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GAME OF THRONES’ Original Stannis Death Scene Raises Questions About the Afterlife

GAME OF THRONES’ Original Stannis Death Scene Raises Questions About the Afterlife

Stannis Baratheon was a stoic, unrelenting, humorless man, whose only desire in life was to fulfill his duties, no matter the cost. And he was true to himself until his final moment on Game of Thrones, when he faced Brienne‘s sword with quiet dignity and resolve. However, it turns out the original version of his death showed a far more emotional Stannis, a man who regretted the crimes he had committed against his own kin, and who feared what awaited him in the afterlife.

The deleted dialogue would have made for a powerful moment of self-reflection, and humanized Stannis in a way the show had never done before. So why did show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss omit it? And what does that moment hint at about what is really at stake in the coming great war between the living and the dead?


We came across this fascinating bit of “What If” at Watchers on the Wall, and it was spotted by an eagle-eyed Reddit user who read the script for the episode “Mother’s Mercy” online. It was posted before the 2015 Emmys (at which the episode won an award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series), and that’s where the lost final words and reflections of a dying Stannis were found.

In the episode, Stannis and his forces (already half of what they were following a mass defection after the sacrifice of his daughter Shireen) are caught off guard by Ramsay Bolton’s army outside of Winterfell. Although he seems doomed, Stannis bravely draws his sword to fight. When we next meet him at the end of the battle he is hurt, but still fending off enemies. He then slumps down against a tree, and that’s when Brienne of Tarth, former member of Renly’s Kingsguard and the only living witness to the shadow that killed her king, approaches him. She has waited a long time for her vengeance.


Here’s how the script was originally written by Benioff and Weiss (pages 13 and 14), with the lines that were cut out of the scene in bold.

Bolton’s got women fighting for him?

I don’t fight for the Boltons. I’m Brienne of Tarth.

This means nothing to Stannis.

I was Kingsguard to Renly Baratheon.
I was there when he was murdered by a shadow with your face.

Stannis was not expecting this confrontation today, but fuck it, why not.

(NOTE: Yes, the script actually says, “Fuck it, why not.”)

You murdered him? With blood magic?

Stannis nods.

I did.

In the name of Renly of the House Baratheon, first of his name,
rightful King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven
Kingdoms and protector of the realm, I, Brienne of Tarth, sentence you to die.

Stannis nods. He’s ready.

Do you have any last words?

Stannis considers.

Do you believe in the life to come?

Brienne nods.

I don’t. But if I’m wrong, and you’re right…tell Renly I’m sorry
when you get there. I don’t imagine I’ll see him wherever I’m going.
And my daughter. Tell her… tell her…

“Sorry” doesn’t begin to cover what he feels about Shireen.
The thought of it brings tears to his eyes, and he’s not
going to die weeping in front of a woman he doesn’t know.
Stannis stares up at her.

Go on. Do your duty.

Brienne raises her sword and brings it down with a mighty swing.

Wow. Beyond the tacit admission that he never truly accepted either the Lord of Light or that he was Azor Ahai reborn (not a surprise, but still insane considering what he did because of those beliefs), that would have been quite a moment on a human level. It would have given Stannis, a man who was hard to love even for those closest to him, a last chance at redemption. At the very least it would have given us a chance to empathize with someone who had done something so heinous it didn’t seem possible we’d ever forgive him, let alone feel any kind of pity over his demise.


We know Stannis was a reluctant leader, that he never asked for any of this, and that even when he sacrificed his daughter he believed–or forced himself to believe–that it was the right thing to do, but his apprehension and strong sense of duty didn’t make what we he did any less horrible. At least here he would have been able to say he was sorry before it was too late, with a deathbed confession that would have shown he recognized the crimes he had committed and the possible punishment that awaited him.

So why cut it out? The obvious answer is that it might have felt like a betrayal of the character we knew. Even if Stannis did feel all of those things, and was spending his final moments thinking about the wrongs he had done, he wasn’t the type of person to share something so personal. There’s a dignity and sense of duty to holding them in even in that moment, because to spill your guts would in some ways be like abdicating your own responsibilities and the many burdens that come with them, especially to a stranger. Ned Stark, another man with a strong sense of duty, faced his own death with the same quiet dignity.

Still, there’s a real missed opportunity in cutting out the scene. Beyond even the power the moment would have had on a personal level, it also would have raised the very important, but frequently unaddressed question about what the people of Westeros think happens when you die.


For a show that deals with religion and the gods as much as Game of Thrones does, very rarely does anyone ever talk about the specifics of how they view the afterlife. For one, there doesn’t seem to be any direct equivalent to Heaven and Hell, the way they’re commonly thought of in our society, in Westeros. The High Sparrow and the followers of the Faith of the Seven (which includes Brienne) seem to believe in an afterlife, though it’s never discussed in great detail, but rather in more of a nebulous understanding that something comes after this world. Brother Ray during his sermon didn’t mention what follows death, he instead spoke generally about service to the gods and their greater plans.

The Dothraki believe they will forever ride in the Night Lands, but that means nothing to the people of Westeros–for now. Only the Iron Born, the followers of the Drowned God, openly talk about what comes next, how they will feast in his watery halls like a wet Valhalla.

For most of the Seven Kingdoms, the overwhelming majority of whom follow the old gods or the new, the most insightful and hopeful idea of what might proceed this life came from Ser Rodrik Cassel. Before he was executed by Theon, he assured a despondent and pleading Bran that everything would be okay. “Hush now, child, I’m off to see your father.” (God, that gets me every time.) It’s not much, but it does indicate a belief that there is something that follows, and our loved ones are there waiting for us.


Of course, the bleakest possibility, and the one Stannis said he believed (though not with total confidence) is that there isn’t anything that follows this life. And the only two people who have died and come back, Beric Dondarrion and Jon Snow, both told Melisandre that there is nothing that follows death. She believes (believed?) and hopes that the Lord of Light will offer something when we die, but when she eagerly asked both of them what they experienced on the other side, they each said there was nothing but darkness.

It was a crushing answer for her to hear, after she has spent many lifetimes in service to R’hllor. What’s the point of living for a god if there is no promise of salvation? If this is the only life we get, why spend it serving a god who won’t serve you when it ends?

Of course, the concept of an afterlife hasn’t exactly been missing from the show, it has just been present in a dramatically different way, since we have seen it is possible to continue on even after we die.

If you become a member of the White Walker army.


The great war between the living and the dead is coming, but what are they actually fighting over? On the most basic level it is just to keep existing. But is that because this life is the only one we get? If so, does that raise or lower the stakes?

And though we call them the army of the dead, are they any less alive then the lord and ladies of the realm, or do they just have a different type of life? Maybe the better question to ponder is whether they themselves are a type of afterlife. Even scarier, are they the only afterlife? If so, that would mean that defeating the army of the dead is to assure that this life is the only one we get. Who do you root for in that war?

Stannis’ dying confessional, which would have been a poignant and powerful moment, might have been cut out, but it still raises the types of questions that might provide answers that are even bleaker than what a dying man feared most.

But what do you make of this edited death scene? Do you wish it had been left in? And what does it say about both the afterlife and the great war to come between the living and the dead?

Images: HBO

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