Season 5 Finale Posting Spree, Part 5: “Do you have any last words?”

If you’ve been reading my blog, or even just the Game of Thrones posts, for the last few months, you knew this one was coming, yes? This is the part where I obsess over Brienne and what exactly she’s trying to accomplish. I seem to be good at that.

ETA, 6/17/15: Oops.


I wasn’t amused last night when we saw Brienne show up in front of wounded Stannis. I still wasn’t amused this morning. I wasn’t convinced that she had actually killed him, and I’m even less convinced now, but I was still annoyed at her for having wasted valuable time by going after him at all. I thought: What the fuck is wrong with you, Brienne? Sansa needs you! Podrick needs you! Jaime’s depending on you! Revenge-killing is beneath you! Get your tall, armored ass out to the Broken Tower!

Well. This morning, EW ran an interview with Gwendoline Christie, in which she explains Brienne’s motivations in that encounter. It goes a long way in answering my questions.

Ms. Christie tells us about her character’s motivation:

What was she thinking when she abandons her watch for Sansa?
Brienne is depressed about the situation she’s in. She hasn’t been able to achieve what she’s wanted. Arya slipped through her fingers and she just went through the fight of her life. The notion of the oath comes up again and again and she remains resolute. A lot of her personal needs remain unacknowledged. She puts all of her life’s focus on the greater good. What occurs is something very interesting. There’s an exploration of this character as a person—she’s dedicated to the greater good, not acknowledging her personal wants and needs in favor of something better than her. [Going after Stannis is] the one moment she responds to her emotional world and her feelings. She’s overtaken by something that we haven’t seen before. She chooses not to stand vigilant and to go and seek Stannis. In the script it says, “a darkness comes over her,” in that way it does when you’re hell-bent on something.

The interviewer’s language implies that Stannis is most certainly dead and Brienne is the one who killed him, but Ms. Christie doesn’t say so in as many words. She answers the question of why Brienne goes after Stannis, and I think it’s a good answer. I can’t really be annoyed with the big swordswench now that her actions have been put in those terms.

She hasn’t been looking after her own needs, and her mental health has suffered accordingly. I can definitely see how she hasn’t acknowledged her personal wants and needs. She has a helpful squire, but that relationship demands that Brienne be the responsible one. Anything that happens to Podrick is on her head, so certain boundaries must be maintained. In the meantime, who’s looking after her? She stands out there in the cold for hours at a time, watching the window in the broken tower, and that can’t possibly be good for her mental health. She’s from the Stormlands, which is south of King’s Landing, and it could be the Northern climate doesn’t agree with her. It’s no fun to be covered in heavy, inflexible armor all day, every day. She needs sunshine and connection that she’s not getting. Connection has always been a challenge for her, due to Westerosi society having no idea what to do with a big, strong woman who’s better at swinging a sword than most men, but she still needs someone to be her friend.

The truth is that being a good sworn sword, to someone who hasn’t even accepted your services, is really freaking hard, and the stress of that process eventually causes Brienne to do something counter-productive. It’s not Sansa’s fault; even if she’d accepted Brienne’s protection back in Episode 2, Littlefinger would have retaliated. Everyone’s been doing the best they can in the circumstances, but Brienne could only put herself through so much of that shit before she began to sabotage herself.

Something that made me feel a bit better last night was the post-episode commentary with the creators. I wrote a transcript of the part where they talk about Brienne’s encounter with Stannis. Yeah, I wrote a transcript, because I am exactly the sort of nerd who will stay up past her bedtime on Sunday night, frantically typing into Evernote.

Dan: “Stannis did the worst thing a person can possible do, in the world. And when he realizes that it was all for nothing, I think he’s probably ready to be done at this point, I think in a way, Brienne showing up to kill him was almost, like a welcome relief.”
We see Brienne introducing herself to Stannis: “I was Kingsguard to Renly Baratheon. You murdered him? With blood magic?”
Stannis: “I did.”
David: “She’s known in her heart of hearts that it was Stannis, that she saw Stannis’s face on the shadow, but no one else believed her. And a lot of people thought she was complicit in the murder of Renly Baratheon, so this is a great weight off her shoulder, to finally corner him. I think, in the final moment, though, it’s not a relief, because, she was expecting this monster, and what she finds is Stannis, who has certain monstrous qualities, I mean he’s a man who’s willing to sacrifice his own daughter, but he also, has certain, very human qualities, and one of them is bravery, he’s not gonna go out whimpering…”
Brienne unsheathes Oathkeeper: “Do you have any last words?”
Stannis: “Go on, do your duty.”
David: “He’s telling Brienne: ‘do your job, like I get it, you’ve got every right to do what you’re about to do.’ He probably has a number of regrets, but, he’s not going to share them with this stranger. And, ‘don’t expect me to beg for mercy, or to open up my soul to you, or anything, because that’s not gonna happen. It’s over, I get it, get on with it.'”
And there’s the stroke: Brienne lifts Oathkeeper, swings it in Stannis’s direction. We don’t see where the stroke lands.

That’s some rather ambiguous language on Mr. Benioff’s part. The encounter isn’t such a relief for Brienne, because Stannis is not the monster she expected. Even when he’s wounded and exhausted, he’s still brave and honest. The relief for her is in meeting someone else who knows the truth about Renly’s death. She and Catelyn were the only witnesses when the shadow came in, and now Catelyn’s gone. There are still some people around Westeros who think Brienne was Renly’s murderer (though thankfully not the Tyrells), and it’s a real weight off her shoulders to hear Stannis confess. It’s not such a relief to swing the sword at him, though. She’s a big, healthy, fully mobile, well-armed fighter attacking an already-broken man. As Jaime said to Tywin in Season 1, regarding his street brawl with Ned Stark: “It wouldn’t have been clean.”

That conversation, ending with that sword swing, is the last we see of either Stannis or Brienne for the rest of the episode. We see the beginning of the sword swing, but not the conclusion. Now I’ll share a bit of an interview at EW with Dan B. Weiss last night, regarding character deaths on Game of Thrones:

But as for HBO’s hit series, the team is taking the public stance that Jon is dead. Harington was pretty firm about it in our interview. Weiss noted that when filming a show or movie, the ambiguity of Martin’s final Dance with Dragons chapter is tougher to pull off. A producer typically has to clearly commit to a character’s fate, one way or the other, and here it seems Thrones has embraced the idea Jon is dead.

“In a book, you can present that kind of ambiguity,” Weiss said. “In a show, everybody sees it for what it is. It’s that rule: ‘If don’t see the body then they’re not really dead.’ Like when we cut Ned’s head off, we didn’t want a gory Monty Python geyser of blood, but we needed to see the blade enter his neck and cut out on the frame where the blade was mid-neck—it was longest discussion ever of where to cut a frame; two hours of talking about whether to cut at frame six or frame seven or frame eight. And that’s all by way of saying we needed Ned’s death to be totally unambiguous. I remember reading the book and going back and forth, like, ‘Did I miss something? Was [Ned] swapped out for somebody else?’ There’s a level of ambiguity because you’re not seeing something starkly represented. In the book, you can write around things to preserve a certain level of mystery that you have to commit to on screen.”

“If you don’t see the body then they’re not really dead,” he says. It’s a rule of making TV, he says. Deaths must be unambiguous.

We never saw the dead body of Stannis Baratheon last night. We didn’t even see a proximate cause of death.

I’m feeling somewhat better now, about certain predictions/analyses I made regarding Brienne earlier this season. I’m not really a fan of cliffhangers, but in this case, I can live with the ambiguity.

ADDENDUM, 6/17/15: David Nutter spoke with Variety, and he says Stannis is really dead. And I quote:

There’s also speculation about whether Stannis is truly dead. We didn’t see Brienne deliver that final, fatal blow.

I think that was basically in the script. Dan and David felt it best not to be gratuitous with that. You really got a sense that Stannis had nothing else to live for. Brienne’s life-long mission had come to an end. It’s a situation in which Stannis was ready to die and prepared to die. It would have been gratuitous.

So…I guess the rule is…deaths must be unambiguous, which means the body must be shown, except for when it would be gratuitous to do so.

We can see Arya poking out Meryn Trant’s eyes and slitting his throat, but it would be “gratuitous” to give us a shot of Stannis Baratheon’s decapitated body?

I’d hardly call it her “life-long mission” to kill Stannis. I don’t think even a year has passed for the characters since Renly died. I still think revenge-killing is beneath Brienne, but she went and did her revenge-killing. He wanted a quick death, and she made it quick. I’ll give her that much.

But, anyway. I oopsed this one. Best-laid arguments of Monsters and men! See what I mean about letting “should” lead you ahead of “will”?