'Game Of Thrones' Director Jeremy Podeswa Opens Up About The Sansa Scene That Earned Him An Emmy Nomination
Among the staggering 24 nominations HBO's Game Of Thrones received from this year's Primetime Emmy Awards, one in particular was striking: Jeremy Podeswa's nod in the Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series category, for his work on Season 5's sixth episode, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken." For those of you who don't memorize every hour of television by its title, that episode is infamous for its closing scene, in which Sansa Stark was raped by her new husband Ramsay Bolton on their wedding night. It was the episode that caused many viewers to stare at their televisions in shock for hours after the episode finished airing, it has the single lowest IMDb user rating of any Thrones episode to date. Now, in an interview with Deadline, Podeswa himself is speaking out about the controversial episode.
Podeswa is a prolific director who has worked on some of cable's most prestigious dramas, including Six Feet Under, Carnivàle, Rome, Dexter, True Blood, Homeland, American Horror Story, The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, and True Detective. He has been nominated for Emmys twice before: once in 2011 for his work on Boardwalk Empire, and once in 2010 for the HBO miniseries The Pacific — a nomination he shared with future fellow Thrones director David Nutter (who's also nominated this year for his work on the Season 5 finale, "Mother's Mercy"). So Podeswa is no amateur — and certainly no stranger to HBO's mature programming.
So why was "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" so controversial? When asked about what it was like directing a scene like Sansa's assault, Podeswa responded:
To be honest I can’t speak to that scene too much. I can say that I think the dialogue that came out of that when the show aired was very interesting to me. We expected a certain amount of controversy because people had really felt a strong connection to Sansa and had really seen Sophie [Turner] grow up on the show, like literally grow up. People are very invested in her as a character so anything that might happen to her is something that is going to affect the viewers a lot. We were very aware of that. All I can say is that we tried to handle it as delicately and carefully as we could. I worked very closely with the actors on it and I guess that’s all I can really say about that subject.
Podeswa does bring up one crucial point, and that's the "dialogue" he mentions. While the scene itself may have been quetionable, the conversations that emerged in the following days and weeks about the depictions of sexual violence against women were illuminating and constructive. Obviously, depicting violence is not the same thing as condoning it; I don't think anyone thinks Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss approve of domestic abuse. But, at least it sparked a dialogue that will hopefully instruct them — and other writers — how to do better in the future.
Can one be simultaneously critical of the scene in question and still supportive of Podeswa's Emmy nomination? Of course! After all, it's not the episode itself that has been recognized, but Podeswa's work on the episode; and as the director, it's important to remember that he didn't write a word of it. (That honor goes to Bryan Cogman, who has personally penned seven episodes throughout the show's five seasons.) Podeswa simply did what he does best with the material he was given; and while some took issue with his decision to focus on Theon's reaction to the rape, just as many were thankful they weren't forced to watch the act itself — a remarkable show of restraint in a series known for its unflinching brutality.
While the conversation regarding the episode in question may have swirled around the hour's closing minutes, there were also some 50-odd minutes of action unrelated to Sansa's plight. When asked about his favorite part of directing Thrones, Podeswa answered:
Many times when I watch the show — not just the shows that I work on, obviously, but many of the other episodes — the scenes I’m really drawn to are ones that are just two people in a room talking. But the performances are so great and the writing is so complex and interesting that it’s incredibly compelling. In the directing of it you find there are always many discoveries in those kinds of scenes, too, but they end up being way more interesting than you think because the actors just bring that kind of complexity to it.
The director certainly had ample opportunity for those one-on-one scenes he so enjoys in "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken": the tense game of lies between Arya and the Waif; Jaqen H'ghar introducing Arya to the eerie Hall of Faces; Tyrion informing Jorah of his father's untimely death; the chilly interaction between Sansa and Myranda; the scheming of Littlefinger and Cersei; and the confrontation between Cersei and the Queen of Thorns. Perhaps the most memorable scene of the episode (outside of the ending) was the trial of Loras Tyrell, which culminated in the shocking arrest of his sister Margaery. The tension running under all of these scenes was palpable, making for a visceral hour of television — even before the final scene kicked in.
Regardless of how you feel about Podeswa's Emmy nomination, the man is going to be very much a part of the show's furutre. He was tapped to direct the first two episodes of Season 6: perhaps two of the most highly-anticipated episodes in Thrones history now that the series has caught up with George R.R. Martin's novels and is officially going off-script. According to Podeswa, the cast has already done read-throughs of all 10 episodes, and Season 6 is shaping up to be the most exciting one yet:
I think the way the characters converge is something that started last season, where characters who have never met before were suddenly meeting, and the worlds are coming together, and the world is getting a little smaller in a way. That happens more and more this season. That becomes very exciting. One thing I can say about the first two episodes of the season is that there’s not a lot of laying pipe or laying track. We just get right into the story and it’s very propulsive narratively — the whole season is — and it’s heading towards a destination that is very exciting.
That should be welcome news to those who complained that Season 5 got off to too slow of a start. Sure, that slow burn may have resulted in a final run of three of the most action-packed episodes to date, but I have a feeling that many viewers would appreciate a more even pace next time around.
While we all ponder what's in store for us in Season 6, take a few minutes to look back at "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" with this Inside The Episode video... and then tune in to the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 20, 2015 to watch Game Of Thrones compete against the final season of Mad Men for Outstanding Drama Series:
Images: Helen Sloan/HBO (3)