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:
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.
I need a hug. I have never been so traumatized by a television show. #gameofthrones
— Bonstrosity Attacks! (@karma_thief) June 3, 2013
— Esmé Bianco (@esmebianco) June 3, 2013
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.
FUCK YOU GAME OF THRONES IM CRYING SO HARD IM NOT MOVING EVER AGAIN I'LL AVENGE THE STARK FAMILY MYSELF GODDAMMIT #GameofThrones
— Brie Medina (@BrieMedina) June 3, 2013
Game of Thrones just made me cry. I'm pretty sure a little part of me just died..I can't comprehend what I just saw. I feel sick.
— Austin Chesshire (@AustinChesshire) June 3, 2013
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.
I've only gone to a therapist once but I'm thinking about seeing one three times a week after tonight's #GameofThrones
— Ike Barinholtz (@ikebarinholtz) June 3, 2013
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?
Game of Thrones. I just can't. Like really can not. I. I mean. Words? None. I don't. I mean. What? How? What? #GameOfThrones
— Jim Redding (@jimredding) June 3, 2013
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.
If anyone needs me i'll be humming "rains of castamere" rocking back & forth in the fetal position for the foreseeable future #gameofthrones
— Katie Lucas (@KtLuWho) June 3, 2013
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).
sometimes I hate TV writers and their fucking god complexes! you can't just fuck with my emotions like that! Fuck YOU HBO and D.B Weiss
— Tans Cheems (@_tenderheart_) June 3, 2013
YOU CAN'T JUST WRITE A BOOK AND NOT CARE ABOUT YOUR CHARACTERS. YOU.JUST.CAN'http://t.co/jXbD6dB8Oa.THE.AUDIENCE.HAVE.A.HEART.
— Trelawny Davis (@TrelawnySara) June 3, 2013
— Joey Saenz (@JoeyMonte16) June 3, 2013
I'm fuckin heated right now james rr martin or whatever the fuck your name is your a sick man what's next joffrey wins the war god damn
— kurt 'sen (@VivaLa_Hendrix) June 3, 2013
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).
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.
If you're watching game of thrones tonight and you haven't yet read the series… You know nothing of pain, sweet summer child.
— Kim (@KimD_Trinh) June 3, 2013
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.
Why doesn't George R.R. Martin use twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters. #gameofthrones
— Madvilloisy (@ingloriousClos) June 3, 2013
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.
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