Hands up if the latest episode of Game of Thrones left you sweating and sick to your stomach? The show has been no stranger to savage, shocking ends to its beloved characters, but The Rains of Castamere was an episode that completly turned the show on its head.
An action-packed hour of television culminated in the brutal and barbaric demise of King in the North Robb Stark, his pregnant wife Talisa and mother Catelyn. In a series that has steadily built up the conflicts various characters face between love and honour, we learn that love can be treacherous and vows can be broken at a terrible cost.
Paths almost crossed between several major characters in this streamlined episode, as Bran finds himself holed up in a derelict tower with Jon Snow outside and Arya arrives too late for her uncle's wedding and subsequent butchery of the Stark house. Detached but thematically tied to a bloody episode full of betrayals, Daenerys engages in her own dirty tactics against Yunkai by sending Daario, Jorah and Greyworm off to sneak in and sack the city.
The enigmatic Daario has devised a plan to catch the Yunkish unawares, but as a man who readily decapitated his two fellow mercenaries before, its not surprising that Jorah and Selmy show little faith in his ploy. It is the trust of Grey Worm, the former slave now loyal servant of the Queen that allows his plan to go ahead.
We're treated to a great battle as the three fighting styles of Westerosi, sellsword and Unsullied come together to fight off the Yunkai forces and take the city. But whilst Daenerys is pleased, she appears momentarily distressed upon not seeing Daario when Jorah and Grey Worm return. The appreciate looks the two give each other when he reveals the Yunkai flag suggests that the Khaleesi might have her heart melted by this mysterious man.
In the colds of the north Jon Snow gave his heart to Ygritte long ago. She knows the Stark bastard hasn't turned his cloak, and the others are starting to suspect his loyalties remain with the Night's Watch. When a lonely horse farmer is found, Jon is asked to strike him down and prove his allegiance to the Wildlings. Unable to do the deed, when Tormund orders his men to kill the two of them Jon appears to not even flinch as he knocks Ygritte down and battles his way to safety.
He's helped in part by Bran, who cooped up with the rest of his group in a nearby tower, uses his ability as a warg to first quieten Hodor and then control Summer into mauling the attacking Wildlings. Despite Jon's feelings for Ygritte, he makes the choice to stay loyal to his fellow northmen and leave her behind, a decision that saves his life.
But it is love that brings about the downfall of House Stark, namely that between Robb and Talisa. Forgoing the marriage pact made to one of Walder Frey's daughters, he now returns to the Twins in the hope of salvaging an alliance against the Lannisters, not knowing that Walder Frey is a man to hold a grudge. Whilst a clear sense of unease exists around David Bradley's wonderfully repugnant Walder, writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss cleverly play the opening exchanges for laughs, as line after line of the Frey lord's offspring are revealed for the young wolf to apologise too.
The sweet match of Edmure and Roslin, the wedding and the bedding all lull us into a false sense of security before the shocking betrayal. Series stalwart David Nutter expertly directs the shift in tone, as shots alternate between Catelyn's astute perspective of noticing first that the doors have been locked, and then that the band have begun to play Lannister song 'The Rains of Castamere', with close-ups of her slowly realising the horror that is about to happen.
Upon her realisation we barely have time to register the intense series of shots that follow, as a knife is sheathed, throats are slit and both Robb and Catelyn are shot down with arrows. None of it is as shocking as seeing Talisa repeatedly stabbed in the womb, a sensationally sickening thing to show after the previous scene in which both her and Robb discussed the future of the child growing inside her.
Catelyn's desperate plea to spare her son's life falls on deaf ears, as Walder Frey proves himself a man willing to break an oath in order to gain the upper hand. That it is the Stark's supposedly loyal bannermen Roose Bolton who commits the betrayal is even more galling, finishing off Robb Stark with the words, "The Lannisters send their regards".
And so after the carnage we are left with just Catelyn Stark, standing alone after slitting the throat of Walder Frey's wife; a woman who has had her husband killed, her children taken and now her first son murdered right before her very eyes. Michelle Fairley's excellent turn as Catelyn has been sparsely used throughout the show, a proud and stubborn person that has always tried to do what's best for her family. But as her cry of anguish reveals before she is killed, in the end she has nothing. For the Starks of the north, the game of thrones is over.