Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Sunday night Game of Thrones episode, “The Dance of Dragons.”
Some are beginning to question the motives behind Game of Thrones’ writers and producers. Are they intentionally trying to alienate fans with stories of brutality and a seeming obsession with depicting sexual violence against female characters? Some say yes.
The question became even more widespread with the rape of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and it seemed Game of Thrones could do no worse with any of its other female characters, until poor, beloved Shireen (Kerry Ingram) met her demise in Sunday night’s episode. It started innocently enough with Shireen, devoted to her father’s happiness, promising that she would do anything to help her father, Iron Throne contender Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), in “any way she can,” as Mercury News phrases it.
Unfortunately, Stannis is receiving some troublesome advice from a messianic priestess in his other ear, urging him appease the Lord of Light and spare his troops the harshness of the winter weather by burning Shireen alive. It doesn’t come together for Shireen until she is being marched toward a funeral pyre that the flames have been reserved for her. Even her own mother has an all too late pang of conscience, failing to act in time to spare Shireen’s life.
Referring to the Game of Thrones scene described above, showrunner Dan Weiss described it as one of the most “emotionally gut-wrenching” scenes he has ever shot in Game of Thrones entire run. As psychologically draining as that Game of Thrones scene is, Weiss says it was absolutely necessary to explore certain themes accurately, themes essential to the Game of Thrones saga.
“Horrible things happen to people in this show, and this is one that we thought was entirely [narratively] justified,” the Game of Thrones showrunner said. “It was set up by the predicament that Stannis was in. It will be awful to see, but it’s supposed to be awful.”
Fellow Game of Thrones showrunner David Benioff added that, from a creative standpoint, the scene couldn’t have been better.
“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,” Benioff said. “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.”
While the above Game of Thrones scene does not occur in any of the A Song of Ice and Fire books, author George R.R. Martin suggested to the showrunners that it was a twist very likely to happen in upcoming books. It sounds like the author is the one to blame for most of that sexual violence against female characters.
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO.
[Featured image: Kerry Ingram courtesy of HBO/Game of Thrones]