Game of Thrones stars chat about how the show has changed over the years


GamesRadar somehow managed to get eight Game of Thrones cast members together to talk about the life and times of our favorite show, and plenty had interesting things to say. Let’s drop in on their conversation.

Reflection was the name of the game, as the stars contemplated what Game of Thrones was really all about, and how it had changed over the years. “Somebody asked me to sum up Game Of Thrones in three words,” recalled John Bradley (Samwell Tarly). “I’ll always say ‘fathers and sons’ or ‘fathers and children’ – because that’s what it’s about, fundamentally. And everyone can relate to that. It’s dealing with very universal ideas.” If you expand it to “parents and children” I’m with you, Bradley.

As you all know, Game of Thrones is based on George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels, and while the early seasons of the show adapted those books fairly literally, it got looser as time went on. “I [read the books] a lot at the start,” remembered Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger). “You can get so much from them, but there came a point where there’s stuff there that wasn’t going to make it into the show, where I think it was unnecessary for me [to know it].”

The other actors seem to agree. For example, Pilou Asbaek (Euron Greyjoy) said that while reading the source material is an important part of any actor’s preparation process (he has read chunks of the Song of Ice and Fire books, for the record), it’s ultimately up to the actor, director, and script-writer to bring the character to life. “My experience is that if it’s not in the script, it’s not in the character. For Christ’s sake, Euron’s a pirate. That’s all I needed to know!”

And as far as the actors are concerned, the scripts by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (and their team) provide them with more than enough to work with. “You’re probably not going to get better written roles anywhere else,” Asbaek said. “The characters are so three-dimensional. Even if you’re not one of the main cast or a season regular, I still know that I get my moment to establish and portray a character whom I like. And that’s all Dan and David’s work.”

Gillen agreed, hinting that Benioff and Weiss started to stray from the books just a bit when they became comfortable with what the actors could do.

"The source material is so rich, but as soon as the show had to overtake the books it gave them the freedom to maybe write just a little bit more for you [as an actor] – which they probably had been doing anyway, since the start. You can tell subtle differences between what’s happening in season two and season one, because season one was already written, and then season two is written knowing the actors who are playing those roles."

According to Rory McCann (the Hound), the producers have reached an almost empathic level of understanding with the actors. “When I get the script these days I feel like David and Dan know me so well that half of the stuff I read is how I would say it anyway,” he said. I think the Hound is one of the most consistently believable characters on the show, so whatever they’re doing is clearly working for them.

Speaking of McCann, he recalled the dark days between seasons 4 and 6 when he had to act like he wasn’t coming back to the show. “I got a kind of twinkle in the eye [from the producers hinting I’d be back], saying don’t worry, but don’t tell anyone,” he said. Then there was a six/seven month wait, a deal was made, and then it was just shut the fuck up! I had to do a couple of Comic-Cons where I was out of the show, and I was just lying, lying, lying. Fans were looking into it, saying ‘He’s denying it too much now!'”

Of course, as Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth) pointed out, that was nothing compared to what Kit Harington had to endure after Jon Snow was “killed off” at the end of season 5.

"It tore Kit’s soul apart having to keep quiet about it. He said that the worst part of that was when Sophie [Turner], who he met when she started on the show at 13, wrote him this beautiful heartfelt handwritten note saying, “I’ve learned so much from you, you’re like my brother…” when he’s thinking, “I’m fucking coming back next year!” He couldn’t tell her, and he said that was the worst part."

And the secret-keeping has only gotten more stringent as time has gone on, with Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne) saying that the cast is “sort of kept in the dark” about what’s coming next until filming. “I think that sort of lends itself to really organic performances from people, because we are genuinely still getting used to the stuff that we’re about to shoot when we’re shooting it. It’s not like it’s embedded in us, and we’ve been preparing for a huge amount of time to do it. Though because I get to read the scripts before we shoot the scenes, I do know whether or not Podrick’s going to make it!”

And on Game of Thrones, no one is guaranteed to make it through the whole thing, although Cunningham noted that every actor wants their character to survive to the last episode. As Bradley points out, that precedent was set up early on:

"The first scene I was blown away by was the Ned Stark beheading back in season one. I think that was the moment where people realised this show doesn’t play by the rules. They’ve killed their lead in the first season! That’s when you start to think, “This show is completely unpredictable. I’m going to be unsettled, and it’s going to be foolish to predict how this is going to go. Nobody’s safe.” I think that one scene really set a precedent."

Another thing most of the actors agree on is that the show has gotten more visually elaborate as it’s gone on, with Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark) even saying that season 1 looks “a bit naff” by comparison. Wright points to the Battle of the Bastards as the high point for spectacle on the show thus far, but who knows what he’ll be saying by the time the show is over?

McCann hinted that there could indeed be bigger things ahead. “You definitely feel that the scale’s gone up, and you’re going, ‘Oh my god, this must have cost millions just to make the set, never mind when the hundreds of people spill on to it!'” he said. “The battles are getting bigger and you can kind of imagine that as they sew up the saga, they’re not going to hold back.”

For his part, Bradley thinks that Game of Thrones is “one of the very few shows that has got better every year. One thing about [Benioff and Weiss] is they give themselves problems, because they always have to outdo what they did last year. You just think, ‘They’ve fucked themselves. What are they going to do next year?'”

Bradley also has an interesting take on the show’s legacy, which is yet to be set:

"The problem that we’ve always had is that we’re telling a story that we don’t know the ending of. We don’t know if we’re telling a story about how even in the blackest of times, good will prevail – or if we’re telling a story about how despite what good men do, bad guys can win if you let them. That’d be quite a morally bankrupt story! Or is it about how nobody survives, no matter what? We’re not quite sure…"

We’ll find out soon…if not soon enough.

Next: Isaac Hempstead Wright on Game of Thrones season 8: “It won’t go the way some people want”

One other fun bit: a few of the actors, including Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm) discussed how they liked to wander around to other sets between takes, just drinking it in. “It’s weird, because the only time I’ve been in the Throne Room, it was being used as storage for the Battle of the Bastards,” Anderson recalled. “The Throne was still there and everything, but they had a lot of the dead fake bodies and dead horses and stuff.”

Sounds eerie. A portent of things to come?

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