The morning after finale of the second season of Game of Thrones, I called up Bryan Cogman, the show’s story editor. We’d spoken earlier in the year about the third episode of the season, which Bryan wrote. This time, we talked about the full arc of the season, the emergence of important new characters who don’t appear in the novels, race and gender in the show, and the tension between staying true to George R.R. Martin’s sprawling series while adapting it for an entirely different medium.
I felt very vindicated by the emergence of Ros as a major character in the finale, and I wondered if you could talk about how she emerges from obscurity in the books to someone who Varys, the royal spymaster, sits down with because he sees her as a partner rather than “a collection of profitable holes.”
That’s a David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] special. She doesn’t even exist in the books. Ros was originally Red Headed Whore Number 1 in the pilot. In the very original [draft], Tyrion was in a brothel in King’s Landing as a way to introduce him and get a little download of information about Jon Arryn [the former Hand of the King who dies prior to the events fo the novel and the show]. For various budgetary reasons in the pilot, we chouldn’t shoot King’s Landing at all or have any King’s Landing sets, so what you ended up seeing where Tyrion has skipped out on the royal procession and tries to find Winterfell’s brothel…Ros the whore kind of emerged from that…
With season 2, there’s a character in the book named Alyaya, who we didn’t end up keeping. We knew that Ros would serve that function in the latter part of the season where Cersei thinks she’s caught Tyrion’s girlfriend but actually has caught Ros and doesn’t know who she is. We had that in place…it’s funny, it’s one of those things that kind of happened by accident. You’re finding different ways as you’re plotting the season to examine different traits and characters. There’s a throwaway line in the second book where Tyrion says “Oh, we should hire some whores for Joffrey, maybe that would let him calm down a bit.” And we thought, we have to see that scene. And what ended up emerging was that horrific, as horrific as anything in the show, scene where Ros and Daisy are made to abuse each other for Joffrey’s sick jollies. And then, the other thing that we sort of built into the show was the rivalry between Littlefinger and Varys…Ros seemed to be the perfect person for Varys to have an insider in Littlefinger’s company…she came to Littlefinger’s, trusted him, thought she had a rapport, and sort of had a rude awakening about who she is, and who she is in Littlefinger’s eyes.
Ros becomes this throughline in Westeros, she’s passed through not every character, but she’s had contact with most of the major players who tend to discount her as a prostitute. It’s as if she’s the secret main character and audience stand-in. She’s a focus for emotion in the show, and vulnerability and reaction, but she sees a lot more than anyone else gives her credit for.
Yes. I’m glad you see her that way. There’s a great divide in the fan community about Ros, which I think is pretty unfair to Esme [Bianco] who’s done an absolutely terrific job playing the part…In King’s Landing, for the most part, you’re seeing things through the eyes of the nobles, and Ros gives you a window into the class of people they take for granted. It was fun this season to sort of explore those people on the margins. The other whore, Daisy, also did a fantastic job. In a weird way, it’s a bizarro Sansa story. They both come to the capitol with big dreams and an idea of what it’s going to be like, a romantic vision. You see Daisy getting a little tour of the brothel and it’s as if she’s in Disneyland, she’s wide-eyed, “This is classy! This is a classy brothel, finally!’ And what she doesn’t realize is the classy brothel is probably the worst place to work. So that was kind of a sad little arc to play with.
One of the things I thought was interesting about this season is that in the novels, Tyrion’s affinity for sex workers is kind of treated as a symbol that he’s a nice guy: he identifies with women, with outsiders, with people who are considered untouchables by polite society. In this season, it’s suggested there’s a bit of naivete there. He sends Ros and Daisy in to calm Joffrey down and Joffrey ends up torturing them.
The thing that’s interesting to me about Tyrion, is Tyrion of all the Lannisters, has the most compassion, the most empathetic worldview. But he’s still a Lannister. He’s still going to keep the class below him at arm’s length…Being a Lannister, he still uses his position when he needs to, and can behave selfishly. He’s not necessarily a white knight kind of hero. I certainly think that yes, there is that kind of empathy and compassion for prostitutes, but there’s also a real distrust. He had his first wife, Tysha, who he found out was actually a whore, but he got emotionally invested in her, and had his heart ripped out. It made him want to whore all the more, but certainly, until Shae came along, he’s finding himself falling in love, deeply, all over again and it’s scaring him, because even though he feels and senses that Shae feels the same way, he doesn’t want to really believe that because of what happened in his past when his father informed him that the marriage was a sham and she was paid to love him. That scene in the finale, it’s a beautiful scene, where Tyrion breaks down with Shae, in my mind, I don’t know what Peter was thinking, that’s the moment where he accepts that Shae really does feel the same way with him. But he can’t run away.