Game of Thrones Fans Burning Down Internet Over Death Shocker

Plus: Why The Killing could use a little of that Westeros surprise.

A warning and advice if you’re a Game of Thrones fan who hasn’t seen last night’s episode: major spoilers ahead, and also, stop whatever the hell you’re doing and go watch it so we can talk. (And commiserate. And maybe throw things.)

The best and worst of television was on display Sunday night with two ambitious dramas in their third seasons—one that’s just getting started, the other winding down, and both with fans who feel a sense of betrayal. The Killing returned with what seemed like a breath of fresh (albeit foggy) air in its two-hour premiere. The mopey Linden is on a health kick, has a new boy toy, and is actually smiling for a change; her ex-partner, Holder, is climbing up the ranks of the Seattle police department with a new suit and a little extra zip in his mumbled bad-boy charm. There’s also a new villain—the always excellent Peter Saarsgard as Ray Seward, a killer headed to execution. How nasty is he? Seward attacked the prison chaplain and would rather be hung than die by lethal injection.

But by the second hour, all of the patterns that wore thin last season began to emerge. There’s a host of supporting characters with dark sides (a homeless teen nicknamed Bullet; a tattooed pastor), young girls in peril, and a murder case that will surely spiral into a series of twists and red herrings. The most telling scene takes place at Linden’s new digs, as Holder hopes to get his old pal to help him with a case. As they make small talk, both say they’ve quit smoking. Later, we see them both lighting up. It’s a minor detail, but one that speaks volumes about their denial—Linden and Holder want to look like they’ve changed, but really, they’re still the same people. That’s a metaphor for the premiere itself. Based on its first two hours, The Killing is still the same show that prompted a fan revolt last season. Even the gloomy atmospheric shots of rainy streets and overcast skies are wearing thin. They used to feel like postcards of dread, flashes of artful scene setting. Now, I just want them to get on with the damn investigation already. I might not make it past next week.

Then there’s Game of Thrones. I haven’t read the novels by George R.R. Martin, which is heresy among my nerd friends, so the events of last night’s episode caught me by complete surprise. Other shows have killed off significant characters—most notably The Sopranos, just named by the Writers Guild as the best-written TV series in history—but none has eliminated two of its most heroic protagonists (and their wife/mother) in just three seasons. Ned Stark’s beheading in season one paled in comparison to “The Red Wedding.” Ned’s son, Robb Stark, and his widowed mother Catelyn are celebrating the marriage of Lord Walder Frey’s daughter. It’s all too perfect, and a growing sense of dread builds throughout the episode—Frey is too forgiving of Robb’s broken promise, his daughter too lovely; Robb and his pregnant wife Talisa are deliriously in love; and even though she’s miles away, Robb’s lost sister, Arya, senses something isn’t right.

Once the bride and groom leave the banquet hall, the doors close and Catelyn realizes what’s really happening. It’s not a wedding—it’s a Stark family slaughter. Many bloody, agonizing moments later, they’re dead. For all the show’s medieval gore, nothing has come close to the horror of seeing Talisa stabbed to death in the stomach. “The Red Wedding” will be remembered as one of the most shocking scenes in TV history.

Today, Thrones fans have set the Internet afire with sadness and outrage (something Martin is accustomed to after years of hate mail from angry readers). That’s what makes the series so special. Martin is one cold mofo—fans of his books know that no one is safe in his world. Many shows tease that possibility, and some, like The Walking Dead, occasionally deliver. But there are always a few characters who feel untouchable. In Game of Thrones, those are the ones you worry about the most, because they could find themselves on the wrong end of a broadsword at any moment.

Maybe it’s unfair to compare a violent fantasy show with a brooding crime saga. But GoT and The Killing are alike in some ways—they move slowly, keep the viewer guessing, and aspire to elevate the TV drama genre. That’s where the comparisons end. After watching “The Red Wedding,” The Killing premiere felt like a two-hour yawn.