The time has come to give lip service to the faithful and to honor the Seven once more.
Most of the bottom-supporters here at House Gatewatch were fans of the books before they were fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and we all had certain expectations, many of which were met. When you get Peter Dinklage for Tyrion, you sort of expect him to be great. (And voila! Emmy nom.) Others we heard a constant buzz about (Maisie, Sophie, Emilia, Aiden, Natalia), so in a way we sort of expected them to be great too.
So this one’s about the ones that made us blink, sit up, and probably take notice for the first time. They may not win any awards (this season) but they certainly won my respect. These are all actors I will most certainly seek out in any future projects; they’ve earned a lifetime fan in me.
(Warning: there will be SPOILERS from the first season and the first book, A Game of Thrones. Though if you haven’t seen the first season by now, well… I don’t know if there’s much hope for you.)
Here are my Top 7: Best Season One Surprises:
1. Michelle Fairley. Few were under the intense scrutiny she was; after replacing Jennifer Ehle (an extremely talented woman and one of the first widely praised “slam dunks” in casting) Michelle had what was perhaps the largest number of vocal detractors I can remember. Even Tamzin Merchant (the initial Daenerys), while criticized by many, was never accused of being “an entire generation too old” for the role. Michelle made believers out of just about everyone, taking the role of Catelyn and putting her indelible stamp on it. Whether it was in a tender look shared with Ned, or in sorrowful tears that, at times, seemed close to ripping her frail frame apart, Fairley seemed to put her entire soul into this role, and for me it paid off in spades. She made Catelyn’s story one of the most gripping ones of the entire first season.
2. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. I’m not listing Nikolaj because I ever doubted him (or his nose) personally, however Jaime was an extremely tricky role that could have gone horribly wrong in the hands of a lesser actor. And it did not. After seeing Nikolaj’s magnetic and tragic turn in the lead role as Frank Pike in Virtuality, I was very eager to see how he would transform that sort of quiet confidence into a more strutting arrogance, and he did not disappoint. When we were allowed to see past Jaime’s cocky veneer, we saw him in turn obsessed (with his sister), terrified (of his father), and wracked with guilt and secret doubts (that final scene with Catelyn was brilliant). Those of you who have read all the books and are familiar with the Kingslayer’s story arc already pretty much know, now, that Nikolaj is well suited for the challenge of taking Jaime through his journey. I can’t wait for even the small amounts we may get of him in season two—and I can’t wait for him to meet Brienne. “There are no men like me. Only me.” Indeed!
3. Isaac Hempstead-Wright. George talked about “the kids,” Dave and Dan talked about “the kids,” but when names were mentioned, the ones we seemed to hear the most were Maisie and Sophie. And at first glance, it’s hard to really expect any real greatness from Isaac; he’s the youngest kid (next to Art, who got almost zero screen time), and he’s a good-looking dude (which can work against you when it comes to being taken seriously). But acting is all about nuance, it’s about putting yourself into the character and becoming that person, and Isaac was Bran. When he was given an opportunity to shine, he shined bright. Whether it was his restrained wince at Will’s beheading, or his back-and-forth with Old Nan, or his sullen exchange with Maester Luwin (the damage he was doing to that table as he spoke to Luwin was just one small example of how real this performance felt), Isaac always seemed to add that little extra dose of realism that made you believe he was truly Bran Stark, not just some kid who looked cute and memorized a few lines. He’s so much better than so many other young actors already, I’m chomping at the bit to see what he does in the future.
4. Alfie Allen. Theon Greyjoy is one of my favorite ASoIaF characters, so it stands to reason I would be particularly critical of his casting. Theon needed to be just so. For some, casting a Brit tabloid rogue like Allen—son of lauded actor Keith Allen, brother of popstar Lily Allen—seemed a little risky. Me, I was quietly optimistic, because I saw flashes of dramatic swagger in clips of Allen playing Nobby in Casualty 1907. But it wasn’t until that first darkly-amused sneer, whipping a dagger out with the intent to end a wolf pup’s life, that I knew Nina Gold had cast brilliantly. In a sense, Alfie has Theon’s hunger; if he can’t make his own mark, he’s relegated to “that kid who got that song written about him by his daffy sis.” There seems to be an embedded desire for respect beyond the scope of his own family—very much like Theon. Allen delivered the goods this season, stealing many of the scenes he was in, and it only sets the table for Theon’s visceral story arc in season two. I can’t bloody wait.
5. Jack Gleeson. We didn’t know crap about this kid, let’s be honest. He was in Batman Begins as a tot, appearing in perhaps a minute-and-a-half of film. The only other real footage we had of him was from a lauded lead role in the film All Good Children, and he seemed like he had potential… but really, who was he? Well he’s King Joffrey bleeping Baratheon, first of his name, that’s who. Gleeson plays, with verve, what could be the most hated character on television in the 21st century. Twitter explodes with hate when he appears onscreen, and more people wish to see his bloody end than I care to count—both hallmarks of a more seasoned actor than anyone his age. And Gleeson isn’t afraid to display every repugnant emotion in the book; Joffrey is vain, cruel, cowardly, covetous… you name it, if it’s bad, it’s Joffrey. And Gleeson does it all.
6. Jerome Flynn. “Wait,” we said, “Jerome Flynn the pop star? Jerome of Robson and Jerome? Playing Bronn the mercenary? That’s bloody mad!” Or maybe crazy like a fox. That wacky Nina Gold—throwing us for a complete loop when this casting was announced. But Gold has proven to be the foxy one, and Jerome Flynn proves to be the Gold standard. Other than Dinklage—whose comedic timing was also greatly enhanced whenever paired with Flynn—no other Game of Thrones character had better one-liners. (You could argue Sam, maybe, but Sam had less screen time.) And he killed with more than swords or with words; Flynn’s Bronn could make us laugh with just a glance. (Who can forget his “Crazy, sure,” shrug after his “I’ll stand for the dwarf” line?) It’s not a stretch to say Flynn was beloved in this first season, possibly the least-criticized actor or actress on the show. We love Bronn—and we love Flynn’s Bronn maybe even more than the original. Now that’s a compliment.
7. Susan Brown. They say there are no small roles, only small actors, and to a point that’s true; how else would Dame Judi Densch receive an Oscar for appearing in approximately two minutes of Shakespeare in Love? Such is the case with Brown, an actress who made us care for a character we barely knew at all. Septa Mordane’s heroic death—saving Sansa’s life with a stern word and a stiff back—was a change from the book, but one well-played and—dare I say—better. In that one moment, as she goes to meet what is an almost certain death, it’s like a cloud is lifted from our eyes and we get to see this woman, glimpsed so briefly before, for who she really is: a Stark in all but name. Brown’s Septa was an oddly complimentary mix of austere simplicity, and I miss the character already. Septa Mordane’s death was meaningful, perfectly poignant for the story (Sansa’s growth especially), but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the actress. Kudos, Susan!
That’s my FaBulous list. And what would one of my “Top 7″ posts be without honorable mentions? “Making the eight?” Trust me, there were more than a few I agonized over.
There are a few people I may have left undeservedly on the cutting room floor. But who?
(Amrita is just expressing her personal opinion at my choices, and this opinion does not reflect the opinions of the rest of the cast of Game of Thrones. I might argue most of them agree with me!)
Amrita Acharia: The character of Irri is little more than a parrot in ASoIaF, but Acharia gives her a smart sass all her own. (I would certainly give more than a moment’s consideration if given the chance to “Make the Eight” with Acharia.) It’s hard to take your eyes off her when she fearfully translates Viserys’s drunken threats to Drogo; there’s dread writ large all over her face and in her body. She probably should have been top 7, but then it would be hard to include her and not include…
Elyes Gabel: I totally loved how the television series has developed this odd little attraction/annoyance chemistry between Rakharo and Irri, and really hope they develop it further as the series progresses. Gabel’s Rakharo has an almost naive swagger that I just love. Additionally, Gabel had a fantastic scene with…
Iain Glen: If anything threw me for a loop reading A Dance with Dragons, it was the near-constant reminder of how different GRRM’s Jorah Mormont is from the one they give us in the television show. And I have to say, I think I prefer Glen’s version.
Donald Sumpter: Another practically invisible character in the books, Luwin is given life by Sumpter’s sublime—some might say “endearingly dreary”—performance. Sumpter gave Luwin a weary gravitas that seemed on the edge of depression, yet sparked to driven purpose at times. And it was all with the eyes; his body certainly didn’t move any faster. Sumpter basically gave an excellently nuanced clinic on subtlety.
Harry Lloyd: This omission will likely have people screaming from the rafters, but the thought that kept coming back to me was, “We knew he would be great.” Okay, possibly not as great as he turned out to be—my god, we felt sympathy for Viserys of all people—but we still had an inkling. Viserys’s death was a tragedy of triumphant scale, but my favorite scene with him still remains the bathtub scene with Doreah. Damn all you critics, I still love that scene!
Lastly, for me, Sean Bean. I know to many of you this is akin to blaspheme, but I really did have concerns. I’m glad my doubts were proven to be so wrong. Bean was robbed by not garnering an Emmy nomination.
I gave my opinions (which may or may not precisely coincide with WiC or HmR’s opinions), and now I want you to do the same. Join in on the fun! Which seven surprised you the most? If you can’t come up with seven, come up with whatever you can. Agree with me or disagree if you want! Give me your own list. Are you on the Ros bandwagon? Give the girl some love. Or maybe you really found yourself rooting for Ilyn Payne. Well why not?
All opinions are valid—to a man with a full purse.