Not since Kim Kardashian married that guy she’s not married to anymore has the internet exploded so strongly over a wedding as it did Sunday night to the events that took place at the nuptials of Edmure Tully and the only attractive Frey daughter on Game of Thrones.
There are no spoilers here, if you are a real fan, you’ve watched it by now. The Red Wedding. That horribly graphic and terribly tragic event that has caused many across the television-viewing audience to shake their heads in disgust and wonder that they ever invested in this crazy show in the first place. There has been screaming. And crying. And gnashing of teeth of nearly biblical proportions.
And that – is AWESOME.
I will admit, that because I read the books six years ago, I am in the group that had foreknowledge of this coming tragedy as I have watched the threads of Martin’s vast story woven together by the incredibly deft hands of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. I am continuously impressed by the way they have made accessible the world of the seven kingdoms and beyond to new audiences, balancing the enormous cast of characters against ensuring that most viewers are able to keep up with the most important story threads. It was an ambitious undertaking and they have been massively successful – and the explosive and emotional reaction to the Red Wedding is proof positive of that.
I understand how betrayed many people feel. I had the same reaction when I reached this moment in the book six years ago. I threw the book across the room and walked out destroyed and convinced that I would not be able to read on. I was done. This was absolutely insane and I wanted no part of it. Even knowing it was coming, it was heart-wrenching to watch, and it was executed offensively perfectly. Not since Lindelof and company killed Charlie on Lost have a I felt so strongly about a writer’s decision and wondered if I could even continue on the journey with them.
Why did it hurt so bad? Why was it so shocking? Why are the legions vowing never to watch again? Because you just don’t do that. You don’t kill the hero. That’s the heart of the issue, right? In the world of fantasy, sure, peripheral characters die all the time, a few secondary level ones that you are fond of fall occasionally for the emotional jolt. But the hero? Never. And that’s what Rob Stark was. Catelyn dying, would be tragic, just as Ned Stark’s death was. Rob’s wife and unborn child dying would be horrific, but a rite of passage giving the hero renewed passion for his quest. In the world of coming of age and fantasy storytelling, the old guard inevitably pass from importance as the young generation survive their rights of passage to head for the important battles. They cut their teeth, they make mistakes, they lose loved ones and then after significant danger and sacrifice – they triumph. That’s the way it works. We know this and we still love to watch it happen.
In the world of Westeros and beyond, at the moment before the Red Wedding we had three genuine heroes – Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow and Rob Stark. The Dragon Queen off in her own world to factor into the Westeros story at some point and the two half-brothers, sons of the great fallen leader, beginning the long journey down two very different paths to being men their father would be proud to call sons. Sure there are other heroic characters, and others who may grow to be heroes, but in the nature of “correct” storytelling – these are our three heroes. At the end of their journeys they will lead the forces, or join together, or one may turn to the other side and they will meet on the battlefield as enemies, but we know they will be there. We KNOW it.
And then George R.R. Martin brought the mountain down upon us. He betrayed us, our faith in storytelling and in doing so left us floundering in his world unsure of everything we hold true and dear. This, my friends and fellow mourners, is truly great storytelling.
I know, many will resist this idea for some time, the grieving process is complicated. However, it is this ability to genuinely and honestly reflect an incredibly real world that made the story so engaging from the beginning. In life, the good guys don’t always win, not every crime is punished and sometimes the hero does not get the chance to do the great things he was meant to do. It’s harsh and it’s real and it’s wonderful to see. Ned Stark was only just the beginning.
Martin is no Tolkien, or even Robert Jordan, where nearly every major hero and villain makes it to and through the final battle with one extremely important death right at the end so we all remember that the victory of good always comes through a Christ-like sacrifice. We should have known when Ned lost his head, but we viewed this as a necessary moment to show who is truly evil and make room for the new generation of good to grow. We should have known when the Kingslayer lost his hand. Martin took the perfect swordsman/villain/masculine villain and figuratively emasculated him by removing the most important representation of his masculine identity.
We should have known all bets were off, no one is safe – but we didn’t. We were fools, comfortable in our belief that no matter how surprising the twist might be, some things are certain the world of telling a great story. It is precisely because our smug foolishness as viewers has been pointed out to us that we are so angry. No matter how many ways we may have pictured the story playing out, this was not among any of the potential futures. We don’t know as much as we thought we knew.
In our world of overexposure and movie trailers that tell the entire story and formulaic procedurals, we have become accustomed to knowing what will happen and then just watching it play out. We’re smarter than the show. Or the film. Or the reality show. We’re always right, and with the ability of social media to express outrage in reaction, sometimes we even get to impact the results. This time, there’s no going back. Rob Stark is dead. Game of Thrones is not what we thought it was, and no each of us must decide for ourselves if we can live with that.
Because Martin has cracked the foundation beneath us, he has proved he is willing to do anything to anyone at any time. Once the rage, shock and anger dissipate – we will all be at the edge of our seats watching with renewed interest and expectation. Because apparently, there are no rules – and that is a truly exciting story to watch unfold.
Batten down the hatches, because Martin is not done with us yet and no one is every truly safe.