Gemma Whelan made her Game of Thrones debut as Yara Greyjoy in season 2. As the no-nonsense Ironborn warrior, Whelan made an instant impact and survived all the way to the series finale, ending the show as the ruler of the Iron Islands.
Whelan, who up until then mostly had a reputation as a comedic actor, was another great pic by Game of Thrones casting director Nina Gold. But she almost lost everything before even filming her first scene.
“The first lesson I learnt was when I first got the job,” Whelan told The Hindustan Times. “No one told me to keep quiet about it. I just thought it was normal to pop it in my Spotlight entry, so I wrote on my CV, ‘This summer, Gemma will be playing Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.’ And the internet went nuts. One of the lovely, lovely producers on Thrones called me into his office and said, ‘This is very serious. We almost can’t employ you because of this.’”
And this was back in the early days of the show, because it had become a proper phenomenon, and even then HBO was doing the most to keep casting secrets and such away from fans. I wonder how they would have reacted if they’d been told that, by season 6, fans would be using drones to capture footage on set.
Thankfully, that little whoopsie didn’t cost Whelan the gig, and she went on to make Yara a memorable character. “Game of Thrones really did change things in terms of how women are written and represented,” she told Radio Times. “Obviously, it was a fantasy, but the women were painted very realistically nonetheless. Maybe not the murdering side of things, but they were independent and capable of running the show.”
Beyond Thrones, you can see Gemma Whelan in the latest season of Killing Eve.