John Bradley, Hannah Murray bid ‘GoT’ goodbye with a ‘huge amount of sadness’
LONDON—When we met John Bradley and Hannah Murray on our recent trip to the United Kingdom, it looked like the affable actors who portray Samwell Tarly and Gilly, respectively, on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” were just as excited as we were about the groundbreaking series’ eighth and final season. Yes, they were thrilled—and, at the same time, “very sad.”
They may not be as high-profile as the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens, but their characters’ participation in the series is more crucial than you think.
Take Samwell. More than any of the characters writer George RR Martin has brought to life, it’s Sam that the “GoT” author likes the most. As he explained to The San Diego Union-Tribune five years ago, he identifies with Samwell because he “is the fat kid who likes to read books and doesn’t like to go up a lot of stairs.”
Like Sam, Gilly doesn’t call too much attention to herself. But as we learned in Season 7, it’s Gilly who discovered Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) real identity. She realized that the blood running through Jon’s veins is—more Targaryen than Stark!
She found out that Rhaegar Targaryen (Wilf Scolding), the prince of Dragonstone, had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled before marrying Jon’s mother Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi) in secret. Since Rhaegar is Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) much older brother, that makes Jon Daenerys’ nephew!
More than the shock that resulted from similarly confounding revelations in the epic fantasy series, John said there was a “huge amount of sadness” that characterized his last days on the set of television’s most popular show.
“I’m very pleased about the ending. The series is getting a satisfying finish,” John disclosed. “We were always worried that, because viewers have a lot of experiences with other shows that let themselves down at the last minute, a ‘misstep’ would make you reevaluate the entire show and compromise the legacy it has built. In ‘Game of Thrones’’ case, we’re just relieved to have an ending that we’re happy for people to see. It’s something I’m very proud of.
“This show has always challenged the way people watch TV. It’s never given them what they think they want. It’s always given them things that challenge them, like the way Ned Stark’s story was played out or the whole episode about the Red Wedding. People said they didn’t like those scenes when they were shown.
“But you have to trust the show… that, dramatically, those scenes would be the most appropriate thing to happen. If Ned had not died, no matter how traumatic it was at the time, this and that would not have happened.”
“We’ve always found ways of challenging people and making them hurt. People didn’t want to hurt. Now, they watch the show to get hurt—and they’re gonna get hurt again, I’m afraid. Now it’s sad to think that the show’s over.”
Our Q&A with John and Hannah:
Could you describe the last take of your last scene on set?
Hannah (H): It was emotional in all kinds of ways. You feel proud that you’ve come all this way with the series and with its amazing people. In completing the story, there’s a sense of satisfaction to that.
But it’s also really sad to say goodbye to a lot of people you’ve regularly been working with—it’s been eight years for me, and nine for John. So, obviously, there’s a huge amount of sadness attached to that.
While it’s always hard saying goodbye, it was surreal working through the final day of the shoot, and you realize, “Oh, there’s only this much time left”—like, you’re in denial. So, you try not to think about it.
John (J): When the season started, I was thinking, “Oh God, this is going to be so sad when I finally wrap this. But we have so much time, so I’m only going to think about it when I have to.
If you let it get on top of you, you will find yourself getting crushed by the weight of emotions.
I did start thinking like this on the first day—you think of it like the last “first day” that we’re ever going to do: “This is the last time I’ll wear this costume… the last time we’ll shoot in this place… That person who’s wrapping up his scenes now, I’m going to have to say goodbye to him.” I realized that even at lunch time on the very last day, I told myself, “I’ll think about it only when I have to.”
Then, suddenly it’s upon you, and it’s your last moment. I was very, very emotional, as a lot of people were. Then, it was over.
One thing that Hannah and I can share is that, because you knew it was the last one, you become aware of it and you enjoy every single moment all the way through. You remember everything while trying to get as vivid a picture of it as possible—all these snapshots of filming the entire season. Because you want the memories of it to stay with you. There are memories across the whole thing, but this last season presented me with more memories than ever before, because I was more attuned to it.
Samwell is one of the show’s outsiders, like the dwarf Tyrion, the mercenary Bronn and the giant woman Brienne. Is the message of “being different” the kind of message you wish the show to impart?
J: There are parallels that can be drawn especially between Tyrion and Sam, although you wouldn’t think about them that much because their personalities are very different. But what you do get out of those two characters is a sense of being outsiders from the day they were born. They didn’t feel they were born into good families, or perhaps their father figures hated them from the get-go—and that had an impact into everything they did. You’re never going to feel accepted by anybody anywhere if the person you look to for guidance and love hates you.
Sam keeps trying to get accepted. He goes to Castle Black and tries to make friends there, and it doesn’t work. He then goes to the Citadel and still doesn’t get accepted. They don’t believe in the same things, so he’s rejected again. It’s this constant rejection from these institutions that weighs him down.
But at the end of Season 7, you find Sam thinking that the idea of being accepted is meaningless. He says, “What do I care? I’ve got all the power I need to make these choices, so I’ll forge my own path and look after the people I love.” Sam learns that it’s better to be loved by three people than being accepted by the Citadel or any other network that he’s been rejected by—and that’s an empowering lesson to learn about yourself: If people don’t accept you, they’re not worth worrying about.
Hannah, it’s your character who discovers the true identity of Jon Snow. Are you happy to have moved the plot forward?
H: Yeah, I never expected to necessarily be expositional in that way because of the kind of character that Gilly is. She’s separate from the machinations of Westeros—she’s a Wildling.
So, to suddenly be revealing this bombshell of information was fun for me, especially with the throwaway manner it was delivered. That’s one of my favorite scenes in the show.
J: It was a stylish way of getting the information out. You have to really be [attentive], or you’ll miss out on some important moments. No wonder people lose their sh*t over this program (laughs).
What was the most challenging moment on set?
H: There have been some very challenging stuff with the cold weather and the fake snow that you breathe in—and it was very unpleasant. Also, I can’t explain enough how amazing it is to be working with kids, because these tiny humans give you so much—they’re so alive, organic and spontaneous. But interacting with them gets tricky at times (laughs). I didn’t grow up with siblings, so I’m not used to having kids around. I was thrown off the deep end (laughs).
J: There’s a scene on a carriage in Season 6 where I had the baby on my knee, and it must have been 1 or 2 a.m. Our lines had to be rerecorded because the baby just was not happy doing that scene. He put his hands on my beard, then slipped off my knee. So, he was hanging on to my beard, dangling—and he was really pulling it. But it’s more a challenge for directors than it is for actors.
Then, there’s Iceland, which had a very inhospitable environment. We loved it because it was stunningly beautiful. But it was a bit too cold, and it was hard to move around. But we didn’t mind putting up with that because it felt the way the characters would feel. Besides, we knew how those stunning landscapes would look onscreen. You realize how something challenging could be so rewarding.
Which other characters do you like or are very fond of?
H: The show finds a way of making you feel for everyone. I love watching the show, which features a rich cast who delivers amazing performances. When you know them in real life, you’re even more invested in their work.
J: You feel for Cersei so much… No (laughs)? I do, because of the pain that she has gone through with her children and everything else. One thing the series is good at is that nobody in the show plays [his or her motivations] in the extremes.
A lot of them play their part like they’re right, and everybody does things for a reason. They do what they believe is right. So even while viewers see that they’re wrong, every character thinks he or she has a valid reason for doing the things he or she does—except perhaps for Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
But when it comes to the tactical side of it, everybody thinks he’s right—and that creates a more complex psychological landscape for the show.
(The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” will debut in Asia same time as the US on April 15 at 9 a.m., with a same-day encore at 10 p.m., exclusively on HBO Go and HBO. New episodes will premiere every Monday at the same time.)
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