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Why I’m still traumatised by Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding 10...
Our minds are forever scarred by the horrors that unfolded (Picture: HBO)
Who else remembers exactly where they were when they witnessed the horrors of The Red Wedding for the first time?
It was June 2013 and I was sitting in my dorm room at uni, watching what I would soon discover to be one of the most disturbing episodes ever in TV history on my own on my laptop.
A poster of Daenerys Targaryen with baby Drogon on her shoulder from the Game of Thrones season one finale adorned the wall in front of me, as I gazed adoringly at Robb and Talisa Stark, the couple looking more in love as ever as they prepared to welcome a baby into the world.
Oh, my sweet summer child. (I now say to myself in hindsight, 10 years later).
Catelyn’s wails of despair, Robb’s expression of utter defeat and loss on his face after watching his pregnant wife being murdered in front of him and Arya’s traumatic realisation that she was inches away from being reunited with her family, only to be ripped apart from them once more, will remain seared on my mind forever.
It was a stellar piece of television… but my god, did the creators of Game of Thrones have to make us suffer so darn much?Roose Bolton might not be on Arya’s kill list, but he’s certainly on ours (Picture: Helen Sloan/HBO)
What made it even worse was that at the beginning, it seemed like a fairly innocuous episode of Game of Thrones (if there ever was such a thing).
Edmure Tully marries one of Walder Frey’s daughters after Robb brazenly backed out of his own betrothal so that he could be with Talisa, Ygritte is left heartbroken by Jon’s betrayal and Sam, Gilly, Bran and Daenerys continue on their respective journeys.
And then, at the wedding feast for Edmure and Roslin Frey, which is being hosted by Walder as an apparent ally to the Starks, The Rains of Castamere starts to play.
The music in Game of Thrones, and its successor House of the Dragon, is always a pivotal driving force for the plot.
A slight change in tempo or change in instrument by composer Ramin Djawadi can send shivers down your spine before your mind catches up to the fact that something is very amiss.What do you think is the best episode of Game of Thrones? Have your say belowComment Now The wise Catelyn Stark realises Roose Bolton’s deception… but too late (Picture: Helen Sloan/HBO)
One of the most spectacular uses of this thematic technique is in the season finale of season six, when the chilling tune of a piano (an instrument rarely used in the Game of Thrones score) drums up the intensity before Cersei’s plan to blow up the Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing and kill everyone inside is enacted.
But when you think about the most iconic pieces of music in the epic, award-winning fantasy drama, The Rains of Castamere – also the name of the dreaded penultimate episode of season three more commonly known as The Red Wedding – is up there at the top.
When the musicians in the hall begin to play, Catelyn instantly takes note, having recognised that the song being performed is a Lannister tune, the lyrics detailing past triumphs of the cunning and menacing Tywin Lannister.
Considering the Starks are at war with the Lannisters, this is a petrifying realisation indeed.
Catelyn lifts up Roose Bolton’s sleeve as he sits beside her, discovering that he’s wearing chain mail underneath his clothes and clocking that he’s actually been working in secret as a double agent for the Lannisters.
Chaos then ensues. Catelyn slaps Roose. In an image that continues to haunt me to this day, Talisa is stabbed multiple times in her pregnant stomach. Multiple arrows are fired at Robb. And the Stark forces are locked in, with nowhere to escape the lion’s den.Robb followed his heart to marry Talisa – and Walder Frey wanted revenge (Picture: Helen Sloan/HBO)
After threatening to kill Walder’s young wife in an effort to save her own son, Catelyn is forced to watch her firstborn die in front of her, before letting out an inhuman scream of despair.
She puts up no fight as her throat is slit, while young Arya – who had stealthily made her way to her mother and brother with the Hound – is made to watch as Robb’s decapitated body is ridden on a horse with his dead direwolf’s head sewn on top in heartbreaking scenes.
One might have thought that Game of Thrones viewers would be prepared for this level of treachery, considering season one ended with the protagonist Ned Stark having his head chopped off after being declared a traitor to the crown.
Apparently, we didn’t learn our lesson to be on guard… and then The Red Wedding went and gave us even more trust issues.
Even now, just looking at images of The Red Wedding 10 years later makes me feel the same pangs of anguish as when the episode first horrified the world – some wounds just never heal.Arya has travelled far to reunite with her family – but is unable to save them (Picture: HBO)
The episode demonstrated – once again – just how far Game of Thrones was willing to go to completely subvert expectations and devastate its viewers, while still keeping them on the edge of their seats desperate to find out what was going to happen next.
Has any other TV show been able to replicate that same feat in the years since? That’s up for debate.
One could argue the 2016 episode of The Walking Dead where fan-favourites Glenn and Abraham are bludgeoned by Negan’s barbed wire bat is up there.
Then just last year, Queen Aemma’s forced C-section and subsequent death in the prequel spin-off House of the Dragon led to viewers gasping in disbelief over the scene’s graphic brutality, with some expressing their belief that it was on par with The Red Wedding.Queen Aemma deserved better (Picture: HBO)
When The Rains of Castamere episode of Game of Thrones ended, many of us were left feeling bereft by the slaughter of several of the show’s most significant characters.
A large bulk of the first three seasons consisted of the Starks and their loyal troops in the North waging war on the Lannisters. So what now?
It was an excruciatingly painful end of an era, with now both of the Stark parents and their eldest son perished, and viewers at a loss as to how House Stark could ever regain its strength.
Just a few years later, the eldest Stark daughter, Sansa, would come into her own as Queen of the North after reclaiming her family’s seat in Winterfell, having endured horrifying ordeals on her own tumultuous and transformative journey.
While it was apparent from the very start of Game of Thrones that it was going to be full of gore, guts and gruesome deaths, The Red Wedding hit an unprecedented bar of violence that even the most imaginative of non-book-reader fans couldn’t have anticipated.
A decade’s passed, and The Red Wedding is still as traumatic now as it ever was.
Game of Thrones is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW.
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