No spoilers of any kind in this small contribution on the single most significant “Game of Thrones” episode to date. Recap write-ups from the East Coast were posted hours ago, and HBO has been sending out screener discs not in advance but days or even weeks after episodes are shown, which makes it tough for Westies to compete. We’re operating on the premise that a good review is worth waiting for.
TIME magazine’s James Poniewozik has correctly described this episode, “The Rains of Castamere,” as “brutal, heartbreaking, impeccably well-constructed, horrifying, and appropriately cruel. It was, like the betrayal itself, ruthless and efficient and left no doubt about the finality or ugliness of the crime.” And EW has a terrific George R.R. Martin interview about writing the Red Wedding chapter a decade ago, and readers’ often bitter reactions.
I’ve read only the first three Ice and Fire novels, but it already seems likely to me that the Wedding will be the defining, pivotal event of the entire saga — a literal pivot that stops the train, spins it around, and sends it roaring off in a new direction. A truer direction, probably, than the one we had in mind.
Raymond Chandler used to say that in the hard-boiled pulp magazines of the 1930s there was rule of thumb for keeping stories from getting into a rut: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Martin’s inclination to deliver energizing shocks at regular intervals is more extreme, and it isn’t just a tactical choice to help keep the books humming.
My thought is that plotting his stories this way is an ethical choice for Martin. Like quite a few OG literary dinosaurs, he believes a writer’s prime directive is to tell the truth. A student of the brutalities of medieval history (The Red Wedding derives from Scotland’s notorious Black Dinner), Martin is determined to adhere to the way things most often play out in the real world. And could there be a more radical context in which to make this point than in a genre like Fantasy, so often stereotyped as the last word in escapism?
As central as this theme is to the novels and the TV show, so too is the “Game” character who best understands it and plays the dire probabilities like a stringed instrument, Tryion Lannister. The way things work in Westeros, of course, I’m almost afraid to say anything too doting about my favorite character. I have an image of an Acme anvil, or one of Terry Gilliam’s giant animated feet, slamming down out of the heavens. Or a man coming through a door with a dagger in his hand.