Curtain Call: Diana Rigg


Alas, this week we bid farewell to one of the finest players of the great game: Lady Olenna Tyrell, played by Dame Diana Rigg. From her first appearance in season 3’s “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” Olenna was outmaneuvering and outwitting her lesser opponents while vexing her more intelligent ones. As the true master of House Tyrell (her son Mace was hapless and bumbling) she worked to keep her family’s legacy intact through the marriages of her grandchildren, Margaery and Loras.

Lady Olenna was Westerosi old school, and believed that killing was acceptable in order to improve one’s position. In that respect, she matched up well with darker characters like Tywin Lannister, Littlefinger and Walder Frey, but she had a gift for sass that made her a lot easier to enjoy. Her assassination of Joffrey Baratheon via poisoned wine (“The Lion and the Rose”) was perfection: there was no evidence to link her to the crime, and it allowed Margaery to seduce and marry the sweet Tommen rather than suffer at the hands of his sadistic older brother.

Olenna didn’t always win, however. In fact, she suffered catastrophic defeats. She, like Cersei, was outmaneuvered by the Faith Militant, who imprisoned both Loras and Margaery. Olenna decided to escape King’s Landing and the clutches of the High Sparrow while she could, but she lost Mace, Loras and Margaery in when Cersei destroyed the Sept of Baelor. Bereaved, Lady Olenna allied herself and her House to Daenerys Targaryen, but that came back to bite her, as well.

Despite her ultimate defeat, Lady Olenna left a lasting mark on the world of Game of Thrones. Her assassination of Joffrey was perhaps the single most brazen move of the great game — the public murder of a king sent paroxysms through the status quo, and precipitated the slow degradation of House Lannister, a process that’s still ongoing, even if Cersei may be on top at the moment.

At the same time, Lady Olenna’s bold move may have contributed to her own downfall. The death of Joffrey turned his mother, Cersei, from a conniving, bitter drunkard into an obsessed, wildly swinging, amoral revenge machine who had no problem with inflicting immense collateral damage. It who Cersei who blew up the Sept of Baelor, killing Olenna’s son and grandchildren. And it was Jaime, acting under Cersei’s orders, who sacked Highgarden itself.

Varys is the spider, but Lady Olenna, sequestered in the riches and sparkling towers of Highgarden, was the far more wicked golden spider queen. In an interview with BBCHardtalk in 2016, Rigg said that “(Olenna) is pretty evil…I’m good at evil.” Every time Rigg entered the frame, we knew things were going to get complicated. And we’re going to miss that.

Also, let’s give one final round of applause to the casting department for getting Rigg on the show in the first place, and for recognizing that no other actress could possibly play Margaery’s grandmother:

Diana Rigg always played Lady Olenna with aplomb. The seasoned actress was perhaps at her best in her final scene with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in “The Queen’s Justice.” Rigg, oozing gravitas and bitter wit, lashed out, still playing the chess match with her last breath. Despite being checkmated, Olenna was able to sting deep with the reveal of her involvement Joffrey’s death. The scene was a masterpiece moment for both actors.

American fans may not be aware of Rigg’s long and eventful career. Her first pro gig was in 1957, in a play titled The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Outside of Thrones, Rigg is probably best known for her portrayal of the talented agent Emma Peel on The Avengers, a hit British cult TV series (1965-67).

Rigg won a BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Helena Vesey in the 1989 BBC miniseries Mother Love. She also earned an Emmy Award for her role as Mrs. Danvers in the 1997 adaptation of Rebecca. And, like many Game of Thrones alumni, Rigg has appeared on the venerable Dr. Who TV series. In an episode written specifically for her by actor Mark Gattis (Game of Thrones’ Tycho Nestoris), Rigg appeared with her real-life daughter, Rachael Stirling, in an episode entitled “The Crimson Horror” in 2013.

Rigg’s movie career was not as prolific, but she has a major early movie role as Bond girl Tracy Bond — James Bond’s only wife — alongside George Lazenby in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Rigg’s theatrical career was far more spectacular. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959 and gained accolades for roles such as Helen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968), Portia in Julius Caesar (1970) and Oresteia in the TV miniseries Clytemntestra (1979). Rigg would even win a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for performing the title role of Medea in 1994.

Next: George R.R. Martin is currently visiting his publisher in New York

Looking forward, Rigg will appear in the British dramatic feature Breathe in 2017. Fans who were left wanting more of Lady Olenna’s no-nonsense attitude can enjoy this deleted scene from “Home,” the second episode of season 6.

We’re going to miss Olenna Tyrell, and Diana Rigg’s considerable talent in bringing her to life. She’s throwing shade with the angels, now.

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