Curtain Call: David Bradley


"Lord Walder is my father’s bannerman. I have known him since I was a girl. He would never offer me any harm. —Catelyn Stark"

English-born actor David Bradley faced a challenge when taking on the role of Walder Frey, one of Game of Thrones’ great villains: how could he get the audience to hate him while only appearing in five episodes of the series? Considering how important Walder Frey is to the narrative, that’s a shockingly small amount of screen time. And yet few Game of Thrones characters are despised more than Lord Frey, thanks in large part to Bradley’s portrayal.

Bradley first began acting in 1971, appearing as the “2nd Policeman” in the comedy series Nearest and Dearest (we challenge you to find this). He soon became a regular guest star on British television, although it was his work on the stage that earned him the most acclaim. In 1991, Bradley won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for his role as the Fool in the Royal National Theatre’s production of King Lear. Then, in 2001, he appeared as Argus Filch in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a part he would play in an additional six movies. By the time the series ended in 2011, Bradley was known to audiences around the world.

That same year, Bradley made his debut in the role many of us know him best for: Lord Walder Frey, Lord of the Crossing and head of House Frey. Bradley’s casting was teased way back in 2010 by George R.R. Martin on his Not a Blog, and represented yet another win for show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

Frey’s casting was a critical one, as the character needed to convey both danger and buffoonery—he had to seem threatening, but we, like the Starks, weren’t supposed to suspect what he was truly capable of until it was too late. Bradley pulled this off beautifully. Walder Frey’s parlay with Michelle Fairley’s Catelyn Stark in “Baelor,” the penultimate episode of Season 1, made us laugh at this cantankerous old man, but we also recognized something sinister under the surface. Walder Frey was not a man to be crossed, no matter how much he went on about how much older he was than his young wife.

Perhaps Bradley skewed his performance towards the goofy to distract us from Frey’s evil turn at the Red Wedding. Unlike Twyin Lannister and Roose Bolton, two other characters who had a hand in that event, Walder Frey was thought of as prickly, but mostly harmless. The Red Wedding changed that, as Bradley effortlessly flipped the switch and transformed from a goofy pain in the ass to a turncoat murderer. Delivering the coup de grace with a grim delight we had yet to see from him, Bradley instantly made Walder Frey one of the most loathed characters on TV.

After the Red Wedding, Frey didn’t appear onscreen for another two seasons. But when he turned up again, lacing into his bumbling sons and raving about the rest of the Seven Kingdoms were laughing at House Frey in Season 6’s “Blood of My Blood,” he was so good that I was left wanting more. And while we were fairly certain Frey would return only to be murdered himself, something that came true in the Season 6 finale, it was still a delight to have the crotchety old veteran back on the screen. That his death came at the hands of a Stark gave it a kick of irony, and while most cheered his demise, it was still sad to see such a memorable curmudgeon go.

Bradley’s efforts to bring Lord Walder Frey to life will not be soon forgotten by Game of Thrones fans, and despite his wanton murder of many of our favorite characters, he will be missed, in his way.