Game of Thrones’ infamous Red Wedding episode changed the course of the series by killing off two primary characters. It also shocked viewers with its graphic violence and abrupt plot shift. But the shocking twist wasn't as out of left field as many may think. There was a significant amount of foreshadowing to the "Red Wedding" events of the season 3 episode “The Rains of Castamere,” in which both Robb Stark and his mother, Catelyn Stark, are murdered.
By the Red Wedding, Robb Stark has become King in the North and hopes to avenge his father Ned's death. In season 1, Robb agrees to a marriage pact with House Frey, allowing him to cross the Green Fork and move forward with his battle plan. Soon thereafter, Ned Stark is arrested and ultimately beheaded by the Lannisters, which strengthens the familial bond between Robb and Catelyn. During season 2, Robb falls in love with the battlefield healer Talisa (portrayed by Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter, Oona Chaplin), which compromises his existing agreement with House Frey. In season 3, Robb struggles with strategic errors and makes desperate moves in his attempt to remove Tywin Lannister from power. He decides to make a deal with Walder Frey and arrives at The Twins expecting the courtesy known as “Guest Right," which means that nobody will be harmed. Instead, Robb is murdered, along with Catelyn, Talisa, and even the loyal Stark direwolf Grey Wind.
Both Ned Stark and his eldest son Robb lived by a code of honor. In Game of Thrones, though, manipulation and savagery equals power. Here are the events that foreshadow the Red Wedding.
- This Page: You Win Or You Die and A Marriage Pact to Remember
- Page 2: The Wrath of House Frey
You Win Or You Die
In Game of Thrones season 1, Robert Baratheon passes away at King's Landing, and Ned Stark is soon arrested by the Lannisters. This makes Robb, a teenager, the man in charge at House Stark. Joffrey Baratheon - a (younger) teenager himself - assumes control of the Iron Throne, even though it’s not his birthright. To protect the Lannister legacy, Joffrey’s mother, Cersei, makes a tactical move that begins the War of the Five Kings.
Though Robb seems fit to be King, he’s still an inexperienced Stark. When he receives a letter from House Lannister that details Ned’s alleged treason, Robb prepares for war. “Call the banners,” he says, “now we’ll see what their words are worth.” In the moment, Theon Greyjoy asks Robb if he’s afraid. A trembling hand not only underlines Robb's inexperience, but also that he’s “not stupid” (according to Theon). It’s a pivotal moment for the Game of Thrones narrative, and it’s based on manipulation.
The House Lannister letter is signed by Sansa Stark (Joffrey’s bride-to-be), which confuses Robb, her brother. Because of the wording, he immediately feels inclined to engage the Lannisters. A more experienced Stark might’ve realized that Cersei was the letter's obvious writer, but Robb doesn’t take any time to consider an alternative strategy. This moment emphasizes Robb’s bravery, along with the idea that he can easily be manipulated. Ultimately, that will be Robb’s downfall. As Cersei says, "You win or you die."
A Marriage Pact to Remember
On the battlefield, Robb proves to be a capable leader. In addition, his mother reminds him of the high stakes. “If you lose, your father dies,” Catelyn says. “Your sisters die. We die.” After Robb captures a Lannister scout, he decides to show mercy and sends the man back with a message: “Tell Lord Tywin winter is coming for him - 20,000 northerners marching south to find out if he really does shit gold.” While this move could be perceived as weak, it’s a smart decision because the scout wrongly assesses the amount of northerners. Rob only has 2,000 men - not 20,000.
So, by the time Robb reaches the Green Fork, he’s feeling hopeful. He just needs to cross the river. To do that, he needs Walder Frey’s help, and sends Catelyn to reach a deal. After all, Robb's mother has known the man since childhood. Later, though, Walder’s words are telling. He states that the Starks have always “pissed” on him, and makes it clear that he doesn’t care about any of the Kings. To the viewer, this man should not be trusted.
But Catelyn returns to Robb with a proposal from House Frey. Arya, who is missing, will eventually have to marry Waldron Frey, and Robb himself must agree to marry one of Walder’s daughters, all of whom don’t have the beauty and grace of women like Sansa Stark or Cersei Lannister. This point is made blatantly clear, and it's connected to the Red Wedding. But first - because Robb must cross the river to capture Jaime Lannister, he agrees to the marriage pact. Robb will later break his vow, a fact that Lord Walder will remember.