Major spoilers follow for episode ten of Game of Thrones. Do not read on if you have not seen it.
Just when you thought that one major character death in an episode was bad enough, Game of Thrones' blood-soaked finale goes ahead and gives us not one, not two, not three but four key characters who we will never see again.
The Children, the final episode of series four, ended with the shocking murders of both Shae and Lannister patriarch Tywin by respective former lover and son Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Freed from prison by brother Jaime, Tyrion delayed freedom to instead go on a streak of revenge: with him strangling Sibel Kekilli's Shae after finding her in his father's bed and then going on to shoot Charles Dance's Tywin with a crossbow while he was on the toilet.
Speaking about his on-screen death, Dance revealed that he had not read George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books and only found out about his character's demise when a fan told him.
“Someone in the street came up and said, ‘You got this great death scene,’” he says. “And I said, ‘Have I? What was the manner of my death?’ And then he told me, and I said, ‘Oh, right!’ So then I went into a bookshop and a grabbed a book and I said, ‘Oh, I see.’ It’s quite spectacular.”
Going on to talk about his character's relationship with his son, Dance told Entertainment Weekly that: “As far as Tywin is concerned, [Tyrion] is the one area he’s failed in because in 15th, 16th century in Europe, any imperfection — whether it’s dwarfism, blindness, a child born unperfected — ideally, you smother them, get rid of them, put them in a bucket or anything. He let Tyrion live, to his astonishment, and Tyrion is the brightest of his three children, the wittiest, and the cleverest. Those are the qualities that he would admire if he weren’t a dwarf, but the fact that he’s a dwarf is a continual reminder of his failure. So as long as he’s alive he’s going to treat him like sh*t. It’s horrible.”
“I’m not one of these actors that tries to find the good in a character,” Dance added. “If a character is a sh*t, he’s a sh*t, and you play him full on as a sh*t – don’t try and make him nice, you play him full on."
As for Shae, Sibel Kekilli explained to The Hollywood Reporter that her and Peter Dinklage did not rehearse much for their vital scene.
"You can't rehearse stuff like the death scene too much because it was really emotional," she says. "If you rehearse too much, it makes it less powerful. He's crying when he kills me, so I don't think you can be that emotional when you rehearse. One day before we shot it, [showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff], Peter and I had dinner. We talked a bit about the scene and enjoyed my last day there."
Given the murky nature of Tyrion's motivations for killing her, Kekilli also insists that Shae is not a victim, saying: "For me, calling her a victim would mean she was weak. She was low-born. She had a hard life. She had to learn how to stay alive. She was a victim of the system maybe, of life circumstances, but she was also a really strong woman."
The other major death of the episode was that of Bran's companion Jojen Reed, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, at the hands of some nasty skeleton wights. Beyond being stabbed repeatedly, what was also shocking about Reed's end is that it is not in the books. Writers DB Weiss and David Benioff explained the decision as one of plausibility.
"Jojen is a bit like John the Baptist," they said. "He’s there to make sure a person of cosmic importance ends up where he belongs. Once Bran gets to the Three-Eyed Raven, he has served his greater purpose. It felt right to have him sacrifice himself to get Bran to his destination. Also, there are lot of wights in that frozen field. It seemed pretty unlikely they wouldn’t score at least once."
The fourth death is one that many viewers may not even be sure is a death at all: that of the Hound. Mortally wounded after his fight with Brienne of Tarth, the warrior begs Arya Stark, his captive/companion, to kill him before she silently refuses and walks off into the distance – leaving him to suffer and die. If you are holding out hope for a return of the sweary chicken-lover, however, then you're going to be disappointed. According to director Alex Graves in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the scene is not intended to be ambiguous.
“The Hound, as I told the story … he’s gone," he said. "How is he going to survive that? The real point of it was that [Arya] walks away, it wasn’t that it’s left open ended.”
Game of Thrones series five, which the showrunners say they are "terrified" of, will undoubtedly return with more deaths next year.