June 02, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT

Millions of Game of Thrones fans are feeling sadness, outrage, and, sure, some perverse excitement after watching Sunday’s episode titled “The Rains of Castamere.” But for Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, such reactions to “The Red Wedding” are nothing new. Martin has been receiving exclamatory emails about the disastrous Tully-Frey union for more than a decade, ever since he published his Song of Ice and Fire saga’s third novel, A Storm of Swords. Below, the author reveals why Robb had to die, gives his reaction to upset readers and spills the scene’s horrifying real-life inspiration.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How early in the process of writing the book series did you know you were gonna kill off Robb and Catelyn?

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: I knew it almost from the beginning. Not the first day, but very soon. I’ve said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I killed Ned in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do.

Since Song of Ice and Fire so often subverts reader expectations and avoids traditional fantasy storytelling structures, should fans have any real hope that this tale will have a happy ending? As The Boy recently said on Thrones, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

I’ve stated numerous times that I anticipate a bittersweet ending.

What sort of reactions have you received from readers over the years about the scene?

Extreme. Both positive and negative. That was the hardest scene I’ve ever had to write. It’s two-thirds of the way through the book, but I skipped over it when I came to it. So the entire book was done and there was still that one chapter left. Then I wrote it. It was like murdering two of your children. I try to make the readers feel they’ve lived the events of the book. Just as you grieve if a friend is killed, you should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care. If somebody dies and you just go get more popcorn, it’s a superficial experience isn’t it?

Why do you think it has such a powerful reaction? Robb wasn’t one of your “viewpoint characters” in the books and Catelyn wasn’t really a beloved personality.

[Long pause] That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I have a good answer. Maybe the way I did it. There’s a certain amount of foreboding leading up to it. It’s a betrayal. It comes out of left field. It’s at a wedding feast. Robb has made his peace and you think the worst is over. Then it comes out of nowhere. There’s also secondary characters killed. Then outside hundreds of Stark people are killed. It’s not just two people.

To me, that Robb and Catelyn are family makes it worse. And Catelyn has suffered so much and lost so many people around her, and she actually thinks she’s lost more than she really has (since she doesn’t know for sure that Arya, Bran and Rickon are alive). Then this happens.

She also has the moment there to plead. There’s also her murdering the hostage. He’s not a son that Frey particularly values.* So in the end her bluff is empty. And she does. She carries through. There’s a certain power to that too.

NEXT: Does he regret it? Plus: The real-life Red Wedding with image

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