Winter has come for the Starks once more. The infamy known as The Red Wedding saw to the end of some of the major players in the game, and the episode itself has left such a profound emotional scar that viewers have flocked to the internet to voice their disbelief. And while ‘The Rains of Castamere’ brought forth a storm of resentment, it also marked an exciting development for the show’s future. Don’t cancel that HBO subscription just yet. Let’s take a look at why The Red Wedding unfortunately had to happen, and what this means for all the other characters in the Game of Thrones.
Yes, Robb and Catelyn Stark are dead, murdered by the treacherous Freys. Even more shocking this time around was the murder of Robb’s pregnant wife, Lady Talisa (WHYYY!). It seemed that an alliance with the Freys, which would give Robb the sufficient numbers to sack Casterly Rock, was indeed too good to be true. This realization came far too late for Catelyn, and in a desperate attempt to salvage what was left of her kingdom she pleaded for her son’s life. But the show was quick to dispel all hope as it drove a knife into her dying son. Afterwards, we could only scream alongside Catelyn as her world was taken from her. The final shot of the episode then became all the more haunting as the camera lingered on her grief-stricken soul, and the show gave us one last shocker by slitting her throat before cutting to a deep and silent black.
Regardless of whether you read the books prior to watching the show, one thing is certain: we now share the same reality. I, for one, was deeply dreading this particular plot point because, like so many others, I was rooting for the Starks. So why kill them off? Since book one, author George R.R. Martin championed the Stark family as the heroes of the story, specifically with the character of Ned. Honorable, and loyal without question, Ned seemed the most likely to survive. After all, good always triumphs over evil, right? Well, Mr. Martin doesn’t think so. And towards the end of book one, Martin did the unthinkable: he killed off his own protagonist – an act that single-handedly initiated Robb into the game of thrones. Like his father, he too seemed the most likely to win, to achieve independence from the Iron Throne and avenge his father’s death. But Martin showed us instead that he was destined to share the same fate.
I suppose the real question now is whether the show has anything morally redeeming about it. I’ll tell you right now that the answer is no. Morals do not apply in the game of thrones. Injustice has become order, and the corrupt are idolized as gods. But amidst the darkness, there are men like Ned Stark who believe in the greater good. And though Ned may be someone who we all look up to, in Westeros he is a threat to the world order. He threatens the cycle of chaos by offering peace and compromise. Therefore, he has to die in order for this world to survive. That is the cruel morality of Martin’s fantasy. So while you may be quick to assume that Martin is a douche, remember that he had set up the rules of this world since book one. Now, I’ve read the books prior to watching the show, which has given me the chance to experience the series in two different formats. And after reaching this point in the show, I’ve realized that Mr. Martin has in fact validated the rules of his fantasy through a horrific event like The Red Wedding.
This is a world where honor is no longer an ideal. It’s a sin. Greed and vengeance, however, translate to power. For a time, Robb was a part of the corruption because his cause was motivated by revenge, which is perhaps the greatest motive in the game. His biggest mistake, however, was trying to right the wrong that he had committed on House Frey. But that’s not to say that he was a fool for doing so. He simply had no other choice. Like his father, he too believed in a better world and assumed that everyone would join him in time. He then went on believing that his honor as a Stark was still worth something to a man like Walder Frey. Catelyn believed so too, and swore her honor in the hopes that he would allow her son to live. But the cold hard look on Lord Walder’s face conveyed a brutal truth, that honor means nothing in this world. And while the Starks’ journey may have been ill-fated, it also allowed Robb and Catelyn to die with honor, which is something worth striving for especially when righteousness becomes a lost cause.
A story as bleak as this one runs the risk of alienating its own viewers. After all, what kind of hope can a viewer derive from a show that kills off characters who we’ve come to root for. But that’s the most exciting part about the show because it goes against your expectations. Whereas most television shows settle for convention and complacency, Game of Thrones avoids convention not by merely flipping it on its head, but by cutting it off completely. It’s risky, but it’s also ground-breaking. Over the course of three seasons, the show-runners have proved that they’re more than capable of presenting Martin’s grand vision as a television series. They’re bold enough to do it in ten episodes and also brave enough to tell every character’s story, even if it ends in tragedy. And the fact that audiences have responded so emotionally following an event like The Red Wedding is nothing short of amazing. It shows our attachment to these characters, and our own personal growth as viewers. We care for them, we root for them, and when they’re gone, we mourn for them. In that regard, we don’t just watch the show, we experience it.
Now, if you’re looking for some kind of resolution following The Red Wedding, I can’t offer you any. What happened, happened, and it cannot be undone. But what’s about to happen in the next season will hopefully make up for all the grief we’ve suffered in this one. In the season finale, Bran gave us a tale about the Rat Cook, a man who murdered a king’s son under his own roof. To top off the slaughter, the cook baked the son into a pie and served it to the king. Enraged, the gods cursed the cook and transformed him into a rat, thereby forcing him to eat his own young for the remainder of his days. So, in a bit of foreshadowing, Bran tells us that those who kill guests under their roof shall suffer, because to do so is a treachery that not even the gods can forgive. No doubt, the Freys have violated the laws of hospitality, and thus they have opened themselves up for a wrath that no one in Westeros could anticipate. But what will happen to them won’t be based on moral grounds. It’s just good-old fashioned revenge. Yes, Winter has come for the Starks, but you can bet your sweet arse that Winter will be coming for the Freys soon enough.