Red Wedding Reactions: Madness, Misery, Schadenfreude

Join me as I venture into the annals of Game of Thrones fandom for its most iconic event: the Red Wedding. With it, GoT taught everyone what George R.R. Martin had taught some of us years before in ASOIAF: no one is safe!

As an individual who ran a blog that once documented Robb Stark fans’ reactions to the Red Wedding, I’ve been able to chart the various responses to the infamous televison event. As it’s now ubiquitous in fandom and mainstream conversation about the show, I find it perhaps easiest to categorize the major types of reactions in order to understand the mayhem of D&D’s interpretation of the worst wedding ever.

I’ve broken it down into eight categories. Let’s take a quick swing through examples of each as we recount the episode which redefined a classic show and changed television forever.

Before I get to each category, I think it’s important to watch the following reaction compilation, showing the range of emotions I’ve identified, but generally the faces of horrified Unsullied & co.

Even Maisie Williams shared a reaction video:

GRIEF

One of the most common reactions to the Red Wedding from fans of the book series and fans of the Show!Starks was a sadness that eclipsed the execution of Ned Stark in season one.

Maybe because Robb was “good,” maybe seeing Cat lose her mind before her murder gave us the feels, at any rate: the world mourned the shocking exit of many of the Northern characters we had grown accustomed to on the show.

It demonstrated that the showrunners were willing to carry out GRRM’s bloody vision of a Riverlands massacre that has haunted book readers for years, a harbinger that still hangs over the show as we watch weekly to see if our favorite characters are felled in an equally exciting fashion.

SHOCK

Perhaps shock is a predecessor to grief, but I assert that it deserves its own category, because for every few fans that erupted at the events of the Red Wedding, one sat back, stunned, at its carnage. How could this possibly happen to characters who would be the moral victors in standard narratives?

They are the friend you pat on the back sympathetically as they process the fact that Ned’s execution was not an isolated incident, that the War of Five Kings is no joke, that the showrunners are willing to take the blood-stained banner of the book series and figuratively run with it, that Game of Thrones is not just a fun show you watch with your crew but a vehicle through which the wills of weak viewers will be crushed and the hopes and dreams of even the very best of characters (as relative as that might seem in this series) are hacked apart, perhaps with the characters themselves.

ANGER 

While some may sit back, eyes widened, others may take the tack of the fan in the popular video from season one directly after Ned’s execution.

How could they do this? Who are they to kill off Robb Stark, Catelyn, his pregnant wife, and his bannermen? Who is in charge of this show and who do they think they are? I could use more colorful language but neither anger nor outrage were particularly surprising responses to watching pregnant women getting stabbed to death in the belly and handsome heroes falling at the hands of their once-allies (and vampires, let’s be real, that theory is legit).

 

 

TUMBLR

Perhaps lumping together an entire microblogging platform is unfair but having swept the tags for Red Wedding reactions for months, I’ll reduce it down to this: the “I QUIT the show’/’I CAN’T”/claiming to return one’s fandom card is something that is readily visible among users of this particular website. Being Tumblr, I could explore the charges of sexism and misogyny, but let’s keep this light (said no one about the Red Wedding, ever).

TROLLING

Oh, you trolls. You knew ahead of time, didn’t you, and still you twist the knife into unsuspecting viewers and those of us bracing for impact.

 

You, with your suggestive soundtrack recommendations, such as Kesha’s “Die Young,” in which the uninitiated with months to go before the episode could deduce with little trouble that Robb was the one kicking the bucket by the end of the season. Let’s also tip our hat to Denny’s (someone’s a fan at Denny’s, I guess!) who ran a Red Wedding-themed advertisement shortly after the episode aired. Unfortunately, as is the case with fandom, people got spoiled beforehand and got mad at internet denizens who mocked fan reactions after the airdate, but such is the nature of trolling.

BOOK READER SCHADENFREUDE 

We knew it was coming. We wanted to tell our friends but knew it would be better to watch their reactions in real time. We are the book readers, but also the spoiler-knowers. We were those who benefitted the most from the Red Wedding episode, for the schadenfreude was thick in the air that night.

Perhaps some laughter was had at the expense of anguished, unsuspecting Unsullied. Perhaps some of us were waiting eagerly the next days for compilations of fan reactions or bewildered critics’ coverage. Perhaps some of us set up a camera in our living rooms because we knew exactly what was going to go down.

At any rate, the people who knew about the Red Wedding ahead of time and who engaged in a bit of schadenfreude due to others’ misery were not disappointed by the reaction. We were the ones who, when looked at accusingly or with teary eyes from the friends next to us on the couch, had to shrug. “You signed up for this,” some of us said. “Surely you knew this was coming,” “I didn’t think you would have wanted to know ahead of time.” Some of us used our powers for evil, but for the people who knew what was about to happen, the aftermath in fandom and mainstream society was entertainment.

ACCEPTANCE

A state of mind reached at vastly different times by fans and viewers of the show. The Freys and the Boltons are evil frakkers, so looking back with knowledge of their alliance, many could understand the RW in hindsight. Some needed a moment after the closing credits to ready themselves for a post-Red Wedding world. A few are still not over it. Most fans who are still loyal to the series committed to an increasingly brutal depiction of a sometimes seemingly hopeless place. Regardless, the show had several more episodes to go in the series, episodes that showed the fallout of the people involved and affected by the Red Wedding itself.

GRRM

George R.R. Martin ain’t no J.K .Rowling. Have a favorite character? That’s cute.

What an incredible event on this exceptional show we watch! We knew Game of Thrones was going to change the landscape of TV, and that the Red Wedding was going to shock and appall yet become the standard for television that is not afraid to do the unpopular or the unsettling. From a fan perspective, this was fun for some, not so fun for others, but when it comes down to it, the show took something unapologetically brutal and recreated it largely in the spirit of the book series from which it was derived.

All images from starkalypse.com

26 responses

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    1. Game of Thrones is a show I don’t often watch with family members (such is the nature, when you don’t know whether it’ll be a Tits episode or a Dragons episode), but having read the books when I was 15, a few months before getting into the show, I made sure to sit with my older brother for this one to document the fallout. It was a thing of beauty.

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    2. hodor:
      Frankie has a level-headed mom. Good for her!

      Actually Frankie’s mom and I shared exactly the same reaction: it’s a show guys. I really don’t get the hysteria.
      Although I must admit taking more seriously the unexpected (for non readers) death of Season 5 finale.

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    3. Sou,

      Yeah, I was kind of relieved they killed him off. It was obvious his story line was going nowhere (he couldn’t really win the war that early in the show, so he had to lose somehow), so I was rather bored and just wanted it to end. I never was a fan of Catlyn either, she just didn’t really get to do much of importance aside from maybe capturing Tyrion and releasing Jaime – a victim of the the adaptation to a different medium I guess. Talisa was kinda nice, but rather boring.

      Of course I didn’t expect it to happen when and where it did or how brutal it was going to be, but it was more of a pleasant kind of shock (I had heard the term Red Wedding before, but always assumed it would be Joffrey’s wedding, which wasn’t really that far off I guess). The only sad thing was that they killed Robb’s direwolf and Arya losing more family members and even having to witness all of it. But ultimately it was just a stunning hour of TV. Those reaction videos were really fun, too. And the look on Bolton’s face when Catlyn saw the chain mail still gives me chuckles.

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    4. Do we really have to see the reactions of the tumblr hipster-SJW crowd?! These people are really, really not funny – or interesting in the slightest!
      Nice one-liner from Esme Bianco! It certainly was a “shocking” episode although you could see it coming from a mile away. As soon as Robb got involved with that woman and started getting strategic advice from that creepy dude (Roose, didn’t know his name at the time) you could tell he was doomed!
      I was most sad to see Michelle Fairley go. I really loved her portrayal of Catelyn.

      And it looks like there’s no chance of Lady Stoneheart at this late juncture, so it was as fine and dignified an exit as you could expect on GoT.

      A classic through ‘n’ through.

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    5. Conan Troutman,

      Nearly 20 years ago, there was a cadre of fans that I think of as the “Robbettes” (although I have no idea if we used that term) who were convinced that Robb actually was the hero of the story. Everyone else’s role was to eye-witness his rise to magnificence, munificence, magnacartaness, etc., etc. The story would end with Robb taking Joffery’s head with the line “he who passes judgement should swing the sword,” with Daeny then marrying him on the spot. (In this conjecture, White Walkers, etc., were just red-herrings to throw us off the main scent!)

      Needless to say, they didn’t take it so well to learn that their “hero” was just another foil along the way! (I suspect that they subsequently migrated to Harry Potter fandom and started writing long essays about how Harry and Hermione were “true love.”) However, it does go to show that some people found Robb interesting in his own right!

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    6. Cosine: And it looks like there’s no chance of Lady Stoneheart at this late juncture, so it was as fine and dignified an exit as you could expect on GoT. A classic through ‘n’ through.

      It was this year or never for

      Stoneheart. She was not going to appear before Season 6, as she has no role of consequence after the Red Wedding, and B&W never introduce characters before they are relevant to the story being told that year. And as we do not really know if she’s going to be important in “Act III” of the series, we cannot say that we are missing much.

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    7. Cosine: Do we really have to see the reactions of the tumblr hipster-SJW crowd?! These people are really, really not funny – or interesting in the slightest!
      .

      there are zero comments referencing anything remotely political so you’re complaining about us posting anything at all from Tumblr which is frankly silly. Bex and I both are longstanding Tumblr bloggers. Whatever your beef is with Tumblr, I don’t care.

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    8. I read this scene two years before it aired. I put the book down after that chapter and took a 5 month break. Watching it with my unsullied husband the day it aired was such a surreal experience. His outrage and dismay was delicious.

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    9. Just looking at some of those comments on Twitter, I just don’t understand the people who watch the show and need someone to root for. After Jon died, all I heard was “I have no one to root for now, I’m not watching anymore!”. I’m also hearing the same comments from people about Vinyl, “wahhh there is no one to root for”. So? There was no one to root for on The Sopranos and it was still a great show. Some of these millennials need a good smacking upside the head.

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    10. I feel like some of the reactions were way overdone, particularly the screaming. Personally, the show got more of a reaction out of me than the book did. I didn’t particularly like Robb, but I still cried at that part. I think the biggest tear jerker/anger moments were from Greywind, The stabbing of Talisa’s unborn baby, and Catelyn’s reaction as a mother.

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    11. Whenever I get someone into GoT, this is the episode I wait for them to get to. I recently got my boss into the show. I may get fired when she gets to this one.

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    12. Wimsey,

      “The Robbettes”? That’s glorious. I’m picturing Robb’s war camp breaking into a 60’s style soul song and dance routine right now.

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