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Monday, June 01, 2015

Monday Musings: Game of Thrones: Lessons from The Red Wedding episode

The Rains of Castamere, the ninth episode of the third season, was one of the most disturbing one for me, and apparently for many others considering the large number of shocked comments on social media. It’s been widely referred to as “The Red Wedding” and for good reason: it’s a massacre, and I think the bloodiest episode to date.

It disturbed me for two reasons. The first one is because I really liked Rob Stark (though he did screw up by breaking his vow to Walder Frey) and the second one is because of the extremely deceitful and callous manner of the massacre.

There is also some great storytelling in this episode. So, in some ways it is one of my favorite episodes and also the most shocking.

The way Walder Frey went about his revenge is a terrible crime in the eyes of the old gods in the Game of Thrones realm and in our ancient world. Just about every culture has a story about the gods disguising themselves as travelers to test humans on their hospitality. Those who treat a traveler well are richly rewarded, while those who do not are gravely punished. The stories I remember are from Greek mythology and the lesson was: never harm a guest under your roof.

That’s why what Walder Frey did was so terrible. Why is this so unforgivable in the gods’ eyes? Is it because it’s such a treacherous act to welcome someone in with the promise of food and shelter, allow them to let down their guard, only to harm them? Maybe. It is pretty cruel and devious. And the old gods apparently didn’t like this sort of behavior.

In this episode, the story Bran tells his companions in the abandoned castle where they spend the night reflects this. He tells them about the king the gods turned into a large white rat, not for killing someone, but for killing someone under his roof. This is a foreshadowing of what is about to happen (and a great storytelling technique).

In our modern world we don’t really think about an ancient rule that forbids harming a person under our roof. But back in ancient times there were few, if any, hotels and restaurants, and it was dangerous to travel into unknown territories. Without a hospitality rule, strangers could be killed or captured in a foreign land. This is probably why the Greek guest-friendship ‘xenia’ was formed, which allowed people to travel into other territories and receive a place to stay and something to eat while not having to worry about being harmed. In fact, the Trojan War was started because of a violation of the xenia act—Paris kidnapped his gracious host’s wife, Helen.

It does seem strange to condone killing but not if it’s done to a houseguest. I mean, murder is still murder. However, it does seem especially cold-hearted to welcome someone in and then kill them. And that’s what bothered me so much when Rob Stark, his wife, unborn baby, mother, and all of his men were so callously slaughtered when they thought they were safe and among allies. What’s even worse is the act was committed during a wedding to join their houses. That’s doubly cruel. And it takes a special kind of evil to be able to do something like that. I still shudder thinking about the look on Rob’s face as he watches his wife being killed, and I’m guessing Walder Frey has a special kind of punishment from the gods coming his way. At least I hope so.
Kelley Heckart, Historical fantasy romance author

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