While I’ve now added episodes from other, more recent shows as alternates, when I originally drafted this, this was the most recent episode on this list. Give me a break on the add-ons, I’m only guessing how well they’ll hold up. Despite the fact that it had just aired, I was confident that it would hold up as not just one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones, but as one of the most memorable moments in television. Looking back on it now, I don’t regret my choice. I think that I have had episodes of the show I have enjoyed more, but I still remember the way everyone talked about this episode the week after it aired. It basically covered the internet for a month. It was big, is what I’m saying. It was the Red Wedding.
Game of Thrones, and the book series it’s based off of, A Song of Ice and Fire, takes place in a fantasy world that’s unfortunately a little too close to reality. The bad guys win, a lot. The good guys are rarely actually that good. People die all the time, no matter how much the fans loved them. It capped off its first season by killing off one of the most noble characters it had, and for reasons that were completely believable.
For those who don’t know, here’s a summary of what happens leading to this episode: It takes place in Westeros, which is basically Britain, but with ice zombies to the North and some dragons on occasion. Okay, so it might just be Britain. The king, Robert (Mark Addy), gets murdered and his best friend, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), finds out and reports that the king’s children are the illegitimate spawn of incest between the queen, Cersei Lannister (Lena “Don’t think about me banging my brother” Heady), and her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Because of that, the king’s sadistic eldest not-son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Robert’s brothers, Stannis and Renly (Stephen Dillane and Gethin Anthony), Eddard’s eldest son, Robb Stark (Richard Madden), and the leader of the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), all decide to declare themselves king. Hijinks ensue, in the form of a huge bloody war. A lot of people die, a lot of deals are made, allegiances declared, etc. All of this leads up to Robb Stark, as well as his wife and mother, attending a wedding intended to cement an alliance with one of the most strategically important families in Westeros, the Freys.
Other stuff happens in the episode, and much of it is also really well done, which adds even more credit to the fact that the end is so captivating. This is one of the first scenes in the TV show which, even while it’s similar to the book, manages to be slightly better in many ways because seeing and hearing it makes it so much more real than the descriptions. The wedding goes exactly as expected, right up until the Freys bar the doors and begin playing the title song “the Rains of Castamere.”
The Rains of Castamere is the anthem of the chief villains in the series up to that point, the Lannisters. More than that, it’s a song that was actually written about the person ordering the Red Wedding, Tywin Lannister, and how he previously massacred another family, House Reyne, by drowning all of them within their own castle by flooding it. It’s at the point of recognizing the song, that Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), Robb’s mother realizes that the Boltons, their purported allies, are wearing chainmail, but it’s too late to avoid anything. The Stark forces are slaughtered, helpless, by the combined forces of the other two families.
“The Lannisters send their regards.” It’s one of those lines that you remember, not because it’s clever or profound, but because it perfectly caps off a massive event. And it’s delivered right after Robb Stark, a character that, to this point, we were supposed to root for, is stabbed in the freaking heart. It confirms who orchestrated the huge betrayal found in this episode, and devastates his mother who can only watch before her throat is cut and she dies falling to the floor with a brutal thud.
So, why is this episode so impacting? Because it escalated Game of Thrones’ already growing reputation for averting the typical narrative structure. One of the principle heroic characters dies horribly and almost pointlessly, his wife gets stabbed IN THE BABY, and his mother’s throat is slit. It’s a true massacre, played out the way that it did in the infamous Black Dinner, the historical event that inspired the Red Wedding. The show went ahead and reminded us: Anyone can, and probably will, die, if that’s what would have happened to a real person in this situation.
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The Episode’s on HBO Go or Amazon, but here’s the song: