Game of Thrones: “The Rains Of Castamere”

I wasn’t planning on writing about Game of Thrones today, but here we are.

Saturday night I was at a Mexican restaurant with several friends when the conversation turned to Westeros. “You guys better get ready for this next episode ‘cause it’s going to be the craziest yet,” spouted one of them. A new round of margaritas was called for and a heated debate over the precise boundaries of spoiler territory ensued.

I had actually completely forgotten that the upcoming episode was this season’s ninth, and would have otherwise gone into “The Rains of Castamere” completely cold. But with that realization and the tequila inspired warning, I went into the first part of this season’s conclusion trying to tease out where the story was headed and what could possibly leave me so surprised this far into the series. (Spoilers to follow).

In hindsight though I should have known as soon as Talisa offered Eddard as a name for her and Robb’s unborn child. All episode I’d kept thinking: what could be more shocking than Ned’s death at the end of season one? The definitive answer was of course the death of the late Stark patriarch’s grandchild namesake two seasons later. A death made devastating not by our love for a character we’ve yet to meet, but rather because of the infinitely more gruesome way in which they were purged from Westeros.

Which is an important point I think. Unlike Ned’s death at the end of season one, which while unjust and merciless was not at all outside the boundaries of the law of the land, the death of Eddard Jr. could not have been more savage and anarchistic. Ned was executed for treason; his unborn grandchild was snuffed out for simply portending to exist.

This marks just how far the land of Westeros has descended into chaos—or perhaps only reveals the amoral tribalism that organized its people all along. I’m curious then to see what kind of rule the Lannisters seek to impart once their negotiated alliances have helped them to solidify control of the realm. Their means are ruthless, and they repay their debts thoroughly, whether that means obliterating a family line or paying out a person’s weight in gold. But it’s not at all clear that, on average, their rule will necessarily be as crazy as the Mad Kings, as damaging as Robert’s Baratheon’s negligence, or as sadistic as Joeffrey’s if left to his own devices (literally).

One of the things the show is wonderful at is getting you to care about characters even when they aren’t “good guys.” The first thing season one did to introduce Ned Stark was to show him enforcing some archaic and barbaric capital punishment for wall deserters. We cheer for him and cry over his beheading despite how much his own morality and ours might clash. Season two focused on Tyrion, building him up as the “nicest” and most empathetic of the Lannisters. But despite his success at the battle of Blackwater, Tryion is no paragon of virtue and courage, with many of the developments in season three slowly eroding those qualities which had so redeemed him earlier in the series.

Perhaps the best example of this is Jaime, who many, including myself, fell in love with this season as the show fleshed out more of his backstory. He saved King’s Landing from being burnt to the ground after all! And he’s so witty, and good with a sword, and nice to Brienne, and how can you not feel bad for him when he gets his hand chopped off? Of course, it’s not clear that Jaime really had much to lose by killing the Mad King as his father’s army approached. There was also that whole bit when he tried to kill a child by pushing him out of a stone tower. Jaime’s a bad person. Not just an anti-hero but downright villainous. Yet we love him anyway, and some small part of us wants him to succeed in whatever he does.

Back to Robb then, whose death stings all the more because, in addition to being a likeable character, and a great deal kinder and more merciful than Jaime, also felt like one of the last remaining bad-asses. It’s less important whether he would have been a good king, or a more just one, than the simple fact that he provided some sort of balance-of-power check to Tywin. The chaos born of Robbs rebellion, whether good on the merits, at least provided space for dissent, for a freedom born tenuously of momentary anarchy.

The suffocating feeling that accompanies Tywin’s consolidation of power is communicated most acutely through Arya who literally has no place to turn now. What I presume will be the Hound’s continued protection of her is notable all the more so because she is nothing but a liability at this point. No one with military power, political capital, or financial wealth as any reason to sacrifice their own footing to help hers.

It’s appropriate that the show is called Game of Thrones because you really are always rooting for someone. While it’s still common in shows like Downton Abbey to hope certain characters attain small victories, Game of Thrones takes it to another level because the stakes are so much higher. While I enjoy the her character in so far as it relates to the plot, Daenerys herself rubs me completely the wrong way. She’s arrogant and messianic and deluded. Yet I dearly hope her plans are at least somewhat successful because I would love nothing more than to see Sir Jorah Mormont or Barristan Selmy cut down Tywin.

At that point I wouldn’t mind seeing Mance Rayder come down and put the remaining contenders’ heads on pikes as well. Whatever their shortcomings and ignorance, there is a egalitarianism in the wildlings (even if its born of a hunter-gatherer-pillager mode of subsistence that wouldn’t be sustainable for anyone else) that makes me more forgiving of any one wildling’s character flaws.

The episode left me so defeated then not because I thought Robb Stark was the man, or particularly enjoyed the conversations between he, Talisa, or Lady Stark, but because he stood in the way of Tywin getting exactly what he wants. I loathe Joeffrey, but would love to see him strike an unexpected blow against his grandfather now that both Tyrion and Cersei have sheepishly submitted to his demands.

Perhaps Jaime will muster the courage to defy him, though without his good hand the power to back up his words with deeds is decidedly lacking. Whatever the case though, like a sports fan whose team has failed to make the play-offs, all I can do is wait, watch, and hope that anyone wins but the team mine lost to.

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32 thoughts on “Game of Thrones: “The Rains Of Castamere”

  1. the Hound’s continued protection of her is notable

    This may be tough to answer without spoiling, but it sounds like you don’t know the story any further in the future than I do – why WOULD the Hound continue to protect Arya? As you note, she’s now worse than useless as a pawn, she’s an outright liability at best – is it just some grudging respect he has for her little bad-ass self (or residual affection for whatever weird thing he had with her sister Sansa)?

    Also, I realize that Jon reclaiming his oath as a crow means he can’t take Ygritte to the Wall (crows can’t wed), and maybe he felt it would be safer/better for her if he simply left her with Torren – but that was cold, just bailing on her like that.

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    • “why WOULD the Hound continue to protect Arya?”

      I have no idea either, but I hope he does, if only because it presents an interesting and important contrast to all of the other actions motivated by ambition and self-interest.

      Side question: is he a knight?

      Also, my friends felt the same way, but I was so displeased with how their little winter romance came about and played out that I was like, yes, finally, getting back down to the business of stuff that matters–don’t make the same mistake as your brother.

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      • The Hound is definitely not a knight (he corrects anyone who calls him Ser).

        I can’t say I am going to miss these characters; they were ranging from bland to outright annoying this season – but still, that was pretty hard to watch. Someone over at AVClub pointed out that it was likely an indirect result of Catelyn’s decision to free Jaime – Jaime was likely the vector by which Roose and Tywin colluded, without which collusion things might have gone differently.

        And, really, GRRM – Robb’s wolf too, after giving us false hope Arya might free him at least? That’s cold, man, real cold.

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      • The easiest way Ethan, without spoilers, is to track back Arya’s family tree and figure out if anyone is left who’s related to her and still in a position of power. The hound is mercenary so his next move can be intuited pretty well with that mental exercise.

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    • (I am inserting random text here so as to avoid spoilers showing up in the Gifts of Gab.)

      I don’t know why the Hound in particular has decided to continue protecting Arya (the “residual affection for whatever weird thing he had with her sister Sansa” that Glyph mentions makes as much sense as any other theory).

      However, when OP writes, “she is nothing but a liability at this point. No one with military power, political capital, or financial wealth as any reason to sacrifice their own footing to help hers,” I am not so sure.

      Remember that Arya Stark has a bloodline claim to the lordship of Winterfell, and that claim could make her valuable as a pawn or a marriage partner. The world at large believes that Robb, Bran, and Rickon are all dead. That leaves Arya and Sansa as heirs to Ned Stark. Sure, Sansa has the senior claim, but Westeros is an unpredictable world, and as Arya would say, “Anyone can be killed.”

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        • (Random text inserted so as to avoid spoilers showing up in the Gifts of Gab.)

          Tyrion is lord of winterfell only in right of his wife.

          If Sansa were to die without issue, then Winterfell passes to the next legitimate blood descendant of Ned Stark (i.e., Arya).

          If Sansa died but left behind a child, then that child would become lord of Winterfell. In the normal course of events, Tyrion, as the new lord’s parent, would remain regent and protector until the new lord comes of age.

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  2. I am inserting random text here so as to avoid spoilers showing up in the Gifts of Gab.)

    The Red Wedding crushed me. For some reason I’ve always rooted for the more conventional characters in Martins books, possibly because their more esoteric underdog siblings are the author’s darlings. I loved Robb, and oddly Sansa, and the Young Wolfs’ successes were therapeutic for me through the first and second novel. The part when they decided to secede rang very true to me. Of course the valorous north, the noble Arie and the nurturing Riverlands could secede. They’d make a magnificent (and defensible) Kingdom and with no dragons to rule them they’d be a natural alliance. The Red Wedding crushed me when I read it in the books and I was astonished at how much it crushed me seeing it again on the show. Especially since I never was fond of Catlyn in either medium.

    I’m not sure which version of Rob’s wife I hated more. Rob marrying for honor impelled by a moment of weakness in the book or Rob marrying for love impelled by love in the show. I doubt I could ever have liked any woman married to Rob Stark; he was my boyfriend after all. I do appreciate, though, that Talesia was resolved with no great impact on the overall narrative. I think the book fans can now assume that Jane Westerling is truly a non-entity in the story lore as well.

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    • (I am inserting random text here so as to avoid spoilers showing up in the Gifts of Gab.)

      Screw Robb. He got a whole bunch of people to rebel against the king, putting their lives and their lands at risk. That comes with responsibility. However, ignored his responsibility, and he broke his promise to wed for completely selfish reasons. Guess what Robb, being king means there are more important things than love. After breaking the promise, he then had the gall to force his uncle to marry in his stead, telling him how important it was for the war effort, even though Robb was not willing to do it himself? He had been warned that Frey was old, mean, and easily offended. It sucks that everyone else had to pay for his actions, but I have no sympathy for Robb.

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