Ask a GoT Writer: Bryan Cogman on Stannis, the torturing of Theon and more

Ask a GoT Writer is back for round two! Once again, the indomitable Bryan Cogman is back to answer your questions. Bryan took a break from his busy schedule filming season 4 to provide answers to questions about the characterization of Stannis, the torturing of Theon, adapting future books, and about… indigo? Anyway, head past the jump for the answers!

Jonathan: As a fan of the show and books, I’ve noticed that the show really revels in having scenes that pair off certain characters and their relationships in ways that can’t be done in the books, especially with non-POV characters. The Robert and Cersei scene from season one, Arya and Tywin’s scenes, Varys and Olenna, all come to mind, along with many others. When making these scenes, do you just sort of think “what would happen if character A and character B had a conversation?” or is there more that goes into it? Also, are there any specific characters that you would personally be really interested in pairing off in one of these types of scenes, where you just set the two characters down in a scene together and sort of see what happens next (regardless of location, canon, and/or their respective states of being alive or dead)?

Bryan: It varies from scene to scene. In some cases, it’s “wouldn’t it be fun if these two got together?” and you get a scene like Bronn & The Hound in “Blackwater”. In Season One (as I’ve talked about before) it was more of out necessity — some of hte episodes were running short and we needed new scenes that could be relatively low cost and use our existing sets, so you got those two-handers like Robert/Cersei. But most of the time, from Season Two on, it has to do with new or adjusted story lines — for instance, the expanded King’s Landing marriage plot of Season Three which was adapted to heavily involve Varys, hence the scene he shared with Olenna. So it varies, but, yes, we do love doing it.

Bex: Was making Talisa’s intentions ambiguous (i.e. the Lannister honeypot theory) an intentional red herring, or merely a by-product of active fan imaginations?

Bryan: As far as I know: the latter. Though, watching it back, I totally see why people might have thought that.

Duncan: There has been criticism of Theon’s story arc this season, specifically the graphic torture scenes. As a book reader, I understand why this was done but, at the same time, found it difficult to watch. Can you give us insight into the thought-process that went into writing Theon’s scenes this season? Was it accepted that this arc would be uncomfortable (or perhaps a turn-off) for viewers?

Bryan: Yes, the idea behind the Theon subplot was to put the viewer in Theon’s POV — confusion, fear, disgust, horror… and yes, frustration, at the fact that he didn’t know where he was or who was torturing him. And, yes, the torture scenes were meant to provoke and make the viewer uncomfortable. But more importantly, they were meant to show how Theon is taken apart (physically and mentally) step by step. The subplot was also designed to introduce viewers to Ramsay Snow, who emerges as a major character. But, yeah, it’s rough to watch on purpose — we figured it wouldn’t be for everybody.

Cat of the Canals: The bath scene with Jaime and Brienne from Kissed by Fire was one of the best scenes of season 3, as the writer of the episode were you there during the shooting the scene and do you think that you got the desired result?

Bryan: Ah, thank you. Yes, I was there the night we shot and it’s probably the single best shoot day I’ve had on GAME OF THRONES thus far. It was a tricky scene to adapt — there’s a helluva lot going on and you want to keep the emotional thru-line clear while also conveying the exposition you need, so I was very gratified (though not at all surprised) to see it so well executed by Nikolaj, Gwen, and director Alex Graves. It was a very long night and a tough shoot (shooting in the water is technically quite challenging, etc) and I think everyone there was emotionally and physically spent by the end — Gwen and Nikolaj most of all, of course. But I couldn’t have been more thrilled with the result – I think it’s one of the landmark scenes of the show (as it is in the books).

Azad: Many speculated that the epilogue to ASoS would close out season 3, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Just curious to know if it was considered? Perhaps filmed and cut, saved for season 4?

Bryan: It wasn’t filmed. Afraid I can’t comment on storylines/characters that may or may not appear in future seasons.

Tim: Hey Bryan! In season 3, there seemed to be more episodes that focused on a smaller number of storylines, really developing those ones and giving them room to breathe – for example episodes 308 and 309. Was this a conscious decision and might this be a trend that could continue going forward?

Bryan: Yeah, it was a conscious choice and I think it’s safe to say you’ll see some more of those kinds of episodes going forward, but not necessarily every week. In the end, it’s dictated by the needs of the story. But I think there’s definitely less pressure than perhaps there was in Seasons One and Two to cram every major character and subplot into every episode.

Zish: Why has Daenerys STILL not named her dragons? Are they just going to stay unnamed?

Bryan: They’re named Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion on the show; that’s how they’re noted in the scripts. Hasn’t come up in dialogue yet, but they have their names.

TonyGen: How do you (and D&D) feel about the challenges of adapting AFFC/ADWD? While I love those books. It presents a lot of challenges as it introduces an assortment of new characters who take center stage in AFFC and some of the more established characters in the show are completely absent. In addition there are a lot less obvious plot climaxes. I feel it is must be a daunting and exciting challenge as it will really allow/force you guys to craft your own narrative in a way the first three books didn’t.

Bryan: Yes, it’s a tremendous challenge. Books four and five are much tougher to adapt for a variety of reasons, chief among them the staggering amount of new plot lines, characters and locations. There are dozens and dozens of major characters introduced in FfC and DwD; far too many for one TV series to contain. So a lot of hard choices will have to be made. The universe of the show will have to be different from the universe of the books in a lot of ways; it’s unavoidable. But it’ll be an exciting challenge going forward.

purplejilly: Is there anything you ever read in the comments from the fans here at that actually made you reconsider or change anything in an episode?

Bryan: With all due respect, no. Not that I have the power to do that anyway, as it’s not my show. But decisions are made for a reason and we stand by them.

Colin: As a huge fan of the show and books, the character I feel has suffered the most in adaptation is Stannis. Stannis of the books doesn’t strike me as an actual believer of The Lord of Light, using Mel as more a means to an end, and he certainly isn’t in love/obssessed with her like he seems to be on the show. Stannis on the show comes across more as a villain, and it’s harder to understand why Davos would remain so loyal to him. I certainly don’t see Stannis of the books throwing Davos in the dungeons. Was there an active decision to remove Stannis’ more likeable qualities to make him seem more like a villain on the show?

Bryan: Hm… well, okay, I’ll tackle these one by one.

1) “Stannis of the books doesn’t strike me as an actual believer of The Lord of Light”

I think show Stannis’ faith in the Lord of Light is an evolving thing – not black or white . I frankly don’t think that makes the character “suffer” in comparison to the book version but gives Stephen Dillane an interesting arc to play.

2) “he certainly isn’t in love/obsessed with her like he seems to be on the show.”

I’m not sure how you define “in love” but I would never say our Stannis is ‘in love’ with her either. Obsessed — well, there are plenty of clues in the books that Melisandre has an unnatural hold on him, particularly after the events of the Blackwater. We drew on those clues when crafting his Season 3 “addicted to/ withdrawal from Melisandre” arc. In any case, if you think book Stannis ain’t sleeping with Melisandre… well, you’re wrong!

3) ” Stannis on the show comes across more as a villain, and it’s harder to understand why Davos would remain so loyal to him.”

The Stannis of the books does plenty of unsavory things that might make one question Davos’ loyalty… but putting that aside for a moment, history is full of examples of good men following flawed leaders. Davos sees the good in Stannis, owes him a huge debt, believes he’s being pulled down a dangerous path by Melisandre, and is working hard to help him. That seems consistent with the book version, even if some details are different.

4) “I certainly don’t see Stannis of the books throwing Davos in the dungeons.”

You mean the Stannis of the books that chops off Davos’ fingers for smuggling, sanctions the ritual sacrifice of several people (and nearly sacrifices a child) and threatens Davos with execution? You don’t see him throwing Davos in a dungeon? Sure, he doesn’t do it in the book, but that’s because Melisandre sees Davos planning to kill her in the flames and does it herself. On the show, Davos openly tries to kill Melisandre in front of Stannis — so I don’t think it’s a stretch to think he would throw him in prison. And let’s not forget that Stannis, feeling guilty, releases Davos later in the season…

5) “Was there an active decision to remove Stannis’ more likeable qualities to make him seem more like a villain on the show?”

I personally don’t view characters in terms of whether or not they’re “likable”. We put them into (hopefully) interesting and dramatic situations, force them to make hard choices, watch them fail, watch them succeed, watch them make terrible mistakes, watch them learn from those mistakes (or not, in some cases). That’s drama. And you have to watch characters stumble if you want their triumphs to have any weight (season 2 Dany vs. season 3 Dany comes to mind).

But, look, in the end you and I might just view Stannis differently. I don’t think he’s a “villain” but he is a decidedly “grey” character, in the books and in the show. He ain’t Ned Stark.

FaBio: I would like to know your stance on the color indigo, please.

Bryan: Indigo? Uh… I don’t have an opinion about indigo. It’s fine, I guess? I mean, I don’t think I’d paint my house that color…