*This article contains spoilers from the most recent Game of Thrones episode, number 9, "The Dance of Dragons"... proceed with caution*
Game of Thrones is no stranger to controversy, especially surrounding the ever-so-common deaths on the show. Now that the series has veered away from author George R.R. Martin's story considerably, there are very few people who know exactly what is coming. Of course, that means watching the show is tense and littered with surprises for all of us. Not just the plebs who didn't read the books.
Co-showrunner and co-writer of the show, Dan Weiss talked to Entertainment Weekly about the most recent brutal event on the show - arguably the worst since the "Red Wedding." That of course is the death of Stannis Baratheon's daughter, Shireen, who the audience developed extreme empathy for and who, up to this point, was utterly adorable.
I thought, for a scene where a young child is burned to death and screaming throughout, it was handled about as well as it could be. But what did Weiss have to say about the process of getting it right? Here was his take:
“Horrible things happening to people in this show, and this is one that we thought was entirely [narratively] justified. It was set-up by the predicament that Stannis was in. It will be awful to see, but it’s supposed to be awful.”
I guess that's fair. We, the audience, should know by now what we've signed up for.
He continued, touching on the sadness we feel when we've actually been introduced to and grown to develop empathy for a character who dies:
“It’s like a two-tiered system. If a superhero knocks over a building and there are 5,000 people in the building that we can presume are now dead, does it matter? Because they’re not people we know. But if one dog we like gets run over by a car, it’s the worst thing we’ve ever seen. I totally understand where that visceral reaction comes from. I have that same reaction. There’s also something shitty about that. So instead of saying, ‘How could you do this to somebody you know and care about?’ maybe when it’s happening to somebody we don’t know so well, maybe then it should hit us all a bit harder.”
One of the other co-showrunners and co-writers talked about how George R.R. Martin revealed to them that this was going to happen in a later book:
“It was one of those moments where I remember looking at Dan and [thinking] that’s so horrible and so good in a story sense. The very first time we saw Stannis and Melisandre, they were burning people alive on the beaches of Dragonstone and it’s really all come to this. There’s been so much talk of king’s blood, and the power of king’s blood, and it all leads ultimately, fatally, to Shireen’s sacrifice, and it’s one of the most horrible moments we’ve shot … It’s obviously the hardest choice he’s ever made in his life and for Stannis it comes down to ambition versus familial love and for Stannis and for Stannis sadly that choice is ambition.”
There's a little bit of religious (or spiritual) fanaticism attached to this whole thing, which relates it a bit to our own world and current times:
“People who watch Game of Thrones don’t see the same world as Stannis and Melisandre. To those characters, magic is real and it works. That’s something fun about this genre because when magic is real and you can see it with your own eyes in the show, it gives you a window into the heads of people who believe irrational things on faith. I can’t really get my head around how those people operate in our world, as they’re so completely disconnected from the way I process the world. So in a strange way, fantasy is a cock-eyed window into the heads of people who would do something terrible for an irrational reason.”
Here's an even deeper dive into the crushingly dramatic episode:
(Via: Entertainment Weekly)