The night is dark and full of terrors...especially on Sundays after you've finished watching Game of Thrones. This week's episodes took a particularly dark turn with the death of a child. I know, Game of Thrones kills children all the time. Remember when Theon burned those two farm boys and pretended they were Bran and Rickon? Viewers were so glad that two characters they'd come to know and love were alive, they forgot that two innocent, nameless children had died. That's what this show does to you. Why do we watch again? I'm really having trouble remembering at this point, especially after last night's episode, "The Dance of Dragons." Stannis Baratheon has been ruthless in his pursuit of the Iron Throne from the moment he appeared on the show. Since he hooked up with Melisandre and started worshipping the Lord of Light, Stannis has also listened to most of her advice. At The Red Woman's behest, he's readily betrayed his family on many occasions. Throughout the past season, however, it appeared as though Stannis was working to repair his relationship with his teenage daughter, Princess Shireen. She had a gentle spirit and was a voracious reader, due to the fact that she'd been kept inside for most of her life since she suffered from greyscale. Well, forget all of the ties that had been mended. Last night, Melisandre convinced Stannis that he had to burn Shireen as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. It was a last-ditch effort to reverse the fate of his troops' failing campaign against Ramsay Bolton. From the very moment Stannis started leading Shireen to the pyre, and she realized what was about to happen, it was absolutely horrible to watch. At the very last moment, Shireen's mother, Selyse, seemed to change her mind, but Stannis' troops stopped her as she tried to approach the burning pyre. Shireen's tortured screams echoed into the snowy void as the flames licked into the sky. Fans weren't having it.
After the episode, showrunner Dan Weiss spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the heartbreaking scene, which did not occur in the books. "Horrible things happening to people in this show, and this is one that we thought was entirely [narratively] justified," Weiss said. When EW fired back what we're all thinking, "How could you do that to Shireen?," Weiss compared the situation to that of a superhero who accidentally kills countless people flipping over a building to save a city, but since we as the audience didn't know them, they don't have our empathy. It's the same as the situation with Theon and the farm boys. "[I]nstead 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," Weiss suggested. Game of Thrones often deals with brutally tough morality questions, such as "whether killing a wedding party of characters we love was wrong if by doing so it ends a war and saves thousands of anonymous lives?" Yeah, that doesn't make the Red Wedding or Shireen's death any easier to watch. For Weiss, the Stannis/Melisandre plotline is also an exploration of religious fanaticism. On the show, that religion involves magic, but fanaticism is something we deal with in the real world, too. On Game of Thrones, "it gives you a window into the heads of people who believe irrational things on faith," Weiss told Entertainment Weekly. "[I]n a strange way, fantasy is a cock-eyed window into the heads of people who would do something terrible for an irrational reason." We see the point Dan Weiss is trying to make. Nevertheless, it's very hard to watch this investigation of fanaticism play out in the form of torturing lovely, innocent characters like Shireen.
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