Syrio Forel was a fan favourite on Game of Thrones from the moment he first appeared. Hired by Eddard “Ned” Stark in season 1 to teach Arya the ways of “water dancing,” Syrio’s beautiful turns of phrase and unique perspective on combat endeared him to millions of viewers during the first season of the HBO series.
And his impact on Arya’s story stretched right to the very end of the show, with his oft-quoted and most famous piece of advice – to say “Not today” to the God of Death – proving decisive, as the Arya ended the war against the Army of the Dead in season 8.
But what of the man who brought Syrio to life on screen? British actor Miltos Yerolemou, who played the beloved Braavosi sword-master in three episodes, left the show after his character’s demise at the hands of Meryn Trant.
Yerolemou never appeared on the show again, but, speaking to Game of Thrones podcast The Longest Night, he confirmed he did keep a close eye on developments in Westeros:
I watched every single episode when it came out. I was a fan. I was fascinated to see where the story went – and I was Team Stark, so I was really invested. [Game of Thrones] shows you what happens when a studio believes in the work and is willing to puts its money where its mouth is.
Miltos Yerolemou (Syrio Forel) found the Game of Thrones finale “unsatisfying”
But what of the controversial series finale? Game of Thrones was famous for catching its fans off-guard and for testing its audience’s limits, but many were left disappointed by the show’s closing stretch, which saw reduced episode counts, an increased prioritization of spectacle, and several popular characters — as well as viewers at home — being denied their happy endings.
[The last two seasons] were a little thin. I have no problem with anything that happened in the story – I had theories about Bran being crowned king at the end. Everything that happened to Jon, and Daenerys wanting ultimate revenge – all of that worked. I just think it didn’t resonate as much as they wanted because it was abbreviated. I did find it unsatisfying.
Daenerys burning the city to the ground should have had a huge emotional impact on people, instead of leaving us questioning why she was doing it. It’s purely subjective but, comparing [the writing style] to what came before, I don’t think it married up.
Yerolemou isn’t the only Game of Thrones alumni to have expressed disappointment in the series’ conclusion. Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) and Natalia Tena (Osha) have both claimed in the two years since the series finale that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss could have produced better material. But Yerolemou did qualify his complaints by singing the praises of two season 8 episodes, and one character, in particular:
I loved episode two, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” We really got to see the characters there, and we got to see them in new situations. It was touching, and it was witty – the tone was beautiful, the knighting of Brienne was beautiful.
And of course he had something to say about Arya’s heroics at the Battle for Winterfell:
I thought “The Long Night” was thrilling, I just wanted more people to die (laughs). I was in Texas at a fan convention, watching the episode with 2,000 people. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. I had no idea they were going to use the “Not today” line. It was bonkers. I felt proud of Arya [killing the Night King], like a dad. 2,000 people were whooping and hollering – it was such an intense experience. But I liked that it was Arya who killed the Night King, definitely. Jon killing him instead doesn’t sound like Game of Thrones.
The backlash to the Game of Thrones finale was “nonsensical”
During the interview with The Longest Night, a Game of Thrones podcast that started production during the COVID-19 lockdown, Yerolemou also took a moment to defend and praise his former employers:
David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], no matter what you think of them now, are exceptionally talented people who knew exactly why they were making this TV show. They knew what the tone was going to be, they knew the story they wanted to tell and how they were going to tell it. A lot of the exciting stuff came from what they were writing, that wasn’t pulled from the books.
It’s no secret, though, that Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season will live long in the memory as an example of a creators’ vision not aligning with audience expectations. Millions signed a petition to have the final six episodes remade, while thousands of accounts were created on IMDb to give the series finale the lowest possible rating on the site. Yerolemou had a few thoughts about the widespread negative reaction:
Parts of the backlash were nonsensical. I do understand that fans become very passionate about things, but I think there’s a huge difference between fans and people who behave like trolls. I understand why people get incensed about things, but it becomes about something other than Game of Thrones. It becomes about people realizing they have a voice but with no filter… Sometimes it can get rolled up into a ball of anger.
In the series finale, Tyrion Lannister is asked by Jon Snow whether their plan to assassinate Daenerys Targaryern was the best course of action. Tyrion then asks Jon to pose the same question to him in 10 years’ time, when they have the gift of hindsight. Many viewers noted that Tyrion’s words felt like the writers asking whether they’d made the best choices themselves.
With the backlash in mind, Yerolemou gave a measured and reasoned response to the question of how Game of Thrones will be viewed in a decade’s time: “I think history will be kind to Game of Thrones. How many TV shows have we watched that ended up being unsatisfying? It happens all the time. It’s just one of those things. I’m still incredibly proud to have been a part of it.”
You can see Miltos Yerolemou in The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, in cinemas now.