It’s been two weeks since Game of Thrones has been on our screens, and with this, the ninth episode of 10, we were bound to get something that made our jaws drop. Drop, they did – in horror. Remember that thing that happened at the end of season one with Ned Stark (I still can’t talk about it)? Multiply by a thousand and you get The Rains of Castamere. This was an episode about the Starks, and just like our previous dealings with this family, tragedy is never too far away. Was The Rains of Castamere too violent? Were its final scenes gratuitous? Or should we have realised that Game of Thrones is never afraid to take the bloodiest, most difficult road?
The Wall/In the North
Samwell and Gilly continue making their way to the Wall. During their walk Samwell tells Gilly all about the castle they will use to get through to the other side, stunning the girl with the knowledge he has gained from books. As the Wall finally comes into view, Gilly stares up at it in wonder, before telling her baby that Craster always said no wildling would stare upon the Wall and live. Gilly thinks Craster was wrong, but I predict these words will come back to haunt Gilly. It’s an interesting little scene, but not one that was essential to this episode, and I think we could have done without it.
Meanwhile Jon Snow and the wildlings decide to attack a man who breeds horses for the Night’s Watch. Jon tries to persuade the wildlings not to kill the man, and when that doesn’t work he makes sure the guy is alerted to the presence of the wildlings. The old man manages to get away, and leads the wildlings to an abandoned tower, inside which Bran, Rickon, Osha, Hoder, Jojen and his sister are hiding.
Hoder, afraid of the thunder, starts yelling, and outside the tower Orell stares up, convinced he has heard people inside. He gets distracted when the group capture the old man, and he nominates Jon to kill him to prove he is loyal to the wildlings.
Inside, Bran has quietened Hodor by getting inside his mind, and Jojen prompts him to do the same with the direwolves outside the tower, who will kill the wildlings.
As Jon attacks the wildlings, and Ygritte desperately tries to fight alongside him, the direwolves attack. Jon, after killing Orell and telling him in his final moments that he was right about Jon, rides off into the storm, leaving a heartbroken and betrayed looking Ygritte behind.
The worst moment was not Ygritte’s sad face though, it was the knowledge than Bran, Rickon and Jon were within metres of each other, and missed seeing each other. Determined to continue on to the Wall, Bran orders Osha to take Rickon to the Umbers, while he journeys beyond the Wall.
It’s worth pointing out that while the last episode of Game of Thrones was about sons, this one is very much about mothers. Osha has become a mother figure to Bran and Rickon, and Catelyn and Robb’s relationship as mother and son this week is brought to the fore again, only to be completely destroyed within hours…
A few brief scenes with Daenerys this week, which, while useful, did distract from what should have stayed a Stark centred episode.
Daario Naharis comes up with a plan to sack the city of Yunkai. He will access through a back gate, taking with him Jorah Mormont and the leader of the Unsullied. As the trio leave to preapre for their mission Barristan Selmy stops Jorah and says he wants to go with them. Jorah reminds Barristan that he is of the Queen’s Guard, and so needs to stay with Daenerys all the time, and do whatever it takes to keep her safe.
The three successfully break into Yunkai, but are set upon by around a dozen slaves from the city. After killing them, they take a moment to breathe, only for streams more men to come pouring out.
Back at camp, Daenerys is getting increasingly tense. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen her act uncertain, but she drops her guard to ask Barristan how long it takes to sack a city. As he goes to answer, Jorah and the captain of the Unsullied come back, splattered with blood. Jorah tells Daenerys that the slaves gave in and Yunkai is now theirs.
For a brief moment happiness crosses Daenerys’ face, but then the smile gets wiped off when she realises Daario isn’t with them. It’s okay, though, he’s not dead! In he swans, carrying the flag of Yunkai, which he presents to Daenerys.
Walder Frey’s place
And so it was here that much of the action of this episode took place.
The episode opened with Robb seeking advice from his mother, repairing the broken relationship the two have had for so long. She offers him some tips, but her strategy amounts to: “Kill them all.” It’s something that will come back to haunt everyone later.
The Starks and Tullys make their way to Walder Frey’s castle, where Robb grovels before Frey and his daughters. The comedy here and throughout these scenes – Walder’s inability to remember the name of one of his daughters, the line-up scenario, the names, Edmure Tully’s facial expressions – only serve to heighten the tragedy that comes later. Frey forgives Robb, and tells him his men can set up camp outside, but he has room for some of his guests in the castle.
Meanwhile Arya and the Hound, after stealing a cart of pig meat, arrive outside Frey’s castle. As Arya stares at it across the river, the Hound tells her she is nervous. She is so close, yet she’s afraid she’ll never get there. It’s a premonition I didn’t see coming (I guess that’s the point).
And so to our second wedding in two episodes, as Edmure Tully marries Roslin Frey. Having dreaded this moment, he’s pleasantly surprised to find she’s actually quite pretty and in the end this wedding, unlike that of Sansa and Tyrion, actually passes off joyfully. The bride and groom seem to be enjoying each other’s company at the head table, unlike Sansa and Tyrion, who were simply enduring. The joy in Edmure and Roslin’s case is simply another harbinger of doom.
As the happy couple are taken off for the bedding ceremony (quite an ominous ritual), Talisa and Robb share a moment while Catelyn looks on proudly. But out of the corner of her eye she catches sight of one of Frey’s men shutting the doors to the banquet hall, and then clocks that the band has started playing a sort-of funeral march – The Rains of Castamere.
You can see the cogs turning in Catelyn’s mind, but it’s only when she sits down next to Roose Bolton and as Frey makes a speech that she realises what is going to happen. Pulling back the sleeve of Bolton’s top, she sees he is wearing chain mail underneath. It’s these little moments that, again, make the horror to come all the more awful.
And then it all goes mad. In a horrific scene, a man comes out of nowhere and stabs Talisa repeatedly in the stomach, while arrows fly from one end of the hall to another, catching Robb and Catelyn, and Robb’s men have their throats cut one by one. Outside, the same thing is happening.
The episode cuts between scenes inside the castle and outside, where Arya slips away from the Hound, realising something is wrong. As she watches, she sees men slaughtered, and then hears the howling of Robb’s direwolf. Unable to do anything, she has to watch as a group of men shoot it dead. When she catches a glimpse of it beneath the door of its pen, she sees its eyes shut, a symbol of what has gone on inside.
Robb crawls his way over to Talisa, who is already dead, while Catelyn takes the chance to grab a knife and Frey’s wife. She threatens to kill Frey’s wife if he doesn’t let Robb leave, and promises that if Robb goes she will stay as a hostage, and the Starks will never seek revenge on the Freys. As she talks and talks, Frey calmly sits there, until at last he says he can always find another wife. As Robb utters the word “mother”, Roose Bolton stabs him in the heart, and tells him the Lannisters send their greetings.
Catelyn drops Frey’s wife to the floor, slashing her neck in the process, and blood spurts everywhere. As Catelyn watches her son die, a man steps up to her and slashes her neck. And so, in one fell swoop, we’ve lost the oldest Starks, and the Tullys.
These are the most horrific scenes we’ve seen on Game of Thrones, hands down. While the murders are gruesome, it’s they way and why they’re carried out that makes them so much more terrible – at the whim of a man who feels slighted and so wanted a little bit of revenge.
Whatever you say about the Lannisters, and the Baratheons, and the Starks, and the Targaryens, they are all fighting a war and bloodshed is part of that. But at Frey’s castle, the Tullys and Starks were meant to be safe, and found themselves destroyed by a man who wasn’t fighting a war, he was simply fighting a loss of pride.