dust.
Afterward, Bran admits that he saw Jon Snow while he was warging through the direwolf. Jojen explains to Bran that the powers he put on display were more than warging. It has been the stuff of Westeros legend that men exist who can manipulate all forms of nature beyond animals.
Bran reasons that he must find his brother, who can then help him find the three-eyed raven North of the Wall. He says, however, that he must do this without endangering his little brother, Rickon, and the two part ways in a tearful goodbye.
There is no sign of tears at the Frey-Tully wedding celebration, filled with beautiful vows, copious amounts of music and all the wine one could possibly drink. Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey are carried off to a bedding ceremony, Robb Stark is openingly flirting with his wife and Catelyn Tully is happy that things seem to be working out.
And then this song fills the wedding hall:
An overwhelming sense of dread consumes Catelyn as the enormous doors to the dining hall are shut. Her worst fears are realized as she discovers that Roose Bolton is wearing chainmail under his clothes. Walder Frey silences the music, announcing that after all of the grand festivities, he owes Robb Stark’s queen a gift.
It is an action that sets forth a savage display – beginning with Talisa being stabbed repeatedly in her womb. An array of crossbowmen descend from the balcony, firing on everyone who remains in the room, including Robb and Catelyn Stark.
Outside, Arya has broken loose from Sandor Clegane, only to watch her family’s bannermen be slaughtered by an array of sellswords, who then turn their crossbows on a caged-up direwolf.
As the carnage continues to unfold inside the main wedding hall, Catelyn manages to capture Walder Frey’s wife from under a table and demands a stop to the madness before more people die. She pleads with Walder to cease the massacre, promising on houses, family and children that no vengeance will come from this act.
Walder will hear none of it. As far as he’s concerned, promises from the Starks are worthless, given the fact that Robb was supposed to marry a Frey woman in the first place. In a final attempt to save what’s left of her family, Catelyn threatens to slit Frey’s wife’s throat if Robb is not allowed to leave with his life.
Walder, in cold-blooded apathy, throws his wife to the wolves. A final blow is delivered to Robb by Roose Bolton, who reveals that the Lannisters were in on the plot all along. Catelyn wails in mourning, killing Frey’s wife in the process as her first-born son crumbles beside his dead wife.
Catelyn Stark went from a wife who lost her husband because he led an honorable life to a mother who lost her son because he had acted without honor. Husband gone, family gone, house gone – Catelyn Stark lost her reason to live the moment Robb Stark hit the floor.
The only thing left to do was have Black Walder Frey slit her throat, sending her – and House Stark – into a sad, lonely silence.
–As much as this show is “fantasy,” it’s pretty clear that a lot of it is based on medieval history. “The Red Wedding” is no different. Visit Uproxx to read about the events that inspired George R.R. Martin to write the scene.
–A bit of comic relief in the midst of all the despair: Jimmy Fallon parodied “Game of Thrones” last week. It’s worth checking out.
–If you really want to geek out, check out this entry on the LawyersGunMoney Blog that breaks down how characters dictate messages just by who they are (or aren’t) looking at. Bit long, but worth the read.
–One last thought on “The Red Wedding”: I can’t remember, be it TV or film, a more graphic scene than the one we saw Sunday night. The only thing that came to mind was the cornfield scene in “Casino.” Would love to hear your thoughts on the comments if you can remember anything that topped “The Red Wedding” on the brutality scale.