It might be the most well-known of all screenwriting truisms: “If you have to explain it, then you’re doing a great job.” It’s a saying that the Game Of Thrones showrunners have returned to more than once over the past couple of years, with a scene or two here and there sure to generate some criticism. But given that shocking plot developments have been the show’s stock in trade since the beginning, it’s no longer much of a surprise to find some Monday-morning quarterbacking as Entertainment Weekly interviews showrunner D.B. Weiss about last night’s painful scene.
(Insert obvious spoiler warning here.)
“The Dance Of Dragons” decided to burn a little girl alive, and it was pretty upsetting, even for people well acquainted with the show and therefore expecting the occasional nightmare scenario. “Horrible things [are] happening to people in this show, and this is one that we thought was entirely [narratively] justified,” Weiss said, implying that maybe those other awful scenes were wholly gratuitous, but this time it made sense. “It was set up by the predicament that Stannis was in. It will be awful to see, but it’s supposed to be awful.” And sure enough, it was awful, even with most of the camera’s attention focused on those watching the act, much like the brutal scene that ended “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”
Weiss also had some thoughts about what it means to see a death that affects the audience vs. depictions of mass death routinely euphemized as “cannon fodder”:
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.
But where explained the title rule from the screenwriting bible Save The Cat!, Weiss’ co-showrunner David Benioff had arguably the stronger (and simpler) explanation for the scene, and why it made 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,” which is a good reminder that Stannis was always on board with the whole burning-people-alive thing, even though his own daughter is obviously more upsetting.
The two also talk a little bit about the nature of religious fanaticism, something Weiss and Benioff probably understand dealing with hardcore Game Of Thrones fans all the time. You can read the whole interview here, which will offer just enough food for thought until next week, when Arya will probably be skinned alive or something.