Warning: Serious spoilers for last Sunday's Game of Thrones episode, "The Rains of Castamere," follow.
Well, that escalated quickly...
Have the night terrors stopped yet? Is it okay to exhale?
I mean, when George R. R. Martin twists the knife, he does it literally.
And yes, I did read the "Red Wedding" scene in the books a few years back and knew it was coming. So why did it feel so much more traumatic on screen? Even for those who knew the grim details?
As Martin said on Conan a few nights ago, after he watched videos of fans reacting to the scene, quoting an internet comment, "Now you know why your nerdy friends were depressed thirteen years ago."
He's of course referring to having written the horrific "Red Wedding" scene as part of the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, 2000's A Storm of Swords. And while the books have only gained more fans through the years, meaning most of us might not have actually read that chapter -- which Martin himself even skipped over while writing and saved for last -- back in 2000, it's still a jarring, game-changing moment no matter when it's experienced. But watching it all unfold on TV, visually, with actors and music was extra harrowing. Unlike the shocking death of Ned Stark back in Season 1, there was just something more devastating about the way the Red Wedding went down on the HBO series than in the book. Meaning that those who experienced the scene for the first time, having not read the book, got almost a double dose of damage.
I remember feeling shaken by the events in A Storm of Swords. Left breathless even. And yes, there were book fans back then, like TV fans now, who swore that they were done with the series - irate over Martin's expertly crafted audience contempt. Anyhow, memes and reaction videos are all over the internet now - including a wonderful GoT/Princess Bride mashup. It's all anyone can talk about. But here are the reasons why the Red Wedding scene was so much worse to experience for the first time on TV.
In short, he effin' did it again. GRRM pulled the rug out from under you a second time; first making you believe that Ned Stark was the central character in the story and the hero to root for, and then making you think that the story might be about Ned's son seeking revenge and becoming king. But neither were true. And, well, that's not the way most TV works. Or movies. Or any of the traditional methods and tropes of storytelling. Most audiences are used to a certain formula, broken down into a three-act structure. And in the end, the hero rises up and defeats the villain(s). But that's not what Game of Thrones is. It's not formula-driven, it's character driven. And we're still far from meeting all the key characters in the story.
I remember back after Season 1 had just ended, a guy who then worked at IGN in the sales department said to me "Oh, I can't wait for some payback." He was referring to the scene in the Season 1 finale where Robb and Catelyn swore to make the Lannisters pay for beheading Ned. And so I could see how, from that, someone might assume that all the depressing damage that could to be done to the Starks was done and that now, in accordance with most recognizable story blueprints, it was revenge time. Because that's what most TV watchers expect. And that's why actually seeing your "heroes" fall on TV is worse. Because the thing you thought was going to payoff in a specific way, didn't.
When you read a book however, especially those as sprawling as the Song of Ice and Fire novels, it's easier to accept that you probably didn't predict the right outcome. The rules aren't as clear cut. When Robb and Cat died in A Storm of Swords, I was blown away, but I never once thought to myself "Okay, now what?" They were never my, or anyone else's, favorites in the books. We still had Dany, Arya, Tyrion, Jon Snow and others to follow. And speaking of that...
...Robb was never a huge character in the books. He was a main character, but he wasn't a major one. He was basically left out of the second book, with only the tales of his battlefield victories against the Lannisters seeping into others' dialogue now and then. But for TV, he needed to be fleshed out and made whole. And, of course, dashing and dreamy. So when he died in the books, it was a blow, but he was still a peripheral character. And being a sideline character (who never had his own chapters or "POV" thoughts), he was never someone we thought of as, you know, winning the whole game.
But on the show, for the sake of having an actual cast, he was made whole. He had his own posters and key art. So those who knew him only from the HBO series got all gut-busted over his death. He was actually some fans' favorite character. Now Catelyn, on the other hand, was a POV-having, chapter-anchoring character in the books, and so it was actually her death that hit book readers harder. But then again, she had, like on the show, made her fair share of Stark-typical grievous errors (capturing Tyrion with no proof, setting Jaime free, etc) and therefore wasn't anyone to spend an enormous time weeping over. She just had a large presence and was the method, in the second and third books, through which we saw and heard Robb and the folks at Riverrun.
So aside from the fact that seeing violence and bloodshed unfold (if it's done right) can be more unsettling than reading about it, and that Robb had a much more inflated role on the show than in the books, executive producers/writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss went and took a scene that was already filled with shocking misery and woe and added an extra dose of agony. It's well known that Robb's marriage to Talisa was altered a bunch from the books - where it happened off screen, and to a western noble named Jeyne Westerling - but Talisa was, like Robb, made a full character on the HBO series. She had a personality. She had fans. And in A Storm of Swords, Robb's wife didn't even go to the wedding. So her death, which was the first, brutal strike the Freys made once the attack started, was extra. Yes, Robb not only got to die horribly, but he got to see his wife and unborn child die horribly first. And that was something that book readers and show watchers could feel miserable about together.
Of course, if there was a moment when viewers could have picked up on the fact that something atrocious was about to happen, it was when Talisa told Robb that she was pregnant and that if it was a boy she wanted to name him Eddard. Because that name's not cursed at all. And neither are "everything's going to be great now" moments on Game of Thrones.
Before that semi-telling moment, where Robb and Talisa talked future family, the Red Wedding was actually set up, TV-wise, to throw the audience off its scent. It's something that the book couldn't fully muster. On the show, there were actually little moments of levity thrown in, making the swerve at the end feel even more left-field.
From Walder forgetting his granddaughter's name, to his cheesy sleaziness, to Blackfish quickly turning away once the Frey girls smiled their ugly smiles at him, there were comic beats inserted to set the viewer at ease. At one point, when Edmure saw that he actually got the one pretty Frey girl of the bunch, Walder shot Robb a look as if to say "See, I was going to give you the hot one." Certainly not the aside you'd expect from a man plotting the murder of you, your wife and your entire army in one night.
Source : ign[dot]com