Gemma Whelan talks about Yara Greyjoy’s growth into a “main character”


As the saying goes, better late than never. So it was with Gemma Whelan’s Yara Greyjoy, who emerged as a major character in season 6. For a few years before that, she’d only been making one appearance per season, and didn’t show up at all in season 5. But after the death of her father Balon and the return of her brother Theon in season 6, Yara lost an election to her uncle Euron, joined forces with Daenerys, and set the stage for an explosive season 7. “I don’t mind playing a little part in a big series,” Whelan told the Independent, “but to become a main character is great.”

It’s been a long road for Whelan, who was surprised to even read for the character of Yara Greyjoy ahead of her debut in season 2. At that point, her background was primarily in comedy. After binge-watching the first season, Whelan believed she could play the part, but would first need to beat out over 70 other actresses. She got it, of course, and settled in for the long haul.

"When the casting breakdown was given out, before I even auditioned, it said I have a much greater role in later seasons. Of course, you never believe what you read, and things change, but everything I was told would happen has happened."

It makes you wonder what else is planned for her going forward.

Calling her Yara an “old-fashioned lady warrior with a mission,” Whelan believes that no one can “flirt [their] way past her.” And after being a secondary character for most of the show’s run, Whelan described standing next to Daenerys Targaryen as she sailed for Westeros at the end of season 6 “a real honour.”

It’s a far cry from her first day on set, when she filmed the scene in season 2’s “The Prince of Winterfell” where Yara visits Theon in the castle he’s taken. Whelan’s morals were tested in a very unusual way:

"I’m a vegetarian. My brother Theon kills two boys and comes back thinking he’s a hero. In the script it says my character is eating meat. I thought I’d just tell them on the day that I don’t eat meat and we could bring in a meat substitute. I didn’t know the calibre of the show at the time and the set guy made a whole vat of chicken, so I ate chicken all day. I just told myself I was going method! The protein hit was quite something."

We salute Whelan’s dedication to her craft.

Next: Nathalie Emmaneul talks about Missandei and Grey Worm's developing relationship

Game of Thrones season 7 debuts July 16.