As a fan of both the novels and the show Game of Thrones, I have to say that one of the shocking moments is The Red Wedding. It was unexpected but completely foreshadowed in hindsight. Even more importantly, it suborned my expectations for how the story would play out. From my perspective, I find some of the reactions of show-watchers and readers to be quite astounding. The creators of both the books and the show have the necessary right and responsibility to tell the story they wish to tell, even if it outrages the audience.
The negative reaction can be understood from a certain perspective. Decades of storytelling, from TV to film to books (especially the fantasy genre) have instilled in audiences the expectation that the protagonist will always come through any level of adversity to triumph. It reaffirms the misguided notion in the audience that life is fair and the good guys always win. When one looks at history and even daily life however, one should be inoculated against such naiveté but it persists. From this point of view, readers and show-watchers’ anger over the events of the Red Wedding can be understood as reminders of how unfair the world really is. Now this is only about the events of The Red Wedding. I’ll be writing another essay on the final season and the calamitous choices made there at a later date.
The Red Wedding in Ice and Fire completely fits with the world Martin established in the first two novels though. While the death of Ned Stark in The Game of Thrones is shocking from an audience perspective, it is completely essential to begin the War of the Five Kings period that books two and three cover. Martin uses that death to catalyze the drama and galvanize readers to expect the unexpected. The storytelling trope Martin then uses for Robb Stark is the Avenging Son, a classic that stretches across multiple genres. We as the audience expect Robb to succeed and avenge his father. But Martin subverts that and allows Robb to make mistakes and ultimately pay for them. The Red Wedding serves as reminder that this is not a typical narrative and that the audiences’ expectations will be challenged, if not completely subverted.
For better or worse, this is Martin’s story in the books and the show is Weiss and Benioff’s story based on those books. As storytellers, they have to stay true to the characters and the setting of their story. In a setting such as Westeros, any storyteller who didn’t take advantage of the lack of straight-forward, good versus evil concepts wouldn’t be a good writer. As a reader and watcher, I was devastated that the Red Wedding occurred because I had come to care about these characters. But as a storyteller myself, I applaud Martin, Weiss, and Benioff for going through with such a difficult moment.
The storyteller’s first responsibility is to the story, not the audience. The audience chooses to go along with the storyteller or they chose not to.