Game of Thrones recap: After Sunday's bloody episode, who do we root for now?
After Sunday’s bloody Game of Thrones episode "The Rains of Castamere," some fans are left with a troubling question:
Who do we root for now?
For viewers who haven’t read all the sprawling George R.R. Martin books on which HBO’s show is based, the Stark family have sort of been the unofficial heroes of this story, set in a brutal, fictional kingdom with technology from the Middle Ages and a touch of both magic and dragons.
HBO’s adaptation set the Starks as the most principled and relateable of the royal families warring for the Iron Throne of the seven kingdoms, which rules the fictional continent of Westeros. They were the family who made an enemy’s son a valued member of their house, who married for love at a time when nobility mostly married for political, military and pecuniary advantage; and seemed the most well-adjusted in a world where summer and winter last 10 years each.
But hard-fighting patriarch Eddard “Ned” Stark, played by one of the show’s biggest names, Sean Bean, lost his head before the end of the first season, his family scattered to different pockets of the realm.
And on Sunday – in a move fans of the books knew was coming – a lord who saw his daughter spurned by Stark’s eldest son allowed the family to come to his castle again, only to murder them all in a surprise act of bloody vengeance. Ned Stark’s eldest son Robb saw his pregnant wife stabbed repeatedly before he was shot with arrows and stabbed to death himself; Stark’s wife Catelyn tried to save her son’s life by taking the lord’s wife hostage, but the nobleman cared little for his wife’s safety – seeing Catelyn’s throat cut after she killed his mate.
(The sequence itself once again lives up to Game of Thrones’ promise as a TV series with all the realistic, epic action of a feature film; a masterful example of emotional, well-produced television.)
See the scene by clicking here, but be warned it is seriously NSFW; showrunners explain their actions to Entertainment Weekly here.
The surprise bloodbath produced an explosion of grief across Twitter Sunday night, as fans on the east and west coasts reacted in real time.
“Today should be declared National Gently Hug A Distraught Game Of Thrones Fan Day,” one tweeter noted. “I have given birth twice to 8 and 9 pound babies. Watching Robb Stark die hurt more than both combined,” wrote another. Check out some of the other cool Twitter reactions here.
My fellow critic Alan Sepinwall argued in one of his most excellent online recaps that these characters, particularly Robb and Catelyn, were boring distractions from the show’s more interesting scenarios – notably, Peter Dinklage’s whip-smart, dwarf-size scion of the realm’s most wealthy family, Tyrion Lannister.
Still, I felt the show also lost its most heroic characters. As another critic pointed out on Twitter, Thrones has a way of making gutsy choices which ultimately harm the storytelling.
In other words, it’s a bold move to take out the family many fans ultimately hoped would win the civil war for the Iron Throne. But if the only characters left are mostly conniving, venal jerks, does that harm interest in future stories?
In TV's world of the anti-hero, I grant you, possibly not. There are still four Stark children roaming the countryside, along with his bastard son, Jon Snow. And Dinklage’s Tyrion is the man I’ve always bet on emerging victorious. (book readers, just shush; you don’t see Walking Dead readers lording it over TV series fans with all their advance knowledge, do ya?)
Nevertheless, I had a pang of regret in watching characters I had been rooting for lose their lives so horrifically.
I just hope the masterminds behind the show make this pain pay off for all of us.