TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - The Rains of Castamere

How are we all dong then? Recovered yet? Able to talk about it with colleagues without yelling "WHYYYYYY?" And if you have no idea what I'm going on about, best avoid this particular post. It contains major spoilers.

Traditionally speaking, the ninth episode of Game of Thrones is a Big Event; in the first season we had unlucky Ned Stark (Sean Bean) beheaded by Joffrey in front of his children and the second season was the excellent Battle of the Blackwater. So what did the ninth episode of the third season have in store for us? The last few episodes have been slightly plodding, but The Rains of Castamere was the big pay-off, possibly more than anyone (especially those who haven't read the books) expected. I've been using the chess metaphor for a while throughout these reviews because that is exactly what this season has felt like, with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss positioning their players ready for this Big Event.

If the last few episodes have been largely about positioning the pieces, well The Rains of Castamere was the chess equivalent of a player having a tantrum, sending the board flying into the air with pieces scattering all over the place. It was the big shake-up that the show had needed and we've now got several characters in vastly different places to where they began the season. At the beginning of the episode, we have Dany (Emilia Clarke) ready to take the city of Yunkai, Jon (Kit Harington) over the Wall with the wildlings, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) not so far away getting ready to cross the Wall, Arya (Maisie Williams) is getting ever closer to be reuniting with her family and Robb (Richard Madden) is heading for the Twins for a wedding.

The episode predominantly narrowed its focus on the Stark family and was all the better for it, tightening the story and bringing the audience-favourite family heartbreakingly closer together than it has been since the first half of the first season. A pleasant and sorrowful surprise was the scene between Bran and Rickon (Art Parkinson) as their party split; Rickon to head to the Umbers, Stark bannermen, with Osha (Natalie Tena, giving another fantastic performance this week) and Bran to cross the wall with Hodor (Kristian Nairn), Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick). The farewell scene between the brothers was touching and sad as Parkinson especially brought forth an innocent emotional performance that inspired more sympathy for Rickon than I've felt before.

The scene was also heartbreaking in the group's proximity to Jon, attacking the same farm with the wildlings. Finally unable to betray the Stark mentality of honour and mercy, Jon reveals his true self to the wildlings and Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and is attacked by the group. His final parting comment to Orell (MacKenzie Crook) was wonderfully venomous and Harington played the scene well as did Leslie, every bit of Ygritte's sense of betrayal etched across her face as Jon rode away. It is also the closest that Jon has come to his brothers since he left for the Wall and it was great to see Bran (now in full possession of his warg abilities) do his bit to save Jon's life, taking over Summer and Shaggy Dog and seeing his brother yet unable to do anything else.

Elsewhere, we had Arya continuing her journey with the Hound (Rory McCann) to the Twins to be reunited with her mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and her brother Robb. Again, the Stark sense of mercy and honour was on display when Arya prevented the Hound from killing an old man on the road who had seen them. Frequently, Williams is paired with much older actors and completely holds her own against them, leading to some wonderful scenes. Last season, it was with Charles Dance as Tywin, this season it has been with Paul Kaye's Thoros, Richard Dormer's Beric Dondarrion and now with the Hound. Williams has long been one of the best actors in the show and she demonstrated it again here; Arya is a little ball of fury tempered by fear, a fact that does not escape the Hound. Obviously, her worst fears are realised here as she gets to the Twins at exactly the wrong time, but I shall return to that shortly.

With this focus on the Stark family, the inclusion of Dany's storyline felt a little incongruous with the grime of the rest of the episode and it seemed as if it had been placed there out of necessity to wrap up that particular narrative as soon as possible. However, it did have one of the best choreographed fight scenes we have yet seen on the show as Jorah (Iain Glen), Daario (Ed Skrein) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) infiltrated Yunkai and were set upon by a cohort of guards. Almost effortlessly, each man fought with a different fighting style, accurately conveying the different backgrounds and upbringings of the characters without going into expositionary detail. It was expertly done and a thrill to watch. I also enjoyed Dany's snub of Jorah in favour of the considerably more dashing Daario; one to watch that one.

And so we must turn to the other thread of the episode, the one that on first glance would not seem to herald the drama of the other narrative strands. After all, we've already the conquering of Yunkai and Jon versus the wildlings. What else could the show possibly offer us in the wedding of Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies)? In short, death. And lots of it. For us book readers, this episode marked a relief, something I shall talk about more in a follow-up post, but for the people who had no idea  that the Red Wedding was going to happen, it must have been quite the scene. It was, quite simply, the most shocking moment in the show's history.

Returning to the chess metaphor, the Red Wedding was the moment in which the stalemate between Robb and Tywin was broken, not honourably in open play, but through a sleight of hand, turning allegiances without broadcasting it. Director David Nutter handled the moment, in all its carnage, beautifully as the band began to play The Rains of Castamere marking the shift in tone. The brutality of the scene was unlike anything we have yet witnessed in the show, particularly the vicious stabbing of Talisa (Oona Chaplin), designed to specifically target her unborn child.

However, it was the performances that made this scene all that it was and more. David Bradley has just made Walder Frey the most hated man in Westeros, possibly even outdoing Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) on this occasion. He was so wonderfully offhand about the whole thing that it just made you hate him even more. Richard Madden has been a strong actor throughout this series, conveying Robb's nobility and resolve, but also his helplessness in a war that he should have been winning. The expression on his face when he saw his wife murdered was chilling, the battle to get to her with his body shot through with arrows was admirable. His simple statement of 'Mother' was enough to reduce me to tears. 

And then there is Michelle Fairley at the centre of it with a performance so gut-wrenching I actually sobbed out loud after her wail. That wail. The desperate howl of a mother who has just lost everything. Fairley has, like many of the cast members, been a strong but quieter addition to the Game of Thrones cast, but here she shone, capturing the bleak torment and inevitability of Cat's situation in that one, heartbreaking wail. To have that followed by an entirely silent credit sequence was a master-stroke by Nutter. 

We were all too shocked to process anything else.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the previous episode, Second Sons, here.

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