Ned Stark’s beheading in Game of Thrones‘ first season was brutal. This week’s episode makes that murder look like a gentle mercy killing.
If you’re among what some fans of the series refer to as the “unsullied” – aka those who haven’t read George R. R. Martin’s book series and are therefore unspoiled about what’s likely to happen in the TV series – the hour probably put you into a catatonic state. I am decidedly sullied… and it was still a really sad, grossly violent, hard-to-watch episode.
Let’s all get through this together, shall we? Here’s what happened in “The Rains of Castamere.”
HOUSE TARGARYEN | We’ll start far away from The Twins – how about outside of Yunkai, where Daario Naharis is advising Daenerys on the best way to take the city? His plan of attack boils down to, “I’ll knock on the back door, kill the guards and slip around to the front door, where I’ll let your army in.” Daario, you stole that scheme from any high-schooler trying to sneak his or her friends into a movie through the theater’s exit door. Is it any wonder that Jorah and Barristan are wary of the pretty interloper? But Grey Worm trusts him, so Dany tells them they’re to go that very evening. Though it looks dodgy for a minute or two – at one point, Khaleesi’s three look like they’re about to be made into Yunkai chowder, and I fear for Jorah because he’s strong but old and you just know he’s got a trick knee or bad back or something – but the former knight returns to report that the slave soldiers “threw down their spears and surrendered.” Daenerys only fully exhales when Lotsa Locks Ken Doll is back safe, too, kneeling at her feet and saying, “The city is yours, my queen.”
THE (CURRENT AND FORMER) MEN OF THE WALL | Sam leads Gilly through the woods, telling her about the black gate: a secret passage through The Wall that’s buried deep in one of the castles along the gigantic block of ice. She’s dumbfounded that he knows all of that just from reading, a skill she clearly doesn’t have. “You’re like a wizard,” she sighs. The geeky glow of pride on his face at her inadvertent compliment is fleeting, but THINGS GET BAD LATER and I need to hang on every moment of happiness that I can, OK?
Elsewhere, Jon’s having a hard time convincing Ygritte and the gang of wildlings not to murder a horse trader whose farm they’ve stumbled across. Of course, they don’t listen to him; they storm the house and then pursue the trader when he takes off on horseback. (Side note: Now that they’re south of The Wall, aren’t the free folk sweaty in all of their fur trappings? The weather looks positively springlike, guys. Lose a raccoon tail or two.)
When they corner the man, Tormund and Orell think it’s a good idea for Jon to kill him. Though Jon stands in the pouring rain and holds his sword to the trader’s throat, he can’t bring himself to do the deed… so Ygritte does it for him with an arrow. Tormund and Orell immediately go attack both Snow and his “crow wife.” Jon knocks the redhead out of the way and winds up killing Orell, who wargs into his eagle and screams down from the sky, claws ripping at Snow’s pretty face. And for that, I will cut you, bird. Through a sequence of events we’ll get into in a minute, Summer the direwolf jumps into the action and saves Jon, who hops on a horse and takes off. It’s probably best he’s outta there; Ygritte looks ready to divest him of his most important parts.
HOUSE STARK: TALK-TO-THE-ANIMALS EDITION | Unbeknownst to Jon, Bran, Osha, Rickon, Hodor, Meera and Jojen have taken refuge from the storm in a nearby tower. A panicked Hodor is scared of the thunder and makes a ruckus; as the group tries to quiet him, Bran’s eyes roll back, turn white and he falls slack. At the same time, Hodor instantly calms and falls gently to his knees. Yep, Bran was somehow able to enter the simple giant’s mind and chill him out. Jojen urges Bran to mind-meld with Summer in order to see what’s going on outside. Though the Stark boy claims he can’t, the greenseer politely disagrees. “You’re a warg, Bran,” he says. “It’s in your blood.” So it’s actually Bran – in Summer’s body – who saves his half-brother.
When Bran comes back to himself, he relates what he saw and then instructs Osha to take Rickon and Shaggy Dog to a nearby safe site. His little brother cries and protests, but Bran is resolute. “Robb’s at war, and I’m going beyond the wall,” he says. Osha knows it’s for the best. As Rickon says goodbye to his brother for probably the last time (good God, how much heartache can this family endure? Don’t answer that), Osha asks Meera and Jojen to “Keep this one safe. He means the world to me.”
HOUSE STARK: NICE-DAY-FOR-A-RED-WEDDING EDITION | Just before they arrive at the Freys’, Robb consults his mother about his plan to take Casterly Rock. After all, he didn’t heed her advice against sending Theon to deal with his father, and now the north is crawling with Ironborn and Winterfell is in ruins. She is clearly touched that he wants her input, which she gives gladly: “Show them how it feels to lose what they love.”
The Starks’ arrival at The Twins is marked with a ceremonial sharing of salt and bread and Robb’s formal apology to Frey’s long line of daughters and granddaughters, a plain-looking lot trotted out like the Von Trapp children in a women’s prison production of Sound of Music. Even Frey can’t remember all of their names; maybe that spot in his brain is taken up by the letchy comments he aims Talisa’s way. He deems her “prettier than this lot, that’s for sure” (and he’s not wrong), then announces, “When I was your age, I’d have broken 50 oaths to get into that without a second thought.” Charming. He also notes that he “can always tell what’s going on beneath a dress,” which will prove horribly important later. He ends their meeting by telling everyone to prepare for Edmure’s marriage to one of his other daughters. “The wine will flow red, the music will play loud and we’ll put this mess behind us,” he says.
While Robb’s men drink and carouse in camp outside the castle, Edmure is pleased to see that his bride Roslin does not take after her sisters in the looks department. She’s very young, yes, but quite pretty. (Side note: I love the moment that the Blackfish looks over and is taken aback by Frey’s other daughters, who’ve been drinking him in like Dornish wine throughout the ceremony. Heh.) Edmure and the girl are wed, and the reception begins. Roose Bolton is there, sweet-talking Lady Catelyn. Talisa and Robb happily talk about their baby, and when she suggests naming it Eddard if it’s a boy, both the King in the North and I get a little verklempt. “Don’t you want to teach little Ned Stark how to ride horses?” she coos, and they kiss.
Hold onto the memory of that happy moment, everyone, because it’s the last one we’ll have for a while. After Edmure and Roslin are carried off in the bedding ceremony, Catelyn seems to know that something’s amiss. One of the Frey sons closes the door to the reception chamber, and Frey halts the music. “Your grace, I feel I’ve been remiss in my duties,” the old man says. “I haven’t shown you the hospitality you deserve. My king was married, and I owe my new queen a wedding gift.” As that’s going on, Catelyn looks down and realizes that Bolton is wearing chain mail under his wedding finery. She slaps him and tries to warn Robb, but it’s far too late. One of the Frey sons pulls a dagger from his sleeve and – in a move that was not in the book and therefore horrified me just as much as it did you – stabs Talisa in the belly multiple times. Chaos breaks out as Frey’s archers hit Robb and then various Frey folk attack the Stark contingent present in the room. Even Catelyn takes an arrow in the back.
Before long, nearly everyone related to the Stark cause is dead. Robb drags himself over to his lifeless wife and holds her while Catelyn grabs Frey’s young wife and holds a knife to her throat, screaming that she’ll kill the girl if Robb isn’t allowed to go free. Frey shrugs. “I’ll find another,” he tosses out nonchalantly. Just then, Bolton swoops in and drives a dagger into Robb’s midsection. “The Lannisters send their regards,” he intones as Ned’s oldest son falls down, dead. Lady Catelyn screams and slits Frey’s wife’s throat, then just stands there with her mouth agape. And then, just when you’re absolutely sure it can’t get any worse than what you’ve already seen… a man steps into the frame and does the same to Catelyn.
But wait! It gets even more heartbreaking! Arya and the Hound arrive at The Twins just in time to see Robb’s wolf Grey Wind get arrowed into the afterlife and to see Frey’s men finishing off the Stark loyalists in the camp. The dashed hope, which becomes utter horror, on Arya’s face might be the worst thing in the entire episode. Knowing that stuff is about to go down, the Hound knocks her out and carries her away.
What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!Follow @kimroots