For those of us who had yet to encounter the HBO hit show Game of Thrones for pretty much the entirety of its first three seasons, the night of June 2nd, 2013 finally corrected this pop culture lapse on all our parts (with or without our permission). On that fateful night, exactly three years ago today, in the penultimate episode of that aforementioned third season, the world of social media was absolutely FLOODED with what seemed like a never-ending cascade of incredibly emotive reactions to... something. Something that obviously must have been completely astounding to those who actually saw it.
The Moment of Moments
But how, pray tell, was it that you were informed, good citizen? Was it the constant Facebook posts from the shockingly exasperated and/or sickened that you couldn't avoid? Or were you instead one of the many on Twitter doing their best to even cope with the inexhaustible barrage of ALL CAPS LAMENTATIONS?
Or maybe, in the days to come, you were perhaps one of the millions repeatedly shown the horrified screams/shrieks of the inconsolably appalled on YouTube. Like these people, for example:
In any case, regardless of how you came across this unprecedented television event, what's most certain is that, if you were anywhere even near something or someone that had access to the internet that night or the week after, you did come across it. Over and over and over again.
Three years ago today, you inescapably discovered (Read: were forced to discover) what is assuredly one of the most infamous sequences in television history. You discovered the motherf$%&ing "Red Wedding" (in an episode now hilariously entitled "The Rains of Castamere," as if anyone has ever or will ever refer to it as that). Relive the horror below:
(Wow. Still wow. Never not wow. Even when the sun finally burns out and our species ceases to exist for the rest of eternity ... `Freaking WOW.)
Take a Second to Fall Apart Again... Good, Now Pull It Together
Okay. Now that we've taken our not-so-lovely stroll down "Repressed Memory Lane," I'm going to ask you to switch hats here. I need your brains to reengage. Fight through the terror; push through the shock; find a happy place; come back to this silly internet article with your cognitive functions intact, if you please.
Because I'll be asking you to reexamine this scene, and all that surrounded it, looking not from your own still supremely vivid experience, but rather through those of the characters involved. Specifically, I will be asking you to look at everything which led to The Red Wedding, and The Red Wedding itself, through the eyes and actions of its focal point: Robb Stark. And even more specifically, I will be asking you to open your mind to a possibility that has more than likely never entered it before (and you might find abhorrent to even consider): The possibility that...
Robb Stark actually had it coming.
But... But... WHY!? Why Would You Say That!? How Could That Possibly Be True!?
In five words: He couldn't get over himself.
It is true how Robb Stark, like his father, was an honorable man. Like his father, he had the ability to place his sense of duty above his sense of convenience in spades. Like his father, he lived and acted with courage, almost always. He was even able to forsake all else in his life — in pursuit of his heart's desire — in order to marry Talisa, the woman he fell madly in love with. He was the classic hero, in every sense of those words.
And all that was his undoing.
Despite his nobility, or his sense of honor, or even his basic sense of human decency, Robb Stark was actually a tremendously flawed character, who sowed the seeds of his own demise at practically every turn. And he did it for the same reason that 99.9% of us do too, even when we have the best of intentions: He made everything about him.
His war was supposed to be about protecting his father, but as soon as his father was gone, it became about making a "Kingdom of The North," with himself as the ruler of it.
He killed a loyal servant of his cause, Rickard Karstark, for betraying his command — even though he knew it would splinter his ranks and undermine his ability to win his war, thus putting in even further jeopardy the lives of those who still chose to fight for him and the people of the North that he's supposed to be looking out for — because he felt betrayed and had to protect his sense of authority as this new king.
And of course, he broke his vow to Walder Frey — the man who risked everything he had to form an alliance with Robb — so he could marry Talisa for his heart, instead of one of Lord Frey's daughters as he had promised. He did this out of passion and love, somehow assuming there would be no consequences for this. But there were.
OF COURSE THERE WERE.
And when it all went down, he was surprised. He was caught off guard. He was unprepared. Because he never imagined a world in which a man could be killed for fulfilling his personal sense of honor, or for punishing those who betrayed him, or for making choices with his heart. Even though that is exactly the world in which he lived.
In short, Robb Stark, and his mother, and his wife, and his unborn child died for the exact same reason his father died.
For all their talk and intention to serve others, they only ever served their own sense of honor, which is really just their sense of personal identity, which is really just themselves. It was always about them.
Being truly noble, on the other hand, is about being selflessly intelligent (i.e. knowing well the world in which you operate, so you can then serve it to the fullest extent of what it requires, regardless of your own silly, stupid feelings about any of it), which is something only Tyrion and Varys seem to consistently understand.
Robb may have been genuinely likable and truly dutiful, but he was just as selfish as almost everyone else on this show. And it cost him. Along with three of the people he loved most in this world.
I hope it all felt worth it as he breathed his last breath over his slain wife and child.
Game of Thrones returns to HBO with Episode 7 "The Broken Man" on Sunday June 5