Last night’s episode of Game Of Thrones featured the series’ first battle at sea. And what a battle it was. Euron Greyjoy’s fleet smashed into Yara’s, and we were off to the races. Causalities were to be expected, and Jessica Henwick’s Nymeria Sand was among them. Henwick spoke to Entertainment Weekly about receiving “the call” from Game of Thrones producers before filming on season 7 began. “I was in New York filming Iron Fist and I got a call from [showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss], the double Ds,” she said. “As soon as you hear that more than one of them is on the call you know what that means. If it’s just one they’re probably talking about the story. But if it’s both of them then you know.”
At the time, Henwick as busy filming Iron Fist and wasn’t sure if she could make time for Thrones, but Beinoff and Weiss were insistent that Henwick return to film season 7, as they wanted closure for her character. Luckily, Henwick was able to secure a two-weekend release from Iron Fist to shoot Nymeria’s death scene. However, her limited schedule may have put a stop to plans to feature the character more heavily. “The plan was for it to be a more of a drawn out storyline,” she said. “But because of my limited schedule [the story changed].”
Going deeper into the what-ifs, Henwick revealed that, originally, the producers weren’t even sure if they were going to have Nymeria on the show. They were waffling between including her or Sarella, one of Oberyn’s other daughters — in the novels, she’s currently at the Citadel with Sam, training to be a maester and passing for a boy. “Obviously, I’m very lucky Nymeria ended up being the one they chose,” Henwick said.
As for the battle itself, Henwick was impressed by the brutality of it.
The first thing I thought was that it’s brutal. It’s hard reading these scenes where characters you love are getting absolutely demolished. And in our case, it’s by a crazy madman. I knew it was going to be very intense and very physical. I was excited because on the page you could feel the scope of it. And there is something fulfilling about finishing it.
Henwick called filming the scene physically “grueling,” mentioning that one stunt double even had her wig catch on fire. Yikes. Apparently, it was one of the rare times when the action on set was more intense than it looked on TV. “For this, the audience can’t feel the heat on their face from the pyrotechnics going off or feel the wave machine trying to knock us off our feet, or the sweat dripping off our faces. They were blowing burning embers onto us.”
The on-set accidents didn’t stop there — Henwick described problems with her final shot, when Nymeria was hung by her whip from the prow of a ship. “On my last day on set, it was freezing in Belfast, and they were shoving me onto a fork lift and hoisting me up there for that final shot. It was cold, windy and I don’t do well with heights. Earlier we had had an accident on set where I almost got choked out by the whip.”
Traditionally, actors receive a prop as a “gift” on their last day on set, but Henwick preferred to simply keep her whip from season 5 instead. She also discussed the less-than-favorable reaction to her character, and to the Sand Snakes in general:
It was always acknowledged that it was going to be very hard to give each of us a storyline. They had to introduce three characters all at once and differentiate them. When you’re limited to an introduction of two lines per character and there are four characters in the scene — during our introduction scene in season 5 — it’s hard to create a lasting impression.
Maybe some better dialogue would have helped? Just a thought.
Still, Henwick’s time on set wasn’t a complete disappointment, as she bonded with her fellow Sand Snakes actors Keisha Castle-Hughes (Obara) and Rosabell Laurenti Sellers (Tyene). Her slapping game with Sellers in season 5’s “The Gift” is her favorite on-set memory, although working with Diana Rigg (Lady Olenna) gave it a run for its money.
Talking to EW separately, Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand) also talked about filming the battle sequence, one in which Ellaria didn’t participate, since she’s not really a fighter. “Sadly, Ellaria just stands there while her daughter takes over,” Varma says. “Which as an actress I wasn’t very happy about but it was brilliant.”
Game of Thrones season 7’s third episode, “The Queen’s Justice” airs Sunday at 9pm EST.