This post is a little different and, in the run up to the release of the second series of HBO’s Game of Thrones, focuses upon events in George R. R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire.
***If you haven’t read the third instalment, A Storm of Swords, through to the finish, then you won’t want to read this post.***
The Red Wedding
When the Red Wedding takes place in A Storm of Swords it hammers home the point George R. R. Martin made so infamously with the decapitation of Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones: life doesn’t make way for heroes. Misdeeds and dishonour prevail; good people suffer and are out-schemed. A moral compass doesn’t always guide you safely. King Robb Stark is murdered, along with his loyal retainers, at a moment when his safety seems guaranteed. Both he and his faithful wolf are decapitated post-mortem by erstwhile allies and, in a touch so grim it is a wonder G.R.R.M. could bear to write it, the beast’s head is stitched onto Robb’s headless corpse. If that wasn’t enough, Robb’s mother, Catelyn, has her throat cut and is thrown naked and lifeless into a river.
The Red Wedding, when it comes to be adapted on screen in HBO’s Game of Thrones, will take its place within the grand pantheon of television twists. It will constitute the second time in the show’s history in which the ostensible hero is killed off in a brutal fashion. It will come at a moment when Robb, even if his fortunes have dimmed, is in the midst of planning new alliances and campaigns, with a young wife he loves and a righteous cause to fight for. So if it is assumed that the Red Wedding will constitute an earth-shattering twist for those viewers of Game of Thrones who are not up to date with the novels, then is there not a risk that Robb Stark’s death could be the moment at which HBO’s powerhouse jumps the shark?
Jumping the Shark
When a show presents its audience with content that is subsequently rejected, it often leads to a decline in viewing figures and ratings that can spell the death of a series. It can be the point at which things “all get too silly” – Heroes springs to mind – or when the show deviates so far from its original or expected tone and message that people no longer feel comfortable watching it.
In the case of Game of Thrones, there’s no sense in claiming that the Red Wedding will deviate from the show’s themes. The brutal realism of the event is in keeping with the ideas explored in the series. This does not stop the Red Wedding, though, from being bloody depressing. Evil goes unremittingly unpunished in A Song of Ice and Fire; the second series, if it follows the structure of A Clash of Kings, will end with Tyrion maimed, Joffrey and Cersei still in power, Qorin Halfhand dead at the hands of Jon Snow, Sansa in captivity, Davos missing presumed dead and Arya forced further into a life of theft and murder. Winterfell will be burned by the loathsome Ramsay Snow; kindly Maester Luwin will die in a pool of blood.*
Robb and Catelyn’s deaths, and the smashing of the Northern army, will be the black jewel in the crown of this sorry series of events. It may be that this catalogue of sadness becomes too much. What is the point in watching a show if favourite characters suffer misery after misery, leaving you to switch off the television, stare at the black screen, and slip into a spiritual and existential funk? Of course, this may all come across as unfounded speculation, especially considering that A Song of Ice and Fire has continued in rude health despite the death of Robb Stark in its third instalment. Readers know what to expect; they move on and accept that George R. R. Martin went there, yet again. The Robb Stark of the novels, however, is not the Robb Stark of the HBO series.
Robb Stark as HBO Hero
Of the seven members of the nuclear Stark family introduced in A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin elevated five to the position of Point of View characters. Rickon, three years old at the time of the series’ commencement, was for obvious reasons excluded. Robb’s absence from the muster roll, on the other hand, seems unusual. Declared a king by his faithful followers, Robb Stark is the son of a murdered hero. He is brave, handsome, and principled. He evinces many of the characteristics of the traditional fantasy hero. He does not play political games. He trusts people. He falls in love.
In George R. R. Martin’s world, forever dismantling the tropes of simplistic fantasy, these are the reasons why Robb Stark dies. No matter how well-written a paragon he may have been, a paragon Robb remained, and to see events from his perspective would have been to undermine this crucial aspect of his character. In the solicitation for the second series of Game of Thrones, however, Robb appears to have the same profile as G.R.R.M’s holy trinity of Tyrion, Jon and Daenerys.
In A Clash of Kings Robb’s story is told only from Catelyn’s perspective; she is away from her son for most of the novel and Robb’s exploits are witnessed indirectly, his military genius and activities reported by third parties. Game of Thrones has no such parameters in terms of perspective. As demonstrated in the first series, and to its strength, the show is able to introduce new scenes which detail the motivations and actions of any character they wish. It is apparent then that Robb’s campaigns, his leadership and his love affair with Jeyne (Oona Chaplin) will all play out on screen.
After the second series of Game of Thrones and the inevitable green-lighting of the third and fourth series that will together comprise the adaptation of A Storm of Swords, the countdown to the Red Wedding will begin. At some point in 2014, Richard Madden will leave the show in a torrent of blood. Depending on how much Robb Stark is developed as the hero of Game of Thrones, this could upset a rather large number of people. Such is the issue with adaptation, in that content has to be tailored to suit the medium. In the case of the television series, Robb Stark may well be tailored to fit the role of beloved franchise hero, in a way that he never was in A Song of Ice and Fire. Come his death, there could be more than a few angry fans.
Update: This post is far and away the most popular on the site. It obviously suffers from some inaccuracies now but I have chosen not to update it; I may write a follow up in the run up to season three.