Game of Thrones arguably concluded season 4 with its strongest finale yet, which is what showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss promised last week. In fact, the duo are so proud of this hour, it’s the only episode this season that they are submitting for Emmy consideration in the writing category. Below, the showrunners talk about a few of the finale’s twists and turns, with more to come tomorrow.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk The Hound fighting Brienne. What inspired that clash?
David Benioff: It felt right to us, these two pairings: The Hound and Arya; Brienne and Pod. Both are on quests. The Hound is trying to get Arya to the Eyrie; Brienne is trying to find the Stark girls. It felt right to us that those quests would collide at end of season.
Dan Weiss: The Hound and Brienne are two people who, by the time we get them together, you’re sort of rooting for both of them, in a way. Brienne is obviously a more moral character than The Hound. But I would hope you can’t help but love The Hound in spite of yourself, a little bit. The idea they’re both going to try tooth and nail and sword to kill each other, there’s something classically epic about it. You got Achilles fighting Hector — there isn’t a good guy and a bad guy, it’s two people you’re both extremely invested in and there’s a fascination and horror of knowing that one of them is inevitably going to get the worst of this situation.
Shooting that pivotal privy scene must have been intense.
Weiss: Oh, yeah. Gotta be the most intense toilet scene ever shot.
Benioff: There’s also the one they did in Gremlins — “They’ll get you in the end.”
Weiss: Was it Gremlins or Ghoulies? Ghoulies, the ones with the sharp teeth.
Benioff: Oh, yeah. Ghoulies.
And Dumb and Dumber.
Benioff: And Dumb and Dumber.
Weiss: That was our inspiration.
Benioff: It was a great scene in the book and a way to see them in their final scene together. It was rough because Charles [Dance] is just a phenomenon. And he’s been amazing in every single scene he’s had — from cleaning the stag with Jaime in season 1 up until his privy death. To have the privilege to write for an actor of that caliber and then to know it’s over is a huge honor and incredibly depressing.
Weiss: He’s one of those people, maybe more than anyone we’re working with, where that cliche is true that they’re “so good the dialogue writes itself.” When you’re sitting down to write a Tywin scene, it’s almost like you’re not having to do any work — it’s like he’s making his words exactly the way they need to be in your head and all you have to do is type them down because he brings such a power and specificity to everything he does. Writing for him is pure pleasure.
Does it worry you to lose your two best villains in the show this season?
Weiss: Who’s the second?
Weiss: Well, I don’t think Tywin is a villain.
Benioff: That’s a fair point. If you read the story from the Stark point of view…
Weiss: …then I guess he would be a villain.
Benioff: But Tywin isn’t torturing prostitutes for pleasure. He’s not a sadist. He’s ruthless, for sure. But there’s an argument to be made that Westeros needs ruthlessness. You look at Daenerys across the sea — she’s crucifying 163 masters; she’s pretty ruthless, too. So you love Daenerys even when she’s killing people and condemn Tywin. I think somebody asked Charles about that in an interview and he was quite resistant to the idea of Tywin as a villain. I think Dan’s right. I don’t think of him as evil.
Weiss: I would call him Lawful Neutral.
Benioff: You had to get one good D&D joke in there…
[The following portion of this interview was recently conducted via email with replies attributed to both Benioff and Weiss…]
First, that mammoth in episode 9: Can you talk about adding this new creature?
Benioff & Weiss: The wooly mammoths were an element from the book that we desperately wanted on the show and for a long time didn’t think we could afford. Figuring out how to create them fell upon our brilliant but overworked VFX department, chiefly Steve Kullback and Joe Bauer. A number of notions were tossed around, including the possibility of putting a giant wig on an elephant (no, I’m not joking). In the end the creatures were completely CGI and another Steve/Joe triumph.
We lost a Reed in the finale! You couldn’t have possibly thought: “Well, not enough characters died this season,” so can you address that move?
Jojen is a bit like John the Baptist. He’s there to make sure a person of cosmic importance ends up where he belongs. Once Bran gets to the Three-Eyed Raven, he has served his greater purpose. It felt right to have him sacrifice himself to get Bran to his destination. Also, there are lot of wights in that frozen field. It seemed pretty unlikely they wouldn’t score at least once.
Is there any major character who has perished on the show that you gave serious consideration to sparing? (And if so, what was the scenario by which they might have lived)?
We did not want to kill [Dothraki horserider] Rakharo, but Elyes Gabel got some excellent offers for bigger roles and we knew we were losing him. So rather than have him disappear from the show we decided to put his head in a saddlebag.
I know better than to ask if The Hound is dead, but: Can you tease anything about what to expect from Brienne’s storyline in 5 now that she’s been through this unexpected event?
You can expect that she’ll remain irritated with Pod for some time to come.
One thread this season is that several popular characters took dark turns. Many of the younger characters have learned hard lessons from past horrors. David, you’ve talked about how a supreme being’s justice doesn’t really manifest in George’s world, that all justice is man-made. So I guess my question is, after Ned Stark and the Red Wedding and so forth, is the lesson that needs to be learned by “the children” (Dany, Jon, Arya, Sansa, etc.) that they must be mean, unfair, and brutal to survive? And that altruism, honesty, and empathy are essentially foolish virtues? And if so, are we just talking about George’s world here, or are we talking about our own, too? This is sort of a philosophical question — perhaps I should have asked Jack Gleeson — but I wonder if in this sprawling epic tale that appears to have no center or theme — you guys always note when trying to think of a unifying theme for each season that such characterizations are too trite — could this be what this story is actually about?
As you say, we try to resist that reductive urge to summarize the season with a single sentence. But that doesn’t mean the series lacks a center, and it’s right there in the title. The game of thrones features women and men vying for power while the powerless try to avoid getting squashed underfoot. No one can protect you, neither gods nor family nor friends. You have to fend for yourself — and even then you might get your throat cut.
We wouldn’t say that the characters you mention have rejected morality. Dany tries desperately to be just, even while dealing with viciously unjust opponents. Jon Snow tries to live with honor, while knowing that honor often gets his family members murdered. And et cetera. But a lot of this story — this season especially — is about people learning to face hard truths about the world they live in, and adapt themselves to those truths. The struggle many of them face is how to do that without losing their grip on who they are. Whether or not they succeed… well, people will have to decide for themselves. This season many characters undergo drastic changes in their own identities, and are forced to reevaluate how they see themselves and their places in the world.