The death of an idea can hurt just as badly as the death of a person. People are mortal, after all, and come with an expiration date – it’s the cost of doing business with them. But ideas often have a wider impact than any one person. They’re passed down and passed around, like heirlooms or viruses. It’s easy to convince ourselves that an idea that gives our life meaning will outlast our life, any life, in turn. To lose an idea like that leaves us adrift, with no shore in sight.
The Red Wedding – I know, the episode of Game of Thrones is called “The Rains of Castamere” for spoiler-avoidance purposes, but the Red Wedding is what book-readers have called it for more than a decade and it’s how it will be known to show-watchers until the end of time – killed much more than Robb Stark, and Catelyn Stark, and Talisa Stark, and Grey Wind, and the Northern army. It killed an idea. In the world of the show, it killed the hope of the North, the spirit of independence and rebellion and justice that promised one last bloom of warmth before the coming winter if the Starks had prevailed over the Lannisters.
But for readers and viewers, it killed our idea of what this series is. The central conflict, Stark vs. Lannister, is now over. The Lannisters won. There will be no comeback now, if ever. Sure, we know on some level that there’s much more going on, from smaller rivalries like Littlefinger vs. Varys or Cersei vs. Margaery to the potentially massive storms brewing north of the Wall and east of the Sea. But it’s been Stark vs. Lannister the whole time, until now. A lifetime of reading and watching fiction has trained us to treat the establishment of a central conflict as a promise that it will remain the central conflict until the end of that work of fiction. The Red Wedding took that promise, cut its throat and dumped it on the floor to bleed out.