June 02, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT

Ned Stark died maintaining his honor. His son died following his heart.

On Sunday night, The King in the North’s rebellion to avenge his father came to a heartbreaking conclusion when he was betrayed by the scheming Lord Walder Frey. Yes, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) is dead. And so is his mom. And his pregnant wife. And his men. And it was all pretty horrific. True, Robb broke his word — marrying field medic Talisa (Oona Chaplin) instead of a key ally’s daughter as he promised. But ultimately he may have died because he didn’t grow up fast enough to win the Iron Throne. Robb had all the battlefield prowess, but not yet the wariness and manipulative social expertise of more experienced players like Tywin Lannister to avoid a deadly trap.

But we’ll always have Madden’s terrific performance. The Scottish actor took a relatively modest character from the books and helped build him into a memorable figure who every bit the equal of the show’s major players. “Thrones has been amazing and I’m really sad to let it go and not be a part of it,” Madden says. “But I knew from the start that this would be my character’s [fate].

Note: The following interview includes Madden’s answers from an exclusive interview with EW conducted months ago, as well as responses from a press conference call with reporters last week (questions paraphrased).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first learn your character’s fate?

RICHARD MADDEN: A thousand people spoiled it for me before I had a chance to pick up the third book. I read by season-by-season. I don’t want to pre-empt where Robb is going and that’s what I’ve done since the show started. I also made the fatal flaw of Googling. So that kind of reinforced what people people were hinting — saying that something terrible was going to happen and giggling.

Google is one of the worst ways to find out, too.

Google is the enemy. I would tell that to anyone who enjoys any TV show like Game of Thrones to avoid it; it spoils so many storylines.

You eventually read the scene, right? What was your reaction? 

Yes. Many times. It just really broke my heart. Arya being so close to getting to me. That really cut me up even more. With every episode Robb’s been further and further from the people he loves. For Arya to be so close to getting to me, I think that’s what really hurt because that’s what we all wanted — to get the family back together — even if it was only one of us coming back. And that’s what made me really emotional about it.

What was it like shooting the season knowing this was coming?

I pushed it back out of my head. We are a pretty big family, I’m sure a lot of people say that. I’ve worked with the same people for five years now since the pilot. We kind of put it out of our minds. Then I’ll go off to Croatia and [a crew member will] say, “Oh this is the last time I’ll see you on this show.” It was challenging to not hint at anything even though I know it’s coming, especially with Catelyn knowing what the Freys are. We have to hint the Freys aren’t good guys but hopefully keep the element of surprise.

What about shooting the scene itself?

It was an amazing experience all because of David Nutter directing it. He made it an operatic epic sequence that just blows you away. The shocks you get in the book and subtleties from the book I remember reading. Those little details that suddenly all piece together in one big slamming action. If we’ve done it, all the subtleties come together and hopefully it hits you like a sledgehammer.

Talk about shooting the scene with Michelle Fairley.

There’s a moment in the scene where we look at each other. It’s Robb Stark essentially saying goodbye to his mother and giving up. Rather than it being something really bad, it’s a moment of tragedy and utter relief, actually. These characters have fought and fought and fought and it’s finally over. And I think me and Michelle felt a lot of that, and a lot of the crew, actually.

NEXT: Tears on the set and hard feelings about Robb’s ending


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