Weddings on television are usually occasions for love, laughter, a few wacky speeches and perhaps a drunk uncle or two. Game of Thrones' weddings have none of that. OK, maybe the drunk uncle -- but really, most of the show's weddings are so grim that an invitation is more of a heads-up to brace ourselves.
Following the most recent wedding, in which Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) marries and then is raped by Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), it's clear that a Game of Thrones wedding is a different, more violent beast altogether. Let's take a look at what sets it apart from the usual TV staple:
Love has no place in marriage We silly modern folk are spoiled with this notion of love as a prerequisite for marriage. On a show called Game of Thrones set in a vaguely medieval world, however, marrying for love is not a consideration for the nobility, who must use their blood ties more advantageously. Ruling is not romantic! Even Ramsay Bolton told his lover Myranda that his promise to marry her only applied when "I was a bastard named Snow..." and that his primary consideration now that he's been legitimized was "furthering a dynsaty." Sometimes love can bloom during the marriage, such as with Eddard and Catelyn Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo, but those appear to be exceptions. Robb Stark and Talisa Maegyr dared to marry for love, and look where that got them. This brings us to...
Political marriages can be messy These marriages are more properly thought of as alliances, which in turn, may make the combined parties more powerful than those outside an alliance. Take, for example, how hearing the news of Sansa and Ramsay's marriage almost sent Cersei into a murderous frenzy (again), which was only tempered by Littlefinger's cooler head. Backing out on a marriage contract is even more offensive and can be seen as a betrayal, as we saw when Walder Frey presided over the bloodbath of the Red Wedding as payback after Robb went back on his word to marry one of the lord's daughters.
There's a distinct lack of ceremony The infamous Red and Purple Weddings are actually misnomers since the colorful main action takes place after the wedding. The ceremony, handfasting or whatever you want to call it, is rarely shown on the series, or at least it's very quickly glossed over -- such as all of Margaery's weddings, the first of which was offscreen, the second brief ceremony with Joffrey and later a quick one to his brother Tommen. We barely had time to get a glimpse of her gowns! Clearly, the series doesn't have time for the romance of such things. Of the handful of rites we've seen in full, both have been mockeries: Sansa's wedding to Tyrion (in which he's humiliated by Joffrey because of the difference in height), and Sansa's wedding to Ramsay (in which Reek/Theon is humiliated with a reminder of betraying the Starks).
Wedding feasts can be more dangerous than the battlefield In some ways, a Game of Thrones wedding feast is much like our modern-day receptions. They both promise unexpected entertainments (flash mob dance routines vs. dwarf jousting), celebrity wedding singers (Maroon 5 vs. Sigur Ros), serve outrageous dishes (celeb chef catering vs. pigeon pie) and give an opportunity to present expensive gifts (fine china vs. dragon eggs). They also allow for guests to move about freely and for everyone's guard to drop, which is probably why the ambush at the Red Wedding and Joffrey's assassination at the Purple Wedding were so effectively shocking. Furthermore, the idea of guest right -- in which a guest who partakes of a host's food and drink is granted safety from harm -- made the Red Wedding betrayal even more offensive. As Olenna Tyrell once said, "War is war, but killing a man at a wedding -- horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing?" Of course, we discovered later that she did exactly that by placing the poison in Joffrey's cup of wine. The one exception, of course, would be Dothraki weddings, where bloodshed is not just expected, but required. "A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair," we learned in the first season.
There's more emphasis on sex Usually on TV, the idea of post-marital sex is hidden beneath the romantic veneer of the honeymoon, but on Game of Thrones, sex is put front and center, sometimes in all of its uncomfortable or horrifying glory (see: Sansa and Ramsay's or Daenerys and Drogo's wedding nights). Whether or not the series decides to display these acts for premium cable titillation purposes is up for debate, but when legitimate offspring -- the whole purpose of a marriage alliance -- is paramount, post-nuptial consummation is essential. Sometimes, it is even made into a ceremony in itself, as we saw with Edmure and Roslin's wedding, and Tyrion's refusal to participate during his wedding to Sansa. Learn more on the bedding ceremony below:
This whole mess started with a marriage gone wrong TV weddings don't typically create a chain of events with political repercussions. But on Game of Thrones, a love triangle/possible quadrangle set into motion the overthrow of the Targaryens on the Iron Throne. Back in the day, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen married Elia Martell for an alliance with Dorne, but fell for and either abducted or ran away with (depending on whose version of history you believe) Ned's sister Lyanna Stark. This led to a rebellion and subsequent bloody unseating of the Targaryens from power, with King Robert as the first Baratheon to sit upon the Iron Throne. Therefore, in many Westerosi minds, Daenerys Targaeryen, who fled for her life across the Narrow Sea, is the rightful heir. It is Robert's death in the show's first season, that sets off this mad grab for the throne that we've been watching for lo these past five seasons.
The weddings won't end Just like death, it appears that weddings are an essential part of the the show. We've already experienced 10 weddings (a few offscreen) in five seasons, and already another is looming: Daenerys' second marriage, this time to Meereenese highborn Hizdahr zo Loraq, a former slave trader. It's a deliberate move on Dany's part to unite her cause with those in Meereen. But with Daenerys as one of the frontrunners to sit on the Iron Throne, we can't help but wonder if this marriage will somehow be nullified in order to free her up to a better political marriage that will tie her to Westeros.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.