I’m going to preface by saying this: I read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga years ago, and I haven’t watched a modicum of HBO’s Game of Thrones series since it started airing. Also, for anyone who hasn’t read up to A Storm of Swords or watched season 3 of Game of Thrones, this is your official spoiler warning.
So, for show viewers, the biggest bombshell in the saga so far has been dropped, and the internet has exploded. It wasn’t quite as significant a fallout when the Red Wedding occurred in A Storm of Swords, since, among other things, books aren’t as popular and people tend to read at different paces and reach the fateful scene at different times; But as a TV show, every viewer got to yell “OH JESUS SHIT WHAT” in unison last Sunday night. This time, vilification of the series and lament of the fictional fallen spread to Twitter, Facebook, and blog sites like wildfire. In wake of the backlash, GRRM (George R.R. Martin) was compelled to justify himself and the Red Wedding in an interview with Entertainment Weekly (link at bottom of post), where he also enunciated his intention to cleverly manipulate the reader’s (and viewer’s) expectations.
There are general cultural expectations when one thinks of fantasy cliche. Good guy starts journey, good guy experiences hardship, bad guy wins for a while, bad guy eventually loses to the good guy. In the rare event the good guy actually eventually loses, they’ll usually be avenged in the next chapter or the next book, to reassure us that they didn’t die for nothing and there is in fact a thing called hope in this world. A Song of Ice and Fire takes those predictable elements of Tolkein-Lucas cliche, rips it up, offers us some of the scrap, but then takes it back and burns it, takes a warm dump on it, and then leaves it out in the rain.
GRRM dropped surprises in our faces from the very beginning. Within the first few chapters of the first book? BOOM! Scandalous incest. TWIN incest no less, and an innocent little boy who inadvertently saw it in the act was shoved off a roof and permanently crippled. Us readers and viewers cocked our heads. “Alright, okay, this is risque and a lot more mature than what we might have been expecting. But whatever, I’m sure we’ll be back on course and someone will give Jaime due retribution for knocking an innocent boy off the roof and breaking his back, eventually.”
After nothing really came of that, GRRM threw us a little bone at a different place in the story: “HAHA! Nice. That douche Viserys got what was coming to him for treating Dany so badly.” We chuckled.
And then Ned died, and we cried. After we dried our tears, our expectations still weren’t completely broken, so we waited for a new hope: Robb Stark.
Man, he was doing well for a while. He trashed the Lannister opposition at every battle he fought with them, and he even managed to capture that incestuous dickhead Jaime. “The son will avenge the father! Of course! …Right?”
But then he messed up. He would’ve had a sweet deal with House Frey and amassed a significant number of new soldiers from them if he had fulfilled his part. But he didn’t, and misjudging the consequences of that destroyed the new hope. We didn’t know it at the time of course, our knowledge of fantasy conventions once again took seniority over our logic, which GRRM used against us at the red wedding.
What happened at the Red Wedding was not George R.R. Martin being a meanie by killing the good guys. It was simply his reminder for us to do away with our preconceptions of genre, and thereby look at his work for its own merits. The wedding was brisk, brutal, sad, and devastating, but looking back, it was clever and exciting. We’re now farther on the edge of our seats than ever before, and the stakes are even more wildly unpredictable. With that, we are continuing to see both the great good and the despairingly bad of the world of Westeros. And, show watchers, don’t worry, there will be good to be had after this wedding.
“When you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.”
Entertainment Weekly Interview: http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/06/02/game-of-thrones-author-george-r-r-martin-why-he-wrote-the-red-wedding/