Game of Thrones: 309 “The Rains Of Castamere” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
Traditionally, episode 9 of any season of Game of Thrones is the one which delivers a solid roundhouse kick to the audience: in season one it was Ned Stark’s execution, in season two it was the Battle of Blackwater, and now we have an event which is quite possibly the most visceral gut-punch the show’s creators have ever delivered.
MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW!
Across the Narrow Sea
Daenerys continues her conquest of Essos by planning an attack on Yunkai with the assistance of the slightly lecherous Daario Naharis: he suggests going in the back with a few soldiers, killing the guards and opening the gates from the inside. Barristan Selmy suggests that he go with the group, but Jorah Mormont turns him down, emphasising the quiet power struggle that is apparently going on in Team Dany.
So Jorah, Daario and Grey Worm infiltrate Yunkai and get attacked by a large number of soldiers, the first wave of whom they take out with very little difficulty. However, a second, much larger wave arrives, and although we are not shown the fight, Team Dany is victorious, and Daenerys takes the city. Things are going exceedingly well for Daenerys at the moment, and judging by the way this show treats its characters, something very, very bad is just around the corner. But only time will tell on that one, and for now I’m enjoying Daenerys’ rise to power, even if she didn’t personally do much in this episode.
Beyond the Wall (which, for the sake of ease, I’m including in ‘the North’ this week), Sam and Gilly continue on towards an abandoned castle called the Nightfort, which apparently has the best passage to get past the Wall. Sam tells Gilly that he knows all of this stuff from books, she calls him a ‘wizard’, and he looks about as happy as he has done all season.
Elsewhere, the stories of Bran and Rickon and Jon Snow and the wildlings come as close together as they have in a long time. Hiding out in an abandoned village away from a storm, Team Bran also find themselves hiding from a wildling raiding party which just so happens to include Jon Snow: the wildlings came to kill a horse farmer and steal his horses, but Jon and Ygritte showed the old man some mercy and let him escape, but they track him to right outside the tower in which Team Bran is hiding out.
However, Gentle Giant Hodor gets spooked by the thunder and starts making a commotion, but Bran manages to calm him down by entering his mind (probably a lot of room in there) and causing him to pass out, an ability which no other Warg has ever manifested, according to Jojen.
Meanwhile, Tormund plans to kill the farmer before Orell suggests that Jon do it to prove that he’s no longer a Crow. Jon hesitates and Ygritte kills the man in his place, causing Tormund to order the wildlings to kill the pair of them: however, Jon manages to kill Orell (but not before Orell can make his hawk attack Jon, I assume with the comman ‘Peck! Peck like your life depends on it!’) and escape, thanks in part to Bran and Jojen taking control of the two direwolves they left outside and helping to fight off the wildlings.
Bran assumes that Jon is heading to Castle Black, and splits his team up: he will go to Castle Black along with Jojen, Meera and Hodor, and Osha will take Rickon to Last Hearth, home of the Umber family. Poor little Rickon isn’t too happy about this, but he says his goodbyes and Osha takes him away under cover of darkness.
It was nice to finally have some of the previously separate plotlines beginning to intertwine, even if it was in an incidental sense in this case. It was bound to happen eventually, with several groups of characters actively looking for each other, and it was satisfying when it finally happened.
It’s taken me a whole morning to summon up the strength to write about this segment: that is just how harrowing it was. But here goes…
In the Stark camp, Robb asks his mother’s advice on his plan to take Casterly Rock, stating the times he didn’t listen to her and the bad things that happened because of it. She tells him to attack the Lannisters where it hurts, and it seems as though the bond between mother and son is on its way to being repaired.
They soon arrive at the Twins and are given hospitality and promised protection by King of the Curmudgeons Walder Frey: Robb apologises to both Walder and his rather large family, and in turn Walder ‘inspects’ Talisa, making various sexually inappropriate comments (but what else is to be expected from an old man in this show?).
Nearby, the Hound and Arya approach the Twins: they come across a trader and the Hound prepares to kill him in order to steal his cart, but Arya dissuades him and knocks the trader out instead. Shortly after this, they have a conversation about fear, in which Arya reveals, to the Hound’s dismay that she knows about his fear of fire and what his brother did to him when they were young.
Meanwhile the wedding ceremony itself goes off without a hitch (no pun intended. I’m too traumatised for puns), and Edmure is even pleasantly surprised by his bride’s attractiveness: they are soon carried off for the bedding ceremony, and Catelyn watches, confused, as one of the Freys closes and locks the door to the banquet hall, and listens, worried, as the musicians begin playing ‘The Rains of Castamere’, the song referenced by Cersei in last week’s episode.
Outside, the Hound attempts to gain entrance to the Twins by posing as a trader, but they are turned away by the Frey guards. However, Arya hops off the cart and sneaks inside the castle, away from the Hound.
Then, all hell breaks loose.
Walder signals his men inside the hall, and Talisa is stabbed multiple times in the stomach. Robb and Catelyn are shot by the crossbow-wielding musicians, and the Stark men inside and outside the banquet hall are slaughtered by the Freys, a slaughter which Arya is witness to. Not only that, but she witnesses several Frey men killing Robb’s direwolf (congratulations, Game of Thrones, you literally kicked the dog) before being rescued and taken away by the Hound in much the same way as Yoren saved her from the chaos after her father’s death back in season one.
Back inside, Catelyn threatens Walder’s wife at knifepoint, attempting to bargain for Robb’s life as her son watches his wife die. Walder refuses her offer, and Roose Bolton (from here on out to be referred to as ‘Traitorous Bastard Roose Bolton’) stabs Robb in the heart in the name of the Lannisters. Catelyn lets out the most blood-curdling howl I’ve heard in a long time and kills Walder’s wife, before her own throat is slit by one of the Freys.
Gut-punch very much achieved.
As engaging as it was horrifying, ‘The Rains of Castamere’ had a palpable sense of dread running through it from beginning to end, and succeeded in building characters up before tearing them away from us in the most brutal way possible. The segments in the North and Across the Narrow Sea were as enjoyable as ever, but it is inevitable that the Red Wedding will be the defining moment of this episode, if not the entire season.
Now I’m off to try and rediscover my happy place.