Well, last night’s episode of Game of Thrones sure was a doozy, wasn’t it? It’s hard to imagine how they’ll top that with the season finale, but I have hope (in a manner of speaking). After eight relatively slow episodes we are finally reminded just why we find Game of Thrones to be so thrilling. Unfortunately we’re also reminded why people say George R. R. Martin kills more characters than Voldemort did.
We begin the episode with Robb and Catelyn, strategizing for a future battle. Robb seems to think he’ll be able to invade and take Casterly Rock from the Lannisters, but only if he still gets help from Walder Frey. And finally Robb acknowledges the fact that, hey, pretty much every time he’s ignored his mother’s advice someone has died or something.
The Stark envoy arrives at The Twins, the castle of the House Frey, and Robb gets some bread and salt. If you’re unfamiliar with this tradition of Westeros, a guest is considered safe from harm under his host’s roof as soon as he accepts and eats his host’s bread and salt. It’s practically a law, as a matter of fact. When Robb begs for Frey’s forgiveness Walder brings out all of Robb’s one-time potential brides. I’m not going to lie, they’re all pretty homely. Meanwhile Edmure is making some pretty fantastic faces about each of his now-potential brides. Robb gives a solemn but unimpassioned speech apologizing to the women (and young girls) and then Walder has Talisa come closer so he can inspect her. Obviously he says just about any- and everything he can get away with saying, ascending in levels of crudity and humiliation. Catelyn has to hold Robb back at one point. When he’s done speaking everyone goes to set up for the wedding.
Outside Yunkai Dany has her Unsullied standing guard while she, Daario, Jorah, and Barristan plot to invade and overtake the city. They decide to go with Daario’s plan, despite Jorah’s (annoyingly articulated) suspicions. Grey Worm trusts Daario, and it seems like that’s enough.
Sam is being excessively chatty, teling Gilly all about Castle Black. She’s impressed that he knows all of that from “staring at marks on paper.” And then she inadvertently says something adorable, namely that Sam is like a wizard. Remember back in season one when Sam said that he used to want to be a wizard? Yeah, well, I do, so it was adorable to me, at least. I guess it would be weird if you didn’t remember that line, though….
Meanwhile The Hound and Arya come across an old man with a cart carrying salted pork to The Twins for the wedding feast. Arya gets off the horse and rounds on The Hound when he smacks the old man unconscious and then tries to kill him. She’s fearless, that one. In the end, though, the man starts to come to and Arya knocks him out herself. She’s not very happy to do it, though.
Bran and company have come to the windmill that we saw the wildlings pass a week or two ago. A storm is coming so they decide to take refuge within the millhouse. At the same time the wildlings come upon an old man who raises horses for The Night’s Watch and they decide to move in and kill the man to steal his horses. Jon is, of course, not okay with this. He says that they should just take the horses and go. He tries to convince his comrades, but to no avail. When they charge, though, Jon smacks his sword against a rock, alerting the old man. Luckily he takes the hint and rides off on a horse. Ygritte tries to shoot the man with a bow and arrow, but Jon knocks her off course.
The Hound and Arya are now within sight of The Twins. Arya’s being a bit snippy (I mean, totally understandable, given the situation, but it’s a little bit mean). She calls him out on his fear of fire, telling him that she knows what his brother did to him (“pressed your face to the fire like you were a nice, juicy mutton chop”). The Hound, of course, is able to bite back. When he does, Arya says that someday she will put a sword through the Hound’s eye and out the back of his skull. And she means it.
Inside the millhouse everyone looks a little bit cold, and Hodor appears to be a bit frightened of thunder. They talk about what they’ll do when they reach the wall, when suddenly they see a rider outside. It’s the old man. He’s being followed buy the wildlings on horseback and Osha suggests they all stay quiet. Unfortunately Hodor doesn’t seem to get that memo because he keeps yelling with every crash of thunder, until Orell (the wildling warg) hears him and looks up. Suddenly Bran’s eyes roll up into his head, and so do Hodor’s. Bran is taking over Hodor’s mind, calming him.
Outside again the wildlings are circling the old man. They’re somehow almost kind before they kill him…but yeah, he’s still going to die. Orell says that Jon should do it, to prove his loyalty. They all agree. This is it for Jon – either kill an innocent man or reveal yourself as a Crow for life. Inside Jojen is telling Bran to go inside the mind of his wolf outside, to get rid of the threat. Meanwhile Jon is waffling on the whole senseless murder thing and Ygritte does it for him. The order comes for Jon to be killed, but he fights back. Ygritte wants to help, she doesn’t believe he’s still a Crow, but it’s in vain. Jojen successfully gets Bran to go into his wolf and suddenly he does. He attacks the wildlings and basically saves Jon. Jon kills Orell, but not before he’s taken over the body of a hawk. He swoops down and claws at Jon’s face. Ygritte is left shocked and upset.
That night in Yunkai Daario, Grey Worm, and Jorah insidiously invade the city. Well, at first it’s kind of sneaky. Then they’re suddenly surrounded by dozens of warriors, contrary to what Daario had prepared them for. Dammit, Daario, you had one job! They’re inundated on all sides by Yunkish fighters; it’s three against at least seven at a time. They kill them…but then a whole new hoard of fighters moves in on them. Oy. Things don’t look good.
Back at The Twins Walder Frey is leading his daughter (maybe granddaughter?) to the altar to meet Edmure. If we thought the wedding between Tyrion and Sansa was a bleak affair, it’s got nothing on this one. As it turns out, this one is actually pretty, though! Lucky Edmure, huh? He seems pleased; his bride, not so much. Things do seem to be looking up for the Tully/Stark group, right? Ha.
Inside the millhouse they have lit a candle and are still discussing Bran’s skills with being a warg. Jojen finally gets to say more than three lines in this episode, and it’s nice to see. Bran finally tells everyone that he saw Jon when he was within the wolf. Osha suggests they still go to castle black, but Bran is not going to budge on this. He tells Rickon to go with Osha and Shaggydog to the Umbers, in order to be protected. Rickon is sad and scared – he doesn’t want to leave his big brother – but in the end he goes with Osha.
Dany and Barriston are waiting in her tent for her men to return. She seems stressed out that it’s taking a while. Jorah walks in, panting and covered in blood. He’s super proud of himself, but all she asks is where Daario is. Speak of the devil, in he walks, kneels, and proclaims the city as Dany’s.
At The Twins wedding festivities seem to be in full swing. Edmure is taken with his new wife. Catelyn and Brynden laugh and comment on how Edmure had dreaded this marriage. For some reason they’re sitting with Roose Bolton, and suddenly Catelyn is left alone with the man when her uncle leaves to, um, find a tree to piss on, or something. Meanwhile Robb and Tulisa are bantering lightly, clearly quite taken with one another. And all at once Walder Frey is declaring the bedding ceremony begun. Whereas Edmure’s new wife looked fond of her husband before, now she looks nothing short of fearful. Catelyn looks fondly at her brother as he’s escorted out of the dinner hall. Robb and Talisa quietly converse, at which time they decide to honor Ned by naming their child, if it’s a boy, Eddard.
One of the Frey men closes and locks the hall’s doors, and suddenly the band begins to play “The Rains of Castamere.” Catelyn knows something is wrong. She spots the doors being shut and looks up at the band, suddenly fearful. And how right she is to feel that way….
The song keeps playing, and outside in a barn Robb’s direwolf whines. The men the Starks brought are getting drunk in the field as Arya and The Hound arrive. They’re stopped before they can enter, but Arya sneakily runs off.
Meanwhile, inside the great hall, Walder waves the music to a stop and addresses Robb. He begins his speech fairly enough, saying that he hasn’t given Robb the hospitality he deserves. Down at their table Roose subtly signals to Catelyn to look down at his sleeve. She pulls it back and there’s a suit of chainmail underneath. Instantly Catelyn’s fears are confirmed – this is a trap. Catelyn slaps him as hard as she can, and then stands and yells to Robb. Meanwhile Walder is talking about a “gift” he has for his king’s bride. We hardly get a moment to feel the fear before Talisa is being stabbed repeatedly in the womb by the Frey man who locked the doors. It’s shocking, it’s horrifying, and it’s something that not even the readers of the book could have foreseen. Robb is shot with quarrels, as is Catelyn, and the Stark men have their throats cut. Red Wedding, indeed.
Out in the barn Arya has snuck in just in time to see the Stark men in there having their throats slit. She hears Robb’s wolf trying to free itself from its cage, but before she can help there are Frey men on him. They surround it and aim their crossbows, letting loose a deadly round of arrows. Arya is now desperate to find her mother and brother, but the Hound catches up to her. H knocks her unconscious nd carries her away. Catelyn hides under a table inside the hall, as the violence and death begins to simmer down. Robb, meanwhile, drags himself over to the body of his dead wife and puts his hand over her belly where their baby has also been killed.
Catelyn, out of sheer grief that has overcome the fear, runs out from under her table and grabs Walder Frey’s wife by the hair. She threatens to kill the girl unless Walder lets her son go. But he doesn’t. He says that her oath to forget this bloodshed if he lets her son go is worthless. They had sworn another oath, right in this very same room, that had been broken. The screaming and the desperate pleading and the sobbing coming from actress Michelle Fairley’s throat are like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard before. When Catelyn swears on her honor that she will kill Walder’s wife, there’s a pause…and then he says that he’ll find another. Robb stands up and it’s clear that he’s already gone. He has arrows sticking out of both sides of his chest and he’s hardly able to stand. And then Roose Bolton comes up in front of him, sends Robb regards from the Lannisters, and guts him. Robb falls to the ground dead and Catelyn just yells. It’s a feral, chilling, gut-wrenching and horrific. She slides her blade across Walder’s wife’s throat and goes limp. Another Frey man comes up behind her and slits her throat, too.
The ending credits are completely silent.
Fans have taken to Twitter to express their…displeasure.
Don’t forget to tune in for the season finale of Game Of Thrones next Sunday night at 9 PM/EST, only on HBO.