Benjen Stark, the erstwhile stunt man, (or world’s biggest idiot, he liked to think, but hey, it paid the bills) for the long-running soap opera, ‘The Bold and Restless’, took his eyes from the stage directions he was studying and turned to face the show’s director, Arianne Martell.
“Yeah? What’s up?”
Arianne picked her way through the backstage debris – timber, metal railings, bits of furniture and strangely, a replica of a 1960’s Russian space capsule (must have been before his time) and took a seat next to him.
“Are those next week’s scripts?” she asked him, nodding to the papers in his hand.
“Yep, though at the rate they get changed around here, I may as well use it to wipe my ass,” he grinned.
She burst out laughing, probably a little more than the joke actually called for, but Benjen liked her. She had gumption. The tales of how she rose through the directing ranks were legendary amongst the cast and crew. She got shit done and she was approachable, unlike some other directors he’d worked with. The fact that she had an amazing rack was beside the point, especially now that he was living with Meera Reed, the shows lead make-up artist.
“Too true, Ben, too true,” she chuckled. “Anyway, the reason I wanted to speak to you was to give you the heads up on what’s happening.”
“They’re planning on a tsunami sweeping through Kings Landing, killing off numerous characters in the most spectacular ways possible, with the most amazing stunt work and I’ll have to co-ordinate it all?”
Arianne shook her head. “No…but that’s a really good idea. I might suggest that to the writers. I could get rid of some ‘difficult’ people that way…” She broke off, staring off into space as she contemplated who could die in the ‘tsunami’.
“Arianne? I wasn’t serious,” muttered an alarmed Benjen. “The logistics of filming something that big would be ridiculous. Is our SFX budget big enough for that? Can’t see Olenna agreeing to spend that much.”
“Yeah, you’re right, but I’ll still think on it,” agreed Arianne. “No, what I wanted to see you about is probably even worse than that idea.”
Benjen’s eyebrows rose at that statement. “Worse? Than a tsunami?”
“Yep,” she said heavily. “It’s probably my fault because I mentioned Varys and how great he is as a ‘live’ actor, you know, with an actual audience and stuff, to Olenna and she took that statement and ran with it.”
“What does that mean?”
“Olenna wants us to do a ‘live’ episode of ‘Restless’.”
Arianne sighed. “As in we don’t pre-record the episode. We air it as we film it, like in a stage play, and the viewers watch the performances in real-time.”
Benjen’s grey eyes widened so much they nearly took over his long, thin face. “Fuck!”
“Fuck, all right. It’s going to be disaster, I can see it. Trying to get all our divas, male and female, to perform their scenes perfectly, in one take, without it descending into a farce is going to take some doing. But Olenna’s all for it, especially with our declining ratings.”
“I suppose,” agreed Benjen.
“Yeah, and I’ve just informed the writers, who nearly needed resuscitation at the thought. And now I’m telling you, Benjen, because as our stuntman, you’re going to need to perform your stunts perfectly, the first time, each time.”
“Does Olenna realise the logistics of this? The safety aspect? How are we going to fit all the equipment onto the set, when the actors are there, as well as the crew, and make it all look normal and real?”
A shrugging of the shoulders was all he got. “I’ll tell the writers to get the script to you asap so that you can work it out. We’re going to try and keep the script as simple as possible, so it’s likely there won’t be many complicated stunts.”
“Yeah, right,” Benjen snorted. “Have you seen the way Joffrey’s ‘deaths’ are getting more and more complicated each month?” Another laugh. “And after the ‘Incident’, he’s not wanting to do his own stunt work anymore, leaving me to take the fall.”
“I really want to replace him,” nodded Arianne. “He’s a shit actor, a shit person – you wouldn’t believe how many of the younger actresses have complained about his off-set behaviour towards them – but he’s Cersei’s son and as one of the senior actors, she’s still got a lot of pull.” She looked at him with wry grin. “And besides, whenever Joffrey ‘dies’, our ratings go up. Our audience loves to hate him. Especially after stories got out of the ‘Incident’. They lapped it up.”
What happened on that day had become something of the stuff of legends to the cast and crew and when photos and video leaked, the entertainment world in general. So much so that it became it’s own proper noun. When the ‘Incident’ was mentioned, it was in capital letters.
It involved the resident ‘bad-guy’, Joffrey Baratheon. Hated by cast (except for Cersei, his doting mother), crew and the viewing audience. Joffrey was a whiny, snivelly man who’s terrible acting and even worse attitude put everyone off-side. Even the coffee boy, Lancel, didn’t want to go near him. And Lancel was his cousin.
Joffrey thought he was a ladies’ man. Unfortunately for him, the ladies didn’t think the same. He was boorish, loud, obnoxious and had a reputation for becoming violent when drinking. He’d tried hitting on every female that worked for the ‘The Bold and the The Restless”, from Arianne Martell down to the new work experience girl. He’d gotten short shrift from all of them.
When he’d tried it on Sandor Clegane’s real-life girlfriend, Sansa, it took four guys to stop him from pummelling the little snot to a pulp.
Joffrey was an A-grade dickhead.
Therefore, Benjen wasn’t completely surprised when the ‘Incident’ happened.
After hitting on Lyanna Stark, one of the younger writers on the show, his storyline then included his character’s ‘death’. Panicked that he was being written out of the show, he’d run to his mummy, who pulled strings so that he was kept on, much to everyone’s dismay.
Joffrey was ‘killed’ a month after that, but due to the wildly improbable storylines of a soap-opera, he was ‘magically’ brought back.
That first ‘death’ was followed by another the following month, and the next, until it became a running joke that Joffrey ‘died’ every month. And each of his ‘ends’ got more and more bizarre. He’d been shot, kicked by a horse, choked on a sex-toy, hit by a bus and had a heart attack during a sex scene.
Being the stunt man, Benjen had co-ordinated most of the ‘deaths’, except for the one episode his niece, Arya, co-ordinated, being an expert in fencing and in which Joffrey was pierced through the heart with a sword, before she became a show regular.
Joffrey, instead of letting Benjen do most of the trickier stunts, insisted he do his own, that an actor of his calibre always did his own stunts.
Usually studios don’t want their actors endangering themselves, but in this case, they eagerly gave him the green light.
And so Joffrey performed his own stunts, under the watchful eye of Benjen, who had a reputation to maintain, despite his own loathing of the twat.
Until the ‘Incident’.
This ‘death’ was going to be spectacular. Arianne wanted to end the show with a bang. Literally. Joffrey was going to go out in a wildfire explosion that would rock the residents of Kings Landing.
Benjen rigged up the fake explosives so they would explode in sequence. The special effects guys would augment it to look like the Great Sept in Kings Landing blew up in a ball of fire.
Being in the studio, the explosions wouldn’t be as big as in the open and he’d made sure they wouldn’t set off the sprinklers and had a paramedic on standby, as required.
Joffrey ran through his scene, badly, and managed to get to his mark when the ‘explosion’ happened.
To this day, Benjen didn’t know who was responsible for switching the fake powder with the real stuff. There were too many suspects.
Instead of just a lot of noise and smoke, Joffrey’s coat caught fire as the force of the bang knocked him off his feet. Screeching cats weren’t as loud as Joffrey’s screams. This was all accompanied by the screams of the actors and crew who got wet when the sprinklers went off. There was a mad scrambling to cover expensive equipment from the water.
The Fire Safety officer ran in and extinguished Joffrey, but not before he’d burned off his eyebrows, eyelashes and much of his hair. The paramedic declared that he’d only suffered minor burns but he was carted off to hospital, moaning and crying like a baby.
Benjen immediately suspected foul play as he knew his explosive was fake. He looked at around the faces, many shocked but just as many smirking or giggling at Joffrey’s mishap.
Arianne had immediately called him to Olenna’s office where he got the grilling of his life and he honestly denied all knowledge of how it happened.
“We can’t let this get out to the public, of course,” stated Olenna.
“How the hell are we going to keep this quiet?” asked Benjen incredulously. “The cops will need to be called. Someone tried to murder Joffrey for real.”
Olenna tutted and tapped her pen on the desk. “Murder is such an ugly word, don’t you agree?” Arianne nodded nervously. “This was an unfortunate accident. There’s no need for the authorities.”
“But we have to report…”
“Not if nothing actually happened,” insisted Olenna. Looking at her director, she asked, “If we give everyone a little ‘bonus’, on the proviso that this is never spoken of again, then we can all get on with our lives.”
“Excellent. I’ll see it done.”
“Won’t Cersei kick up a stink?” asked Arianne.
“Leave Cersei to me,” replied Olenna. “Just make sure no-one speaks of this. It never happened. Joffrey accidentally set himself on fire with a faulty lighter.” Benjen couldn’t quite believe this was happening but, hey, he needed the job. “It will look spectacular on screen though, won’t it?” stated Olenna gleefully.
Despite Joffrey’s protestations, the entire cast and crew involved denied to him that anything took place. He threatened to go to the cops but as everyone looked at him like he was delusional, he dropped it, threatening revenge. When it was spoken of, it was referred to as the ‘‘Incident’. No one wanted to pass up a bonus. Besides, Joffrey was a fucker.
The first hint of the ‘Incident’ hitting social media was three weeks later when a grainy pic of Joffrey in the hospital, sans hair and eyebrows appeared on Twitter. It gained momentum, the stories of how it happened grew wilder, and led to even more viewers.
Joffrey complained like a bitch, and he looked like a cadaver whilst his hair and eyebrows grew back, but he still kept getting ‘killed’ each month, though he refused to do most of the stunts now. And they got even more bizarre.
The likelihood of Joffrey ‘dying’ during the live show was high. Very high.
Benjen sighed. “I’ll await the script with baited breath,” he told Arianne. “I think it’s going to be a disaster, but there’s no arguing with Olenna, is there?”
Arianne shook her head. “Nope”
Getting up, she began walking away before stopping abruptly and pointing. “Why do we have a Russian space ship here?”
Benjen just shrugged.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“You hear about Olenna’s crazy idea?” Meera Reed shook her head in disbelief as she climbed in the car.
“Yeah. Train wreck waiting to happen,” said Benjen as he drove out into the busy Kings Landing traffic.
One of the benefits of working on a soap-opera were the regular hours. Mostly. It meant he and his girlfriend, Meera, could usually go to and from work together.
They had moved in together nearly a year before and people asked him if they ever got sick of each other, seeing as how they lived and worked together. Benjen loved it. Besides, they often didn’t see each other the whole day on set. Meera was the lead make-up artist on the show, so she was usually busy running from actor to actor or directing the make-up artists under her supervision and he was normally jumping out of windows and moving cars. It didn’t often leave much time to talk.
He still often wondered how he got lucky enough to earn the love of someone as beautiful as Meera. With her wild, dark curls; deep, soulful, dark eyes and passionate nature, she was a force to be reckoned with.
Meera was much younger than he, a fact that had stopped him from doing anything about his attraction until she took matters into her own hands. Despite Benjen fighting his feelings, she had dragged him into one of the storage rooms after most had left for the night, and seduced him amongst the racks of costumes, shoes and hair pieces.
Getting out of the car at their modest bungalow, Benjen winced as the abused muscles in his back protested.
“What happened?” asked Meera, not missing a thing.
“Practising falling out of a window,” he replied. “Landing pad wasn’t as soft as I thought.”
He nodded. “Yep, next death scene.”
“Maybe one day he’ll stay dead,” huffed Meera. “Come on, I’ll massage it for you.”
“Ah, I knew there was a reason I loved you.”
Meera snorted. “That, and my sexy ass.”
“Yeah, that too.”