The critically-acclaimed (and jaw-droppingly brilliant) HBO series Game of Thrones has returned to screens on both sides of the Atlantic. Each week, Richard Browne reviews each episode as the stakes in Westeros rise even higher.
SPOILERS. I know there always are in these reviews. But seriously. Watch the episode before reading any further or you’ll end up desperately wishing you had.
Still here? Right then. Robb plots to take Casterly Rock – the Lannisters’ home – and this time consults his mother. But first they must endure a frosty welcome from Walder Frey. Frey expects an apology from Robb for spurning his daughters, and gets one.
Daenerys puts her trust in Daario to win Yunkai. Fortunately for her, he delivers it. As a bonus, he doesn’t get Ser Jorah, or indeed himself, killed.
Bran and company have a fair bit of airtime in this episode, enough for Bran to finally put those wolf dreams to some use and also to say an emotional farewell, a really well done scene that harks back to the end of season two.
Their path just about crosses with Jon’s, as the apparent turncoat finally has to make his choice in the middle of a storm. Ygritte has a face like thunder when he does choose.
Arya saves the life of an old man and goads the Hound – never usually a good idea. She comes so close to being reunited with her family… but no, frustrated once more.
That’s because of the Freys’ great betrayal. The wedding ceremony and feast are pleasant enough, if also tense, but the Freys’ ‘hospitality’ does not extend to allowing their guests to leave in one piece.
This episode whizzes by. There’s action and intrigue aplenty, but there’s only one plotline I could really focus on: the Red Wedding.
This, more than anything else this season, makes me wonder what watching this would be like had I not already seen events played out on the page. The signs are there – Stark-Frey hostility, and Roose Bolton sliding ominously in and out of shot.
But I doubt anyone who did not know what to expect could imagine the vast slaughter to come. A quick survey of social media shows bewilderment and a frequent use of the F-word. Yup, those Freys are almost universally hated right now.
This was the set-piece that showrunners Benioff and Weiss have been driving Thrones towards from the start. But did they make it work?
Yes. It drew no tears from me – surprisingly – but it is somewhat numbing. I’ve failed to shift the black cloud from above my head since watching this morning (come on, you didn’t think I could wait till the evening for this, did you?).
David Bradley is chilling and contemptible as Walder Frey, and the presence of Talisa at the wedding certainly adds to the story, especially as her speculation over a son called Eddard is truly touching and becomes even more poignant as she meets her doom alongside Robb.
The playing of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ (the Lannisters’ signature tune) heralds the massacre, but I feel more could have been made of the music, had it been louder and more prolonged. The impact of ‘Rains’ is diluted by the shift to Arya outside (I’m not sure how I would have arranged all of it, but I certainly believe the cutaway disrupts the climactic final scene).
Ultimately, it’s well enough executed to leave me feeling blue. Nothing this hyped up ever quite matches one’s expectations, not that I was likely to be happy with a scene that sees one of my favourite characters murdered in cold blood, just as there are few happy endings in Westeros.
Good (or horrible) as this episode is, to be truly immersed in the bloodbath you simply have to read the book. You’ll despise George R. R. Martin as much as Frey and Bolton in doing so, but his point-of-view technique is never better deployed than here, as Catelyn loses everything – her friends, her son and finally her mind – as the slaughter is laid out in lurid detail.
Thrones made a valiant attempt to match that – and has provoked shock and horror from fans – but as someone who’s read the book I felt it fell a little short.
Roose Bolton: “The Lannisters send their regards.”
The best and worst. The betrayal the season has been building up to, and the stuff of my nightmares.
Winning the game
Joffrey, Cersei, Tywin… the whole lot of them. This episode may not visit King’s Landing and its rulers, but their Stark enemies have just been wiped out.
Here be dragons?
Daenerys takes Yunkai without needing her dragons. It’s more about the wolves – and an eagle – as the other beasts of Westeros go on the rampage.