After perusing interviews with the cast in the wake of “The Rains of Castamere”, writer and editor Marc N. Kleinhenz came across a couple of sentiments that he fundamentally disagreed with, which brought to mind the larger question of necessity-vs.-gratuitousness, particularly around the way the Red Wedding was depicted. He decided to sit down and write an essay on the subject and we here at WinterIsComing.net are happy to bring it to you.
Why the Actors Have It Wrong: Exploring the Red Wedding and Dead Fetuses
By Marc N. Kleinhenz
The single biggest difference between “The Rains of Castamere” and George R.R. Martin’s novel, A Storm of Swords, is, of course, the addition of Queen Talisa Stark to the Red Wedding’s guest list, sealing her fate along with that of all the other Starks’. (Which is not to mention that Talisa herself is, obviously, a major deviation from the source material, featuring a different personality, backstory, and, even, name. The fact that she is carrying King Robb’s unborn child may also be a departure from the books, although the jury is still out on that one – and on whether having a newborn Stark will matter in the slightest down the narrative road if she is.)
Having Queen Talisa – and her royal fetus – be the first to drop may seem, on the surface, to be only a minor deviation. Certainly not as important as making Arya Stark be Lord Tywin Lannister’s pampered cupbearer as opposed to suffering as the Lannisters’ abused house slave during most of season two. However, the consequences from the change-up can be quite profound, depending on where Martin takes his last few novels and how many further changes the HBO series has in store.
The question then becomes, simply, why? Why make the change at all?
“I think it was important for her to die,” Richard Madden, the actor who played Robb Stark, told Zap2It.com in a recent interview. “I think it’s more tragic that there’s nothing left over” for the Starks, as far as the wider world of Westeros is concerned. “There’s no possibility that Talisa’s in hiding and going to have a baby, and, one day, that baby will take over as King of the North. There’s something tragic about it just all being cut short instantly.”
This is certainly true – and was even a motivating principle for Martin writing the scene in the first place, 13 long years ago. He explained it to Entertainment Weekly like this:
“I’ve said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I killed Ned in the first book, and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that. So, immediately, [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do.”
Like the American military, shock and awe are two of the most fundamental elements of A Song of Ice and Fire (even if constantly relying upon them at nearly every turn may end up resulting in the opposite effect, making the unexpected quite, in fact, expected), and adding to House Stark’s body count at the end of “Castamere” does, indeed, up the shock quotient, even for those grizzled literary veterans.
But there is a logical fallacy hovering behind Madden’s words: since Talisa had to be pregnant, he contends, she had to be offed. Yet there is no narrative, thematic, or even character drive behind her pregnancy; showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss could have just as easily left her without child, as she seems to be in the novels. Taking this one step further, in fact, there was no combination of factors that had to make her character be so fundamentally different from Jeyne Westerling, her literary counterpart, or to make her and her regal husband have so much expanded screentime over the course of the past two years. The showrunners definitely and deliberately set her up to be as big of a gut-wrencher – both figuratively and literally – for the audience as humanly possible.
This is where all those pesky, persistent arguments of how gratuitous Game of Thrones can be come into play, but the issue at hand is a far more serious consideration than, say, how many extra boobies are thrown into any given scene. The Red Wedding as depicted in the series falls much more closely in line with how Craster’s babies being sacrificed to the White Walkers or how each and every single one of King Robert Baratheon’s bastard children being executed just has to be shown instead of simply referencing or alluding to it, as in the books. At a certain point, doesn’t the law of diminishing returns take effect? Aren’t the deaths of Robb and Lady Catelyn enough without also having to throw Talisa and her bloody womb into the mix?
“Obviously, there’s more at stake in the television series because you have more characters there,” Michelle Fairley, the actress behind Cat, told The Huffington Post, explaining the necessity of the addition. “The stakes are higher.” Except, of course, that they’re not. The number of named characters in the Ice and Fire novels was just recently tabulated at over 1,000 – there is simply no conceivable way that Game of Thrones can even remotely compete with this figure, particularly in this one specific scene, which features many noticeable absences from the printed page ranging from the major (the Greatjon) to the minor (Dacey Mormont, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont’s niece, who has never even appeared on the show). And while one could certainly argue that the stakes were, indeed, raised by having the next generation of House Stark wiped out at the Twins, it seems to be a bit of dramatic overstatement, especially considering that TV-Catelyn believes that Bran and Rickon are still alive.
Although the absolute, ironclad necessity of Queen Talisa’s death – at least, as espoused by the cast and crew – is fundamentally unsound, there is still reason enough to accept, if not outright embrace, the alteration: there is a rather vocal and demanding element of the fanbase that has read Martin’s work and still wants the TV show to surprise and delight and, yes, even shock them, and the only way to achieve this is, of course, through changes in the narrative in ways both small and large.
It’s just hard to tell which one “The Rains of Castamere” is right now.
Marc N. Kleinhenz is the editor of Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows and the author of It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones. He has written for IGN, Theme Park Insider, and Westeros.org, among 16 other sites.