Samwell Tarly didn’t get a ton of screentime in Game of Thrones Season 6—he appeared in only three episodes—but according to actor John Bradley, “what I had in terms of content was the most satisfying material I ever had to work with.” The actor sounded off on Sam’s future, what he plans to do with Heartsbane, what being at the Citadel means to him, and more in a lengthy interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Let’s start with where Sam Tarly was at the end of last year. “Over the course of season five, you did see a slow narrative of Sam conniving his way out of Castle Black and over to the Citadel,” Bradley explained.
He’s worked very hard to get here. He worked very hard to appeal to Jon, get Jon elected as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, so that Jon’s in a position to make that decision for Sam. The entire season five narrative for Sam was about getting Gilly and Baby Sam out of Castle Black, into the Citadel, and being in the environment where he can make a difference.
By the end of Season 6, according to Bradley, Sam’s achieved (or is poised to achieve) “everything he’s ever wanted.” That’s why he didn’t mind the relatively brief screentime—what he had was rich enough to make up for it. Bradley was especially taken with his 15-minute chunk of time in “Blood of My Blood,” where Sam traveled back to Horn Hill and reunited with his family. He described it as “a little play,” and liked how it added context to Sam by showing his abusive relationship with his father.
You do see him go back inside himself and how that treatment can really break a character. It starts to make sense, where all of his insecurities and pain are put into context. Sam starts to make sense. Then, at the end, when he takes the sword, he’s no longer happy to accept that version of himself. The brave new Sam, the Sam that’s achieved all of this, that’s the Sam that we end up with. But he has to face parts of the old Sam before the new Sam can disregard that treatment and not accept it anymore.
The sword Bradley is talking about is Heartsbane, a Valyrian steel sword that’s been in the Tarly family for generations. Sam knows that Valyrian steel can be used against White Walkers, but that’s not the only reason he absconded with the weapon.
I think when he took the sword, it was a symbolic gesture of him taking what’s his. He has every right to have that sword and to use it for whatever practical uses it has. But he knows only too well that if it’s wasted, and if it stays at Horn Hill…then it’s not going to do the good he knows he can do with it…It’s a beautiful moment of when someone’s impulse and bravery to do the right thing is combined with a slightly more abstract practical knowledge as well. It’s a big pay off for him.
Bradley also admits that Randyll Tarly, Sam’s father, is probably “furious” about his firstborn son taking Heartsbane, but fortunately, we haven’t yet seen him act on it. Maybe his wife talked some sense into him.
Overall, Bradley thinks Sam’s life is on the upswing, fugitive from his family or not. A lot of that has to do with him finding a new home away from home at the Citadel, but his romantic success with Gilly also plays a huge part.
He must have thought there was no chance he would ever fall in love. Being such a romantic deep down, that must have really had a weight, the thought he would never experience that. So the achievement of falling in love, keeping the person he loves close to him and going to a place where he’s accepted — they’re all ambitions he never thought he could achieve. It’s a pipe dream. You find him at the end of season six having achieved all of that through one method or another. It’s been a very slow and progressive success story for Sam.