Forensic Scene Analysis: ‘The Red Wedding’

Understanding what makes great scenes really great is very useful when writing a screenplay. It gives you the tools and knowledge to write your own. In this article we are going to analyse and discuss the iconic scene ‘The Red Wedding’ in Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 9 ‘The Rains of Castamere’. 


The Importance of The Red Wedding

The Red Wedding is one of the most popular scenes in TV history. Its traumatising content is unforgettable. But it also challenges everything we think we know about screenwriting

Game of Thrones, as we know, is famous for its brutality and unpredictability. As audiences, we have been conditioned to understand storytelling in a way that means the conflict usually remains centre until the end of the story. A good example of this is The Lord of the Rings, where the central conflict is The One Ring that has to be destroyed.

The Red Wedding is very significant to the overall narrative. The narrative so far is primarily divided into three plots; 

  • The War of The Five Kings 
  • Daenerys’ Army 
  • The Watchers of The Wall 

However, the central conflict is prominently the Starks vs. the Lannisters and their pursuit of the throne. The Red Wedding is important to Game of Thrones overall as it subverts many traditional expectations of storytelling. This manipulation of the stereotypical storyline gave Game of Thrones its reputation as one of the best TV shows ever written. Most shows don’t abandon their central conflict without giving it a resolution that is satisfying to the audience.

To subversively write though, the outcome of your story must not be something the audience would conventionally expect to happen.

”(After Ned’s death) The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son will rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that.”

G.R.R Martin

The Setup of The Red Wedding

Red Wedding Robb Stark

Setting up your scene is essential to how it will turn out.

Throughout the episode of ‘The Rains of Castamere’, everything in the storyline of Robb Stark seems to be going well. 

  • Robb and Catelyn reconcile and create a battle strategy. Their complicated relationship has been intensified in the episodes prior to this scene and their reconciliation gives us hope and promise that they will win the war.
  • Robb apologises to Walder Frey. This makes us feel as though he has righted his wrongs and that their conflict can be put behind them.
  • The wedding of Edmure and Roslin goes well. This gives us a sense of relief. Walder is happy, so are the Starks. 

Seems too good to be true, right?

‘The wine will flow red… and the music will play loud, and we’ll put this mess behind us.”

Walder Frey

Although, it is evident that Robb has made a few mistakes over the course of his development. Robb is in this situation with Walder Frey because he betrayed the promise he made to him. Understanding this context, that Robb puts love before politics, is why the subversion works in the fatal scene of The Red Wedding.

The consequences of Robb’s actions have been underestimated. We typically expect the narrative trope that the good and righteous son will avenge his father. Not here.

Forms of the Setup

  • The dialogue where Robb and Talisa discuss their baby is crucial to the effectiveness of the scene. It heightens the emotion and presents Talisa’s vulnerability. The image of Robb teaching his son to ride a horse is created and represents another innocent life that will be taken away. Their closeness and happiness at the wedding highlights their love and tactically, strengthens our affection for the King and Queen in the North.
  • The focus on Catelyn when she overhears Talisa and Robb discussing their baby shows she finally approves of their relationship. This gives positive clarity to their storyline and provides more hope for their future. 
  • The jolly atmosphere of the newlyweds and drunk soldiers consumes the beginning part of the scene. There is a lot of light and everyone is close together, drinking and bonding.
  • The sound of laughter and upbeat music in and outside the hall underlines the general mood. 

Everything is flowing. The writer knows the effect this scene will have on its viewers and manipulates their emotions by creating a sense of hope and security. The setup is what makes the events of this scene truly powerful in their message that honour is not superior in regards to survival. 

Small Moments of Disclosure: How We Know Something is Wrong

The Red Wedding Catelyn Stark

Screenwriters don’t just include things for nothing. The small moments, characteristics and dialogues that seem interesting or suspicious are important to the plot. Visual storytelling and cinematic language are useful when writing these small moments. And they play a crucial part in The Red Wedding scene.

  • The servants holding light leave the hall. This leaves the room with solemn lighting. Things immediately feel more tense and unsettled.
  • The doors shut behind them, provoking claustrophobia and suspicion.
  • It is obvious that Catelyn has figured out something is wrong. The focus on her face as she notices these shifts raises our suspicion. 
  • Then, the most prominent part of the shift echoes through the hall. The band starts playing ‘The Rains of Castamere’, which is the Lannister anthem. This effective use of sound and music projects to our subconscious. We know where we have heard that song before. The song gives the idea that a Lannister always pays his debts. 
  • The pace of the scene completely switches and slows down compared to the previously fast pace. As the music looms, the outside of the hall feels eerie and there is a focus on Grey Wind, Robb’s Dire wolf, who seems to be pouting and whining. 
  • Catelyn knows something is wrong. She was always sceptical about Walder Frey and in this moment we know she was right to be. Roose Bolton reveals his armour beneath his clothing. Walder’s speech shows he feels remiss, it is clear he wants revenge.

These moments of disclosure amplify the tension and make way for the climax of the scene. There is always danger underneath the setup.

The Shift From a Happy Wedding to The Red Wedding

The clues tie together and it is clear that something is going on. The energy of the scene changes completely and the setup does not prepare us for the horror that is to come. The attacks are sudden and brutal. This is where the scene breaks. It’s jarring but effectively so.

  • The tension that has been built up is released when Catelyn calls out in hope of surrender. Her character has always been strong and her vulnerability is a shock. Therefore, fear sets in. 
  • The brutality of Talisa being stabbed in her pregnant belly confirms the fate of the scene.
  • The music continues symbolising the Lannisters. All we can hear is chaos and screaming. The intense theme of death takes over the scene.
  • Outside, Arya makes her way in but sees members of the Stark Army being murdered. Her storyline intercutting with The Red Wedding gives us desire and hope initially. This is cruelly taken away at the same time she is, Sandor knocking her out to spare her witnessing anything.
  • Arya represents a new stage of conflict that she will hold with Walder Frey in the seasons to come. This is essential when writing a series as the conflict needs to be maintained throughout. Where one conflict ends, another begins.

Changes in Pace, How Slowing it Down Puts Us on Edge

The chaos of the scene slows down slightly to put us on edge even more.

  • Catelyn’s powerful dialogue as she pleads for Robb’s life shows her desperation. This is where our emotions are at their peak. Walder responds with no mercy, again highlighting that pursuing love over politics will get you killed.
  • The performance is very important here. Catelyn is distraught and Robb seems numb as he moves slowly towards Talisa. His whole world has come crashing down before him. In a sense, he seems to welcome death.
  • Roose breaks in between the mother and son, clarifying the reasoning behind this attack by stating to Robb that ‘The Lannisters send their regards’. 
  • Robb’s death is central to the scene. There is little dialogue or dramatic effect, he falls helplessly.
  • Catelyn’s screams are harrowing. As she kills Walder’s wife the idea of how disposable people are to Walder is prominent.
  • Catelyn’s death is the final action. The scene has come to its climax and her sudden and brutal death confirms the end of the Stark Army.
  • The switch to the black credit scene emphasizes the dramatic effect of the scene. Here, we question everything that happened. The quick cut off leaves no room for interpretation. Just silence and shock.

Character Developments and Arcs

The character arcs and developments in Game of Thrones are in-depth and complex. Typically, if we have an attachment and share a moral position with a character, we want them to succeed.

Considering how devastating and frustrating The Red Wedding is because we were all rooting for Robb, scenes like this are always logical for another storyline or character development. Where one character loses, another wins.

As the murders were set up and planned by the Lannisters, they will benefit greatly from these deaths and it will be easier for them to keep the throne. This is a strong cause to effect. Though they are perceived to be the antagonists, this is not a story where the protagonist always wins, like in most. 

Robb’s Character Arc

Considering Robb’s character and his positive qualities, it is fair to say that most wanted him to succeed in his goals throughout the series.  

  • Robb had a righteous quest to redeem his family name as King in the North, with his own personal stakes and a formidable opponent. 
  • He tended to stay on the right side of morality. This made him a lot more appealing and likeable to the audience.
  • Robb, and his family, value loyalty and honour. Relating to a character like Robb establishes a positive relationship between us and them. Reflecting ourselves onto the characters, we seek protection and comfort in their narrative and produce a lot of hope for their fate.

But, Game of Thrones is not a typical story. 

  • Robb was the ‘hero’ for all intents and purposes. Establishing trust between the character and the audience is key when subverting expectations in storytelling.
  • Killing Robb kills the trust that was built by the writers. This heightens our emotional relation to The Red Wedding and is what makes it truly memorable. We can’t believe what we’re seeing.
  • Our hopes for the good and righteous are anchored and The Red Wedding shows that tactics and survival are essential to this world and that actions have consequences. This is often known as anagnorisis. In simple terms, the story doesn’t sugarcoat hard truths.
  • The Red Wedding works to right Robb’s wrongs that occurred over his development, despite their morally right positioning ie. marrying Talisa for love and not Walder Frey’s daughter for political gain.

Killing Robb marks a new stage of storytelling for Game of Thrones. Our ideas of what was to come in the narrative are killed and our establishment and relation to the characters will change and develop as a consequence.

Catelyn’s Character Arc

Catelyn Stark Red Wedding Character Arc

Catelyn is essential to The Red Wedding because she also represents the values of the Stark family. Furthermore, she reflects the audience as she slowly figures out what is happening just as we do. Her emotion and pain is an attempt at the resolution that we want, for Robb to survive.

  • Catelyn fights until the end and is the last aspect of hope for Robb and his army. The progress she had made with Robb and Talisa up until now is taken away and our frustration is emphasized.
  • Without Catelyn, the empathetic dynamic of mother and son would not be there. Her pain as her son is murdered heightens the emotion of the scene.
  • She knew all along to not cross Walder Frey and The Red Wedding confirms everything she had previously preached.

She’s the closest thing we have to an avatar in this scene. She makes the first discovery that something is up, watches it all unfold, briefly tries to take control and eventually, is the last to be killed. This mirrors our emotional journey in the scene. We discover, are shocked, hold onto one last thread of hope and then finally, are killed.

Walder Frey

The Red Wedding confirms Walder Frey’s character as a deceitful and jealous man. His power and control in this scene is difficult to watch, but his point is compelling.

  • Walder represents the fear and darkness of this story world. His bold enjoyment and laughter as the scene unfolds underlines the brutality of the series.
  • He shows that the realism of the unexpected can be hard and painful to witness. However, there is a reason behind it. In his logic, all this death makes sense. This is, in turn, what makes it all the more painful for us.

Walder Frey represents the idea that sometimes the bad guys win. He’s a character with little redeeming qualities and we can hardly watch as he takes charge and gets his revenge. This will eventually be resolved later in the series. But for now, we find pain in watching the bad guy triumph over some of our favourite characters.

What Makes The Red Wedding so Memorable?

George R. R. Martin Watches "Red Wedding" Reaction Videos | CONAN on TBS

The Red Wedding is so memorable for a number of reasons.

  • The shock. The shock of watching good characters being murdered is unforgettable, especially when their storyline is going so well. The imagery and sound of blood, murder and death is hard to watch and hard to forget.
  • Unpredictability. The Red Wedding is probably the last thing you would have imagined happening. The setup gave us so much hope and made us think everything was going well.
  • Excellent writing and filmmaking. The depth to the characters and their development makes them dying so much worse. The impact that a well-written character can have on you is extremely powerful. The use of cinematography, editing and mise-en-scéne, work to create tension, suspense and horror. The expert use of cinematic language makes The Red Wedding as good as it is.
  • Complex character arcs and development. The relationship that the audience has with the characters is very important to how they will feel about them dying. Positive expectations for and engagement with characters make their death more impactful on the story and the audience.
  • Making a bold statement. Not being afraid to challenge traditional ways of storytelling and bending narrative expectations is key in making a scene truly memorable.

The Red Wedding stands out as the moment in Game of Thrones where it truly does the unexpected. It goes against traditional notions of storytelling by brutally and suddenly killing the characters we love. However, it also manages to do this in a way that is subtly built up to and doesn’t strike as an easy sudden twist. Consider this when writing your own story, how can you truly provide the audience with the unexpected?

This article was written by Daisy Hirst and edited by IS Staff.

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