'Game of Thrones' writer talks Tyrion's heartbreaking trial
Warning: This post contains spoilers from Sunday’s Game of Thrones.
The writer of tonight’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones lends EW some fascinating insights below. Read as Bryan Cogman takes our burning questions about “The Laws of Gods and Men.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Braavos! That was one amazing shot of the city you guys opened with there.
Bryan Cogman: Yeah, that was really fun. The visual effects team outdid themselves again
The giant statue at the city’s entrance reminded me of the statues on the Great River at the border of Gondor in Fellowship of the Ring. Though of course the Thrones version has us going between the warrior’s legs, which seems more appropriate for this show.
Much more appropriate! It was one of those iconic sequences and a touch of [author] George R.R. Martin’s world that we wanted to get into the show. We weren’t originally planning on going to Braavos this season, but thought the Iron Bank had been teased enough and wanted to put a face on the entity this season. Also, when mapping out the season, we wanted to delve into what it takes to get a maintain and army — no other fantasy series gets into the financial side of things, which is something George does really well.
The Stannis storyline has been stuck with him fuming at his big table in Dragonstone for awhile. It must be fun to get him out and about again.
Absolutely. That was the idea. When we first broached the subject of bringing in the Iron Bank, for awhile the version was [Iron Bank representative Tycho Nestoris] would come to Dragonstone and meet on Stannis’ turf. It just seemed like whenever we can open up this world and give the audience something new visually and take characters out of their comfort zone, the better. We thought it would be more dramatic and interesting to put Stannis in the position of having to go ask for a loan. It’s a humiliating situation. The Stannis storyline is certainly more of a slow burn, but it will pay off.
My impression of Stannis is that he would be a very just king, but would also be terrible at the job because has zero social game. How can you rule without any understanding other people’s needs and motivations?
That’s a valid question. He’s learning, though. This was a teachable episode for him and another reason why he keeps Davos around even though they don’t see eye to eye and Davos commits what Stannis sees as a little treason now and then. Davos helps him face these hard truths and through Davos he’s slowly learning some lessons. Here he has to swallow his pride. It was great fun having [actors] Liam Cunningham, Stephen Dillane and Mark Gatiss all on the set in the same scene. They have very different personas and different ways of working and it was great to see them bounce off each other.
This is Gattis’ one appearance this season. Will he be back?
I cannot confirm or deny future appearance. But I personally would love to see him again and the Iron Bank is an important part of this world.
We spoke of that great opening CGI shot earlier. We also got a dragon scene. It might be the best shot we’ve had of one on the show. Yet the dragons have been pretty off screen since the premiere, can you talk about the strategy in terms of how you’re using them this season?
The idea with those fantasy elements is it’s very important they be kept on the periphery as much as possible, so when they’re on screen they really pack a punch … [The idea] was to have a dragon rise up out of the gorge like a helicopter. That scene was meant to be a very big dramatic re-entry of the [dragon] character and serve as a way to visually and thematically tie into Dany’s [storyline in Meereen]. She’s an out-of-this-world character and she’s ventured into a culture that’s existed for thousands of years and now those two elements are bumping against each other. The other element is we’re seeing is the dragons are entering their adolescence and becoming their own thing and not tethered to their mother. They’ve grown exponentially in ferocity and size.
The dragons weren’t mentioned during Dany’s dissuasion of whether to invade Westeros last week. It’s pretty unclear to me — apart from realizing her dragons are getting more independent — how much control she has over them. Could she even use them to invade Westeros if she wanted to? Does she actually control them?
I think that’s a good observation. She has these things, they’re an incredible symbol of her power and her specialness. But they’re currently not under her absolute control. I don’t know how effective they would be in her invasion. I think she quite rightly has concluded not all the pieces are there yet.
You guys have done a good job of contextualizing her stay in Meereen as a proactive choice for the specific goal to learn how to lead, rather than the way she kind of sidled into that position in the books
Yeah, I think Dany asked a very important question: I have a right to be a ruler, but I don’t know how to be one yet. I need to go into this next step with a real track record. The [Slaver’s Bay storyline] been an amazing thread to explore — it’s a “you broke it, you bought it” situation. Which is a situation we’ve found ourselves in many times throughout history.
There were also cute goats in that dragon scene, but I don’t think they’ll be any consolation for fans still longing for more Ser Pounce. Were you surprised by the intense online reaction to that cameo, and what are the odds of him returning next season since we know he’s not back this year?
I won’t lie, I was surprised. I knew he had a big of a fan following but I was not prepared for that level [of interest]. It’s great, but as usual I wasn’t thinking that we gotta get Ser Pounce in there. I was faced with this scene with Margaery and Tommen and what are they going to talk about to keep it from just being a creep-fest. Ned Stark is a character who is mentioned in nearly every episode since his death. and I daresay Joffrey will have the same kind of impact moving forward. So adding Ser Pounce was a way to bring up the difference between Tommen and Joffrey. I should say the cat was a nightmare to work with. You’ll notice you don’t actually see a wide shot of him jumping on the bed because we could never get it.
Does the online reaction increase the odds of his return?
That’s not up to me. We’ll see. No promises.
In another recent episode we also had the White Walker scene with Craster’s baby. That was a rather huge reveal at a time we least expected it, and some pointed to a seeming mistake in the online marketing that revealed the identity of that lead Walker.
I cant really comment on what it is or who that is. I will say certainly of the placement was born from the idea that we have this threat we’ve been teasing since the first scene of the first episode. The White Walker story is arguably the slowest burn we have. We’re in the fourth season, you want to feel like you’re servicing that and peeling the curtain back a little.
The scene with Theon was brutal, as they tend to be. To deny his own name when his sister came to rescue him… and Ramsay is emerging as a big new villain in the absence of Joffrey.
Ramsay is certainly emerging as the most hateful character on the show, but it’s all coming down to daddy issues. We wanted to tease this rescue mission, but these things can go to hell really quickly if the person doesn’t want to be rescued.
Then he gets in the tub and just knows Ramsay is going to do something horrible, and of course he does — messing with his mind once again, to get him to “pretend” to be Theon now that he’s accepted his Reek identity.
The physical torture is now largely complete. Now it’s the psychological trauma and we’re starting to get an idea of what this is all for and how he can be of use to Ramsay. It’s all the more creepy to watch Ramsay be kind to him.
NEXT: All about Tyrion’s trial
The bulk of the episode was the trial, which feels like this year’s Emmy submission episode for Peter Dinklage. You got to do Thrones versions of two TV procedural drama staples this season — the courtroom drama and a murder mystery.
The writing of that scene is the most fun I have had writing anything. I love the courtroom drama as a thing. It was a lot of fun playing with the tropes of a courtroom drama without making it into Law & Order: Westeros. It was a tricky balance, and I know in my first draft I went too far — I never had the line, “Objection your honor!” but I might as well have. At one point, I had a stenographer in a corner with a quill and paper. That said, it was a lot of fun. If you look at the Jaime and Tywin scene, it’s not unlike a counselor meeting with the judge during court recess. I have enormous respect for Law & Order doing it all these years — the technical aspects of shooting those scenes with all those people reacting, it was exhausting to shoot. We shot it over four days. Sitting that long and reacting silently while staying focused on what’s happening for hours on end is very tiring; almost as tiring as shooting in the rain.
For Tyrion it’s like this nightmarish mix of everything he ever said against Joffrey and just enough outright lies to condemn him.
[Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] gave me notes before I wrote the scene and they were adamant that the testimony that you hear is essentially true. Almost everything they say is verbatim what Tyrion actually said and did, but just in the most damning context. Even Shae, most of what she says is basically true. Also the background actors — who did a great job — were huge part of the momentum of that scene and are what help drive Tyrion to his breakdown. The other big layer, and heart of the scene, which director Alik Sakharov really keyed on as well, is this is really a Lannister family drama between Tywin, Jaime, Cersei and Tyrion that is entirely wordless. It’s all in the looks between the four of them. It’s also no accident that “Rains of Castamere” is the last music cue you hear — this is the Lannister family drama finally boiling over. The trick was tracking those relationships under the surface of the courtroom theatrics. And another thing: This is the first Thrones episode in our entire run that doesn’t feature a Stark. It illustrates that the principal family of the show, in a way, has become the Lannisters.
Dinklage was particularly heartbreaking. When he tells Shae, “Please, don’t,” you know he’s not doing that to try and save his head. He’s saying that only to prevent his heart from being broken before he’s executed.
That’s exactly right. He knew his head was gone anyway. He knew it the minute the trial started. It’s a nice surprise when Jaime comes in and offers a glimmer of hope, then it all comes crashing down. You’re right, it’s not about him anymore, it’s about them. Also, he loved a woman as a kid and that was screwed up by his family, and now it’s happening all over again.
The scene with Jaime and Tywin. We get the feeling Tywin was waiting for Jaime to make the offer to resign from the Kingsguard to save Tyrion, and maybe even some of what is going on with the trial was all for that very purpose. Is that a valid read?
Exactly. That’s exactly what that moment is meant to do — for you to question every moment that happened leading up to it. Is Tywin really that good? How much of this has he manipulated? It’s no accident he instantly says, “Done.” Tywin knows his kids really well, he knows where their loyalties are. Tywin is solving problems he’s had for many years with this situation. And Jaime knows his father well enough to know exactly what just happened. The idea for that scene came from Dave Hill, who is Dan and David’s assistant, and is joining the writing staff for season five.
Does Tywin think Tyrion is guilty?
Deliberately kept it ambiguous. I have my own opinion, I’m sure [actor Charles Dance] has his … but it’s not for me to say.
I wondered in the recap last week: Even Tywin figured out the Tyrells killed Joffrey, would it really change anything about the way he treats them or his plans?
That is a fascinating question! I’ve never thought about that. Maybe he wouldn’t. It’s certainly in his best interest to keep things how they are. Even if he had first-hand knowledge, I’m not so sure she would have done anything. What a bastard!
We get the feeling that Tyrion would have gone along with Jaime’s plan if it wasn’t for the low blow of putting Shae on the witness stand. I assume his motivation to demand trial by combat is that he rather take a chance on winning his freedom than do anything to cooperate with his father’s plans — which he figures would probably screw him over anyway.
I think that’s right. It’s not so much that she lies about Sansa and him planning [to kill Joffrey]. He knows they got to her. It’s when she starts using their personal connection with each other and the moments they shared. She didn’t need to do that. It’s that, and the crowd behind him laughing at him.
And in his outburst, he inadvertently acts like how they all assume he is — this vengeful person.
Yeah. Finally after years of being laughed at and abused and beaten down by almost everybody in his life, Tyrion would rather go out armed with a sword and be brutally murdered than give into his father one more inch. Then the final shot is father and son staring each other down.
Can you tease up what to expect next week?
I’m stealing question that from Dalton’s weekly Jeff Probst interviews for Survivor. Seems to work for him.
I would just say it’s the aftermath of what you’ve just seen. Tywin’s plans, for once, were foiled, and now Tyrion has to deal with this rather rash decision he made. You’re going to see how that plays out. Also, expect the appearance of characters who you did not see this episode. That’s something we’re trying to do more this year too — less cutting back and forth to a lot of places. Do more quality vs. quantity.
I’ve heard the final three episodes are pretty amazing.
Yeah. It’s relentless from now on. There’s no going back now for a lot of these characters. The rest of the season is based on the last third of A Storm of Swords so it’s one big climax.
Game of Thrones
HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'