Game of Thrones cast and crew remember the burning of Shireen


The cast and crew of Game of Thrones reflect on the single most disturbing scene in the show’s history.

For my money, the most upsetting scene in Game of Thrones isn’t the Red Wedding, or Ned Stark’s execution, or Daenerys Targaryen torching innocent civilians in King’s Landing. No, the most disturbing, upsetting scene comes near the end of season 5, when Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), at the urging of the Red Woman Melisandre (Carice van Houten) burns his own daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) at the stake.

Violence against children is horrifying to begin with, but for it to come for sweet little Shireen at the hands of her own parents…I remember watching this scene with mouth agape, prying that someone would swoop in and stop it from happening. But no one did.

The idea to burn Shireen came from Melisandre, who thinks offering a sacrifice to her Red God will help Stannis get his army out of a snowstorm and on his way to winning the Iron Throne. “I thought, ‘This is the end of my sympathy point,'” Carice van Houten said in James Hibberd’s new Game of Thrones oral history book, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon. “I knew my days as a friendly character were over. I knew the audience was going to hate me from then on. They didn’t like me in the first place, but that was really pushing it, and rightfully so. But at the same time I thought it was so bold and cruel and epic, even though it was awful.”

People definitely hated Melisandre more than ever before after this, although ironically, it was also the beginning of a turnaround for her character. What makes the whole affair even more tragic is that it doesn’t work. The sacrifice stops the snowstorm, but Stannis and his men die in battle against the Boltons anyway, and his wife Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald) commits suicide. For the first time in the series, Melisandre actually shows regret for something, which gave her new depth. And after she brought Jon Snow back from the dead a couple episodes later, people were on a side in a way they weren’t before.

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO

Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth) got more sympathy from fans, although some had a bone to pick with him, too. “When I read the script, I thought, ‘You’ve got to be f**king kidding me,'” he recalled “But it’s genius dramatically. When Stannis tells Davos to [leave their camp for Castle Black], you know you’re not getting that information for a very f**king good reason. I’ve had shouts from people on the street, ‘Why didn’t you stay?!’ and I shout, ‘I tried!'”

And if reading the scene was disturbing, filming it was even worse…at least for the adults in the cast. “It was harder for the adults than it was for Kerry,” said writer Dave Hill. “She had bubbly kid energy. But [producer Bryan Cogman] refused to watch. He was like, ‘No, I have kids of my own. I cannot watch him burn a child.’ While Stephen [Dillane] was like, ‘This is pretty rough, guys, even for Game of Thrones.'”

You know the scene is intense when even the famously taciturn Dillane is weighing in.

But like Hill said, Kerry Ingram seemed to take it in stride, even though she was the one getting burned. “There’s an old saying in Hollywood,” Cunningham said, “‘Don’t work with children or animals.’ I found the opposite. Kids play for a living, that’s their job, and most of us, when we grow up, we put play to one side. Kids are experts at it. Kerry Ingram was incredibly impressive. She has this inner contentment about her, like an old soul. A lot of us aim for things. She’s not aiming. She walks on, and there’s just 100 percent truth when she speaks.”

David Nutter, who directed the episode, was also full of praise for the young actor, just one of many who gave smashing performances on Game of Thrones. “A lot of the screaming was ad-libbed,” he said. “When Shireen is screaming and crying for her mother, we got that on location [rather than looping it in later] to add the emotional resonance. When the mother finally realizes how awful this is, it’s so powerful.”

I’m glad Kerry Ingram was able to turn in such a powerhouse performance. I will now go back to trying not to think about this scene ever again.

Next. James Hibberd talks ‘Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon,’ season 8 criticism and more. dark

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h/t Looper