There are many unknowns heading into this week’s episode of Game of Thrones.
But we can state with certainty that when the fog clears over the Winterfell battlefield, there will be blood.
George R R Martin and the various writers of the epic series have never spared viewers when delivering shock exits.
Over 82 minutes, blood will spill on the snow from characters we may not be prepared to lose.
So while we await the clash of swords, it’s timely to review the deaths that drew the most seismic viewer responses so far.
Ned Stark (Season 1, Episode 9)
Perhaps seeing Sean Bean’s Boromir skewered by Uruk-hai arrows in The Lord of the Rings should have prepared us.
But for those who hadn’t read the books, episode 9 of the debut season served up the series’ first major shock.
We hadn’t yet learned what an utter wretch Joffrey was as he promised Ned mercy in exchange for his confession to treason.
Just like Sansa, didn’t we all feel like fools as Ned’s head departed his shoulders? Not since Marion Crane died in the shower in Hitchcock’s Psycho had the unexpected demise of the lead character thrown viewer expectations into such disarray.
Red Wedding (Season 3, Episode 9)
The moment when a glimpse of chain mail beneath a surcoat had viewers leaping from their lounge chairs. Robb Stark was tantalisingly close to securing his revenge over the Lannisters.
But fans knew that once he reneged on his dynastic deal with Walder Frey through love of Talisa, it would end in tears.
And it did: Frey locked the castle doors and Robb, Catelyn, Talisa and her unborn child were all butchered, not to mention another direwolf. Walder later received painful instruction from Arya that, to quote another landmark HBO series, You come at the king, you best not miss.
Joffrey Baratheon (Season 4, Episode 2)
Payback’s a bitch, Your Grace. Joffrey’s poisoning during his marriage to Margaery Tyrell was neither unexpected, nor unwelcome. The removal of any checks on his behaviour had seen the boy king adopt an almost pantomime mantle of cowardice and cruelty.
But there we were nonetheless, in front of our screens, cheering on the agonising death of a teenager. As Olenna Tyrell, the agent of his demise, it was Diana Rigg’s finest work since The Avengers.
Margaery Tyrell (Season 6, Episode 10)
“You’re swearing now that some day you’ll destroy me. Remember that far better women than you have sworn to do the same. Go look for them now.”
That line was delivered by Polly Walker’s Atia in Rome, the historical epic that served as HBO’s practice run for Game of Thrones. It also reflects perfectly the interaction between Joffrey’s mother and his widow in the jostling following his death.
Of course, it was always Margaery who would die, which she did, spectacularly, as Cersei had Margaery, her brother, father, the High Sparrow and others incinerated by wildfire.
Jon Snow (Season 5, Episode 10)
Jon’s murder undoubtedly came as a violent shock. Lured to his death at Castle Black by young Olly, he was cut down by traitors, with Olly delivering the final thrust (and setting the scene for his memorable death on Jon’s return).
But even dead, Jon remained a figure of manifest destiny, and those of us bred on a diet of Buffy the Vampire Slayer knew that for such heroes, death was a relative thing.
Shireen Baratheon (Season 5, Episode 9)
The Greek king Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia was revisited when Melisandre convinced Stannis to sacrifice Shireen in exchange for victory.
Scarred by greyscale, the pure-hearted little girl was the apple of her father’s eye, but he burned her anyway.
Shireen touched Ser Davos’s heart deeply, secretly visiting him in prison where she taught him to read. Davos recalled her sadly this month in Season 8 when faced with the bravery of a similarly scarred little girl.
Oberyn Martell (Season 4, Episode 8)
Prince Oberyn arrived in King’s Landing intent on revenge against the murderers of his sister and her children.
In single combat with the Mountain, Oberyn dropped his guard in seeking the stricken Gregor Clegane’s confession that Lannisters commissioned the murders.
So his eyes were gouged out, his skull was crushed and viewers winced through their fingers in horror.
Hodor (Season 6, Episode 5)
Hodor/Wylis fulfills his destiny, saves Bran and holds the door against the wights. A man-mountain with a gentle soul, like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, Hodor’s ghastly death along with the dreadful discovery of why his vocabulary was limited to the word “Hodor” broke viewers’ hearts.
Dr Paul Salmond has lectured and published on film