WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
One of the more intriguing aspects of Game of Thrones season 3 has been the emergence of unseen depth in characters who, in seasons past, have largely been understood to possess a singular, mostly villainous quality about them.
Take for example Jaime Lannister, a man who pushed a young boy out of a tower to protect the second worst kept secret in all of Westeros, has become an individual not only capable of garnering compassion from the audience, but is seemingly deserving of it as well. And while Tyrion has always been the Lannister with whom the audience typically sided, his sister hasn't faired too well in the court of public opinion (or Mother's Day list posts). But after witnessing the siblings' interactions with their father (especially when asking for a favor or, say, the keys to Casterly Rock), we have been given new insight into what makes these Lannister's tick. It may not have brought Jaime-like levels of empathy, but it certainly granted a clearer understanding.
This may seem a digressive point to make concerning an episode that doesn't even feature a Lannister, but it serves to highlight the series' extraordinary ability to rework preconceived notions about story and character (especially within the confines of a particular genre), and to remain unpredictable and daring through its willingness to break down walls of convention and break the hearts of its fans. It’s not rare for the "hero" to sometimes lose. In fiction, setbacks build character. But as seen here, this is no mere hindrance; it is the complete destruction of Robb Stark, and with him the dream of a new and possibly better kingdom. But it's also the unmistakable end to a journey that, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be a major portion of the series' overall narrative.
It is said that history is written by the victors, which, if true for Game of Thrones, means that the history of Westeros will largely be written by the Lannisters, as the events of this episode strike a massive (and likely decisive) blow against uprising in the North, and certainly quell any thoughts of beating the Lannisters at their own game. While 'Blackwater' was all about a Lannister victory in the face of an overwhelming force, through a combination of gutsy resolve (setting fire to Blackwater) and an 11th hour alliance that saw the Tyrells of Highgarden invited to take a seat in King's Landing, tonight's victory – known to many as the 'Red Wedding' – presents yet another Lannister triumph, but from a very different perspective, and with a very different outcome.
'Blackwater' defined the family as untiring in their defense of the Iron Throne, and Stannis Baratheon as presumptuous in his belief it could easily be won. This occasion, however, will mark the Lannisters as ruthless and cunning, while the Starks are once more seen as recklessly beholden to apparently outmoded constructs like principle and tradition – basically the kind of thinking that got Eddard Stark killed. And while the disparate creeds of the Starks and the Lannisters perfectly mirror the discussion had by Varys and Littlefinger – regarding the larger concept of the 'realm' – the events that conclude Edmure Tully's wedding speak largely to Littlefinger's theory that chaos is indeed the rule of the day.
Unlike 'Blackwater,' however, 'The Rains of Castamere' isn't entirely focused on a single story, which helps to make its final moments all the more shocking for those viewers unfamiliar with the storyline and unaware that yet another Stark casualty would be used as a focal point to end a season. The other storylines, though, certainly do not share the finality of Robb, Talisa and Cat's portion of the episode, which offsets things a little.
Seeing how the world of Game of Thrones works is one the most fascinating aspects of the series, and Dany's interference with an economy that runs entirely on slave labor (thanks to Daario Naharis, Grey Worm and Ser Jorah) has so far yielded some interesting results, which help to make her storyline lively despite being so far from the rest of the narrative.
Elsewhere, Jon Snow comes within yards of being reunited with Bran and Rickon, but after refusing to kill an innocent man, he's set upon by the wildlings and is forced to kill Orell and flee from a very perturbed Ygritte. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Jon, his life was saved in part by Bran's warging of the direwolves – which Bran can apparently do at will and to humans now, as seen by his calming of a panicked Hodor.
Season 3 has been a thin storyline for many of the Starks – Sansa and Arya being the two with the meatiest storylines, and even those were scant in comparison to the Lannisters' arcs – but this feels in keeping with the best and worst aspects of what Game of Thrones has to offer. Stories like Bran and Rickon's, and, also, Robb's, can sometimes feel as though they're slogging through the mud, going nowhere fast and taking time away from more interesting and compelling stories that are happening in the present. But the series excels at planning and illustrating the importance of things to come. Unless of course, as was the case of Robb Stark, his wife and his mother, the surprise is that the end was the only thing coming.
Game of Thrones returns next Sunday with the season 3 finale, "Mhysa" @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview of the episode below: