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[This story contains full spoilers through seven seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones.]
It feels like a futile exercise to rank the bad moves executed by the Starks over the course of Game of Thrones. Does Ned Stark (Sean Bean) refusing to back Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) take the top spot? Does his litany of mistakes begin even earlier — accepting the role of Hand of the King at the start of the series? If we’re factoring Jon Snow (Kit Harington) into the equation, there’s a long list of missteps as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch to consider, not to mention his choice to stand in the middle of a battlefield with the entire Bolton forces storming right in his direction.
Then there’s the Red Wedding to consider, and the lead-up to the grisly event. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), Walder Frey (David Bradley) and Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) certainly deserve the lion’s share of the credit for pulling off the biggest and most vicious blindside in Game of Thrones history, but the monumental mass-murder simply wouldn’t have occurred without a big assist from the Starks themselves — specifically the King in the North himself, Robb Stark (Richard Madden).
Robb’s decision to diss House Frey by marrying Talisa (Oona Chaplin) certainly laid the groundwork for his eventual fate, but the move that sealed the deadly deal arrives in “Kissed by Fire,” the fifth episode of Thrones‘ third season. After an act of treason, Lord Rickard Karstark (John Stahl) winds up on the wrong end of Robb Stark’s sword, executed despite protests from everyone in the King in the North’s camp. As a result, the large swath of Karstark loyalists leave the Northern Army, leaving Robb in a big spot of trouble. It’s bad timing, too: Robb has just formulated a brilliant plan to capture Casterly Rock from the Lannisters, but it’s a mission he can’t accomplish with his current numbers. Eureka! A light bulb goes off, as Robb arrives at his brightest idea yet: he’ll replace the Karstarks with soldiers from House Frey, one of very few houses yet to weigh in on the War of the Five Kings.
What strikes Robb as a great idea on paper is actually a disastrous one in practice, as everyone who has watched beyond this point in the series knows all too well. But shouldn’t it be an obviously awful move on paper for Robb as well, given all the times Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) warned Robb about Walder Frey and his uncanny capacity to hold and act on a grudge? For someone who made a name for himself based on cunning battle tactics, Robb’s decision to woo the Freys is not only an all-time awful plan, but one that’s largely out of character — and one that will directly lead to more deaths than just his own.
Beyond Robb’s bad decision, here’s what else we’re covering this week on “Winter Was Here,” the Game of Thrones rewatch podcast collaboration between The Hollywood Reporter and Post Show Recaps:
• The origin story of the Kingslayer, easily the finest Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) moment yet;
• How the impending marriage between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) may impact the final season of Game of Thrones;
• Why the battle between Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and the Hound (Rory McCann) doesn’t quite live up to the hype;
• The extremely odd nature of this episode’s Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) storyline;
• And more!
Listen to the podcast in the player below:
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