It’s the biggest TV show on the planet, the one that’s talked about more than any other and brought brutal fantasy storytelling to the masses. But what do the people who made Game of Thrones think about being part of the Westeros juggernaut? With just one season left to go, we sat down with eight stars of the series to find out what it’s like to live in the Seven Kingdoms…
John Bradley (Samwell Tarly): Somebody asked me to sum up Game Of Thrones in three words. I’ll always say “fathers and sons” or “fathers and children” – because that’s what it’s about, fundamentally. And everyone can relate to that. It’s dealing with very universal ideas.
Aidan Gillen (Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish): I [read the books] a lot at the start. You can get so much from them, but there came a point where there’s stuff there that wasn’t going to make it into the show, where I think it was unnecessary for me [to know it]. You could probably say more about a character in the first two paragraphs than you’re ever going to [learn later], so you’ve got to read that bit – I think to not read anything would be a mistake – but it’s not obligatory to read everything.
Pilou Asbaek (Euron Greyjoy): If you take yourself seriously as an actor, you do your preparation. So you read the paragraphs or you read the books so you know what the story is about, and how do you fit into the world of Game Of Thrones? But when that is done, it is up to you as an actor, in a collaboration with the writer and the director. My experience is that if it’s not in the script, it’s not in the character. For Christ’s sake, Euron’s a pirate. That’s all I needed to know!
Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth): There’s not a person on the show that isn’t a fan of the show, which is really cool. It’s the only job I’ve ever worked on where we feel like we’re on the same journey as the fans, because we’re all fans as well. We’re all filming our little pieces, and then we watch it the same as everybody else.
Rory McCann (Sandor “The Hound” Clegan): I haven’t actually watched all of it. I’m way lost! I’ve met actors in Game Of Thrones and have no idea who they are, and apparently they’ve been there for years. I am going to watch it, though. I just haven’t got round to it.
Bradley: I always used to read the scripts cover to cover, but for the last couple of seasons, I tried to stay as unaware as possible – because there’s so much that we’re not involved in, we’re excited to see 80% of the show as much as everybody else is.
Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark): Whenever I’ve got a break, I go and look at all the other sets, and just wander around.
Bradley: I did that once. I had to go to the bathroom, and in between the set and the bathroom, there was the Iron Throne room, in darkness, because there was nothing being filmed in it. You feel like you’re suddenly on the set of a show that you love, because you never shot in there. You just turn into a fanboy.
Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm): I love to go look at the other sets. It’s weird, because the only time I’ve been in the Throne Room, it was being used as storage for the Battle of the Bastards. The Throne was still there and everything, but they had a lot of the dead fake bodies and dead horses and stuff.
Bradley: The first scene I was blown away by was the Ned Stark beheading back in season one. I think that was the moment where people realised this show doesn’t play by the rules. They’ve killed their lead in the first season! That’s when you start to think, “This show is completely unpredictable. I’m going to be unsettled, and it’s going to be foolish to predict how this is going to go. Nobody’s safe.” I think that one scene really set a precedent.
Cunningham: I would imagine if you go back and watch from episode one again you’d have that television thing where you can tell they don’t have the budget of a $200 million studio movie, but as the seasons have progressed, it’s become more cinematic.
Hempstead Wright: It’s funny. You look back at some of the season one stuff, and you think it looks a bit naff.
McCann: You definitely feel that the scale’s gone up, and you’re going, “Oh my god, this must have cost millions just to make the set, never mind when the hundreds of people spill on to it!” The battles are getting bigger and you can kind of imagine that as they sew up the saga, they’re not going to hold back.
Hampstead Wright: I think the Battle of the Bastards was just a spectacle. It really summed up how far Game Of Thrones has come, and just the epic scale of the brutal warfare.
Cunningham: The Battle of the Bastards was an extraordinary thing to be involved with. I remember the first day when we were there, we were sitting in a tent and we knew we had 24 days where we were going to be jumping around with 700 extras and 70 horses. I remember looking at Kit [Harington, aka Jon Snow] and saying, “There’s one thing we’re going to need in this next month of this. A fucking sense of humour.” There was drudgery involved, but we knew that it was going to be a pain in the ass going in.
McCann: It was worth the grief, though, eh?
Bradley: I think we’re one of the very few shows that has got better every year. One thing about [showrunners David Benioff and Dan “DB” Weiss] is they give themselves problems, because they always have to outdo what they did last year. You just think, “They’ve fucked themselves. What are they going to do next year?”
Leaving the books behind
Cunningham: I know George RR Martin rolled out the end of the story to [the showrunners], so they’re writing to the spirit of what George’s intention was. But I suppose it must be great for them as well, having increased freedom to put more of themselves into the story.
Gillen: The source material is so rich, but as soon as the show had to overtake the books it gave them the freedom to maybe write just a little bit more for you [as an actor] – which they probably had been doing anyway, since the start. You can tell subtle differences between what’s happening in season two and season one, because season one was already written, and then season two is written knowing the actors who are playing those roles.
Asbaek: You’re probably not going to get better written roles anywhere else. The characters are so three-dimensional. Even if you’re not one of the main cast or a season regular, I still know that I get my moment to establish and portray a character whom I like. And that’s all Dan and David’s work.
McCann: When I get the script these days I feel like David and Dan know me so well that half of the stuff I read is how I would say it anyway.
Cunningham: Their characterisations are extraordinary. I always like to use the example of Arya, who’s held up as a role model, specifically for young girls. I mean this kid is a serial killer. She has a fucking list of people in her pocket she’s trying to kill, and people are saying, “Go Arya, go!” She’s a serial killer, people! That’s how clever the writing is on this.
Bradley: The problem that we’ve always had is that we’re telling a story that we don’t know the ending of. We don’t know if we’re telling a story about how even in the blackest of times, good will prevail – or if we’re telling a story about how despite what good men do, bad guys can win if you let them. That’d be quite a morally bankrupt story! Or is it about how nobody survives, no matter what? We’re not quite sure...
Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne): We’re sort of kept in the dark about what’s next – as much as everybody else is – until we’re filming it. I think that sort of lends itself to really organic performances from people, because we are genuinely still getting used to the stuff that we’re about to shoot when we’re shooting it. It’s not like it’s embedded in us, and we’ve been preparing for a huge amount of time to do it. Though because I get to read the scripts before we shoot the scenes, I do know whether or not Podrick’s going to make it!
Cunningham: There’s not an actor on the show that doesn’t want to make it to the last episode.
McCann: [When the Hound was left for dead at the end of season four] I got a kind of twinkle in the eye [from the producers hinting I’d be back], saying don’t worry, but don’t tell anyone. Then there was a six/seven month wait, a deal was made, and then it was just shut the fuck up! I had to do a couple of Comic-Cons where I was out of the show, and I was just lying, lying, lying. Fans were looking into it, saying “He’s denying it too much now!”
Cunningham: It was worse for Kit when Jon Snow died. It tore Kit’s soul apart having to keep quiet about it. He said that the worst part of that was when Sophie [Turner], who he met when she started on the show at 13, wrote him this beautiful heartfelt handwritten note saying, “I’ve learned so much from you, you’re like my brother...” when he’s thinking, “I’m fucking coming back next year!” He couldn’t tell her, and he said that was the worst part.
McCann: Every year we start by going round a big table with many of the actors, and there’s no talking for the first five minutes because everybody’s seeing when – or if – they die!