Gemma Whelan on a brave new world for Yara, Daenerys and the Ironborn


Yara Greyjoy is a character on the rise, so when actress Gemma Whelan sat down for an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, we knew it would be fun, and she didn’t disappoint. Yara’s scene with Daenerys in “Battle of the Bastards” was unexpected, and Whelan was “absolutely delighted” when she found it in her script. The new Yara-Dany alliance gives Whelan hope for her character’s future, with the usual GoT caveat, of course:

"It’s game on now, isn’t it? I hope it goes somewhere. I hope I’m not killed off immediately . . . she’s in the game now, with her brother. They’re back together, with an allegiance reformed between the two of them. It’s good."

The scene was shot in one day, and because Whelan already knew Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage and she is “dear friends” with Alfie Allen, she was “very comfortable with the company.” The chemistry was all there, but the problem was that both she and Clarke are “gigglers.”

"The trickiest bit was poor Emilia wanting to walk down those stairs with such commanding presence, but her dress is so long. (Laughs.) That took a few gos. And then once we had to shake hands, or arms, it took a long time. We just could not stop laughing. We were laughing and laughing. It’s so grave, but really, we’re just standing there, holding each other’s elbows. We shook too much . . . Then we just had to stare into each other’s eyes… and we just lost it, about a dozen times. She’s a giggler, and I’m a giggler, so…"

Whelan says that Yara is confident when she meets the Mother of Dragons because her character understands the necessity of certainty as the world is shifting around her. Yara is a leader, and leaders must act. Yara senses some of this same confidence in Dany:

"I feel like she’s met a sister — someone else who has all this power and is using it wisely. Yara is so sure of herself in this scene. This is her Plan A, and there is no Plan B, so she has to land this. She can’t pussyfoot around. She likes the cut of Daenerys’ jib, and I think the feeling is mutual."

Whelan describes Dany as a “kindred spirit” to Yara, and what about the flirting?: “Yeah! I didn’t expect that,” says Whelan. “But it’s in the script!”

Another big moment was when Yara promised to end the “reaving, roving, raiding, and raping” the Ironborn are known for. Aren’t these semi-Vikings going to resent the termination of their lifestyle?

"It’s so hard, and the decision is made so quickly, with just a little glance at Theon. But I think she’s come prepared to give everything. They don’t have an alternative here. I think she recognizes a woman (Dany) who won’t back down, because she is one herself. I think this is what she has to do to play the longer game to get what she wants. And why not try a different way of life? Why not change?"

Whelan goes on to describe Yara’s relationship with the other members of her family, stating that there is obviously “no love lost” between her and her “salty bastard” of a father, the late Balon, and admits that Euron probably did Yara “a favor” by offing the old king. Even so, Yara’s conflict with Euron is “definitely personal.” All the family Yara has left is Theon, and she wasn’t so sure of him at the beginning:

"Theon’s her only family member now . . . I think it took a long time for her to be able to trust him again. The betrayal she felt from him, that’s a way back for him to come, and a way for her to go. But she’s learned to trust him. He’s been true to his word with everything he’s said . . . He’s stepped up . . . He made some silly decisions back in the day, but now, they’re bonded and they understand what they’re both doing. They have equal roles in what they’re doing now. She needs him, and he needs her, for what they’re doing."

Whelan offers high praise for her castmate Alfie Allen’s evolving portrayal of the long-suffering Theon, saying “it’s quite astounding to watch him and work with him.” On how Yara’s character has changed between the time we first met her and now, Whelan says:

"The end goal was always to take over for her father  . . . But certain things have arisen in her life that forced her to take action. She’s stepping up to it . . . Her arc has been quite different from what she thought she would end up doing. She didn’t expect Theon to come back. She didn’t expect circumstances to change so vastly."

We don’t think any Game of Thrones character still alive would ever have expected their “circumstances to change so vastly,” either.