How Game of Thrones Ruined Robb Stark
On last night's Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 9: "The Rains of Castamere," Robb Stark met his untimely demise at the hands of the Freys, Boltons, and, more abstractly, Lannisters. The Red Wedding was brutal. It was devastating. It was (almost) everything book fans had been waiting for. Sadly, that doesn't change the fact that Robb's overall arc has been completely mishandled in transition from books to show.
We realize that every adaptation will involve departures from the source material, particularly when the original is as dense as the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Game of Thrones has done an admirable job with a difficult task, and most of the largest changes have worked. Characters need to be cut, plots need to be condensed, twists need to be added to keep the excitement level up. However, turning Robb's oath-breaking marriage into a traditional love story was a major misstep that did the character a huge disservice.
For those who haven't read the books (or have forgotten), in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Robb's "romance" took place largely off screen, because he's not a point-of-view character. More importantly, it wasn't so much a romance as a mistake that left Robb between a rock and a hard place, even if he did love his bride.
In the books, the woman Robb married was Jeyne Westerling, a Westeros noblewoman. By all accounts, they met after Robb was injured in battle; Jeyne tended to him. While in recovery, he received word about Theon's betrayal and Bran and Rickon's apparent deaths. Jeyne was there to comfort him, and in that moment of despair and weakness he took her virginity — which meant he then had to marry her to preserve her honor. Sure, he also had feelings for her, but the marriage wasn't about love in defiance of duty — it was a duty itself.
To us, this version of Robb's story is both more sympathetic and more thematically relevant than Game of Thrones' attempt to paint Robb and Talisa as a grand romance worth throwing honor and duty away for. In the books, Robb was a young man who made a single, emotional decision that left him in a position where, no matter what he did, he was acting dishonorably towards someone. That version of the story thematically links him to his father; his choice was not unlike Ned's decision to acknowledge and raise his bastard, Jon Snow, despite the fact that it tore Cat apart. It was his attempt to do the right thing. When Robb suffered the price for breaking his promise to the Freys, we felt for him — he ultimately made the wrong choice, but you understood why he'd done it.
For Robb to remain sympathetic in the show's version of the story, the viewer had to really, really buy into his romance with Talisa. They had to believe it was True Love on some grand scale that doesn't really fit with this brutally realist show. Given how many other plots were being juggled in Seasons 2 and 3, there wasn't time to establish their love as convincingly as necessary.
Robb was a nobleman raised in a society where noble people do not marry for love. He was a king in the middle of a bloody war, responsible not just for himself but his entire army, and all the people under his protection. He was, in short, not someone in a position to spit in the face of an important alliance for his own selfish reasons, and he was old enough to know better (his aging up from mid-teen in the novels to late teen/early 20-something in the show added to the problem). The fact that Robb pursued and married Talisa under those circumstances made him seem incredibly selfish.
Instead of seeing it as the tragic outcome of a single mistake made in a moment of weakness, we're left thinking that Robb’s death on Game of Thrones was basically his own fault. When we step back and realize that he dragged the North down with him over a girl, we can't help but feel like he was a massive, irresponsible idiot. That's not how we wanted to remember the King in the North.
Were you bothered by Robb's arc on the show, or did it work for you? Sound off in the comments below.
Catch the Game of Thrones Season 3 finale on Sunday, June 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaDMartin.