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Awful Greek words that apply to “The Rains of Castamere”

[ 63 ] June 8, 2013 |

When we left off, Catelyn was in the act of recognizing the terribleness of her moment. At 37:38 in the podcast, Steven and I argued about when the band began to play the song “The Rains of Castamere,” which is associated with House Lannister, and though this may seem like an insignificant detail, I don’t think it is. So I don’t want anyone to think that I’m arguing just to argue here, because this is one of the most important moments in traditional tragedy. In the Poetics, Aristotle claims that simple plots merely contain a catastrophe — something terrible happens for which general pity is felt — but complex plots combine that tragedy with anagnorisis, or a moment of recognition.

This moment of recognition is not had by the audience, but by a character within the play; that is, it’s had by a character with whom the audience sympathizes, and through whose perspective the consequences of this catastrophe can be understood. In other words, for Aristotle, the superior play is one in which the audience’s sympathies are focalized through a perspective in a way that personalizes the catastrophe. It’s not just generally sad that these Trojans have to die, it’s particularly sad that we’re forced to watch one of them we care about realize he’s about to die. That’s the heart of traditional tragedy: it’s not the catastrophe itself (because the audience isn’t in actual jeopardy), but the sympathetic identification with the character who realizes he’s about to be killed (because that’s something the audience can actually feel) that makes a tragedy effective.

In other word: this moment is important because it’s the engine of tragedy. The audience may only realize what’s happening when “The Rains of Castamere” begins to play, but because tragedy’s supposed to lead to reflection, it’s important to determine exactly when Catelyn does. So here we go. Robb and Talisa are having a long and playful conversation that ends in her informing him that she’s carrying a child named “Eddard Stark.” I’ve animated the 33-second-long conversation so you can see that it consists of 15 reversals and one pan down:

There are a number of things to note about this sequence, including that these are shallow focus two-shots, meaning that the only two characters in focus are Robb and Talisa and that they share the frame in each of the fifteen reversals. Sharing the frame in a two-shot cements in the audience’s mind the connection between particular characters. This works when they’re strangers — but even more so when they’re already a married pregnant couple and bellies are being touched. The number of reversals means the length of each shot is a little over two seconds, which is on par with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (sandstorm chase), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (opening sequence), and Casino Royale (first 12 minutes not including precredits), i.e. action sequences in films with already very short shot lengths. If there’s a reason their exchange feels oddly rushed, it’s because it’s being filmed at the pace of an action sequence. Except it isn’t one. Which is unsettling. Moreover, that Robb and Talisa are together in the shallow focus creates the impression that they’re alone in a world that’s literally dissolved behind them. Except they aren’t. Which is also unsettling. The final shot in this sequence — the one that follows Robb’s acquiescence to Talisa’s “demand” to name his child “Eddard” — is a tender conclusion to an “action sequence” in which we’re led to believe the couple’s stopped the world and melted with each other:

But after all those accelerated reversals, Nutter slowly pans to the left to remind us that the world’s continued spinning in their “absence,” then racks the focus onto Catelyn:

It’s unclear whether she actually overheard their discussion and knows that her grandchild will be named after her beloved husband — for her sake I hope she didn’t overhear their conversation, as that would only make what follows all the worse — but the look on her face is one of happiness tinged with understandable grief. She’s just lost her husband and her father, and she believes she’s lost her other two sons and daughters too. Hers is the face of a grieving woman finding peace in what little joy remains in her world. Robb’s all she knows she has left, so that Nutter makes this shot about her is significant. The audience experiences Robb and Talisa’s happiness through Catelyn’s observation of it. She’s the character through whom Nutter’s focalizing all that follows. And it follows quickly:

A Frey — Steven identifies him as Black Walder Frey, but in this shot he’s just a blurry-hatted interruption — passes between Catelyn and Robb and heads off-frame left. Instead of continuing to bask vicariously in the happiness of the only child of which she still has proof of life, her eyes follow the Frey:

Nutter jumps to a behind-the-shoulder long shot of her watching Black Walder approach the door at 43:43:

At 43:45 the generic wedding music stops and at 43:46 the camera reverses to her in a medium shot. We can see the concern on her face, sort of, but more importantly we can see her body language. She’s clutching her scarf defensively and reflexively:

We know that we’re watching her watching Black Walder close the door, but then Nutter cuts to her point of view just in case we didn’t know whose head and heartbreak we’re supposed to be sharing:

And now we’re in her head as the doors close. We’re not in there for long, but we don’t need to be. We don’t need to see what follows from her perspective to be sympathetic with it at this point. For all practical purposes “we’re already in there.” Nutter knows this — and he knows that this scene’s going to rely on Michelle Fairley’s reaction to what she’s about to witness — so he leaves her head and straddles her shoulder again as the doors loudly slam shut at 43:54:

For two seconds all that’s heard is the background noise of the banquet. Then, at 43:57, Catelyn begins to turn and the band begins to play. Her initial glance at 44:00 goes in the direction of Walder Frey:

But her eyes quickly move upwards when she recognizes the song at 44:02:

There’s a slight thinking zoom that accompanies her recognition of “The Rains of Castamere,” not because the recognition itself or all that it entails is by any means slight, but because she’s just seen the doors shut and heard the orchestra tuning up the accompaniment to Walder and the Lannister’s end-game. She knows the credits are about to roll on what remains of her family and is powerless to do anything about it. Anagnorisis? It’s the pain of impotence. Of knowing what must be done but being utterly fucking unable to do it. She can no more stop the Lannister’s plot than Oedipus could un-murder his father or un-sire the children he bore with his mother. There’s nothing to be done now but begin to suffer. This is why the Red Wedding was equally effective for those who knew it was coming and those who didn’t: tragedy doesn’t depend on the surprise discovered in the moment of recognition so much as the intensity of the emotions that precede it. It’s the pain you feel immediately before you understand exactly why you’re feeling it. The look on your lover’s face the moment before she reveals she’s betrayed you. The crack in your father’s voice the moment before you learn your mother’s died. The labored rasp of the first and last breath you child will ever take. This is that moment and words fail it — which is why the narrative does most of the heavy lifting.

I don’t want to dwell on the horror of the events themselves, which have been discussed elsewhere by my betters, but I do want to acknowledge one last twist of the knife in this episode. It’s noted in the books that Arya resembles her father and his people, the Starks, more than Catelyn and her people, the Tullys. And throughout the series that’s generally been true: the various directors have emphasized the length of Michelle Fairley’s face instead of its width. They’ve minimized her high cheekbones by shooting her face as they do above: at a slightly oblique angle and partially shadowed, which makes it look longer than it actually is. But in the moment immediately before her death — a moment in which, unbeknownst to her, the daughter she thinks dead is but one wall removed — Nutter films her straight on:

She’s almost unrecognizable. Her grief-stricken face looks wider and seems shorter. Even when he moves into an angled close-up, by lighting both sides of her face equally he maximizes the impression of its width:

Which wouldn’t be significant except for this:

As Arya has her own moment of recognition, Nutter goes to great lengths to remind the audience that she’s her mother’s daughter. Maisie Williams and Michelle Fairley never look so alike as they do in this terrible moment. That these moments are respective and that both face them alone is something I’d rather not think about.

Comments (63)

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  1. Whoo-hoo! I wasn’t completely wrong.

    Just to add something to the camera work: that star that Black Walder Frey (who really should be Lame Lothar Frey, but whatevs) is standing in front of when he closes the door is the seven-pointed star of the Seven. Those dreamcatcher things that Catelyn has been making since Episode 2 of Season 1? Those are seven-pointed stars of the Seven, meant to invoke the protection of the gods over her children.

    And in a show where the ability of the gods to see you has been explicitly mentioned as important, the Freys are literally shutting the doors on the gods themselves so they can’t see what they’re about to do.

  2. JR says:

    I can’t believe how much there is to this stuff.
    I can’t believe how much I’m learning.
    I can’t believe I didn’t start reading them sooner. Of course I just started on GOT too.

    • SEK says:

      If it’s any consolation, it wasn’t until John Rogers asked me, I think only half-seriously, how much I thought it cost Warner Bros. every time Christian Bale threw a punch in a Batman costume. When this much money’s on the line, everything’s orchestrated. That doesn’t mean that happy accidents don’t occasionally make it in the show/film, only that there’s a lot of there there because of how much money’s involved. It’s a strange evolution from auteur theory in the ’70s to the moneyed superhero/fantasy work in the ’00s and ’10s, but there’s a connection. One of these days I should write a post outlining exactly how I think it works. You know, after I figure it out.

  3. MacCheerful says:

    I thought it was an interesting choice of action that Roose did not show her his armor himself but encouraged her to raise his sleeve for him. As if Catelyn in the end was forced to take the precipitating step,despite herself.

    • Yep. Roose doesn’t get full enjoyment out of his betrayals if he can’t see people realizing what he’s done first.

      • ChrisTS says:

        Rather a hallmark of cruelty, IMHO.

          • JazzBumpa says:

            The word has not yet been invented, in either Greek or English, that accurately expresses the light-years beyond sociopathic cruelty of the Boltons.

            • ChrisTS says:

              Not to be too pedantic/anal, but I wonder if being cruel is a feature of sociopathy.

              Sociopaths are indifferent to the suffering of others, to be sure. But, do they take pleasure in it?

              I honestly do not know what the current view is on this.

              • Normal (non-saintly) people take some pleasure some of the time in the suffering of others, balanced by their sympathy/empathy for the same (and maybe revulsion at their own pleasure-taking).

                AFAICT, some sociopaths take the normal level of pleasure in others’ suffering without the normal counter-balancing empathy. Still other sociopaths take abnormal pleasure in the suffering of others.

                Not a psychologist though.

                • ChrisTS says:

                  I think this is largely correct.

                  That said, it seems to me that ‘being cruel’ can be motivated by many non-sociopathic bases. So, one might be cruel because of a very specific desire for revenge, or any other grounding emotion/cause, even though one is not pathologically ‘cruel.’

                • Jon H says:

                  “Normal (non-saintly) people take some pleasure some of the time in the suffering of others”

                  That generally isn’t suffering that the pleasure-taking observer has *caused*, however, apart from minor things like giving your brother a wedgie.

                  If you cause a car accident, and someone in the other car is injured, you’re probably not normal if you take pleasure in that. (Unless, perhaps, the person injured is an infamous asshole like Glenn Beck, or wearing a KKK robe, or something.)

              • Sadism isn’t part of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, or the Psychopathic Personality Inventory. Psychopathy/sociopathy is associated with guiltnessness, lack of empathy, and impulsiveness, not sadism.

                Sadistic personality disorder was dropped from the DSM, but back when it was still a part it was had the highest “comorbidity” level of psychopathic disorders. So the two are found together, but not always.

                Ramsay Bolton is definitely a “tyrannic sadist” from Millon’s categorization.

                Whether Roose is a sadist is less clear from the text:

                “Roose has no feelings, you see. Those leeches that he loves so well sucked all the passions out of him years ago. He does not love, he does not hate, he does not grieve. This is a game to him, mildly diverting. Some men hunt, some hawk, some tumble dice. Roose plays with men.”

                That sounds more like a sociopath than a sadist to me.

                • Another Anonymous says:

                  “Sadistic personality disorder was dropped from the DSM”

                  What, sadism’s been eradicated, like smallpox?

                • Immanuel Kant says:

                  I’d say Roose is guiltless and without empathy, but not all that impulsive. I guess his rape of Ramsay’s mother qualifies as impulsive, but his actions in the time frame of the books seem very deliberate and planned out.

                • YankeeFrank says:

                  I think the comorbidity thing has to do with the phenomenon where sociopaths, bored of not feeling anything, try to get an emotional response out of themselves by doing something terrible to someone else. Whatever emotion they actual generate from their misdeeds, whether it be a positive or negative emotion from the perspective of a non-sociopath, is a positive to the sociopath as they have managed to squeak out a feeling from their emotion-deadened souls.

                • Hogan says:

                  What, sadism’s been eradicated, like smallpox?

                  Yes, and dementia praecox.

                • Another Anonymous – it’s more that they don’t consider the disorder to be diagnostically useful.

      • MacCheerful says:

        True, but I was actually thinking about this from her/ the viewer’s perspective, the illogical feeling that perhaps this time, if she doesn’t pull the sleeve she can avoid all this, but she is still compelled to act by the need to know for sure.

        And, if she really did know, then from a strictly efficient point of view her best bet was to charge the table and put a knife to Walder’s throat. She might have made it, despite the archers, and he looks like the type to value his own life fairly highly.

        • Agreed to the first.

          The second…she never was going to make. Too far away, and the whole distance covered by crossbowmen, and she’d have to vault the high table to get to him.

          • MacCheerful says:

            As for the second, well you’re probably right in the real world but a minor quibble I have with the Red Wedding scene is something that also bothered me about the Boromir death scene – having several arrows shot completely through your upper body, if you’re a high value character – seems to be about as mortal as a slow acting poison. One gets to stagger around and make speeches and grab hostages, and (in Boromir’s case) hack at several additional orcs all the while a wood stick has transfixed heart, lungs, something in there.

            I appreciate the pluckiness of the human spirit, and that adrenaline is a powerful drug, but it still seems artificial. But maybe I am being too cynical here. I’d be curious what an emergency room doctor, or combat medic would say.

            • That’s certainly a trope in tv/movies/etc., but I didn’t see it here. Robb got shot through the chest and couldn’t walk any more, Catelyn got more of a glancing shot to her shoulder and was still dragging herself along the ground rather than running.

              • MacCheerful says:

                I am so glad to have this conversation because it’s bothered me for years now (that trope of which you talk). But I still think there is a good example in this case. Robb gets several arrows through the upper body, (not just one) crawls over to Talisa’s body and then gets up on his feet. If we posit that none of the arrows went into his heart or severed a major artery, it still looks a little superhuman.

                Catelyn gets an arrow entirely through her upper shoulder, which if I recall correctly is part of the same arm used to hold a knife to the wife’s throat. I don’t think in real life she’d be that able to use her arms.

                But I haven’t pulled up the scene to rewatch recently. And none of it was as bad as Boromir.

                • MacCheerful says:

                  Which, by the way, made the death of the wolf more powerful. It didn’t crash through barriers with the added strength provided by being shot full of arrows to crawl over to Arya and expire. It simply died, quickly. Without hope.

                • Other arm, I think.

            • Not one of those experts, but a deer can be about the size of a person (often smaller) and still cover quite a bit of territory after being shot. Very important that hunters take down the deer in the right spot or it’s a slow death instead.

              My guess is that even if you’re shot by an arrow in one lung you’ll still be able to move for a minute or so. Bleeding out internally from an artery can also take time – they can spontaneously constrict where they’ve been severed. A shot in the heart and you’ve got seconds before you’ll keel over.

  4. JayneBro says:

    Man, you don’t describe the best part, the utter schadenfreude of the Bolton reveal… And the only two times the Roose smiles in the whole show

  5. Another Anonymous says:

    Off the cuff, that moment of recognition reminds me of the Poe character who says revenge requires a similar moment of recognition. “[A wrong] is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

    Tragic reversal, in Aristotle anyway, is bound up with nemesis following upon hubris. Tragedy is a kind of revenge, by the gods or Fate.

  6. ChrisTS says:

    Why/how is anagnorisis an ‘awful word’? It is just a word that signifies something like ‘awareness’ in a dramatic setting.

    • cyntax says:

      Think all the definitions of the word, not just the primary one, and think about the kind of awareness it has to be in the case of a tragedy:

      2. inspiring fear; dreadful; terrible: an awful noise.
      3. solemnly impressive; inspiring awe: the awful majesty of alpine peaks.
      4. full of awe; reverential.

  7. Charles Chamberlain says:

    No way I could analyze these scenes like you do, but I sure love reading them. Brilliant work. Very insightful. You don’t just understand and love the story, you love the way the story is being told and it shows in the mastery of your deconstruction.

    Now please promise me that your book will come out soon, it’s hard enough waiting for the Winds of Winter.

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  9. Jeffrey Beaumont says:

    Great stuff…

  10. These posts of yours are fascinating. I volunteer at a local cable tv station, and sometimes do camera work. This stuff is amazing for me to read.

  11. Tom M says:

    I hope Eliot and Linda see these posts. Might help them come to terms with their disappointment in D&D and the episode. They thought it good but not great because of the lack of Catelyn’s unease during the entirety of her last chapter.
    I think Scott has insights here about the show that indicate the writers/director their ability to rise to the level of GRRM’s writing. Very nicely done.

    • SEK says:

      I’m not sure who Eliot and Linda are, but feel free to send them a link here and we’ll see if they like what they find. I’m always amenable to new, knowledgeable readers.

      • Elio (no T) and Linda are the co-runners of westeros.org, the oldest and biggest ASOIAF fan site. They are the main “superfans” of George R.R Martin’s work, help him edit the books, etc.

        And book purists wouldn’t come close to it.

  12. Aaron Baker says:

    Thanks for this post. I “got” some of what was going on in the Red Wedding scene (though how much was due to my perceptiveness and how much to my having read the book?), but now I get quite a bit more.

  13. [...] covered that in my final post on “The Rains of Castamere,” in which I defined all the minor elements of Aristotelian tragedy before demonstrating the order [...]

  14. […] It goes without saying that an episode won’t end well for somebody when the first non-burped bit of dialogue is “The Rains of Castamere!” […]

  15. […] It goes without saying that an episode won’t end well for somebody when the first non-burped bit of dialogue is “The Rains of Castamere!” […]

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