Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: Season 7 represents a “very significant shift” for Game of Thrones


The return of Game of Thrones is nearly upon us, praise be to the Seven. Many of its stars are out in force hyping it up. Speaking to TIME, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talked about the journey he’s taken with Jaime Lannister, starting with that time he tossed a young child out a window.

"I thought it was very exciting, because it doesn’t get much darker than what happens in episode 1. Having sex with his sister and then he tries to kill an innocent boy: It’s very dark. So clearly, you would think, this is the villain. I was very interested in the reasons why he’d do it — the whole cliché of does the end justify the means."

Jaime Lannister has one of the more complicated arcs in the series, starting as an arrogant child-killer and growing into a fan favorite with a sympathetic side. A large factor in the change was the loss of his sword hand in season 3. That was great for the character, but was a little tricky to play. “I think it was episode 1 or 2 in season 4 when his sister made him a golden hand, and that was a moment of relief for me and for everyone,” Coster-Waldau said. “Because those episodes in season 3 where I had the stump, I think I had three different prosthetic stumps I would have to wear, and I would have to put my own hand down my crotch or my crack. They had to hide it and it just became complicated.” Sounds comfortable.

The loss of his sword hand also had an effect on Jaime’s relationship with his sister-lover Cersei — Coster-Waldau remembers the moment when Jaime returns to King’s Landing and sees her as the moment the audience knew that Jaime couldn’t expect “any kind of support or love from her.” Ouch.

"His life has been lived on Cersei’s terms. His whole life has been close to this woman: how do I serve her, how do I keep this secret. It’s all been about her and it still is, but now, I think he comes to a point when he suddenly has to rethink that way of life."

Offscreen, Coster-Waldau relationship with costar Lena Headey (Cersei) is of course more healthy than the one between their characters. They’ve bonded over their shared desire to survive until the end of the series, however long the odds might look.

"I remember speaking to Lena about this every season, we would be surprised if we survived another year, and then another year went by. It would be, “Well next year is the one, because there’s no way they’re going to keep us around,” and then they did, and then last season, it was the thing where we said, “Oh God, I hope we get to do one more season, because I’m just so curious to see what happens.”"

For season 7, Coster-Waldau says that the production felt different than it had before, due in no small part to the fact that the show is truly “off-off-off” the books, and that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are now more protective of their material. “I have suggestions like an annoying actor and I have questions,” he said. I’ve just sensed this last season that this is their baby: ‘Just say the words as they’re written, and shut up.’ Which is absolutely fine. I respect that! And obviously, what they write is not bad, it’s really good. It was a very significant shift.”

And as the series has moved beyond Martin’s novels, Coster-Waldau has remained “very grateful” for the experience and the passion of the fan base, even as some of them (certainly not us) have gained a reputation for spreading spoilers. “I believe that 99.99 percent don’t care and don’t want to know,” he said. And that’s really it. And a lot of it is also HBO being very good at just giving enough information to keep the spin going. Those fans do produce a lot of mileage online.”

Finally, Coster-Waldau discussed one of the series’ most controversial moments: Jaime and Cersei’s sexual encounter next to the body of their dead son Joffrey, which many fans identified as a rape, although the people involved — including Coster-Waldau — maintain otherwise.

"Throughout their lives, they’ve had to grasp these moments of very passionate intimacy when they could. That way of expressing the need they had for each other. We didn’t think of this as a rape. The fact that suddenly it became one of these things. Online, it can take on a life of its own. [People say] “Rape,” and then someone says, “No, it’s not rape!” and then the counter becomes, “Oh, so you’re pro-rape!” And then you go, okay, I guess we’ll just step away from this."

Whatever the controversy, Coster-Waldau doesn’t regret playing the scene. “I still believe that that scene — even how messed up it was — was still true to those characters in a very disturbing way,” he said. “What can I say? But I want people to remember it’s not real. It’s a story.”

Next: HBO releases titles and descriptions for the first three episodes of Game of Thrones season 7!

Game of Thrones season 7 debuts July 16.