At this point, you can probably count the number of purely good, purely moral Game Of Thrones characters on one hand: there's Ser Davos, whose inspirational speeches and love of fermented crab have made him a fan-favorite; there's Ser Brienne Of Tarth, the most honorable woman in the Seven Kingdoms; her squire, Podrick Payne, who just wants to sing everyone a song; and of course, Samwell Tarly, slayer of White Walkers, lover of ladies.
His evolution from the meek, unloved "coward" who joined the Night's Watch in season one to now has been one of the great character arcs of the show. In this week's episode, it was particularly great to see how much Sam has matured over the years and learned to stand-up for himself, even if it came in the form of a brief recap of his entire storyline: "Everyone seems to forget I was the first man to kill a White Walker. I've killed Thenns, I've saved Gilly more than once, I've stolen a considerable number of books from the Citadel library, survived the Fist at the First Men. You need me out there [to fight the White Walkers]."
With only four more episodes left of beloved the pro-incest, pro-dragons TV series, it's safe to say not all those characters listed above will make it to the finale. Actor John Bradley talked to us a day after the second episode of the final season, "A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms," aired. On the eve of the big battle with the army of the dead, Bradley reflected back on how the show changed his life, his favorite fan encounter, the stress of keeping spoilers at bay, Sam's evolution as a character, why socialism would be good for Westeros, and why Dany and Jon may be on a collision course for the throne.
I was up until about five a.m. last night blogging the episode because HBO doesn't send screeners out anymore. I've had the theme song echoing in my head all night. It's so weird because they show it at two a.m. on Sky here [in Ireland] so it's simulcasted with the U.S., and I stayed up until three watching it last night, as well.
It's so amazing, you think you're going to be tired when you've watched it, and you think you'll go straight to bed after it, but that was such a powerful episode, it gives you energy from somewhere. You extract some kind of energy from it—I wasn't tired after it. I was tired before it, but it was such emotionally charged episode, it really woke me up, and I struggled to get to sleep after it, even though it was four in the morning. It was really an effective episode I think. I hope people don't mind staying up late for.
I completely understand that, because after I finish writing my post, the adrenaline is still pumping afterwards. Is there a fan culture there where people stay up late and watch it live together and everything? Yeah, there definitely is. I think that for the first episode last week, I think like 200,000 people stayed up until three a.m. to watch it. I think that's what's such a great, powerful thing about the show, that it is a communal show and it's really created a global community. People don't want to be behind the curve and people want to share it with people. People want to share the emotions and the immediacy of it. They want to watch it with their friends, or if not with their friends, texting their friends their thoughts as it goes on to share that experience. It's great!
I think that that's a testament to the show, that people almost watch it like sports. They have their favorites, they have an emotional connection to it, and they really do grieve with it and they're joyous with it in real time. They want that experience.
You could be the biggest fan of a certain sport, but if you watch a football game recorded the day after, you're never going to have that same emotional connection with it as you do if you share it with people in real time. I think that's the reason why it's created a very shared culture. Sharing the emotion and sharing the experience with people. There's nothing like seeing it with other people and experiencing it at the same time.
Lots of the people are impatient, and God bless them for that. They're impatient, they want to watch it as soon as they possibly can. They don't want to waste a second, they don't want to watch it a second later than is possible, and I think that's a beautiful thing. We feel very happy, and very proud that we've managed to assemble that huge group of people, and that global fan base.
Have you had any particularly strange or memorable fan interactions over the years? Yeah, the main one that stayed with me all the time since it happened, I think it was back in 2012, so it was after season two, maybe when season three had just come out. I was walking down the street and this young man came up to me and he said, "I just wanna say that, because of your character on Game of Thrones, because of what he's achieved, and how he's blossomed in bravery and how he is able find himself with what he's capable of..." he found the courage to ask out the girl that he'd been in love with his entire life.
He never wanted to ask her out because he was scared of rejection and had some self-doubts, he was uncertain about himself and he didn't want to face the pain or the possibility of the pain of rejection. And because of Sam's bravery and Sam's blossoming relationship with Gilly in seasons two and three, he found that courage and he asked her out and she said yes and they'd been together quite a while at that point. They'd been together a few months and they were very, very happy—she'd always liked him too but never wanted to ask him out either, and they are sharing this thing where they both loved each other but they just didn't feel prepared to announce that.
I think that one of the beautiful things is that you can talk about the success of the show in terms of its size and its audience all over the world, but I think that beyond that just in terms of the quality of the emotional connection, about the genuine impact it does have on people's lives and how much time people are willing to commit to it and how they are willing to be put through the emotional ringer and stay with the show. The intensity of people's relationships with our show is unlike anything I ever experienced before, and that's how I measure success. When you're putting couples together and then they could get married, they could have children, you just realize you are affecting people's lives and changing the world in little ways like that. And that gives you an enormous sense of responsibility, an enormous sense of pride and that made my day.
I often think at times of that couple, and wonder if they're still together, and I really start to feel I'm doing good, important work here and am contributing to what's making people happy. And that's all that you can ask for I think.
This show has spanned almost a decade of its fans lives, but also your life. Do you have any perspective on how it's changed your life in that sense? It's changed me in a number of ways. I was somebody who had struggled with self-esteem issues in my younger life and questioned my own self-worth. Where was I going, what was I capable of, am I capable of anything? I had these ambitions to be an actor, I wanted to be an actor, but as a child, especially in the kind of working class environment I grew up in, there was no blueprint really for somebody like me to do anything like that. There was no actors in the family and there was nobody I could really turn to for advice. I felt almost silly for saying [I wanted to be an actor] because I just felt...it's not gonna happen necessarily.
But it did. And it's extraordinary how it's transformed me. Nobody comes out of their twenties the same person they went into their twenties. To have your twenties associated with such of an incredibly important and beautiful experience is very rare and very beautiful and will cast a long shadow on the rest of my life. I have had an unbelievably, amazing experience on this show.
What are you most and least going to miss about the show once it's all done for good? The thing I'm gonna miss the most is the people. And that's the cast members, that's David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], and that's all the crew and the writers and everybody I've encountered over the course of making this show. Everybody on the show has got a very special place in my heart and I think that's a good thing, because as long as you miss the people then you'll kind of cool because the people are always a text or phone call away and we are going to maintain those friendships. They are not just working relationships; their personal relationships as well and personal relationships are always the thing that I value over anything else.
So my relationship with Kit [Harington], the professional relationship may be over, and it was wonderful, but our personal friendship, that's gonna be maintained and sustained, that's gonna go forward.
What I'm gonna miss the least is probably having the responsibility of keeping these secrets. It's quite a tough thing to do. It's kind of a responsibility to know all of the time and effort that HBO has put into keeping the season locked down and keeping the narrative secure and not giving away any spoilers. The idea that one kind of slip of the tongue, one misjudgment from you, and you can ruin that entire thing, especially in the days social media and how things can spread. To have that responsibility, not just for HBO but to all the fans all over the world who don't want it spoiled that's a big responsibility.
Because people ask me for spoilers and I don't quite know what to say, and it can be a bit awkward. So fingers crossed, we make it to the final episode and can breathe an enormous sigh of relief—until then, we are constantly on edge, we are constantly biting our tongues and constantly watching our P's and Q's. And that is a thing I'm not gonna miss. It's a lovely problem to have, but its an enormous responsibility as well.
That definitely sounds stressful, and the other cast members I've talked to over the years definitely shared that concern. Keeping with this retrospective mood, do you have any particularly favorite scenes or story arcs that you've played? I think in terms of scenes, for so many reasons, I think Sam killing the White Walker back in season three was such an enormous moment for him as a character. Because up until then, he's lived this life under the shadow of Randyll Tarly's judgment of him—one of the first things he says when he comes into the show is "I'm a coward." What you get a sense of he was an impressionable, sensitive young man, and the reason he believes he's a coward is because he was told he was a coward. And if you tell somebody something like that at a very early age they're gonna believe it and they're gonna surrender to it.
But I think when he kills the White Walker, that's the first time you see Sam act on his instincts. He almost doesn't have the time to remember that's he's a coward. When you see him acting purely under instinct and purely from his heart, you see how brave he is. He stands in front of that White Walker when the person he loves the most in the world is threatened, he doesn't think twice about stepping to it and doing whatever he can to kill it and engage with it and engage violently with it.
And I think that's when not only the audience starts to see that's Sam's got a lot of bravery in him, that's when it starts to bloom to Sam as well that he has to take ownership of that. He goes forward. He was talking about it in last nights episode, about how he was the first person to a kill a White Walker. He knows what that says about him and he knows that that was the first time that maybe the things that Randyll Tarly told him about himself, maybe they're not true. And that's when a lot of those scars start to heal.
I hadn't been really involved with too much action before then. I'd been in a lot of great scenes, they were a lot talking scenes, and this was first time we kind of choreographed a fight or choreographed a bit of action, which felt more exciting. That was the first time that I felt in the midst of a big set piece action dramatic set piece and that was very exciting.
If it was up to you, who should sit on the Iron Throne at this point? Or should the Seven Kingdoms perhaps consider changing to a more representative democracy? Yeah that's an interesting point—somebody had asked me, if Sam got the Iron Throne what would be the first thing that he'd do? I think that the first thing that Sam would do if he got the Iron Throne would be to abolish the very notion of the Iron Throne. I think that Sam can see, anybody with a certain mindset can see, it's the thing that's causing all the problems. That quest for power, especially that quest for absolute power. The status symbol of sitting on the Iron Throne and what that means.
It's not good for people. It creates an atmosphere of violence, and it creates a culture of ruthlessness. People will seemingly trample over anybody to get that position of absolute power, and I think that anybody with any sense of what's right and wrong could see that's not really the way to do it. Everybody has skills and ultimately everybody should be bringing their own sets of skills to the table, and the power should be shared around and the responsibilities for different things should be lying at the feet of the people who are best to deal with it. Human beings can make mistakes and nobody is perfect.
Absolute power boosts the ego and boosts your sense of your own importance. That's what creates violence and tension and all of these things. If power is shared out, nobody is going to get too big for their boots, nobody is gonna be driven mad by power, because everybody is gonna have a little bit of power to bring to the table. And because of that, the world is going to be a happier place and that's kind of what I believe would be best for the show and may be the best for society as well.
It sounds like socialism should come to Westeros! Along these lines, is it inevitable that Dany and John are on a collision course for the Throne? Is there any way she can be a fair and successful ruler now? Well I think that's the ultimate test going forward as far as those two characters are concerned. What are their priorities? Can these characters compromise, can they come to some kind of agreement about who is best to lead, will they share it? Is that the best kind of compromise? Or will their own quest for absolute power overtake them and then they'd want to have all the power for themselves?
That's what's probably gonna be between now and the end of the season. Just how they go about approaching dividing up that power or if they decide dividing up that power isn't the wisest thing to do, and going through all the power themselves. That's an interesting, dramatic position to be in. That's what is gonna spark both of those character's conflicts, both conflicts between themselves and conflicts internally from now until the last of the season. We are in a very interesting, dramatic place in that thrust and that's going to be under the microscope more and more intensively as the season goes on.
Sam had a speech about memory during the big Winterfell meeting last episode: "If we forget what we've been and what we've done, we're not men anymore, just animals." Do you see that a key take away for the theme of the season, and perhaps the entire show? Yeah, I see that as a very, very important...very important speech when it comes to portraying kind of what the show's attitude towards death is. We are a show where very important and very central characters that the public has a lot of affection for have been killed off very early on. Some people might think that we deal with death cheaply, and the preciousness of human life does not necessary apply in this world and in this show.
But I feel when Sam says that, he is talking about what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead and the idea that, in the grand scheme of time, the very linear nature of time, we are alive for this tiny, tiny bit of time. And the rest of the time we're gone and we just don't exist. What does it mean to be alive and what does it mean to be dead? And that kind of makes you reevaluate the attitude towards the entire show. It makes you think about Robb Stark and Catelyn Stark and Ned Stark and those people that are now gone. What does it mean to be gone and what it means to be...to have a life that's suddenly over? Does your life end when you're dead or do you carry on because your memory is being kept alive in peoples minds and hearts?
I think it's making me reevaluate what the show's attitude towards death is and how it sees preciousness and sanctity of life. The show has a conscience towards death and an attitude towards death that is more nuanced than the body count would have you believe sometimes. It makes you think about every single one of those individuals that have died, what their stories are—even characters that you maybe only see for a brief second and they get an arrow through their head and they are never seen again. They're people with stories, with lives, and they've loved and they've hated. What does that mean that they're gone and will it...are you replaced? Are you unique, and where do you go after and all these things. I think that in a show with such a high body count, it's nice to know that we do have an attitude towards death that's much more reflective than the violent nature leaves you to believe sometimes.