Thursday, June 06, 2013

7 Reasons Why the Red Wedding is So Much Worse in the Book

"And so he spoke, and so he spoke, that lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o’er his hall, with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall, and not a soul to hear."

The Rains of Castamere by George R. R. Martin

This article spoils episode nine of season 3 of Game of Thrones and the relevant parts of
A Storm of Swords from which the episode was adapted from.

The day that all book-readers of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire had been waiting for had come to pass. It is the day that the show-watchers who have not read the books experience the surprise, shock and horror that we experienced 13 years ago when we read A Storm of Swords for the first time. Some potent were the words on its pages that I heard it made some swear off the series for good. For me, it was the highest point of the series thus far and the zenith of literary mastery. It made me an undying fan to the books and a relentless proselytiser of Martin's wicked genius.

I saw the Red Wedding episode (or The Rains of Castamere, as it is officially named) with my wife and when the tragedy went down, my heavily pregnant wife was agape in alarm, her eyes unblinkingly transfixed on screen while she held a hand over her slightly open mouth. This is a woman that flinches at the most vanilla of violent scenes in movies but she simply could not tear her eyes away. I must admit I enjoyed her reaction very much and it allowed me, by way of my empathetic mirror neurons, to re-experience the Red Wedding anew. Other book readers all around the world found their jollies by video-taping their book-virgin friends' and families' hilarious responses when they watched the climax of the episode. Red Wedding Day was like a fiesta of schadenfreude for us.

Red Wedding by FatherStone
Red Wedding by FatherStone.

Right after the episode fade to black and silence, show-watchers flooded Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere with their oceanic grief, and never before in the history of television had there been so massive a response to a plot development to a TV series. It elicited death threats to the books' author and inspired passionate declarations from people saying that they are rage-quitting the shows for good. The scope and scale of the reaction and backlash was beyond imagining, and the reason why people can feel so strongly about what happened to a bunch of fictional characters was because they were so well-written. It was a testament to how much life George R. R. Martin breathed into them.

Now that the wails of sorrow and the gnashing of teeth are petering off a little, I have something to say to you show-watchers: Quit moaning. What you guys went through was Red-Wedding-Lite. While it was fantastically portrayed on screen, it was positively anaemic compared to how much worse we book-readers had it.

Here are 7 reasons why the Red Wedding was far more traumatic in the novel than on the telly, in chronology and with book excerpts.

1. The Music at the Reception was Awful.

Red Wedding Murder Band
"Music is more of a hobby for us really."

The musicians at the wedding in the TV episode was good. From the generic medieval tunes of merriment to the mournful and foreboding rendition of The Rains of Castamere, they were suitably competent. It wasn't so in the book. In fact, the wedding band was mentioned repeatedly throughout the chapter as being terrible at their job,
The drums were pounding, pounding, pounding, and her head with them. Pipes wailed and flutes trilled from the musicians’ gallery at the foot of the hall; fiddles screeched, horns blew, the skins skirled a lively tune, but the drumming drove them all. The sounds echoed off the rafters, whilst the guests ate, drank, and shouted at one another below. Walder Frey must be deaf as a stone to call this music. Catelyn sipped a cup of wine and watched Jinglebell prance to the sounds of "Alysanne." At least she thought it was meant to be "Alysanne." With these players, it might as easily have been "The Bear and the Maiden Fair."

They were also referenced in Arya's chapter when she was at the Twins,
The music from the castles was louder here. The sound of the drums and horns rolled across the camp. The musicians in the nearer castle were playing a different song than the ones in the castle on the far bank, though, so it sounded more like a battle than a song. "They’re not very good," Arya observed.

The musicians being terrible is one of the earliest clues to the storm of shit that hit the fan later. They sucked because they were not musicians but were actually assassins posing as musicians.

Okay, we book-readers didn't technically suffer from the music (even if the characters in attendance did) but this is such a stellar example of Martin's writing that I couldn't resist including it. Very few authors can write something innocuous (terrible musicians seemingly written in for harmless humour) and also have it foreshadow something far more sinister. It was a masterful contrast of comedy being a prelude to tragedy.

2. More Characters We Care About Were Killed.

 Many show-watchers have griped about the huge number of characters in the show but we book readers are saddled with so much more - and we have come to know and love some of them. Robb Stark did not descend from the North with just Karstarks and Boltons behind him. He had many more named bannermen and personal guards like Robin Flint, Wendel Manderly and Dacey Mormont who had fought with him and protected him in his campaign in the South, most of which were brutally murdered along with Robb, Catelyn and Grey Wind at the Red Wedding.

Red Wedding Wendel Manderly
House Manderly's sigil is a merman. Wendel Manderly was shot in the mouth by a crossbowman.

Greatjon Umber, the head of House Umber, is possibly one of the most fan-loved of Robb Stark's vassals. He initially challenged Robb's authority, going as far as to draw his sword during talks but Robb's direwolf disarmed him and chewed off two of his fingers. Instead of being enraged, he joked about it and became the first of the Northmen to declare Robb King of the North. He is also Robb's fiercest supporter and arguably, greatest champion. While he ultimately survived the Red Wedding, his son, the Smalljon, was beheaded in the mêlée by Roose Bolton's men.

3. Instead of a Knife to the Womb, it was an Axe to the Belly.

Talisa's stabbing was undoubtedly one of the most shocking and gruesome scene in the entire Red Wedding sequence. Right after she talked about naming Robb's heir after his unfortunate lord father, Ned Stark, the Fetus in the North was aborted almost immediately with extreme prejudice by one of the Freys.

Red Wedding Womb Stab
I let my pregnant wife watch this scene.

Now, Talisa was a character made up specifically for the show, and Robb's wife in the book (the one which he broke his oath to Lord Walder Frey to marry) was Jeyne Westerling of the Crag who Robb married after he slept with her to protect her honour. It is important to note that the Westerling girl was (1) not pregnant, and (2) did not attend the Red Wedding for fear of offending the Freys. So in a way, Talisa was specifically created as a more sympathetic character whom Robb married out of love rather than honour. It is probably for the same reason that the show's writer gave her a baby and had her go to the Twins just so she could have that conversation about naming the unborn kid Ned to raise the emotional stakes right before she was given that very special Caesarean.

Red Wedding Curse of Sean Bean
This was the same expression most show-watchers had on their faces when this happened.

In the book, Robb attended the Red Wedding without his wife. One of his battle companions and king's guard, Dacey Mormont (a cousin of Jorah Mormont), was with him. She shared Robb's last dance of the night before the Freys turned on the Northmen. If you think being knifed in the belly was bad, just read what happened to the Mormont girl,
“Mercy!” Catelyn cried, but horns and drums and the clash of steel smothered her plea. Ser Ryman buried the head of his axe in Dacey’s stomach.

Now, imagine that happening in the show instead. While the emotional payoff isn't as big, it would have made for a far gorier scene.

4. Catelyn's Gambit was Far More Unpalatable.

One of the most memorable and character-defining scenes for Catelyn in the show was when she held Walder Frey's wife hostage and threatened her life in exchange for Robb's. This was the last delicious morsel of hope that the show's writers dangled in front of the show-watchers. Sure, Cat's firstborn had a few arrows sticking out of him but he stood up. He might have conceivably escaped too.

"I'll find another," said Walder Frey, disgustingly evil and unconcerned, and for the first time in this series, Joffrey became the second most despised character in the show. Then Roose Bolton stepped in front of Robb and shanked him in the heart with a sword. At that very same moment, the same blade pierced the hearts of a million screaming fans.

Red Wedding Hostage
She was Walder Frey's 8th wife. Catelyn ought to have known how disposable they are.

Catelyn's grief was a terrible thing to behold. It seemed like all life drained from her face as she cleanly slit Joyeuse Erenford's throat in one smooth motion (yes, she has a name) as she screamed in anguish. The camera lingered on her, standing there ashen and motionless, before someone gave her an identical spurting tracheostomy. By this point, the audience must have yelled "WHAT THE FUCK?!" about a dozen times.

In the book, Cat's hostage was a mentally retarded grandson of Walder Frey,
At his feet sat a somewhat younger version of himself, a stooped thin man of fifty whose costly garb of blue wool and grey satin was strangely accented by a crown and collar ornamented with tiny brass bells. The likeness between him and his lord was striking, save for their eyes; Lord Frey’s small, dim, and suspicious, the other’s large, amiable, and vacant. Catelyn recalled that one of Lord Walder’s brood had fathered a halfwit long years ago.

He was called Aegon "Jinglebells" Frey, and it was implied that Walder Frey might actually be fond of the lackwit. And when Cat executed him in the book, it was a far more grisly scene than the one in the show,
Robb had broken his word, but Catelyn kept hers. She tugged hard on Aegon’s hair and sawed at his neck until the blade grated on bone. Blood ran hot over her fingers. His little bells were ringing, ringing, ringing, and the drum went boom doom boom.

We all know that the murder of defenceless innocents or creatures that are incapable of understanding their plight is a very powerful, very deplorable act. That is why the death of a dumb animal like a dog can hurt more than the death of a human being. Reading about a grief-stricken mother "sawing at the neck" of a mentally-challenged middle-aged man "until the blade grated on bone" certainly weighed much more on our souls than what we saw in the show.

5. Catelyn Went Completely Batshit.

Red Wedding Cat's Death
Instant karma.

If you think Catelyn going all Mama Bear and cutting up some bitch up for her son was crazy, you are not prepared for the insanity that began after Jinglebell Frey was killed in the book,
Finally someone took the knife away from her. The tears burned like vinegar as they ran down her cheeks. Ten fierce ravens were raking her face with sharp talons and tearing off strips of flesh, leaving deep furrows that ran red with blood. She could taste it on her lips.

It hurts so much, she thought. Our children, Ned, all our sweet babes. Rickon, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Robb... Robb... please, Ned, please, make it stop, make it stop hurting... The white tears and the red ones ran together until her face was torn and tattered, the face that Ned had loved. Catelyn Stark raised her hands and watched the blood run down her long fingers, over her wrists, beneath the sleeves of her gown. Slow red worms crawled along her arms and under her clothes. It tickles. That made her laugh until she screamed. “Mad,” someone said, “she’s lost her wits,” and someone else said, “Make an end,” and a hand grabbed her scalp just as she’d done with Jinglebell, and she thought, No, don’t, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair. Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.

In the book, Catelyn went violently insane and started clawing and tearing her own face into a mutilated mess. The Freys initially intended to keep her alive as hostage but after witnessing her in her throes of bloody madness, they decided to just put her out of her misery instead.

6.  Arya was Killed.

Red Wedding Arya and Hound

Just kidding, but not really. In the show, we saw the Hound knocking Arya out cold to take her away from the mayhem and slaughter at the Twins.

However, in the books, this was how Arya's chapter at the Twins ended,
Arya spun away from him and darted for the gate. The portcullis was coming down, but slowly. I have to run faster. The mud slowed her, though, and then the water. Run fast as a wolf. The drawbridge had begun to lift, the water running off it in a sheet, the mud falling in heavy clots. Faster. She heard loud splashing and looked back to see Stranger pounding after her, sending up gouts of water with every stride. She saw the longaxe too, still wet with blood and brains. And Arya ran. Not for her brother now, not even for her mother, but for herself. She ran faster than she had ever run before, her head down and her feet churning up the river, she ran from him as Mycah must have run.

His axe took her in the back of the head.

Then, for 12 whole freaking chapters, we were not given Arya's POV again in the book. Many readers, myself included, thought that the littlest Stark girl was killed at the Red Wedding too (the reference to Mycah, the butcher's boy that the Hound rode down in the first book/season, really sold it). More than even Robb or Catelyn, Arya is one of the best-liked characters in the series and her temporary demise was devastating. I was sure that George R. R. Martin purposely delayed slipping in another Arya chapter after the Red Wedding just to extend our mourning. That jerk.

7. They did Things to Robb Stark's Corpse I Spoke Too Soon.

This was what ultimately happened to Robb (and Catelyn) in the books,
"I am not seeing the body, no, Your Kingliness," said Salladhor Saan. "Yet in the city, the lions prance and dance. The Red Wedding, the smallfolk are calling it. They swear Lord Frey had the boy’s head hacked off, sewed the head of his direwolf in its place, and nailed a crown about his ears. His lady mother was slain as well, and thrown naked in the river."

Red Wedding Wolfheaded Robb Stark by Jorge Mascarenhas
The King in the North by Jorge Mascarenhas.

To be honest, I was actually kind of looking forward to this macabre curiousity in the show but I guess this would ruin the sombre mood on which The Rains of Castamere episode ended.

Addendum (11/06/2013): They show Frey men parade Robb Stark's headless body on a horse with his direwolf's head mounted on his neck stump in the season finale of season 3.


So there it is, all the show-watchers have caught up to the book-readers where the Red Wedding is concerned. Much like Ned Stark's suprise beheading in season one/book one, this is going to cause a bad case of plot disorientation in anyone trying to follow the story. Where do we go from here? Who can take out the Lannisters now? If Robb isn't the hero, who is?

Embrace that confusion. You have no idea where you are and that's a good thing. For the first time in many years, you are going to hear a new tale.

Drank Red Wedding tears,
k0k s3n w4i


nicoletta said...

Ahahaha, one morning I woke up and went on the internet and everyone was screaming about Game of Thrones, and I sort of suspected that it was that gory wedding bit where all the main characters died horribly. (I've only watched the first two seasons; there's no way I can get watch this currently-airing season without paying for it...and my internet is too slow for any streaming or anything...). I've not read the books but I have read summaries on Wikipedia because oh well. I think for the time being I'll continue to read the summaries. Because reading this blog post and seeing the screencaps really squicked me out. Heck, even reading the summaries squick me out sometimes (specially the bit about Catelyn clawing her face out...).

Anyway, this comment is a bit pointless :P

Rewarp said...

Here's the Happy Place recap for the discerning viewer.

Zulfahmi said...

Your second point,

besides Umber, I'm also sad about Dacey Mormont... The Mormont lady warriors were pretty pleasant and one of Robb Stark's most loyal...

Anonymous said...

Heavily pregnant? Shotgun?

k0k s3n w4i said...

nicoletta: What? Reading book synopses without reading the books? heresy! Anyway, you should seriously still read them. They are so well written!

Rewarp: Am aware of the Happy Place recaps, but thanks anyway :)

Zulfahmi: Yeah, I wish they would feature the Mormont women more prominently too.

Anonymous: It seems that cowardly anonymous commenters tended to be very stupid and ignorant as well. I wrote a post last year in July stating my intention to marry my wife. If you think it was a shotgun marriage, then you have to be retarded enough to believe that a baby can gestate for almost 11 months and still remain unborn. Dumbass.