John Bradley discusses Sam’s role in the Battle of Winterfell


Samwell Tarly, slayer of White Walkers and lover of ladies, has survived yet another huge Game of Thrones battle, shocking both viewers and actor John Bradley. In a conversation with Esquire, Bradley admitted that he didn’t expect Sam to survive the first season of the show, much less the long-awaited Battle of Winterfell that took place this weekend. And remembering Sam’s first scene on the show, during which he immediately yields to the other Night’s Watch recruits and needs Jon to come to his rescue, it’s understandable why Bradley might feel this way.


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But Sam has proved himself more than capable of surviving the horrors of Westeros over the past eight seasons. Bradley credits Sam’s resilience to his bookish nature. “I just want people to see that there are different ways of doing things,” he said. “A lot of those archetypes, especially in the current political climate, a lot of those kinda toxic masculine archetypes are being ironed out.”

He’s not wrong. While the Jon Snows of the world are important components of fantasy tales like Game of Thrones, audiences are also seeing a greater emphasis on characters like Sam and Tyrion Lannister, characters who use their wits to survive, rather than their physical prowess. And as Bradley notes, a lot of people watching the show might be more like Sam or Tyrion than Jon Snow. “A lot of men probably want to think on some level that all men are like Jon Snow,” Bradley said. “They wanna think that a man is a man, and a man will stand up for what he does. A man will come out of the traps and do the job, but that’s not like most men I know.”

But Sam proves that someone doesn’t need to be the best fighter or the strongest person in the room to thrive.

"I didn’t know how pivotal he was gonna become, and I think that’s a good thing, because it’s a three-way kind of attack of surprise: the audience discovers how brave and worthwhile his character is over the course of the next eight seasons; I discovered it as an actor just how much this character is growing; and the character discovers it about himself."

This growth is part of what makes Sam such a relatable character, and it’s certainly easy for fans to empathize with Sam as he stands with the rest of the Northern forces outside Winterfell, hands shaking before the battle begins. But in spite of being afraid, Sam still does what needs to be done to protect the people he cares about. Even if Sam is tempted to stay in the crypts with Gilly and baby Sam, he sees the women and children down there and realizes that he needs to fight. “In that moment, he decides that these are the people he’s fighting for,” Bradley said. “He decides to fight for his own sense of duty. I think that’s a really powerful moment.”

And Sam does almost die for that choice. During the Battle of Winterfell, Sam finds himself overrun by wights—and given his sorrow for all of the people dying around him, especially Dolorous Edd—Sam just lays amidst a pile of bodies and waits for the inevitable. It’s heart-wrenching to see Sam give up like this, but it’s another thing that makes him relatable.

When filming this moment, Bradley recalled that director Miguel Sapochnik told him, “This is the moment where all the fight goes out of your character.” He also emphasized that this was the first moment Sam truly felt as though he might not live through the entire battle.

Bradley talked a bit about filming the episode to USA Today. “When you film it piecemeal … what you really don’t get is how relentless that (sequence) can be,” he said. “For most (actors), screen time is probably only a few minutes each. Only when you see it all stitched together do you realize this really is relentless. It just keeps going, the sheer energy of it. Once you put visual effects on and add smoke, atmosphere and snow, it bears little similarity to what you’ve shot on the day.”

"Each one of these characters has their own narrative that runs through the (episode). The way events intertwine, paths cross and people encounter each other for a couple of seconds, those little human moments are a great testament to the storytelling. There’s not just explosive action. There’s a lot of humanity there."

Still, did Sam really have any business being on the battlefield, given that he’s not a great fighter? Bradley isn’t sure. “Sam knows Edd died saving him, and if he were down in the crypt, Edd would probably still be alive. I think he will have a deep sense of regret about Edd and a certain sense of shame that he contributed to that. He put himself in a position he didn’t belong in, and now one of his best friends has died. Maybe you won’t get quite as much bluster from Sam in the future.”

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Thankfully, Sam does manage to survive—mostly due to Grey Worm’s assistance and Arya’s good timing. And from what Bradley has hinted about the conclusion of Sam’s character arc, it’s clear that he isn’t done growing just yet. “Sam is unique and quite valuable to the show,” Bradley said. “There are things only he can do with his knowledge and curiosity about the world. Lots of people are very proficient on the battlefield: Jaime (Lannister), Brienne (of Tarth), Jon Snow, Tormund (Giantsbane), but Sam is the only one who can do what he does. You need him going forward to apply his knowledge. With all he’s achieved so far, you sense that that’s not all he’s destined to achieve.”

We’re likely to see more of Sam’s potential before the series is through.

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