Some of television’s most emotional moments need no explanation. Some moments are more profound because of the background we know about characters and relationships, but some are simply so visceral that all you need to know is what’s in front of you.
Ned Stark’s death on Game of Thrones is one of those visceral moments, but even more than Ned’s death, his wife and son’s grief is so palpable that all you need to see is their one interaction in the woods after his death to feel every ounce of the sadness these characters are carrying with them.
Michelle Fairley is characteristically brilliant in this scene. The moment when she has to lean against the tree, letting her strong façade crumble only for a moment, is so profound. She allows herself that one moment of all-consuming grief, but she knows she has only that moment to fall apart before she has to be strong for her son.
And then there’s Richard Madden. This is my favorite scene of his entire career on the show because it’s so raw and so real. It’s easy to forget that Robb is a boy in so many ways, pushed into a man’s role after his father’s death. But this scene is such a painful reminder of the character’s youth. You can feel his need to hurt something, to break something, to make something else feel the pain he’s drowning in. And when he says, “I’ll kill them all,” he looks and sounds like the boy he really is.
When Robb collapses in his mother’s arms, it’s impossible not to believe the love the Starks have for one another. The way Catelyn strokes Robb’s hair is so maternal and soothing, and it’s a really interesting contrast to the coldness in her voice when she tells Robb that they will “kill them all” after they get Sansa and Arya back. When Robb says he wants to kill them all, I get tears in my eyes because of how grief-stricken and young he sounds. When Catelyn says it, I get chills because she sounds so certain.
A part of so many characters died when Ned did, and this scene shows that more painfully than any other.