Here we go again.
As I stated in my recap, I was worried about Game of Thrones being able to pull it off twice. It was one thing to keep Ned Stark’s beheading a secret. Fewer people had read the books. The fandom for the show was still growing. There was a marathon only days prior to the penultimate episode, so a slew of new viewers had been added right before it went down. Besides, Sean Bean was the biggest name in the cast–he was the traditional “hero.” No one kills off the biggest name in the cast, the main protagonist, and certainly they don’t do it pointlessly. Right?
But it’s different now. It’s been three seasons. Many, many more people have read the books. People aren’t just tuning in. We all know a big thing happens in the penultimate episode every season. Plus, Robb just didn’t seem to me to have the same draw to viewers that Ned Stark did. He was kind of lame–wasn’t he?
Turns out he was much better than I gave him credit for. In lieu of Ned Stark, there was an assumption among views that that the hero’s journey lay with Robb. Once again, we are having the non-book readers who didn’t know, and had no warning, screaming that this is IT! They will never watch the show AGAIN! This show is the WORST! They are BOYCOTTING! Just like we threatened LAST TIME!
Oh, for heavens sake people. We get it. We were there long before you, and we threw the book across the room and screamed at the revelation that this was a world where Robb Stark was dead and Joffrey
Lannister Baratheon was alive. But let me tell you–you guys had it easy. Once again, when you read it in the books, it is so much worse.
Let me run it down for you, starting with Talisa. In the end, I have judged her to have been “value added.” I was less than pleased with her character’s creation initially. Robb’s wife in the books, Jeyne Westerling, was the sort of dumb girl who wouldn’t question marrying a King and ruining his life. Talisa seemed far too sensible. The idea behind Jeyne was that, with no guidance in his life, Robb marries a weak girl child of one of his bannermen because he assumes that all women are strong and capable like the Starks. Instead he ends up with a thin hipped girl who has not done her one job as Queen–conceived a child. (It turns out later the reason she didn’t conceive is her mother, recognizing her daughter had hitched to the losing side, had been feeding her moon tea under the guise of a fertility potion.) Jeyne is terrified of the direwolf and drags the company down by her presence.
But it gets better! Jeyne is left behind when Robb rides to the Red Wedding, because of the insult she would be to Walder Frey. After the Stark family are killed, she goes home like an obedient daughter, apologizes profusely to the Lannisters, and is pardoned. So much for a love story worth losing your kingdom over. So much for the hero dying with his love by his side.
Speaking of Robb, the conquering hero? He was never a hero. His decision to break his oath and marry for “love,” or in reality “honor,” in a world where no one marries for love–let alone honor–doomed his cause. (The reason I have judged Talisa value added in the end is because her death in Robb’s arms helps spell that realization out on screen.) But it’s not just the lack of hero’s journey that makes his death so startling in the books. This chapter, told first from Catelyn’s perspective and then from Arya’s, occurs at Chapter 51, page 574, out of 81 chapters and 1116 pages. That is to say, only little more than halfway through. Who expects an entire phalanx of characters to be gunned down by crossbows somewhere in the beginning of the third act? On the other hand, the TV show put it in the slot we all know is the slot where “big things happen.” Episode Nine, Season One: chop Ned’s head off. Episode Nine, Season Two: the Battle of Blackwater/Tyrion gains his scar (and nearly lost his own life.) Anyone who wasn’t expecting a game changing something in Episode Nine, Season Three hasn’t been paying attention.
The final reason that the Red Wedding was so much more horrific in the books, whereas TV watchers got off lightly is based on how the book is structured versus the TV show. The books are told from first person perspectives. The Red Wedding massacre inside the chamber is seen from Catelyn’s. So first, we are seeing it from the perspective of a woman consumed by grief for her dead husband, dead father, and supposedly dead sons. Second, she is blind to the reality of the situation. She puts all the stock of her faith in that “bread and salt ceremony” at the beginning of the episode, as giving them “guest rights.” Even when the alarm bells are ringing in her head, she keeps telling herself they have guest right. No one would be so dishonorable!… (Woman! Have you MET Walder Frey?) This blindness is maddening to read, especially when she sees the chainmaile–not on Bolton, but on a random Frey. Best of all, her hostage taking to free her son? It’s not Frey’s wife. That was another “value added” moment for the show, to make it clear to those who might not have clued in with the bread-and-salt that Frey is a man with no scruples. Instead she grabs the mentally infirm jester. Not a hostage worth anything. She stands there watching as her son and first born is killed before her eyes, and we experience her interior monologue as she loses her grip on reality and no longer understands what is happening around her.
As the Frey raises the knife to her throat, all she can think is: “Not my hair. Ned loves my hair.” In the end, she no longer even remembers her husband is dead.
I’m not even getting to the tales we hear later, like the fact that the Freys cut Greywind’s head off and sew it on to Robb Stark’s body and parade it around. YOU’RE WELCOME EVERYONE.
What I want to know from the boycott threateners is this: Didn’t you learn anything from Ned’s death? No one is safe.
Have you ever heard the saying Everytime You Ask About The Next Book, GRRM Kills A Stark? We’ve still got more to lose. Brace yourselves. Winter isn’t even here yet.
As The Player said “The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.”
But trust me, you want to keep watching. There’s still another wedding to get through, and this one involves Tyrells.