'Game of Thrones' Finale: Why Shae Doesn't Deserve Our Hatred

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Game of Thrones finale ShaeBoy, how about that Game of Thones finale? There was kiiiiiiind of a lot that went down last night, all of which has been masterfully covered in my colleague's awesome recap, but I want to talk about one person in particular: Shae. You know, prostitute of mysterious origins, Lorathi accent, alternately capable of great devotion and the ultimate betrayal.

The events surrounding Shae in the finale were incredibly difficult to watch, because I've liked her character for so long. If you, like me, felt confused about why she made the choices she did toward the end, I've got some fascinating backstory from the actress herself, Sibel Kekilli.

(Spoilers ahead for the GoT finale and other season 4 details!)

I haven't read the books (I know, I know), but apparently Shae in the TV show is different than her character in the books. Here's what Kekilli said about how the show creators fleshed out Shae's relationship with Tyrion:

When I met George R.R. Martin for the first time, he said, "Oh Sibel, your Shae is better than my Shae." It was a really big honor when he told me that. But even though [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] changed Shae in the show, it had to come to the same end, somehow.

The love between them is why it felt like such a gut punch when Shae lied about Tyrion during the trial. We understand that she was terribly hurt when Tyrion called her a whore in his last-ditch attempt to convince her to get on that ship and leave King's Landing, and yet it was so awful that she stood there and accused him of kidnapping and murder. Kekilli explains:

In that trial scene, how she's talking, searching for words, she's looking at Tyrion's sister, his father, when she says her lines. It's like, okay, she had to say that. I understood it like that. At the beginning, when she met Tyrion, it was like, she was so loyal. For four years, she did everything. She cleaned the chamber pots of Sansa, you know? Even though he married Sansa. Even though she loved Sansa. But somehow, calling her a whore, that just stepped over a line. That was like spitting on her face, when he said, "You're a whore. You can't bear my children." Of course, he did it to protect her, but somehow, it was too much, to call her a whore.

And if that wasn't bad enough, in the finale we see her in Tywin's bed, purring "My lion." THE WORST, right? We cannot blame Tyrion for strangling her, and yet we fully understand his broken apology afterwards. Kekilli, on Shae's motivations:

It's a world of not just black and white; there are gray areas. Those scenes are not easy to shoot. I have to understand at this moment that even if the fans don't understand Shae — or some of the fans don't — I have to understand why she is acting like that after she was loyal and did everything for him. She really loved him. At the end, she's angry, hurt, and lost and maybe also blackmailed and forced into this by the Lannisters. But part of her thinks, "Tyrion, it's your fault we are in this situation."

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. (...) Shae is low-born. This is after Tyrion said, "Go away. You're a whore." She was thinking, "I'm again where I was before I met Tyrion. Once again I'm a prostitute. Again, I'm by myself, on my own. I have to take care of myself. I have to survive." (...) Some fans might say Shae somehow deserved it because she's in Tywin's bed. But it's a very emotional and complicated scene.

Considering the show has to try and pack so much into every episode, I appreciate post-mortem revelations like this. I think as a viewer it was hard to understand why Shae had betrayed Tyrion so completely (I had foolishly held out hope she was faking her performance in the trial out of some devious plan to help him), and this helps explain it.

Will you miss Shae?


Image via HBO

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