‘Game of Thrones’ director Alex Graves: Season 4 finale, Tyrion’s revenge

June 16, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
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Arya (Maisie Williams) and the Hound (Rory McCann) meet some unexpected travelers. (Helen Sloan/HBO)

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Meera (Ellie Kendrick), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn) on their way to the sacred tree. (Helen Sloan/HBO)

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A scene from "The Watchers on the Wall," the ninth episode of Season 4 of HBO's "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan/HBO)

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A scene from "The Watchers on the Wall," the ninth episode of Season 4 of HBO's "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan/HBO)

760005 got 409 cut l pub 04 01 Game of Thrones director Alex Graves: Season 4 finale, Tyrions revenge

A scene from "The Watchers on the Wall," the ninth episode of Season 4 of HBO's "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan/HBO)

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Rose Leslie as Ygritte and Kit Harington as Jon Snow in HBO's "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan/HBO)

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Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) and the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) in battle. (Macall B. Polay / HBO)

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Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) speaks harshly to her once-trusted adviser Jorah (Iain Glen) while Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) looks on. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) rewards his bastard son Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) sits on the Iron Throne as judge at Tyrion's trial. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) advises his brother (Peter Dinklage). (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) is crowned king by the High Septon (Paul Bentley). (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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Arya (Maisie Williams) shows the Hound (Rory McCann) her sword-fighting moves. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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The lead mutineer (Burn Gorman) threatens Bran's friends (Ellie Kendrick and Thomas Brodie-Sangster). (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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The Lannisters pay their respects to the fallen King Joffrey. With Lena Headey, Dean-Charles Chapman, Jack Gleeson and Charles Dance. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) to the supposed rescue of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). (Helen Sloan / HBO)

759999 got403 101113 hs dsc846411 Game of Thrones director Alex Graves: Season 4 finale, Tyrions revenge

Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) gives Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) a lesson on his power. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

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Natalie Dormer in Sunday's episode of "Game of Thrones," "The Lion and the Rose," written by George R.R. Martin.

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Natalie Dormer and Gwendoline Christie in a scene from "Game of Thrones." (Macall B. Polay / HBO)

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Jacob Anderson and Nathalie Emmanuel in a scene from "Game of Thrones." (Macall B. Polay / HBO)

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Michiel Huisman, Nathalie Emmanuel and Emilia Clarke in a scene from "Game of Thrones." (Macall B. Polay / HBO)

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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage in a scene from "Game of Thrones." (Neil Davidson / HBO)

“Game of Thrones” has long warned us that all men must die – but they never said all lions.

(Here be spoilers: If you haven’t watched last night’s season finale, “The Children,” please bookmark this post for later.)

Adapted from the bestselling novels of George R.R. Martin, HBO’s sprawling drama, the most watched in the cable network’s history, is known for ending seasons on a shocking note, and last night’s cap-off to Season 4 was no different. The silver-tongued Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) finally escapes death — but not without paying a price.

Ever since Joffrey’s wedding, where Tyrion was blamed for the poisoning of his psychotic nephew-king, the Master of Coin has been heading for a beheading. But in the 11th hour, he escapes from prison with the help of his brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

Not content to leave things be, Tyrion wants to have one last conversation with his father so he heads back to King’s Landing, where he discovers the ultimate betrayal.

His father Tywin (Charles Dance), who had always shamed his dwarf son for falling in love with prostitutes, has just bedded Tyrion’s vengeful ex-lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Tyrion snaps and murders them both, marking a shift in his personality from victim who uses cunning and charm to get out of jams to a man who spills blood when pushed to his limits.

QUIZ: Test your ‘Thrones’ knowledge

To gain more insight into Tyrion’s mind set, Hero Complex spoke to Alex Graves, the director of “The Children” as well as some of the most attention-grabbing episodes of the season, about the challenges of filming Tyrion’s revenge, and other twists in the finale.

Hero Complex: Compared with the other shocking endings or penultimate episodes of “Game of Thrones,” where does “The Children” sit on the shocker scale? Does it compare?

Alex Graves: I would say equal or larger. The finale is a turning point in the middle of the books. It’s a tectonic shift in the way things are set up. Things will never be the same after this, and that means everywhere. In its own way, it’s an episode where all the worlds of the show intersect. Not through one event exactly, but through things needing to change. It is the biggest game-changer of the entire show so far, not just on the physical scale, but in terms of the narrative and what happens with the characters.

HC: You’ve directed the most talked-about episodes of the season – “The Lion and the Rose,” a.k.a. The Purple Wedding, and “Breaker of Chains.” When you have these major plot points in the episode you’re directing, what’s the biggest priority for you as a director in shooting those scenes?

AG: The biggest priority is always this: Are you telling the right story in terms of what happens before and what’s going to happen after? It’s like you’re making an hour movie out of a 10-hour sweep. People say there’s so much killing, but it’s all story. All of the killings always lead to a new beginning of some sort. “Game of Thrones” is the broadest of narratives. I don’t know if anyone in the U.S. has done a story on such a large scale before, both in terms of what George R.R. Martin wrote and what’s on the show. [Executive producers] David [Benioff] and [D.B. Weiss'] adaptation takes my breath away, to sound like a stalker geek for a moment.

Shae (Sibel Kekilli) takes the stand to testify. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Shae (Sibel Kekilli) takes the stand to testify. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

HC: Ever since the Purple Wedding, Tyrion has been something like a dead man walking. How does his fate change in the finale?

AG: He’s supposed to die and he doesn’t. Instead, he’s set free by Jaime, and he has a chance to escape, but for reasons that only Tyrion knows, he has to do one or two things before he leaves. Jamie leaves and Tyrion wants to have one last talk with his father. He goes to his father’s room and sees Shae alone in the bed and Tywin in the bathroom. Let’s just say that none of this is good.  The one way that Tywin doesn’t want to die is on the toilet — but that’s how he goes. By the time the episode ends, Tyrion and Lord Varys are on a boat leaving Westeros forever.

HC: Since this is Tywin we’re talking about, it’s safe to say that he sleeps with Shae out of pure spite. 

AG: Yeah, Tywin’s first, second and third mode is spite. There’s obviously an enormous amount of sexual frustration underneath his character, but it’s just so petty, what he does. I shot it very specifically from Tyrion’s point of view so that there’s the shock of suddenly seeing Shae there. It’s some of the darkest material on the show; the only thing darker than the Red Wedding, that is. It’s the kind of pathetic turn of events that shows how far things have declined in this world.

HC: Shae has now betrayed Tyrion in two different ways — by testifying against him, and sleeping with Tywin. How hard was this scene to shoot?

AG: Whatever he was going to say to Shae, he was psychologically unprepared for her to be in bed with his father. It’s too much for both of them, frankly. It was the hardest scene to shoot in the whole season. [Benioff and Weiss] have been so good with that love story, the intensity of it far surpassed what’s in the books, so to find the emotional logic for Tyrion to kill her, that was serious labor. It was easier to kill Joffrey than to do that scene between only those two people in that room. We went through a lot of rehearsal and in the end, I am very happy with how it turned out, but it was very demanding. The next morning I could barely get out of bed, I was so emotionally spent.

HC: Some fans were genuinely worried that Tyrion was going to die in this finale. Is Tyrion a survivor, no matter what?

AG: That’s the thing, in the chess game of “Game of Thrones,” Tyrion is one of the best players, even more so than he realizes. It’s one of the great stories in the series.

HC: Jaime helps his brother escape from prison. What does this tell us about their relationship? Up until now, Jaime would help Tyrion but only if it wouldn’t upset his father or sister too much.

AG: It tells you that he loves his brother more than he’s ever known. Here’s what I believe: That Jaime can set Tyrion free because of what he went through with Brienne, being by her side night after night, away from his sister. It gave him the ability to have insight and to see that he should help his brother, no matter how he feels about Cersei, good or bad. Jaime is an incredibly complicated character. He behaves one way with Brienne, one way with Cersei,  and then another way with Tyrion. All I can say is thank god for Nikolaj, the incredibly gifted actor who plays all of these sides to Jaime.

HC: What’s in the future for Jaime and Cersei’s relationship? Surely helping Tyrion escape from prison will put Jaime in the doghouse with his sister-lover once again.

AG: That’s the next season. The last thing you see him do is set his brother free, which is obviously going to upset Cersei. Up until then, their relationship was on somewhat decent standing.

Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones." (Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Emilia Clarke in “Game of Thrones.” (Macall B. Polay/HBO)

HC: Let’s talk about the last controversial scene with Jamie and Cersei in “Breaker of Chains,” where Jaime forces his sister to have sex by Joffrey’s corpse. Were you surprised by the strong reaction to that scene?

AG: Yeah, totally. In theory, we all felt we were doing the complex work that was in the book. You could ask Lena [Headey, who plays Cersei], Nikolaj, David and Dan and everyone would have a slightly different version of what happened. We were surprised that people decided it was one thing or another very definitely. It is a very complicated, multi-layered moment.

HC: Did the fact that so many people defined it as clear-cut rape make you see the scene differently?

AG: The thing is, it’s not one thing or another, it’s both. There’s some consensual activity, and they’ve been in love since they were children. But some people saw it differently, and I think that’s fine. It’s everyone’s show. The best thing to come from all the discussion is that it shows how invested people are in these characters and what happens to them.

HC: What’s next for Daenerys? Up until now we’ve seen nothing but the Mother of Dragons handily conquering and liberating slaves, time and time again.

AG: We end the season with Daenerys learning it’s going to be very difficult to be a ruler, now that she’s lost Jorah and her dragons. At this point, there’s been several key losses for Daenerys — she’s lost the one man who she ever fell in love with, she lost her baby and now she’s lost her three dragons and Jorah. In a sense she’s had to separate from everything she knows. She’s been conquering but also leaving destruction in her wake. As for what’s next … she’s heading into troubled waters. It gets very interesting for her, let’s just say, but it’s a good thing. It’s just another chance for us all to sit back and watch Emilia Clarke act.

— Margaret Wappler | @MargaretWappler

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