If you haven’t seen tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Rains of Castamere,” then duck under a table if you can. There are spoilers ahead.
Full disclosure here. In writing these recaps, one thing I’ve never revealed is that I’ve actually read all of these books. The horrific events in the climax of this penultimate episode are something that those familiar with the story have long known was coming. It’s one of the few times that I do wish I was experiencing the series without that knowledge, because I can’t imagine the shock it must have been to viewers who are moving through this world for the first time.
But first things first. Tonight’s episode was chock-a-block with plot, so let’s begin at the beginning. Catelyn and Robb are discussing his plan to take Casterly Rock. Despite his mother’s earlier betrayal with Jaime Lannister, Robb still trusts her and knows that she can give him valuable advice. Contingent on Walder Frey’s support, she urges Robb to make the Lannisters pay. When they arrive at the Twins, the Starks take part in the bread and salt that guarantees them safety under ancient laws of hospitality and protection (!). Robb comes before Lord Frey humble and apologetic. Frey demands that Robb apologize to those he actually slighted–all the daughters and granddaughters he might have married. He does so, quite graciously in fact, and then Frey orders Talisa to come forward so he can size her up. His words to her, while technically compliments, are phrased in the most crass way possible, and if Robb didn’t need Frey’s help so badly, that behavior would not have passed. Frey’s acid tongue would be funny, if not for the context of what happens later. Knowing what we know now, Frey is really just a sick-minded and grasping sociopath.
Across the sea, outside the gates of Yunkai, Daenerys tries to come up with a plan of attack by working with Daario, Ser Jorah, Barristan Selmy and Grey Worm. Daario, who knows the layout of Yunkai and has access to a back gate, proposes a risky plan that involves himself and two other strong fighters taking out the guards and traveling through the backstreets to open the main gates so that Daenery’s army may enter the city. Ser Jorah is distrustful of Daario and his plan (and possibly a little jealous), but when Daenerys consults Grey Worm, who is as impartial as a man can be, he opines that Daario can be trusted.
Sam and Gilly finally reach the wall, and Sam tells Gilly that he’s looking for the secret entrance to the Nightfort, one of the largest castles on the wall, long since abandoned. Its hidden passage is their best hope of crossing the wall. When she questions how he knows all those things, he tells her that he read them in a book. “You know all that from staring at marks on paper?” “Yes,” he replies. “You’re like…a wizard,” she says, impressed. This gets a small smile of pride from Sam, whose learning has at last proven to be a valuable asset in the wild.
Arya and the Hound are making their way closer to the Twins, when they come across a peasant man with a busted cart. The Hound offers to help him, but then knocks him out in order to steal the cart, as it will make a convenient disguise for them. He moves in to kill the unconscious man when Arya stops him. She confronts him: “You’re so dangerous aren’t you, saying scary things to little girls, and killing little boys and old people.” It’s clear when the Hound sizes her up that he sees that she means what she says. “You’re very kind. Some day it will get you killed.” Her interference saves the man’s life, but she does knock him out again herself when he starts to come to.
Bran and his companions have reached the Gift–a long parcel of land that, although belonging to the Night’s Watch, is ostensibly for the small folk to live on. It is mostly empty of people due to the dangers of wildling raiding parties. When Jojen predicts a coming storm, they decide to take refuge in a small stone tower in an abandoned village.
Not too far away, coincidentally, is a group of wildlings–Jon’s group of wildlings. They have spotted a peasant with several horses. Jon says he most likely raises those horses for the Night’s Watch. They decide quickly to kill him and steal the horses, over Jon’s objections. Even Ygritte believes he should be killed. As they run through the field to take the man by surprise, however, Jon “accidentally” lets his sword strike a rock, and the horses respond to the noise, alerting the man to the danger and giving him enough time to saddle one of his mounts and try to run away.
Arya and the Hound have nearly reached the Twins, and Arya keeps looking anxiously at the castle. The Hound tells her she’s afraid. “You’re almost there…and you’re afraid you won’t make it.” Arya is not one to back down from a man like the Hound and she throws this back in his face: “You’re afraid of fire. When Beric’s sword went up in flames, you looked like a scared little girl. And I know why too. I heard what your brother did to you. Pressed your face to the fire like you were a nice juicy mutton chop.” Then she threatens to run him through the eye with a blade. With speeches like that, it’s easy to forget that Arya is still a little girl. But when she turns away from the Hound to look out at the Twins again, that is what she becomes. She looks frightened and alone.
Back at the Gift, the storm is raging, and inside the stone tower Hodor is getting increasingly restless. This is a problem because the man with the horses is riding by, and he’s quickly surrounded by the pursuing wildlings. Despite the noise of the storm, Orell thinks he hears the noise of Hodor yelling his own name in distress. In the tower, Jojen and the others are begging the gentle giant to be quiet, but he isn’t listening, and in desperation Bran does something he’s never done before…he connects to Hodor somehow, the way he does with Summer, and seems to possess him for a short time, enough time to quiet him down and put him to sleep.
Outside in the rain, the old man is surrounded, and knows he can’t escape. Orell insists that Jon be the one to do the deed, to prove his loyalty. The man stands and faces Jon, and Jon pulls his sword. Upstairs in the tower, the Reeds are at the window, and Jojen reminds Bran that the wolves, Summer and Shaggydog, are nearby. He could stop this if he wanted to, by connecting to Summer and attacking the wildlings. Then a bunch of things happen at once. Jon raises his blade to strike, but cannot do it, Ygritte quickly shoots and kills the old man with an arrow, the wildlings pull their swords on Jon (and Ygritte as well) and the wolves attack. Thormund wrestles Ygritte to the ground, kicking and screaming, telling her he won’t let her die for a crow like Jon. Jon kills Orell, saying “You were right the whole time.” Then the hawk that Orell possesses flies down and attacks Jon’s face. The wolves make short work of the rest of the wildlings, and Jon finally breaks free of the hawk and grabs a horse and rides off, while Ygritte looks after him, with an expression that is part rage, part hurt and part shock.
In Yunkai, Daario leads Jorah and Grey Worm to a back gate, where he enters first, because he is still believed to be an ally. He makes short work of the guards and signals for the other two. Their path through the city will not be as easy as they thought, however, as wave after wave of guards appear and the three men must stand back to back and use all their skill to fight them.
At the Twins, the wedding ceremony takes place without incident. Edmure’s bride, Roslyn Frey, is revealed, and she turns out to be a very pretty girl, so he is very pleased. They repeat their vows to the septon, he cloaks her, and the ceremony is concluded.
Up North, Bran tells Rickon that when he was inside Summer, he saw Jon, so he knows their brother is alive and that he escaped from the wildlings. He also tells Rickon they must separate, asking Osha to take Rickon to the Umbers for protection. Rickon objects as only a little boy can, crying and protesting at the thought of leaving Bran, but Bran knows that where he is going, over the wall, it will be dangerous. Osha agrees with Bran, and decides it’s best to leave right away, so the two brothers part and she slips out into the night with Rickon and Shaggydog.
Outside of Yunkai, Daenerys is anxiously awaiting the return of her men, commenting to Barristan on how long it seems to be taking. Then Ser Jorah and Grey Worm arrive, bloodied but basically unharmed. Jorah tells her the good news–that the slave soldiers have put down their weapons. She asks worriedly after Daario when she doesn’t see him, but then he arrives, going down on one knee before her. “The city is yours, my queen.”
And now we have our final sequence…a bloodbath that unfolds swiftly and suddenly at the wedding fest of Edmure and his bride. Everything seems to be going fine at first. People are eating and talking, Edmure is lost in his pretty wife, and Robb and Talisa discuss their impending bundle of joy. Then Walder Frey announces it is time for a bedding and asks for the king’s approval. Robb wholeheartedly agrees, and the bride and groom are carried off for the bawdy ceremony. Then the doors are shut, and Catelyn seems to be the first aware of the shift in the room. The band begins to play The Rains of Castamere. Catelyn notices Roose Bolton is wearing chain mail under his wedding clothes and shouts a warning to Robb. Archers emerge from the balconies and rain arrows down on them, hitting Robb and Catelyn both, thought not killing either of them. Everywhere, Stark men are being killed by Freys, and most horrifically of all, a man comes up behind Talisa and stabs her repeatedly in the stomach. Robb inches over to his wife, as she lays dead in a pool of blood, all while Frey looks on. Catelyn, who had hidden under a table, sees a knife and grabs it…and Lord Frey’s young wife. Crying and half-mad, she orders Frey to let Robb escape…that all can still be forgotten. “Let it end! Please! He is my son! My first son! Let him go and I swear that we will forget this!” She threatens to cut Frey’s wife’s throat. But Lord Frey simply says, “I’ll find another.” Catelyn can only watch as Roose Bolton stabs and kills Robb. She cuts Lady Frey’s throat in her agony, and then her own throat is cut, blood spraying as she falls to the floor.
Outside, Arya has gotten close to her family…perilously close. But she watches the violence in the courtyard unfold, and when she sees Frey soldiers shoot and kill Grey Wind, and the wolf’s eyes meet hers as it lays dying in the bottom of its kennel, and she knows that what she feared has come true. She came so close, but she didn’t make it. The Hound finds her, knocks her out and carries her off before she is killed herself.
The credits roll silently at the end, and now only one episode remains.
Quote of the Night:
“The Lannisters send their regards.” – Roose Bolton