(Warning: “Game of Thrones” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” spoilers ahead)
We only got a few minutes of Arya Stark in the season finale of “Game of Thrones,” but it was a big few minutes. Using the mask magic of the Faceless Men, Arya killed the mastermind of the Red Wedding, Walder Frey … but not before presenting him with a pie made from the carved bodies of his sons.
It’s a pretty gruesome end for the Freys, but it’s also one that nods back to George R.R. Martin‘s books. In “A Song of Ice and Fire,” it is strongly hinted that Frey’s sons suffered the same fate that Arya brought upon them, but it comes from a different person and in a much more roundabout way.
In the books, Operation: Frey Pies was concocted by Ser Wyman Manderly, a lord in the North who bends the knee to the Boltons and Freys after the Red Wedding, but who secretly remains loyal to the Starks. His son was one of the victims of the Red Wedding, and he seeks to make the Freys pay for what they did to his house. “The north remembers,” he says, “and the mummer’s farce is almost done.”
His plan unfolds at Ramsay Bolton’s wedding. In the books, it’s not Sansa who is married to and raped by Ramsay. It is her friend, Jeyne Poole, who is passed off to the Boltons as Arya. As a gesture of loyalty, Manderly allows three of Walder’s progeny to stay at his house, but it’s just a ploy to kill them off.
When Manderly arrives at Winterfell, he tells the Freys that his guests were riding ahead of him and presents them with a present: three huge meat pies. “The best pie you have ever tasted, my lords,” he says. “Wash it down with Arbor gold and savor every bite. I know I shall.”
It’s never outright stated that the Frey kids are in those pies, but it’s strongly hinted at, particularly when Manderly later asks in a drunken stupor for a song about the Rat Cook. The tale of the Rat Cook is something that has been cited in both the books and TV show, chiefly in the season 3 finale, wherein Bran tells his companions the story.
The Rat Cook was a chef in the Night’s Watch who got back at the Andal king who wronged him by killing his son and serving his flesh to the king as bacon. The gods punished the cook by turning him into a giant rat who could only eat his own spawn.
“It wasn’t for murder the gods cursed the Rat Cook, or for serving the king’s son in a pie,” Bran said. “He killed a guest beneath his roof. That’s something the gods can’t forgive.” That’s exactly what the Freys did at the Red Wedding, so Wyman Manderly returned the gesture in kind.
In George R.R. Martin‘s books, all of this is told through hints and references, but “Game of Thrones” chose to make text out of subtext. Walder is outright told his meat pie is made from his sons, but unlike the books, he never actually eats it.
Since the show didn’t have time to develop Manderly, it’s Arya who gets the honor of showing Walder that The North Remembers. Manderly, meanwhile, appears in the finale when he is chastised by Lyanna Mormont for not showing fealty to the Starks.
Seeing Walder Frey finally get what was coming to him was no doubt a satisfying moment in a season of “Game of Thrones” that has devoted far more time than in seasons past to giving fans what they want. But for fans of the books who appreciate George R.R. Martin‘s subtlety and slow-burn approach, the taste of this pie can probably be described charitably as bittersweet.
What are the biggest questions facing the Starks next season? Check them out below.