Game Of Thrones is a show that is almost wholly filled with fan-favorite characters at this point—but you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger scene-stealer than Tormund Giantsbane. Since he was first introduced as one of King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder's most trusted lieutenants in season three, he's developed a deep friendship fighting side-by-side with Jon Snow against the army of the dead. They became so close, Jon even gave him his direwolf, Ghost, to look after while he takes care of this whole war-for-the-Iron-Throne thing.
Over the years, actor Kristofer Hivju has taken a tertiary character—one who has never been interested or invested in the battle for the Iron Throne—and turned him into arguably the funniest, most loyal character on the show, all without stumbling into self-parody. Whether he's roasting Jon Snow over his size, talking about euphemisms for male genitalia with The Hound, telling the larger-than-life backstory of his last name, or giving the absolutely perfect line reading of "I've always had blue eyes," he makes every scene he's in all the better.
Tormund Romanticomedybane has been the red-headed gift that keeps on giving—but in this week's episode, his one-sided love affair with Brienne of Tarth finally came to an end with her (briefly) shacking up with Jaime Lannister. The episode ends with Tormund heading back north above the Wall with the Freefolk (and Ghost), and Tormund saying goodbye to Jon with a line loaded with meaning: "You've got the North in you. The real North."
We spoke to Hivju about how he played his infatuation with Brienne, how he developed the character, why he thought Tormund became such a fan favorite, what he'll least miss about the show, and whether that was the last we'll see of him on the show.
First off, congrats on still being alive on the show.[Laughs] It's quite an achievement.
There's been a lot of opportunities to die, but you have made it this far. When you joined the show back in season three, did you have any idea you'd still be around this late into the game? Ah not this far. [Laughs] I did sign a contract that was many years long. But I must admit that when I read The Battle of Winterfell for the first time, I was expecting my death coming any page. Every time I turned a page, I just looked for Tormund dead, Tormund dead, but it didn't come, it didn't come. [Laughs]
When you first joined the show, how much backstory did you know about Tormund? Was he a mystery, or did they give you a pretty developed backstory for him from the start? I had seen the two first seasons of the show. So I knew about the show, and I loved the show, but I hadn't read the books. So the first thing I did when I got the part was to read what old fans of the books and the show thought about him. How they perceived him.
So I was scanning the internet for things about Tormund Giantsbane, and I found like jokes and highlights from the books. I found fan art of what they thought he looked like and stuff like that. So that was where I started out, finding out, what do [fans] expect? And then of course I read the books and I found out everything I could about Tormund. I was very definite about how the books are the books and the show is the show, so I knew that David and Dan would change stuff from the books, the Tormund that George R. R. Martin created. So I got the background and then I just tried to learn more about the Freefolk and the culture, because that's where it comes from.
One of the reasons that I think everybody has fallen in love with Tormund over the years is his obvious affection for Brienne. So often, it was played for humor and laughs, but in last night's episode he was really tearing up. Do you think that this was serious for him? I think it was, yes. Even through the humor and a lot of jokes around this, I've always taken Tormund's love for Brienne very seriously. That it's not irony in that. And so I've always stated it, with honesty. And I think that's a part of why some of it's funny, because I think from his side, it's a real crush. He's deep in love with that woman. And so when what happened in the last episode, I thought, "I'm going all-in here, because this is tough for him."
When that first started, I think it was early in season six when they first met, was that something that was on the page? Or was that something that you were just playing? Well, I thought it was on the page, because it said something like, "Brienne of Tarth enters Castle Black and Tormund looks at her deeply fascinated" or something like that. And I think I interpreted a bit more into the word fascinated, because in Norwegian that's a huge thing, to be fascinated. And so I felt like, I went all-in from the first take, like "Wow! Look at that! That's a woman!" She's a warrior, and you know, in the Freefolk's world and culture, all the women were warriors, so for him that was like, "Finally a real woman coming around."
And then it developed into a scene where there was a meeting with Jon and Ed and we were sitting at the table, and I was eating this big chunk of meat. I didn't have any lines that day, so I only focused on trying to flirt while eating the meat. And David and Dan said that they didn't have this really planned out, but I don't really know because they are clever guys. So I just played around with it and followed that path, because you know when there's so much war and so much violence and death is around the corner, it's nice to put your hope into something.
He took her seriously, in a way that so many other characters didn't. Exactly. Brienne's arc is beautiful, and especially with this last episode where she doesn't have armor and she cracks up and she shows her vulnerability. And it was beautifully played by Gwen [Gwendoline Christie plays Brienne], and I think that she may think he's a strange guy, but he has never been ironic to her. I think his love for her and affection for her has been honest, yeah. So I hope she appreciated that, at least.
Who have been your favorite actors to play off of while playing Tormund? I must say that, of course, most of my scenes have been with Kit [Harington, who plays Jon Snow], and it's been fantastic to follow their relationship from kind of being mentor to this crow who has changed sides. And then being betrayed by the same guy. So it feels like there's always been some integrity, some fire in Jon. And I've always liked him a lot and that has just grown throughout their time together. And it's made Tormund really do compromises on behalf of his people, to save them. Everybody I've played with has been fantastic and I think it's just a fantastic cast of great actors. But of course, me and Kit had a lot of scenes together.
It was funny because I just watched the first episode and it was fantastic to see Jon Snow when he was just a young man and he had the same melancholy in the pilot that he has now.
Tormund had so many funny, so many evocative, so many just great line readings that I just wouldn't even know where to begin. But did you have a favorite one?[Laughs] It's been many, and many the last season as well. What I like about Tormund is that he doesn't really...he doesn't always know that he's funny. Sometimes he's not trying to be funny, he just has another cultural background. So I love the lines where he's not intentionally trying to be funny, but it's just funny because it's Tormund.
I joined Instagram a couple of years ago, and I must say that I am touched with all the fan art, all the fantastic drawings, all the peculiar things, all the caricatures, of Tormund. The Internet is flowing with it, so I must say that I think it's fantastic. It's a dedication, that's a dedication beyond.
Why do you think the show connected so deeply and so widely with fans across the globe? I think it's a couple reasons. One of them is that you present a bunch of characters, and you take each journey seriously. So one thing is that people can connect with so many different characters—some people connect with Arya, some people connect with Jon or with Daenerys. Because there's always a character you can connect with.
Another thing is that you can follow each character in every step, and you follow them through their traumas and their victories and all their experiences. So it's like you can see the characters grow, and you can see them change, and even though they change into something worse, you understand why. So many TV and film characters are based on the idea that they are evil, and they are evil throughout the story. They're evil, because they're evil. And here it's like, if you take Jaime for example, he started out as a prick and a cocky guy, and throughout all his experiences, now he's a pretty humble, sympathetic character. And you can take every character and you can look at their arc, and see how they became as they have become.
And the third thing is that George R.R. Martin doesn't follow the rules of storytelling. He follows the rules of life. So suddenly the story can just take a very unexpected turn, and it does that all the time. It's just twist after twist after twist, because it just has its own logic. And by killing Sean Bean in the first season, it shows that in this show everything is possible. That keeps the audience on their heels, because you don't really know what's gonna happen. Everything can happen. And that gives it an element of sport, you know.
Most people obviously watch it live, they sort of talk about it like it's sports. Yeah, yeah. And I went to this bar in Atlanta, when I was shooting Fast and Furious, and I didn't have HBO in my room so I went to this Game of Thrones bar. I went undercover, to just watch it together with the fans, and the way they were cheering and screaming and laughing, it felt like they were...If you didn't see the screen, they could have been watching soccer. So that's unique. Something to learn from.
What are you most and least going to miss about the show when it's all done in a couple weeks? I'm gonna miss the people, and I'm gonna miss the feeling when you have thousands of people working for the same objective. And knowing you're on the right path and just continuing to add more ambition and more love and hard work into something that you know people will appreciate. That's unique. You try to do that in every production, but when you have a run this long, it's just a great feeling of, "whatever it takes to make it good, we're gonna do."
And of course, I'm not gonna miss having blood in my face. Having night shoot after night shoot or going into a period where you know that your body will be exhausted afterwards but from another view, that's also been the love of the game.
Should we assume that this was a goodbye to Tormund in the last episode, or might he pop up by the finale? Two more episodes to go, you never know. But for Tormund, his perspective has never been about the Iron Throne, his perspective has been to defeat the dead. It's just that from when he was a child, he has heard about the dead and it's been a threat for them their whole life. And that's why Mance gathered all the clans to work together to get through the Wall to get away from them. And when they are defeated, I think Tormund just wants to go back home.
I personally would love to see a spin-off sitcom about Tormund and Ghost, just sort of re-establishing life above the wall. Just him and the direwolf?
Yeah, where they get into lots of shenanigans.[Laughs] Yeah I've heard that, that's a great idea.
I imagine it had to do with the budget, but it was very sad when nobody gave Ghost a pet in the last episode. Well I promise that Tormund will take good care of Ghost, but there's still two more episodes to go so anything can happen.
I do hope we get to see them both at least one more time. I also wanted to ask you about the Fast and Furious series. What was it like working on that last movie? That's another big budget film and production. Well yeah, the budget was crazy. So I loved it, you know I grew up with that franchise, I've followed every one of them since I was in my twenties. So for me to join Fast and Furious was like a childhood dream come true and and I felt it became a great movie. And I'm very excited to see the new one, Hobbs & Shaw.
Yeah. And are you in the remake of Force Majeure that is in the works?[The movie is titled Downhill, stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and is directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.] Yes, that's true. That's true...have you seen the Force Majeure?
I loved it. I saw it when it first came out, before I was with my girlfriend, and I keep telling her, "We have to watch this before the remake comes out." Yeah, you should. But it's a dangerous film to see together with your woman. [Laughs]
Haha, well, I guess it's a bit uncomfortable..."What kind of man are you? What kind of man are YOU?"
Are you playing the same character in the remake? I can't imagine anyone else playing him but you. No no, I'm not playing the same character. I'm playing the chief of the resort where it happens, I'm playing the guy who's responsible for the controlled avalanche. So I'm just in there as a homage to the movie and it's great to play will Will [Ferrell] and Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] and I think it's fantastic. I love that they're making a remake, and it will be very different. They are making their take on it, but I think it's a story worth telling again.
How difference is the Americanized take of it? Is it a little more over-the-top, a little broader, is it a little less subtle? Well I haven't seen it, so it's still in the editing I think. So I'm actually as excited as you are to see how it turns out. But you know [original director] Ruben Östlund, he has a very definitive cinematic language, so it will of course be different in that way. But I can't say much about it because I haven't seen it and I'm just looking forward to it. I think the casting is great. I think it will be a different movie, based on the same story, but it will have definitely some strengths that are different. I think it's coming out in half a year or something, but I'm not sure.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Kristofer Hivju (@khivju) on