Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what’s to come and—therefore—more information about the unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though: that means this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.
Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.
Season 2, Episode 8: “The Prince of Winterfell”
Original Air Date: May 20th, 2012
Director: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Though the episode title refers to Yara’s sarcastic moniker for her brother Theon, whom she fails to convince to abandon Winterfell (“Come home with me. Don’t die here alone.”), it’s the actions of real Northern royalty, Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn, that stand out here, because the two of them each make catastrophic decisions that not only almost ruin House Stark completely, but impact the lives of every person in the Seven Kingdoms.
We learn early on that Catelyn has betrayed her son, and in truth all of the North, by releasing Jaime Lannister in a dubious deal for her daughter’s freedom. It’s shortsighted, selfish, and literal treason (it’s amazing Jaime kept up his end of the deal–as best he could, considering there was no reason to trust him), and Cat’s decision will directly lead to Rickard Karstark (whose son Jaime killed in his escape attempt) killing two young Lannister prisoners, which will lead to Robb beheading him, which leads to the Karstarks abandoning Robb, which leads to him needing to go back to the Freys for support, which leads to the Red Wedding.
Of course, he wouldn’t have had to go back to the Freys if not for his own actions here, where Robb and Talisa go from just heavy flirting to heavy….uh, more-than-flirting. He decides to abandon his vow to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters, and at season’s end Robb and Talisa marry.
So the actions of both mother and son are completely and utterly self-serving, a complete abdication of their responsibility to their people, and as a result not only do they both lose their lives but so do many of the people who fought with them.
What makes what they do here even more disappointing is that Robb not only knows better, but he says so early in the episode to Talisa, when he discusses the lessons his father Ned, the “best man” he ever met, taught him about ruling:
“He once told me that being a Lord is like being a father, except you have thousands of children and you worry about all of them. The farmers plowing the fields are yours to protect. The charwomen scrubbing the floors, yours to protect. The soldiers you order into battle. He told me he woke with fear in the morning and went to bed with fear in the night. I didn’t believe him.”
Ned, who truly was the best man ever (fact), instilled in his son the idea of treating your people like family, of caring about them as you would your own children. That last line, about how Robb didn’t believe him, shows that by now he understands just how right Ned was. There is no greater responsibility than being entrusted with the safety and security of others. Robb did come to know this, just like he understood the ideals of justice and honor (almost too much, his impracticality made him execute Lord Karstark instead of sending him to The Wall), but yet he managed to fail his people by abandoning his sacred vow for Talisa.
It’s just like Maester Aemon told Jon in season one, “Love is the death of duty.” Love for your children and love for a woman led House Stark to abandon its sacred duty, and it resulted in death itself.
Fortunately, with a mad Queen on the Iron Throne and an army of the dead coming North, both Jon and Daenerys seem to understand the lessons of Ned Stark that Robb abandoned. Jon loved Ygritte, but he still carried out his duties, even at great personal cost. The Mother of Dragons has always viewed her people as her children, and refused to abandon them in Slaver’s Bay when it would have been easy to sail West. The two best hopes for the living and the Seven Kingdoms seem to grasp the wisdom of Maester Aemon and the leadership of Ned Stark, which is promising not only for the coming wars but for what might remain of the Seven Kingdoms after them. After the Mad King, Robert, Joffrey, Tommen, and Cersei, Westeros deserves good, wise leaders.
So while we can–and will–always hate Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, and Tywin Lannister for what happened at the Red Wedding, Robb Stark and his mother put themselves in that situation. Their own selfish acts, where they put love above duty, brought them to that place.
What did you think of this episode? It is your duty, and we sure would love it, if you told us your thoughts in the comments below.