By James Hibberd
Updated April 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT

The reason Game of Thrones exists as a TV series can be traced to a few key sequences in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels that several years ago convinced writer-producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss that they must somehow find a way to adapt the seemingly unfilmable saga. Tonight’s episode contained one of those scenes.

Sunday’s Game of Thrones contained a stunning conclusion where Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) turned the tables on a city run by cruel slave masters. Faced with having to give up one of her priceless dragons in order to acquire an 8,000-man army, the exiled princess questing for the Iron Throne risked everything by deciding to use one asset (the army) to keep the other (the dragon), and free a city of slaves in the process. The meticulously constructed sequence satisfyingly weaved together an action sequence (dragon attack!), a plot twist (she broke her word!) and character development (Dany becomes a leader!).

“It’s a hallmark of a number of scenes in [A Storm of Swords] where, in retrospect, I should have seen it coming because George laid out all the pieces, he had given you all the clues,” Benioff said. “The best kind of surprises aren’t the ones that come out of nowhere. The best ones are where after you see it you’re asking yourself, ‘Why didn’t I see that was coming?’ I remember reading [Dany planning to give up Drogon to the slaver] and thinking, ‘Oh, this is kind of disappointing.’ When the real plan was revealed I think I even called [Weiss]. This was before we had met with George, when we were still trying to figure out if this show was possible. The culmination of that scene was one of those moments when we were like, ‘We got to make this f–king show.’ It was very gratifying seeing that wish fulfilled … I think it will be one of the most staggering things ever put on television.”

The sequence was filmed in Morocco last year over the course of three days by veteran TV producer-director Alex Graves, who guided Clarke and a large host of extras. “What it was like for Emilia as an actor probably mirrored somewhat what it was like for Daenerys,” Weiss said. “She’s got to march into this giant overwhelming situation and immediately grab it by the throat and take charge and kick ass with it.”

Though Dany’s dragons are purely digital creations, the producers chose to use a practical effect to accomplish a key shot where the villainous slaver Kraznys is blasted with dragon fire. “They shot this [stuntman] full in the face with a flame-thrower that was up on a pole; it was a shockingly powerful thing to watch, even as a stunt,” Weiss said.

For Clarke, the scene represents a major turning point. Since the show’s first episode, Dany has been struggling to find an army, to gain respect, to find allies and to simply survive. With this move, she finally becomes “the dragon queen.”

“Up until that moment, she’s relied on everybody else’s opinion to form her own because she didn’t know any better,” Clarke said. “She doesn’t have any experience to back up what she’s going to do, she just has her own gut. And everyone around her is assuming she will just give Drogon up — which is ridiculous for the mother of a child. It’s the biggest risk she’s ever taken in her entire life and there’s that moment of wondering whether the Unsullied are going to respect her. It’s the moment she becomes who she was always destined to be.”

The scene also suggests a direction for her character — a leader who fights not just to gain power for herself, but to free the oppressed. “There’s this gorgeous line in the book where Dany says, ‘Do you think I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be sold?’ because she was too,” Clarke said. “She is out there for the greater good.”

For more, read EW’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode 4 recap, “The Girl With the Dragon Snafu,” which includes a deep-dive on the unleashing scene.

Episode Recaps

Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

  • TV Show
  • 8
  • 73
  • TV-MA
  • David Benioff
  • D.B. Weiss
  • HBO
stream service