This season’s fifth episode, “Kissed by Fire,” was penned by Executive Story Editor and writer Bryan Cogman. Wondering why things happen when they do in the season? In an interview with HBO.com, Cogman explains how scenes are mapped out, his take on Jaime’s turning point, and who he thinks is the richest family in Westeros. Photo: Riley Stearns
HBO: How did you come to tackle 305? Are there any benefits or drawbacks to writing the midseason episode?
BRYAN COGMAN: Well, the benefit was certainly that, at this point in the season, the storylines are really cooking and I had several juicy scenes to play with. And, of course, it's 'Game of Thrones,' so we're still introducing new characters (Selyse and Shireen Baratheon) so it had a little bit of everything. I suppose the biggest challenge was that I was writing it without having the benefit of seeing 303 or 304 (I think I had seen drafts of 301 and 302) so it's kind of difficult building on arcs that haven't been written yet, but we even all that out in the revision process.
HBO: A lot moves forward in this episode-Jon's oath-breaking, the execution of Rickard Karstark, the Hound's trial by combat, the introduction of Selyse and Shireen, Jaime's Kingslayer revelation... how do you decide what comes to a head in each of the episodes?
BRYAN COGMAN: It's all carefully laid out by the David [Benioff], Dan [Weiss], Vanessa [Taylor] and myself in the writers' room. No real rules about it-we map out the individual arcs first and then piece everything together in a way that (we hope) makes sense. But the scene order changes throughout production, often even in post-production.
HBO: To what extent do you take the source material into consideration?
BRYAN COGMAN: Well, the source material is always our jumping off point. After that, it varies from scene to scene. Sometimes a scene will hew very close to the source (the Beric/Hound trial by combat), sometimes a scene will be brand new but be drawn from hints and clues in the text (the Stannis/Selyse scene), sometimes a scene will be a variation on a similar scene from the book but contain new elements or changes (the final scene with Cersei/Tywin/Tyrion is one section of a longer Small Council scene in the book).
HBO: Do you have a favorite moment or scene from this episode?
BRYAN COGMAN: Very hard to choose! I'll pick two, if I may. I love the Jaime/Brienne bath house scene. It was one of my favorite moments in the books; classic George R.R. Martin. He peels back the layers of a character who started the story as a villain and makes you see him as a vulnerable human being. It's a very long monologue in the book that was a challenge to adapt, but great fun. It's a major turning point for Jaime, to be this vulnerable and open and raw with someone other than Cersei. And I think it's the first time he's told ANYONE what really happened during the sack of King's Landing-that includes Tyrion and Cersei.
The other scenes I'm particularly proud of are the trio of Dragonstone scenes. We didn't have room for Selyse and Shireen Baratheon in Season 2, so I was excited to get to introduce them here... the dysfunctional family Stannis keeps hidden away and largely avoids. Stannis isn't a POV character in the book, so these scenes were born largely from my own imagination (though based on clues and hints from the books) and I couldn't have been happier with the performances and how director Alex Graves interpreted the scenes. I particularly love the Shireen/Davos scene as it's one of the few scenes in our show that revolves around an act of kindness and generosity.
HBO: Speaking of kids, it was a bad week for Arya. How much darkness can one child experience?
BRYAN COGMAN: Oh, quite a lot actually! We're just mid-way through Season 3!
HBO: And Sansa? Littlefinger is a man of many motives; what was most important for you to convey in his scene with her?
BRYAN COGMAN: Well, in this particular scene it's about Littlefinger sussing out what Sansa knows. When last they talked, she was ready to hightail it out of King's Landing. Littlefinger wants to see if Sansa is now firmly with the Tyrells. Of course, Sansa's actions in this scene, telling Littlefinger she doesn't want to leave the capital anymore, confirms this suspicion.
HBO: Is she at all aware that she's a pawn in this game?
BRYAN COGMAN: I don't know how aware she is yet. Sansa had become very hardened and mistrusting by the end of Season 2 and just when she thought chivalry was dead and she had no friends left in the world, in sweep the Tyrells who are essentially promising to make her dreams come true and are very convincing about it. Sansa has been so miserable for so long, and the Tyrells represent the life she's always dreamed of having... I don't think it has occurred to her that they MIGHT be using her.
HBO: Which Stark kid do you worry about the most?
BRYAN COGMAN: Oh, all of them! We're a long, long way from their happy life at Winterfell.
HBO: Which character do you admire the most?
BRYAN COGMAN: Hmmm... Brienne's up there. She's got a good heart, a strict moral code, an unwavering loyalty. She's made herself into the person she wants to be regardless of what Westerosi society expects of her. And she's able to recognize the humanity in Jaime, when no one else in the world would.
HBO: Which character, or being, scares you the most?
BRYAN COGMAN: Tywin. The way he can manipulate, frighten his children. The Lannister kids normally have the upper hand in their scenes, but not when they're talking to their daddy. He's the biggest force to be reckoned with this season—arguably scarier than any White Walker.
HBO: Do you have a favorite prop?
BRYAN COGMAN: Oh, yeah, it's that trio of dead babies-Stannis and Selyse's stillborn sons, preserved forever in those glass jars. We haven't stated this explicitly on the show, but it was Selyse who first brought Melisandre (and thus, the Lord of Light) to Dragonstone in the first place. We wanted to explore why Selyse might have turned to this obscure (in Westeros) religion; why she would have rejected the Seven Gods she was brought up with. The idea that she was dealing with the painful grief of losing baby after baby after baby was interesting to explore. She's so consumed by this grief (and guilt) at having lost these sons it made her ripe for Melisandre to seek her out and sway her to the Lord of Light, before moving in on Stannis, whom Melisandre believes to be a messiah figure of sorts.
Anyway, I remember reading about a mother who had the hands of her stillborn baby bronzed and kept them on her mantle. That must have been somewhere in the back of my mind, because I woke up one morning thinking about 'GoT' (as I too often do), turned over to my wife and told her about the idea of the three preserved stillborn babies. "Is it too crazy?" I asked. My wife wisely said, "Just write it. They'll probably cut it, but you might as well go for it." So I did... and they didn't cut it!
It was a proud day for me as a writer when I walked on set and saw those magnificently nasty prop dead babies floating in those jars.
HBO: Given the story's distinct locations, in what region would you most want to live?
BRYAN COGMAN: Probably the Reach, right? Seems like the nicest spot.
HBO: Direwolves, eagles, ravens... What animal would you most want to warg into?
BRYAN COGMAN: Uh... I don't think I'd want to warg into anything. I have enough trouble living in my own skin.
HBO: Ilyn Payne, Varys, and Jaime have each lost a part of themselves for some reason or another. What body part would you least want to lose?
BRYAN COGMAN: I'll say my tongue. I like to talk. But... uh... I hope I never have to actually deal with this question.
HBO: Can you settle the debate? Who's richer—the Tyrells or the Lannisters?
BRYAN COGMAN: The Lannisters. But they should watch their backs. The Tyrells are "growing strong." See what I did there?
HBO: Last question! Finish this sentence: The night is dark and full of ___________.
BRYAN COGMAN: TERRORS. You think I'm gonna let the Lord of Light hear me say otherwise?