Now, Game of Thrones was one of the biggest TV shows of all time. It had a massive cultural impact, and the success of House of the Dragon shows just how many people were invested in the series when it originally launched. Looking back at the show, there’s one major moment in it that I think completely changed television, and that is the red wedding.
A complete game changer in the show Game of Thrones, it subverted expectations and ripped our hearts out whilst delivering one of the biggest twists of all time.
Even watching it almost ten years later, it’s still really impactful, and throughout this video, we’re going to be breaking down why the scene works so well and how it changed the show and television as a whole.
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If this is your first time here, then I’m Paul. Welcome to the Heavy Spoilers show. Let’s get into The Red Wedding now.
Game Of Thrones Red Wedding: Why Was This Such A Huge Deal?
Ok so in order to discuss it’s impact we have to talk where television was back at the turn of the millenium. The medium was very much thought of as being worse than film, with the production values, acting, and general feel of TV shows being cheap in comparison to their big-screen counterparts.
This all changed at the start of the century when TV networks began putting a lot of effort into their shows to match the stature of movies.
AMC did a big event in which it launched both Breaking Bad and Mad Men and HBO started pushing it’s fantasy series Game Of Thrones.
George RR Martin had pitched the series for years but it had been rejected due to his pilot script being labelled as the most expensive show of all time.
However HBO took a chance on him and D&D and the show was eventually released. Its popularity started to snowball over time, and this is definitely due to the complex characters that we loved and the ones that we loved to hate.
Season One was brutal and it ended with the death of Ned Stark in what was a complete gut punch. Rarely had we watched a protagonist be killed off like this, but in his wake, we were left following his wife and children as they set out for revenge.
The Lannisters were complete pieces of s**t, and the fact that they were inbred like yeast made them easy to hate.
And so we did.
For months and months, we watched Rob Stark slowly mount his quest for revenge with his family, and it would be difficult for anyone not to get invested in him. Against all odds he won battle after battle and this underdog story was easy to become attached to.
For decades, we’ve been trained by Hollywood to expect stories like this to go a certain way. We have our clearly defined heroes and villains, and a clear beginning, middle, and end that builds towards it.
If you’d asked someone at the time what Game of Thrones was about, they would’ve said that at its core, it was basically Starks vs. Lannisters. Sure there’s the white walkers, Dany and her dragons but these two sides were the major driving point early on. Because of this structure it was easy to get caught up in believing that we were heading towards a major showdown btween the two houses.
Every time they took a shot against a Lannister, it felt like a win for us too, and Robb also found love in Talisa. The pair were married and she fell pregant making it seem like we were gonna get a happy ending after the death of our hero Ned.
It felt like the show was setting up for a Hollywood ending but this was all ripped away at the red wedding.
Now the first brilliant thing that they do is that they set this event in episode 9.
This isn’t the season finale, and because of this, you’re lured into thinking that the wedding will happen. We’ll get a slow-paced episode that sets things up for the finale, and that will be where it all goes down. Robb had been building towards a big battle with the Lannisters, and it just made sense that it would take place in episode 10.
For decades, this is how TV worked as well.
Most of the time when budgets were set out the first episode would be where the majority of the money went with it also being poured into the finale. Most of the episodes in between this didn’t have the amount given to them that these two epsidoes did and therefore audiences just expected these to be run of the mill.
Since the arrival of the Red Wedding, we’ve seen how several shows have flipped the script a bit and actually put their big events before the finale, which I believe this series set the tone for too. Ned also died in the episode before the ending, and it seemed like a formula they crafted for success to ensure that people came back for the next episode.
This is seen from the opening of the episode, which starts off pretty simply. Robb stands with Catlyn, looking over a map, to plan out an attack that we are supposed to assume will happen next episode. This is to take Tywin Lannister’s castle, who at this point is one of the big bads.
And it very much sets the stage for what we think is going to be prepared for the next episode.
From here we go to Walder Frey who feeds the Starks and their forces. This shows friendship, and the food is passed around, showing how they all eat from the same plate, hammering home the idea of trust. This of course subliminally makes us get lured into a false sense of security, much like the characters. Frey parades his daughters out there like some mediaeval take me out, and he reminds Robb of the word that he broke. One of these women was meant to be Queen, but Robb went back on the deal.
After giving a youtuber level apology for breaking his word it seems like all is forgiven and Edmure marries Roslin.
There’s a great line that foreshadows what’s to come and sets up the eventual path of the episode.
Interestling the title of the entry gives away the ending and if you looked up this title beforehand then it might clue you into to the twist.
Called The Rains of Castamere, this is a famous song in the Song of Ice and Fire that celebrates how the Lannisters destroyed the House of Reyne when they dared to rebel against them. This song is also played at the wedding when the tune changes to signal exactly what’s going on.
This is basically summarising how a Lannister always pays their debts and how they are stamping out Robbs rebellion once and for all.
Music is a big part of the turn at the end, and before the song switch, they play The Bear and the Maiden Fair.
It’s basically an upbeat and jolly song thats used to keep things lighthearted rather than dark. The book actually gives us some extra little details that really flesh out this scene. Throughout the section, Catlyn constantly looks over to the band and remarks on how badly they’re playing. This is obviously because they’re soldiers and not trained musicians.
What Is The Red Wedding From Game Of Thrones Based Off?
Now the wedding itself is actually based on an event from our own history.
In 1440, the UK was still reeling from the death of King James in 1437. Scotland was thrown into a period of instability with James the second who was only six being announced as the King. Vying for power were several people, including the Douglases. They were invited to a dinner in Edinburgh, and at this event, they were seized, given a mock trial, and executed for treason.
George RR Martin has been very open about drawing from British history in order to flesh out his books. The Wall was inspired by Hadrian’s Wall, which just so happens to be down the road from where I live, and the Tudors also provided inspiration for the families.
Now the rest of the episode actually also lures us into thinking that we’ve seen the big action scenes. Jon ends up escaping the Free Folk after finally playing his hand and killing Orell. Bran starts to master his Warg abilities during this, and Dany’s crew slowly starts to take over a city.
It seems like the episode is very much par for the course and here we cut to the wedding to see the ceremony playing out.
Now perfectly, this lures the viewer into a false sense of security too, as they believe they know how things are going to play out.
We’ve seen the big scenes, and now it’s time to have the calm before the storm that will surely follow in the finale.
However, at the celebration, things seemed a bit off. Lord Bolton refuses to drink constantly, and Catlyn starts to notice things.
Still, these are characters that the characters trust, and therefore we do too. That’s what makes this episode so impactful, because we also feel betrayed. Not only are they killing the characters, they’re killing the people we love.
I’ve searched high and low for this, but there was a TED Talk I remember watching that discussed how we, as people, gain attachments to fictional characters and why they mean so much to us. When you think about it, none of these people exist; they aren’t real, yet we still love them, and there are even some that we completely bring into our lives. I’m a massive Batman fan, and the character has become a big part of my life over the years to the point of almost being an obsession. During the Ted Talk, they discussed a survey that had been carried out, and this went over how strongly people love their fictional characters. When asked if someone would rather their favourite character was killed off or a real life stranger the majority chose to save the fictional person.
Just look at your fellow commenters and their screen names in the comments below. Would you rather have your favourite fictional character die over them.
You see where I’m coming from.
Writers and creators have banked on this too, and there’s the famous phrase ‘don’t be afraid to murder your darlings.’
Coined by William Faulkner, this piece of writing advice basically means that you shouldn’t be afraid to kill off your main characters. It basically means that when a character has served their purpose, don’t be afraid to kill them off. It’s something George RR Martin has done a lot but even this murder of the Starks feels like they still had so much to do.
That’s why we feel so robbed, and after the married couple is escorted off, the doors are closed. Robb and Talisa discuss their unborn child, and she announces that they are going to call it Eddard if it’s a boy.
It’s such a touching moment that reminds Robb of what he’s fighting for. His father is gone, but there’s a chance they will rise again in this new child.
But it’s not to be.
The music changes, Arya and Clegane are told to leave before she can be reunited, and Lord Frey gives a speech. Bolton smirks at Catlyn and looks at his wrist, where we see he’s wearing armour.
Talisa is stabbed without a second to react, and Robb is fired at with arrows before all the starks are butchered as part of Lord Frey’s wedding gift.
Even rewatching it, the shock that comes from this is such a gut punch that it’s difficult not to relive it like it’s the first time you watch it. It’s almost traumatic in a sense, and every time I put it on, the memories of the first time I saw it come flooding back.
Now even the direwolves are safe, and all of Robb’s forces are wiped out, much to the horror of Arya. We are very much with her in this moment, watching things play out, helpless to stop them.
Robb crawls to comfort his wife, but it’s too late; she’s gone.
Catlyn takes Frey’s wife hostage, and she desperately tries to beg him to release her son.
She’s very much echoing the words of the audience, who are desperately pleading that he at least makes it out of there. Our minds start to race, imagining all the revenge stories that he could go on, and as much as she begs for it to happen, we know deep down that it’ll never be the case.
Catlyn threatens to slit Frey’s wife’s throat, but he just replies by saying
Why The Red Wedding Was The Most Important Game Of Thrones Episode
Robb is then stabbed by Bolton, and we cut to Catlyn, who does some cutting of her own.
She’s devastated, and we hold on to her as she just stands there, unable to move much like the audience.
She too is killed, and like us, she’s completely robbed of all her emotion at this point. There’s no fight left in her and I remember just sitting there completely wiped out. Even her death just leaves you feeling nothing, and we cut to the credits, which have no music over the top of them.
I’m not even kidding; it just hangs there without anything playing behind it.
It just leaves this feeling of bleakness, loss, and devastation in every way.
It’s easy to see why this episode’s impact has lasted for so long, and it’s something that a lot of shows have tried to take the structure of in order to add their own gut punches. This was the first time that I really remember something fictional completely flattening me, and it felt like a point at which TV turned.
Before, it had been something that had a pretty low bar in terms of storytelling, but this elevated it to a new, mature level at which anything could happen. No longer were we saying what TV lacked in comparison to film, but instead we were appreciating the fact that the medium provided new opportunities.
Now we had the chance to tell stories that didn’t fit the Hollywood formula, and instead of wrapping things up in a two-hour runtime, we could divert, throw curveballs, and kill off characters for overarching narratives.
It really changed tv and the way that people tried to tell stories and rather than matching movies the creators tried to do something different.
Overall the red wedding still stands as a major gut punch and it’s something that changed television history.
Now, obviously, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, so comment below and let me know.
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If you want something else to watch, then make sure you check out our breakdown of the perfect scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming. We break down the entire thing, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to know more.
With that out of the way, thank you for sitting through the video; I’ve been Paul, and I’ll see you next time. Take care, Peace