Game of Thrones delivers one of the most shocking twists in TV history. Here's our take

June 13, 2011 at 03:22 AM EDT

Wha– what? Did they just– Really?! Oh my– you gotta be fu– WHAT?!

Yes. They did. They really did it. And it was tragic and horrific and possibly unprecedented for a first-year TV show. And we’re going to get into that. We’re going to talk all about the killing in this post — why it happened, why it arguably makes Game of Thrones a better story, how it might hurt (or help?) the program’s popularity and how we want to do really evil things to a certain smirking sire.

But we must maintain order here. We have a story to recap and a ton of great stuff happened before the harrowing final act — Tyrion plays a college drinking game, Drogo is suddenly on the brink of death and only black magic can save him (!) and Catelyn sells her daughter’s virginity to pay a bridge toll (!!). We start with–

A prolonged moment in pure blackness. Like ending-of-Sopranos “did my cable just go out?” blackness. Then breath. Then flame.

“You’ve seen better days my Lord,” says Varys, who informs the imprisoned Ned Stark that his daughter Sansa begged the court for his life.

We learn a bit about Varys, how he used to be an actor. Since this is character exposition during Thrones, I half expect to see two chained prisoners having sex in the background, but no.

Varys says he wants peace in the realm. “Do you know your son is marching south with an army?” he asks, and clearly Ned doesn’t have a sarcastic bone in his body since he doesn’t point out he’s chained in a pitch-black dungeon.

Varys urges Ned to confess to treason and support Cersei and Joffrey. The idea burns inside Ned, the very outlandishness of it — “You want me to serve the woman who murdered my king, who butchered my men, who crippled my son?”

Cersie, says Varys, might allow Ned to join the Night’s Watch and reunite with his bastard son Jon on The Wall (such a cruel tease to the viewer, this prospect). “You think my life is some precious thing to me that I would trade my honor for a few more years?” Ned asks.

“What of your daughter’s life, my lord, is that a precious thing to you?” Varys asks.

And that’s the key question of this episode: What is more important, honor or family?

NEXT: Wanna cross my bridge? Gotta marry my daughter! Hyuck, hyuck

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