Stars: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Ciaran Hinds, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Richard Madden, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Alfie Allen, Diana Rigg, John Bradley, Jack Gleeson, Charles Dance, Rory McCann, Stephen Dillane, Carice Van Houten, Conleth Hill, Sibel Kekilli, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer, Gwendoline Christie, Finn Jones, Julian Glover, Joe Dempsie, Nicholas Blane, Oona Chaplin, Rose Leslie, Jerome Flynn, Ian McElhinnie, Thomas Sangster, Ellie Kendrick, Iwan Rheon, Daniel Portman, Nathalie Emmanuel, Richard Dormer, Noah Taylor, Michael McElhatton, Hannah Murray, Ed Skrein, Kristian Nairn, Natalia Tena, Jacob Anderson, Art Parkinson
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, series created by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Director: David Nutter
Network: HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
Airdate: June 2, 2013

Tradegy strikes in GAME OF THRONES "The Rains of Castamere" | (c) 2013 HBO/Helen Sloan

Tradegy strikes in GAME OF THRONES "The Rains of Castamere" | (c) 2013 HBO/Helen Sloan

Even if you’ve read the books and know what’s coming, the GAME OF THRONES episode “The Rains of Castamere” is shocking to watch, not to mention disturbing, incredibly powerful and haunting once it’s over. It takes a moment to remember the whole series hasn’t ended in terrible tragedy – we’ve still got Tyrion (absent from this episode, as are all Lannisters) over here, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) over there, Sam (John Bradley) Beyond the Wall, Jon (Kit Harington) heading back to the Wall, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) on his quest and Arya (Maisie Williams) evolving into the most formidable person ever, providing she gets a chance to grow up. Even so, it’s a body blow.

We finally get sequences with Bran that add up to something. Bran and company have taken shelter in an abandoned tower, but they can hear soldiers outside. In fact, this is the Wildling war party accompanied by Bran’s half-brother Jon, though Bran never knows this and Jon never knows there’s anyone in the tower. When Hodor (Kristian Nairn) becomes upset and keeps repeating “Hodor,” Bran can’t get him to be still and inadvertently mentally possesses Hodor, causing the man to fall asleep. Jojen (Thomas Sangster) observes that, while he’s heard of other Wargs (as Bran is) being able to possess animals, Bran is the only person ever to inhabit another human. It’s no problem then for Bran to go into his direwolf Summer, waiting outside, to attack the raiding party and cause them to scatter.

Bran determines that it’s no longer safe for his little brother Rickon (Art Parkinson) to travel with them. Since Wildling companion Osha (Natalia Tena) doesn’t want to go back beyond the Wall in any case, Bran directs her to take Rickon and Rickon’s direwolf Shaggydog and seek safety with the Umber clan, who are loyal to the Starks. Rickon is heartbroken at the parting. Parkinson is very good and the scene is touching – it would be even more affecting if we’d had much idea Rickon was around for the last few episodes instead of bringing him to the fore only now.

Jon, meanwhile, shows his true colors when he refuses to murder a horse breeder to keep the man quiet about the Wildlings stealing his steeds. The man is killed anyway, but when one of Wildlings accuses Jon of being a Crow (Night’s Watch) spy, Jon stabs the man, saying, “You were right about me all along.” To the horror of Jon’s lover Ygritte (Rose Leslie), Jon flees on horseback, heading back to the Wall.

Beyond the Wall, Sam tells Gilly (Hannah Murray), the young Wildling woman he’s rescued, where they’re headed. When Sam explains he knows about where they’re going because he read it in a book, Gilly is deeply impressed. “You know all that from staring at marks on paper? You’re like a wizard.” Sam is pleased (as should be readers everywhere).

Daenerys’ faith in her new captain Daario (Ed Skrein) is rewarded when he starts out with just Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) to open the city gates of Yunkai, then is joined by his men and the Unsullied to successfully take the city.

And then there’s the end of the Robb Stark (Richard Madden) saga. At Walder Frey’s (David Bradley) stronghold the Twins, where Robb, his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), Robb’s wife Talisa (Oona Chaplin) and his army have come for the wedding of Catelyn’s brother Edmure (Tobias Menzies) to one of Walder’s daughters, it first seems as though all will be well. Edmure is surprised and delighted by the beauty and charm of bride-to-be Roslin (Alexandra Dowling), Walder makes some noises about how he would have broken all sorts of oaths to bed someone as shapely as Talisa, the wedding occurs, Edmure and Roslin are whisked away to their marriage bed – and then Catelyn notices that Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) is wearing body armor under his regular clothing.

The minstrels in the upper gallery are replaced by archers armed with crossbows. Talisa is stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen by one of Walder’s men. Robb is shot full of crossbow bolts.

Outside, Arya and Sandor (Rory McCann) are turned away – they can see fighting among the Frey soldiers and Robb’s men. Sandor realizes they are too late and Arya sees Robb’s wolf Summer Wind being killed by soldiers shooting into the cage (no animal was actually harmed for this, but the incident and Arya witnessing it makes everything that much sadder).

Within Frey’s hall, Catelyn begs for Robb’s life and seizes Walder’s wife, threatening to kill her if Walder doesn’t let Robb go. Walder says he can always get another wife. Roose Bolton stabs Robb through the heart, saying “The Lannisters send their regards.” Catelyn screams, cuts Walder’s wife’s throat and has her own throat cut.

The credits roll in total silence.

This seems a wise choice, as any sound at all would seem to mock what we’ve just witnessed. We’ve lost not just characters we like, perhaps even love, but we’ve also lost an entire story thread. Of the people vying to rule in Westeros, Robb was by far the most sympathetic – Stannis Baratheon is cold and has stooped to fratricide, Balon Greyjoy seems colder still and Joffrey is a monster. Daenerys is so far from the Iron Throne at present that there seems no immediate possibility that she’ll ascend it any time soon, if at all. So we don’t know who or what to root for – the entire kingdom seems doomed.

On a more personal level, if Robb’s mute, aghast reaction to losing Talisa somehow doesn’t get you, Catelyn’s primal grief surely will. Fairley has been superb all the way through, but she has never shone more intensely than in her last scene here.

However, the larger tapestry continues. Lest we forget, the kingdom was facing major issues before Ned Stark left Winterfell. There are still Others and White Walkers aiming to breach the Wall, dragons in the east and schemes and counter-schemes writhing round each other in King’s Landing, all riveting before and promising to be no less engrossing now. Still, “The Rains of Castamere,” as it concludes, feels like the end of the world for awhile. It’s heartbreaking, undeniable and brilliant.

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