In Game of Thrones’ riveting sixth episode “The Laws of Gods and Men,” Tyrion Lannister is brought to trial at King’s Landing for the murder of King Joffrey. It is, predictably, a total farce.
His father Tywin, the Dick Cheney of the Seven Kingdoms, lords over the sham proceedings, calling on a cavalcade of witnesses to produce out-of-context testimony against his embattled son, including the knight that saw Tyrion slap the crap out of the lil’ bastard that one time; the elderly doctor Tyrion had sent away; and even the neutered Lord Varys, who’d praised the Imp’s courage at the Battle of the Blackwater, jumps over to Team Tywin.
But the star witness against Tyrion was unexpected: Shae.
When she walks into the courtroom, his heart sinks. “I know that he’s guilty,” his prostitute-lover testifies. “He and Sansa planned together. She wanted revenge for her father, her mother, her brother. She blamed their deaths on the King.”
She adds: “I wasn’t just her maid. I was his whore. He stole me.”
Tyrion is beside himself. Up to this point, he’s shrugged off his father’s duplicity just fine, but he can’t even fathom his longtime love, whom he’s done everything in his power to protect, putting his life on the line.
“Shae… please don’t,” says Tyrion, his eyes welling with tears. “I am a whore, remember?” she replies, referring to his heated dismissal of her—for her own protection.
The Daily Beast reached out to Sibel Kekilli, a German actress of Turkish-Muslim descent, to discuss Shae’s about-face, how she landed on Game of Thrones, and much more.
Let’s talk about Tyrion’s trial. What was it like shooting those trial sequences?
It was really a big scene. It was not easy at all for Shae to be there. She is hurt, she is angry, sad, and desperate. She never wanted to be in that kind of situation but Tyrion forced her somehow. He always had the opportunity to go away with her to a safe place and live quietly and peacefully. Yet he has never taken it. Why do you think Shae agrees to testify against Tyrion? Did she have a choice? The Lannisters found her and there was only a choice between agreeing to testify against Tyrion or die. And of course she was badly hurt and wanted revenge on him. She is a proud woman, she has always been fully loyal to Tyrion, and instead of maintaining her relationship he decided to go for power—and against love. Shae has been very shrewd in the past, but it seems as if she’s been manipulated by House Lannister into doing their bidding. Why do you think she agreed? I wouldn't call it shrewd. I would rather call it straight and fearless. And as I mentioned before, I don`t think that there was a real choice she could make. Life was always teaching her to fight, and to stay alive. So now after Tyrion destroyed all her hopes for a safe, loving family life, she finds herself again at the point where she was before meeting Tyrion. And he hurt her so much, it was like spitting right into her face, so Shae would never just go away as if nothing really happened. She is simply at that point where she wants to take revenge for his actions.
Let’s backtrack a bit. How were you cast in Game of Thrones, and did you initially read for Shae or another part?
Dan B. Weiss and David Benioff saw Head-On. So that was the reason why they invited me to the audition in London in 2010. I was really surprised because Head-On had already been brought to the screen six years ago. They invited me for the role of Shae but after I had finished my scenes for that part they asked me to do a scene for another character as well. When I asked Dan later why they did that, he shrugged and simply said that they were doing their auditions most of the time like that.
Shae is a very mysterious character—we don’t really know of her origins or backstory. What did David and Dan tell you about the character and her backstory/where she comes from in order to help you occupy the character’s headspace?
Actually, they never told me anything about Shae’s past. Shae had some scenes where she reveals something of her past—for example when she and Lord Varys were talking and Shae admits that she stopped being a child when she was 9 years old. Those kinds of scenes helped me to create a whole story behind the character without knowing it for real. Every time when I start preparing my character for a movie I always try to make up and create my own background story for the role in order to fill it with life. Anyway, I do think it's fantastic that Shae’s past remains almost completely in the dark. That adds a lot to her mysterious appearance. And I do believe that it is also more exciting for the audience, too.
We know Shae isn’t too low born, and that her mother wasn’t a whore according to her exchange with Tyrion in the first season… will her origins be revealed soon?
Yes, at the end it will turn out that Tyrion and Shae are siblings. [Laughs] Well, I am just kidding... Just wait and let's see what happens…
Why did Shae decide to protect Sansa in Season 2, telling her to hide her period and even threatening the handmaiden with a knife? Does she see a bit of herself in Sansa?
No, I think she sees an innocent little girl and she feels responsible for her. Shae wants to protect Sansa and she doesn`t want Sansa to suffer as she might have in her past. At the same time, she is trying to prepare her for the real life out there without being too sentimental.
What draws Shae to Tyrion?
I do believe Shae sees the vulnerability and honesty of Tyrion. She simply knows and feels that Tyrion is a loveable person.
And what do you think draws Tyrion to Shae?
Shae is a fearless, brave woman. She is honest and straight to him. She easily speaks what she thinks and not with the intention of initiating a fight with someone or playing games. Shae is a very loyal person.
Why do you think Shae refused to accept Varys’s offer of diamonds and a new life in Pentos at the end of Season 3?
Because Shae simply loves Tyrion and she knows that he loves her back even if he is worried and scared about their and his love most of the time. Also, she is a very proud woman. So, if Tyrion wants her to leave he should tell it himself right into her eyes. Besides, power and money are not the things that Shae is really interested in. Yes, at the very beginning of their encounter she might have been a little bit, but with time their relationship turned into real love so it didn’t matter anymore.
Why do you think Tyrion keeps rejecting Shae’s advances, including earlier this season?
I think he realizes more and more that Shae is in danger and that her presence in King's Landing might also be dangerous to himself. He knows that Shae would never leave him or run away from something. Maybe you can call it naive but that's the way Shae simply is. He has to act colder towards her and try harder to make her clear that this relationship is not safe anymore. Actually he is doing it because he wants to protect her somehow.
And why does Shae suddenly start to become jealous of Sansa?
The behavior of Tyrion towards Sansa is part of what makes her jealous. At the same time, she recognizes that he is loving and protective of Sansa as well. Shae feels not only neglected but also insecure right now. She knows that Sansa is still a female—a young, beautiful woman—and there is lot of pressure on both of them to have children. And now it’s Sansa instead of herself that became the wife of her love, Tyrion. I think every single woman in the world would be jealous in that kind of situation. All her hope to start a safe family life was just destroyed from one day to another.
Tyrion’s rejection of Shae was VERY harsh. Why do you think it was so harsh?
As I said before, he just tried to protect Shae. He knows about Cersei's plan that she wants to hurt him badly at the next opportunity and so does his father. So he knows that he has to do everything in his power to make it clear to Shae that she really is in danger. Yet she never wanted to listen. So for Tyrion, the only way to make that happen was to make her disappear.
What was it like shooting that scene with Peter?
It was an emotional scene so it was not easy. But I love those kinds of scenes because it's very intimate and tells a lot about the relationship between Shae and Tyrion.
You advocate on behalf of a charity organization for women’s rights in Islam, “Terres des Femmes.” What’s the aim of the organization? And what do you see as the biggest problems facing women today—particularly when it comes to Islam?
First of all they want to create public awareness for these kind of topics. Honor killings, violence against women, especially in Muslim families, etc. Because of my cultural background, I do believe I have the right and, even more importantly, the duty to talk about these things in the public. The biggest problem is that people are afraid to talk about these topics in public. A lot of people in Islamic countries are taking it as a personal offense when people are talking about the violence against women in their culture. I really think that Muslim people should stop raising their boys and girls that way. They instill a macho culture right from the start of childhood. And if you have never learned to treat girls and women respectfully, you will never be able to act differently later on than the men in your culture, and in your family. That's fact.
Back to Game of Thrones. Do you think Shae and Tyrion’s relationship can ever recover, and will you be back for Season 5?
The viewers will have to watch to find that out!