The GoT third season episode ‘The Rains of Castamere’, was hotly anticipated by ASoIaF fans because they expected it to include the Red Wedding. Before it aired I asked fans to describe 1) their reactions when they first read the scene, and 2) what they expected of its adaptation. Most respondents expected certain emotional triggers, particularly Catelyn’s breakdown, the massacre of Robb’s men and the murder of his wolf. Some expected the emotional impact of the adapted scene to be less than that of reading it for the first time; some expected it to have no impact at all. The reason for this was, of course, that the adaptation would lack the original shock.
Several of the emotional triggers that fans expected didn’t happen in the episode, yet it still achieved a high rating among ASoIaF fans. In a fandom where a key concern is fidelity to source material, why did these absences not negatively impact the fans’ rating? I suggest that the inclusion of Talisa Maegyr in the scene significantly contributed to fans’ positive appraisals of the episode, despite many fans’ dislike of her. Talisa was an original character in GoT; she replaced Jeyne Westerling, Robb Stark’s wife from the novels, fulfilling similar (though not identical) plot functions. I suggest that her most significant function was to be a ‘spark of the unknown’ to trigger emotions. In the midst of a scene familiar to book fans, Talisa’s fate was not known beforehand.
She was pregnant, and her pregnancy had fuelled some fans’ hopes that Jeyne (still alive in the novels) is pregnant with Robb’s heir. Talisa was killed during the Red Wedding; stabbed in the stomach. Her horrific death, in Robb’s arms, was a moment of shock and horror amidst otherwise expected events. Despite deviations from the novels, fans favourably appraised the scene, citing how well it triggered their emotions; watching it felt authentic.
Had the adaptation exactly duplicated the book, the same emotional impact is not likely to have been felt because the necessary shock would have been missing. The fans involved in my research evaluated the scene not on its fidelity to the imagery and events in the novels, but on its fidelity to the original emotional impact of the scene.