We probably don’t need to talk too much about the content of “The Rains of Castamere,” if only because I said most of what I wanted to, content-wise, in the podcast. Instead I’d like to focus on how the director, David Nutter, used the confusion created by Michelle MacClaren in “Second Sons” to great effect during the Red Wedding. If you haven’t read the books or watched the ninth episode of the third season, I highly recommend you stop reading this right now. As you remember, MacClaren’s means of shooting Tyrion’s wedding in “Second Sons” was one part (hers) misdirection and one part (the character’s) indiscretion. Everyone was a spectacle-in-waiting or a secret-about-to-be-told, but no one was talking to one another. Even the actual attempts at communication — Tywin’s conversation with Tyrion and Joffrey’s failed attempt to hold the floor — weren’t communicative, to the extent that when Tyrion finally revealed what his (modified) intentions were, there was, as I noted in the first post, “a real potential for chaos.” The lesson of the episode is, in short, that when no one’s communicating honestly, honest communication becomes impossible. Everything becomes a performance and the most convincing performer — in this case Tyrion — wins the wedding. All of which is only to say that Tyrion’s wedding consisted of jealously guarded secrets and innuendos, as opposed to the Tully-Frey wedding, in which everyone is open about everything.
Beginning with the attractiveness of the woman who isn’t the bride:
In a sense, this is a classic medium long shot of the “plain américain“ variety, in that it mimics the Western’s imperative to have everyone visible from the tops of their hats to the tips of their guns — except in this case the gun is Robb Stark’s sword. Point being that this is traditionally an “honest” shot used by directors to indicate that the characters have nothing to hide. They’ve shown their opponents what they’re packing and now a firm assessment of relative armament can be made by characters and viewers alike. In this case, it demonstrates how anemic the Stark complement within the banquet hall seems. In the light that’s filtering down from off-screen right, only Robb’s sword seems visible. It’s significant that in an episode that will — as I’ll argue — be characterized by requited gazes and general openness, the lighting in this scene indicates that the Starks have something to hide. The white light coming in from frame-right leaves the right sides of their faces in shadow and almost makes it seem as if they’re planning something nefarious, which is ironic both for the obvious reason and because, at this particular moment, Robb’s being chastised by Walder Frey for bringing Talisa to what should have been his wedding:
Frey’s half-lit face is also suspect, only more so, because Nutter frames it in a medium close-up. When a group of six people are all “victims” of the same strong off-screen light source, the general effect is that there’s a large off-camera lamp or window. It's innocuous. (That’s why “almost” is in italics up there.) The only way to make them actually seem nefarious would be to exaggerate the effect like so:
Had Nutter shot the Stark clan with such extreme contrast, they’d look genuinely secretive and dangerous. But he didn’t. And the fact that in this scene they’ve bucked common sense and not only allowed Talisa to accompany them, but that they’re allowing Walder Frey to inspect her, means that the single off-screen light source is naturalistic in these medium long shots. But it’s absolutely expressionistic when the camera reverses to Frey:
Even though Nutter pulls back into a medium shot, the fact that Frey’s the only person in frame and that shadows cover half his face make him look like a man of dubious motives. It’s a basic yet effective principle that one-shots, like the ones of Frey above, tend to be read as psychologically indicative of something in a way that similarly lit shots of groups don’t. Of the many reasons for this are that our brains consider gangs of people inherently menacing, whereas when we encounter a single person, his or her motivations are a matter of specific divination. A different part of the brain’s engaged when we’re trying to evaluate the danger potentially written on an individual face, so these one-shots of Walder Frey invite us to consider him as a singular agent and the shadows falling over half his face make it seem like he’s hiding something. Because he is: he’s hiding his face. Even if you haven’t read the novels, the way in which Frey’s shot as he discusses the “pertness” of pregnant Talisa’s breasts should alert you that the conversation isn’t the only thing that’s inappropriate here.
So too should your memory of Tyrion’s wedding. Remember that McClaren’s first shots of it were deliberately confusing: the audience wasn’t allowed to see who sat where or in relation to whom. But at the Tully-Frey wedding, Nutter canvasses the room via the plate of bread and salt intended to secure the Stark’s safety:
As that plate moves about the room in a fairly long take, we’re able to see the relative locations of all the major players. We know where everyone is and that they’re relating to each other in a conventional “medieval” hierarchy: the Lord takes the high seat even in the presence of the King of the North. That should tell us something too — that Frey’s requiring his nominal King to act the part of supplicant, which is understandable given these particular circumstances but contradicts conventions set up elsewhere, as in “Winter Is Coming”:
The Queen sits beside the Lady of House Stark, she doesn’t stand before her, as Frey demands of Robb. Speaking of whom, and because I am trying to break your heart, here’s a random image from “Winter Is Coming”:
What can we say in the presence of the child who be King? Only that his position relative to his mother and Queen Cersei is as appropriate here as it is inappropriate in “The Rains of Castamere.” That Robb isn’t this Robb and shouldn’t be treated as such, or at the very least should be suspicious when he is. Frey’s trying to infantilize the King of the North, and because he believes he’s wronged Frey, Robb offers this small social humiliation as a kind of physical apology. So as things stand the audience should be acknowledging Robb and company’s attempted humility before a literally shady Walder Frey, and because of the broken bread that’s traversed the room, should not only be secure in the Stark’s safety but also aware of the slightly inappropriate location of the significant characters relative to each other. The ostensible openness of this wedding is a direct invocation and inversion of Tyrion’s, but as we well know, the bile undermining this visual candor will bubble up soon enough. Just not before Nutter reminds us that everything is fine:
This shot’s representative of how the banquet’s framed. Instead of families staring each other down off-frame from opposite ends of the hall, Nutter captures all the celebrants in establishing shots like this, which for the purpose of this episode work like a cheap magician’s sleeves: you can’t see what you know’s up them. The shadows falling on Frey’s face and his defiance of decorum should’ve alerted you to his base intent, but Nutter’s framing of the banquet reassures you that man who pointed over there and yelled “Squirrel!” isn’t engaged in misdirection. I won’t subject you to another episode of Game of Lasers, but I assure you that everyone’s making eye contact with the appropriate people. Frey threw Robb one knowing glance when the beauty of the bride was revealed, but other than that, when people are talking to each other, they’re talking to each other:
Everything must be fine because everyone’s behaving like humans engaged in natural conversations. Be it the three-shot of Catelyn talking to Bolton or the four-shot of Robb and Talisa talking about Catelyn talking to Bolton, everyone at this wedding is making appropriate eye contact.
Did I say “everyone”? I meant almost everyone. Remember what I said earlier about our human disinclination to trust gangs of people? The Starks fought that instinct by turning toward Frey and offering him their full faces. He could make eye contact with any of them as per his desire. This lot with the musical instruments? They’re not making eye contact with anybody — not even each other. And they’re being shot from an empowering low angle. And they’re focusing on their instruments with the deadly intent of incompetent amateurs. All of which are indications that something’s afoot at this otherwise open-seeming wedding banquet. The tension builds between Nutter’s direction and what half the audience knows is coming, but it should also disquiet the half that doesn’t. Because Nutter’s not even a cheap magician. He's the replacement magician your father hired when the first one showed up stoned: he’s trying to disguise the birds in his lapels by pulling coins from your ears but he isn’t fooling anyone.
You what’s coming.
Even if you don’t.
Because this is what foreboding feels like. This is the look on your lover’s face the moment before she reveals she’s betrayed you. This is crack in your father’s voice the moment before you learn your mother’s died. This is that moment and it is terrible:
Catelyn sees those doors shut and realizes she’s in such a moment. She’s quickly coming to terms with what that means — like Diane Keaton at the end of The Godfather, only Catelyn knows that she’s not being barred from so much as locked in with the monsters.