Warning: Major spoilers about Season 5 episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons.”
“Game of Thrones” fans were disgusted by a sexual assault scene that ended an episode earlier this season, and this past Sunday’s episode was no kinder. In fact, one innocent character’s fate was far worse than the treatment Sansa Stark received on her wedding night, but co-creator D.B. Weiss says Sunday’s tragedy was “entirely justified.”
“Horrible things happening to people in this show, and this is one that we thought was entirely [narratively] justified,” Weiss told Entertainment Weekly when discussing the death of Stannis Baratheon’s adolescent daughter. “It was set-up by the predicament that Stannis was in. It will be awful to see, but it’s supposed to be awful.”
Shireen (Kerry Ingram), a sweet princess with a facial deformity, didn’t just die, though. (And here comes the awful spoiler, in case you ignored TheWrap‘s first warning.) She was burned alive — by her own parents, at the urging of Stannis’ magical mistress, Melisandre (Carice van Houten).
The death was a sacrifice meant to appease the Lord of Light — a powerful entity fans have already seen in action in a previous season — so Stannis’ army might stand a chance in his quest to take control of the North, a kingdom now controlled by the Boltons.
“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,” Weiss added. “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.”
Weiss said the difficult death, which may have gone too far for some, should inspire a larger debate about how viewers decide which characters deserve empathy.
“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 we’ve ever seen,” Weiss said. “I totally understand where that visceral reaction comes from. I have that same reaction.”
“There’s also something shitty about that,” he continued. “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.”
For those viewers who don’t think the unsettling sacrifice was “earned” or “justified,” co-creator David Benioff argued that the series has been building up to this moment since Stannis was introduced.
“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,” Benioff said in a behind-the-scenes video for the episode. “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,” Benioff added. “And for Stannis, sadly, that choice is ambition.”
Watch the video for more insight from the creators into the penultimate episode of Season 5.