Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
When Melisandre suggested sacrificing Shireen two episodes back on Game of Thrones, there was probably about a 50/50 chance that the princess wouldn’t make it to the end of Season 5. But it wasn’t until Stannis refused to send her to Castle Black with Davos, and his subsequent sentimental farewell in this week’s episode, that you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the kid was toast.
At that point, the question was not if she was going to die, but how. Seriously, how horrible could D.B. Weiss and David Benioff possibly make the death of a 14-year-old girl? The answer is… very! You’ve got to hand it to the Game of Thrones showrunners for outdoing themselves in a season that saw the disturbing rape scene of one beloved teenage character by burning another alive at the stake, in what was easily the most upsetting scene of the entire series so far.
D.B. Weiss defended the scene to Entertainment Weekly, however, saying that it was justified in the narrative. He admits that the scene was awful to watch because “it was supposed to be awful.”
When I asked Weiss the question that fans surely have tonight: “How could you do that to Shireen?” Weiss philosophically noted you could “flip that question” into a larger debate about how we’re all highly selective about which characters deserve our empathy. Stannis has been burning people alive for seemingly trivial reasons since season 2, yet we’ve still tended to regard him as a great leader—at least, by Westeros standards.
“It’s like a two-tiered system,” he noted. “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. 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.”
I don’t know that I necessarily agree with that logic, but the scene certainly was powerful, as terrible as it was to watch. Weiss and Benioff further explained Stannis’ difficult decision in this making of Episode 9 featurette:
And in case you missed anything else on the web today…