The Red Wedding was a game-changing moment that shocked fans of Game of Thrones, but the show seemed to learn the wrong lessons from its success.
The legacy of Game of Thrones is one of the stranger ones in modern television history. When discussed now, fans seem to still have a bad taste in their mouths from the lackluster final season. However, there was a time when the show was the most popular thing on television. Fans were raving about it as one of the greatest shows of all time and it was filled with unforgettable moments that helped it become the most talked-about pop culture item. Perhaps the show’s biggest moment was the infamous Red Wedding that is still regarded as a high-point in the series’ run. But as impactful as that moment was, it could also have played a big role in the eventual downfall of Game of Thrones.
The Red Wedding is an event that takes place in episode 9 of the third season entitled “The Rains of Castamere.” At this point, Robb Stark remains undefeated on the battlefield yet his army is dwindling. In need of help to defeat the Lannisters, Robb makes a deal with Walder Frey, the lord of the Twins who Robb had previously promised to marry his daughter thus bolstering Frey’s power in Westeros. Though Frey initially abandoned Robb’s cause after the King in the North broke their pact and married his true love Talisa, he agrees with the new deal which will see Robb’s uncle Edmure Tully marry the Frey daughter instead. But while the wedding festivities start off friendly enough, it ends up being a trap and Frey has Robb’s army slaughtered, his pregnant wife stabbed to death and his direwolf killed before Robb and his mother Catelyn are executed as well.
At this point in the story, Robb Stark was the hero most fans expected to avenge the death of his father, Ned Stark. But just like Ned, Robb trusted the wrong people, and his heroic journey was cut short in a shocking and brutal way. The moment further cemented the idea that no one was safe in this show and that the villains often win by playing dirty. It also threw an unpredictable element into the show as Robb’s march on King’s Landing felt like such a central focus.
All of these factors contributed to the impact of the Red Wedding, but it was the fans themselves that really sold it as an iconic moment in television history. Fans who had read George R.R. Martin’s books knew this devastating moment was coming and they also knew it would catch non-book readers off guard. This led to countless videos of unsuspecting fans reacting in horror to the bloody betrayal. They screamed at the sudden violence, sobbed at the death of fan-favorite characters, and cursed the show while also confirming that it did its job well. These videos spread far and wide around the internet and helped the popularity of the show skyrocket. Overnight, it went from a popular fantasy show to the one series on television that was unmissable.
This was a turning point for the show in terms of its popularity as well as its storytelling. As the ratings continued to rise episode after episode, the show got bigger in scale, defying what people thought could be done on a television series. It also became clear that the showrunners noticed the excitement surrounding the Red Wedding and wanted to reach that same height again. Sadly, they seemed to take the wrong message away from its success.
What made the Red Wedding so great was how shocking it was while also seeming inevitable. Fans wanted Robb to succeed but that didn’t mean it made sense that he would. Throughout the third season, the chess pieces were being moved around that brought Robb to this moment and his death. Fans didn’t expect it in that moment, but everything about it made sense. It also played into what fans seemed to like best about the show – violence and political intrigue.
The showrunners seemed to see a much simpler recipe for what made the moment work – shocking violence. From all those reaction videos of people screaming as Robb and his army were butchered, they decided that was what the future of the show would be. It didn’t help that those reaction videos grew in popularity with fans reacting to other scenes like Joffrey’s death and Oberyn’s death but also moments where the heroes triumph and the audience cheers. Going forward, the show became more of a machine for moments that would get those huge responses. It’s true that they continued to succeed in this aspect, but it began taking away from good storytelling. And this really started to become clear when the show moved past the books.
Martin’s novels profited plenty of unexpected moments, however, they were all tied to the greater story. Once the show ran out of source material, they had to come up with their own ways of delivering those shocking moments. While they did manage some big moments, they started to feel more forced and inorganic. Character motivations and smart plotting no longer seemed as important as catching the audience off guard.
By the final season, all the show had left was moments rather than an ending. They delivered what they thought fans wanted to see, like Arya killing the Night King or The Hound fighting The Mountain, while also including shocking deaths, like Daenerys’s dragon or Daenerys herself. But these moments now felt strung together as a checklist rather than something that came out of the storytelling.
Looking back, Game of Thrones was a great show for the most part that simply lost its way in a rush to the end. The Red Wedding still stands as a defining moment for the series and an example as to why it was such a hit with audiences. With several spinoffs in the works, it feels like the franchise still has a lot of legs. Hopefully, new lessons are learned and they reexamine what really made that moment so special.
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