The Game of Throne’s Red Wedding was a singular, non-repeatable event in pop culture (Spoilers)
“Just wait until you get to the Red Wedding,” a friend told me about a year ago. We were discussing the Game of Thrones television series, and of course all my buddies had already read the books. They were good about keeping the big stuff from me, but every now and again something would slip. The Red Wedding was something that would be brought up in conversation with a wink. Just hold on. It’s coming.
This sense of anticipation, the idea that those of us who haven’t read the books would get a chance to see the events of the Red Wedding for the first time instead of reading them, led to the smug sense of inevitability that came from everyone who enjoyed the series when it was first published.
They knew what was coming. They quoted Billy Idol songs. They winked at us before the episode aired, and they studied our faces through the entirety of the sequence. For many of the book fans our reaction to the Red Wedding was much more entertaining than what was actually going on in the show.
In fact, every time I saw a wedding on the show, I would flinch. Is this it? Who is going to die? How bad will it be? I should have known that the actual event would be telegraphed well in advance. There were two rules on social networks: You couldn’t spoil it, but you had to hint at it. You had to make sure you told everyone that you were in the club, that you knew what was coming. Once you saw the episode you had to say that you had been initiated, even if you did so with a single tweet that just said “Oh, fuck.”
This will never happen again
The Red Wedding is an incredibly unique moment in pop culture. First you had to have the books, and for that fan base to grow huge. They experienced the scene the first time, and helped it become legendary in fantasy literature. Then the television show had to happen, and that only took place due to the rise of big-budget, episodic television. You can’t deliver on a scene like the Red Wedding with an hour of build up. We had to learn to love these characters and the actors who played them across years. We fell in love just as the readers of the book did, and we experienced the same gut punch, but they knew it was coming.
George R.R. Martin himself found the scene hard to write. “That was the hardest scene I’ve ever had to write. It’s two-thirds of the way through the book, but I skipped over it when I came to it. So the entire book was done and there was still that one chapter left. Then I wrote it. It was like murdering two of your children,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I try to make the readers feel they’ve lived the events of the book. Just as you grieve if a friend is killed, you should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care. If somebody dies and you just go get more popcorn, it’s a superficial experience isn’t it?”
The only thing we can do is introduce new fans to the books or show, patiently re-watch two seasons or re-read the novels, and carefully watch the faces of those who don't know what's coming.
Even more interesting is the fact that watching this sort of television is an often social experience. We watched it together, and reacted to it together. Fans of the books knew to put cameras in our faces to catch the reaction. That’s why all those amazing videos of people dealing with the scene exist; fans of the book knew exactly what was going to happen, and when. This is much different than when they first read the books. There is even a Twitter account dedicated to collecting the reactions of fans, and it's an hilarious read.
“The solitude of that experience is part of the reason why finding another fan of the books was so special way back when. You knew that this person had been through the same pain,” writer Gus Mustrapa explained. “There is, admittedly, a certain smugness the book readers feel towards the unwashed masses that are waiting for HBO to squirt out the story, one episode at a time. For a certain breed of nerd, having read the books before the TV show aired is like being into a band before they broke or screening a movie before it was picked up at Sundance.”
This is why that moment will likely never be matched. It required so much set-up, and a writer who wasn't scared to beat his readers senseless in return for their love. It required the work to be recreated in another medium, years later, and spend just as much time setting it up again. It had to breathe for a very long time. The readers knew it was coming, and they were ready for it. The rest of us were able to “enjoy” the ride, but we'll never be able to walk into that scene cold ever again. The only thing we can do is introduce new fans to the books or show, patiently re-watch two seasons or re-read the novels, and carefully watch the facef of those who don't know what's coming.
Although we may drop a hint or two.
The header image for this story was taken from this Tweet.