|Totally NOT a spoiler.|
So, a hefty chunk of television aired this week as Game of Thrones hit its penultimate episode of Season 3. And people FLIPPED OUT. It was a crazy episode, and it's one Song of Ice and Fire readers have been anticipating, but still managed to shock. So let's talk about it!
First, I'd like to point you to a few links because "The Rains of Castamere" inspired a slew of excellent criticism. This Jezebel article sums up what I would be feeling right now if I hadn't read the books first. And if you're a sociopath who watched alone and doesn't get the big deal, here's a 6-minute video of real, feeling humans reacting. (There's also Andy Greenwald's piece on Grantland, which is great, and the AV Club's For Your Consideration column.)
This moment was coming, and the readers knew it, and it's strange, in retrospect, to think it was something to anticipate. The Red Wedding is one of the most important pieces of the story because so much happens. Two (just two) major characters die AND the entire political environment in Westeros is turned upside down in the span of a few pages. I remember thinking, as I read it on a page a few years ago, what my wife asked while watching: "Is this real? What is happening?" But reading it was safer because I had control. I could put the book down or, as Todd Vanderwerff mentioned at the AV Club, read faster or slower to change my experience. On screen, though, the Red Wedding was visceral, horrifying, and exquisitely wrought. I'm trying to think of a more disturbing sequence in fictional television history. I'm coming up blank. This was the sort of art that induces nightmares. (I'm not kidding. Three people I've talked to have admitted having related dreams after the episode.)
I have three more points to make, so I'll just make them and number the list because I'm too lazy to figure out transitions.
1) THAT WASN'T EVEN THE SEASON FINALE. I don't know how they'll end this season (though I have theories), but Season 3 of Game of Thrones already deserves consideration for the best season of television in history. It's been crazy, and there's still an hour to go. Again, that last episode may have been the most pain you've ever experienced from a fictional story, but you have to appreciate what kind of feat that is. As Tasha Robinson pointed out in that AV Club piece, those were basically the least likable Starks.
2) Many viewers familiar with the books have questioned the adaptation choice of killing Robb's wife. In the books, Robb Stark marries a noblewoman named Jeyne Westerling because they slept together and Robb didn't want to dishonor her. She was probably not pregnant, and she was not present at the Red Wedding. If the show had played things that way, there would've been questions about Robb's heir, but the GoT writers decided to clear up any loose threads. My point: the death of Talisa Maegyr was awful, but it was necessary for the narrative.
2) Plenty of viewers, including my wife, have wondered if the show is worth continuing if caring about characters means they'll be killed in the most heartbreaking way possible. The Song of Ice and Fire is a brutal story, and while the Red Wedding may be it's most powerful and vivid moment over the first five books, hope isn't exactly abundant in Westeros over the next two books*, either.
I hope this doesn't sound haughty, but here's what I thought over and over as I watched this season: "Remember when these things mattered?" I felt it when I read the books, too. The Song of Ice and Fire story moves so quickly and so epically, that by the end of A Dance With Dragons, you can't even believe where you started, that Eddard Stark's death once hurt deeply and there was a point when the Northern Army mattered. There are whole societies and cities and characters left to meet, and I am almost certain you will enjoy it. You won't enjoy it the way you enjoy Arrested Development, though. You'll enjoy it the way you enjoy Hamlet and MacBeth, because it's that good.
* - The show's creators reportedly want it to run for 8 seasons. This season is covering events from the first half of A Storm of Swords.