Game of Thrones just depicted one of the most disturbing death scenes in TV history: The graphic massacre of noble young rebellion leader Robb Stark (Richard Madden) at his uncle’s wedding, alongside his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), pregnant wife (Oona Chaplin) and all of his men.
At about 9:49 p.m. ET, the show’s Twitter fandom exploded. Perhaps the best compliment to the scene’s effectiveness was that there wasn’t much initially tweeted that was very coherent. There was a lot of all-caps agony and wailing.
“The Red Wedding” violence was shocking for many reasons: The safe traditional family environment (it’s a wedding), the betrayal (a cruel deception by the father of the bride), the carnage (pregnant Talisa being stabbed repeatedly in her abdomen; Catelyn murdering an innocent young woman in a busted bluff to save her son) and the apparent unfairness of Robb’s death in particular (he won every battle, yet lost the war).
That many fans are so incensed will probably come as some relief to Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who were intent on preserving the surprise of the sequence for viewers as much as possible given that the major character-killing twist from George R.R. Martin’s 13-year-old novel A Storm of Swords was only a mouse-click away for the curious to find. Below, the writer-producers talk about the importance of the scene and its long-time resonance with Martin’s readers. Note: This interview was conducted in January, shortly after filming was completed.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how did it go?
DAVID BENIOFF: It’s weird to say, “Oh, it went great.” Because we’re not just killing characters. We’re losing these actors who have been with us since the beginning. It’s hard, because you love the actors. But it goes back to that first season, that some of the people we loved the most, whether Jason Momoa or Sean Bean [played characters that were killed off].
DAN WEISS: The show is a real family atmosphere. On set, everybody hangs out together. It’s like a member of your family moving across the ocean. You’ll still see them on a holiday. We’ll still see them at conventions for the next 25 years.
Benioff: I remember turning to the script supervisor after one take where Richard was dying and I was like, “That was a good take.” And she was just bawling. It’s a bittersweet thing. You’re making all these people sad. But on the other hand, that’s kind of the idea. If we shot The Red Wedding and nobody got emotional, it would be a failure.
Weiss: It’s the kind of thing that hammers home that everybody’s life is precious and precarious. When you can’t take for granted that a character you love on the show is going to be around forever, it makes you pay more attention to them.
Killing two characters at once has been done before. In fact, The Walking Dead recently did it. Why do you think this scene in particular has had such a strong resonance with fans of the books?
Benioff: Good question. In the book, when the band starts playing “Rains of Castamere,” you know something bad is going to happen. It’s the strongest physical reaction I’ve ever had to reading anything. I didn’t want to turn the page because you know something horrible is going to happen and your can’t quite believe it and you don’t want it to happen. You spend so much time with these characters before then. In the show, we’ve [spent more time focused on] Robb than in the books, mainly because we love Richard Madden as an actor. You look back to the death of Adriana on The Sopranos, that was powerful because you had spent years with her.
Weiss: That’s a good analogy. One of the things that make these deaths so powerful is they’re the machinations of other characters we know. In the case of Charles Dance [Twyin Lannister], it’s a character we like in spite of ourselves. A monster doesn’t come out of the woodwork and chop these people up. The monsters are our other characters, who aren’t monsters, but are people with their own motivations and goals. The fact this thing is happening because of somebody else we know lends to its epic tragic dimension.
Benioff: One of the things I love about the books is that we’re used to, in books and movies when a major character dies, we’re used to a bittersweet final moment. The death speech. You don’t get that here at all. There’s no redemptive moment. There’s just horror and slaughter. You want revenge so quickly for it and you’re not getting it, so you’re deprived of even that satisfaction. It’s just like a kidney punch. That’s the feeling we got in the books and that’s what we’re trying to emulate here on screen.
When first reading the book and I started going so fast through that section that it wasn’t until I re-read Storm recently that I fully processed that Catelyn kills the kid.
Benioff: You won’t miss it when we do it.
There’s also something particularly horrifying about Catelyn having already suffered so many tragedies in her family — real and imagined. Having a mother and son in that situation amps the emotional impact of it.
Benioff: They’ve been though so much. They’ve been through the death of Ned. They had a major falling out after she released Jaime. They managed to get through that and work back through into a loving relationship and then to have all that taken away from them…
NEXT: Does Game of Thrones have heroes or victims?