As the third season premiere of the George R.R. Martin-based "Game of Thrones" looms near (it debuts Sunday, March 31st on HBO), the ever-expanding cast is more than well aware of how quickly the show and, indeed, their characters, have become a pop-culture phenomenon. And at a recent series of round-table reviews in Los Angeles, the cast showed that they are very self-aware of how that kind of word can sound.
Actress Natalie Dormer, who plays Margarey Tyrell on the series, seemingly anxious that self-labeling it “a phenomenon” may be “egotistical to say”, recognizes the show’s breakout, crossover success as a “cultural pivotal moment” that she has “not taken lightly”, nothing “how amazing [it is] to be a part of it.” Noting that at the previous night’s big-screen debut of the third season premiere that much of the cast had been approached with praise and adoration from the writing and production teams responsible for a long-running FOX animated series, Dormer smiled, saying “You know you’re in the zeitgeist if the Simpsons guys’re around”. Sophie Turner, who plays Margarey’s foil Sansa Stark, remarks that she didn’t quite “realize how” big the series’ reach was until “you meet very influential people who are fans.”
It’s not just Dormer and Turner who happen to be in tune with the show’s place in popular culture, with the show having been the topic of conversation on "Community," "Cougartown," "Parks and Recreation" and even the 24-hour cable news cycle. Gwendoline Christie, who portrays the warrior woman Brienne, As an active user of the social media website Twitter, she notes that she gets a lot of feedback from fans of all kind, ranging from compliments on her performance from fans of the show, accolades from other actors and, of course, even stranger messages. Christie nervously laughs as she recalls moments when she received a message from “a man [who] said he would like me to grind his pelvis to dust. As the character”, and how construction works in Belfast recognized her, leading to a chant of many of the men shouting “Kill us! Kill us!” (Her co-star, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who portrays Jaime Lannister, notes that this is why he “always[s] carr[ies] a sword [in public] now. People stay way from me”).
The references keep coming hard and fast, both in televison and other media. John Bradley (who plays Samwell Tarly) finds all of it very gratifying. “One of the most heartening things about” the frequent shout-outs in pop culture is that they are “subtle, that enough people will get it without ‘Game of Thrones’ reference flashing on the screen”.
But just because the show has hit the big time, as it were, that doesn’t mean that the cast has started slacking off. If anything, they’re only ramping up their efforts. The cast, Coster-Waldau says, are all “very aware of how special this is”.
Michelle Fairley, who portrays the Stark family matriarch Catelyn, notes the cast’s “respect [for] and responsibility” to not just the source material or the fans, but to the actual program itself. Fairely notes that each succeeding season so far “increases [the show’s focus], knocking the series’ scope up a few levels, and even “changes how [the cast] work[s]”. She is also acutely aware of how, as in reality, alterations to the show’s world can knock one off their feet.
As Catelyn, Fairely remarks that “you’re playing an adult, you think you have a strong basis…[but] you think your base is one thing”, noting that at the drop of a hat “you still evolve everyday” and your base can change from being “pretty sorted” to completely altered by “the external forces that cause” all sorts of alterations to the sociopolitical landscape of Martin’s fantasy world.
This, of course, is reflected in the characters’ own personal lives. As actors and as characters, the cast has to focus solely on the aspects of "Game of Thrones" that relate to their characters or risk losing not just the authenticity of the performances but the reality the series has created. Of course, the cast, Fairely notes, reads the complete scripts, but in terms of storylines, the actors have to “focus on [their] own” arcs.
Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, and Isaac Hempstead-Wright, the young Bran Stark, concur. In fact, Hempsted-Wright rationalizes, “most [of the characters] wouldn’t really know about other [characters’] stories” due to the sprawling nature of the tale. He notes that, as the last Stark in Winterfell as season three opens, Bran will have a “clearer path” this year and will be “actually aiming for something like all of the [other] characters now”.
It’s apparent, through watching the young actors discuss the show and seeing them interact with more seasoned veterans, that they have grown both as people and performers as the show has progressed. Williams notes that in a given week where she won’t have much to do on set, she will set aside every last moment to preparing for the more Arya-centric aspects of the show, forsaking many social activities that define the lives of most people her age. The young actress notes how her character has “had to grow up really quickly”, a connection she feels has helped her performance as she and Arya have “kind of grown up together.”
Much of the cast seems to have developed a very familial relationship with one another, with Coster-Waldau and Christie acting like bickering siblings for the fun of it (they note they’re commonly mistaken for actually being antagonistic in their off-screen relationship). To even the most common observer, though, Coster-Waldau and Christie have the sort of close friendship wherein constant mockery and insults are really just symptomatic of how comfortable they are with one another, something demonstrated in films from directors like Guy Ritchie and Kevin Smith. Coster-Waldau notes that the scenes they share together in the upcoming season were “pure joy” to shoot and that it’s still “so much fun to work with Gwen.”
Jokingly, Christie jabs back, straight-faced and without missing a beat, “I just found it bland” before letting out a huge laugh and letting her real thoughts out. “I really love working with Nikolaj”, she reveals, “he’s taught me loads as an actor.”
On the portrayal of women on screen, Christie says “It’s of vital importance to me and it always has been” and that she is “overwhelmed by the idea of female characters defying gender stereotypes.” As a performer and a woman, she is conscious of doing the best she can to service her character, nothing that for novelist Martin, Brienne “was based on Beauty and the Beast and what if that was reversed”, noting that “those roles are very few and far between”. She acknowledges that all of the show’s women are attempting to overcome obstacles and “transcend typical notions of femininity”, which is part of what makes the show so unique. She notes that she had only properly met co-star Lena Headey the previous night, but would love to discuss the role of the warrior woman archetype in culture with the actress who has made a career of out of playing such characters in productions like "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Dredd" and the smash hit film "300."
On the topic of the third season, Turner and Dormer were thrilled to welcome the legendary Dame Diana Rigg to the cast, noting that her character, Olenna Tyrell, is someone Turner noted that “people look up to” and “knows how to play the game”, much like the veteran actress herself. Turner is also excited to really stretch her acting chops in the upcoming year, noting that Sansa isn’t “even going to carry herself the same way…she doesn’t have that spring in her step”, noting that the character will clearly just be going through the motions as she is now both “physically and emotionally” broken.
As season three begins, Bradley finds his character “literally still on the run from the White Walkers”, noting that “with all the adrenaline and fear…he hasn’t had time to take stock” of recent events in his life, but notes that the season’s second episode will show Sam finally acknowledging his new conditions. He’ll “realize…how badly he’s been treated and breaks down…this boy just thinks that nobody cares about him.”
Rose Leslie, who plays the wildling Ygritte, notes that in the third season “you get a good insight into” her character’s culture, promising an explanation for “why they’re ruthless killers”, and promising the revelation of Ygritte’s inner “badass” and that you get to see her with a bow and arrow this season.
However, before production began on the third season, Leslie had never so much as touched a quiver in her life.
“Long story short”, says Kit Harington, who portrays the fan-favorite “bastard” Jon Snow, “she split an arrow with an arrow. First day.” He noted that the incident was not caught on camera, but Leslie had photographed it. She says she may tweet the picture the day after the episode airs.
Though Turner specifically noted that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss “‘give’ the characters to the actors”, with Dormer calling the production/cast relationship as a “two-way street, which is a wonderful thing”, giving similar praise to series creator and novelist Martin, one of the actors refuses to ask the Thrones braintrust a key question.
Harington has not been told who Jon Snow’s mother is and refuses to even ask the showrunners or Martin, who appear to be the only ones in the know. He notes that he “wants to know, but doesn’t want to know because Jon doesn’t know…I’m really hoping we get far enough in the series that he does get to find out, because that would be a brilliant moment to play.” Harington also remarks that in the future, he’s excited to see Jon being left with more responsibilities than he previously has had to deal with.
But as season three (which Dormer notes is “all about…reversal of fortune…down to costum[ing] and [the] weather”), the cast (not to mention the fans), remain excited for season four. However, beyond the ten episodes ordered for this season, the cast has not seen hide nor hair of anything resembling a fourth season script. This, of course, has not deterred their enthusiasm for the project.
“Obviously,” Dormer says, “we want to live up to expectations. Ours are as high as the fans.”
Perhaps that simple statement is why "Game of Thrones" has become what a character on "Parks and Recreation" once referred to as “a crossover hit”: the passion that not just the audience, but those directly involved with the show have for the program. In art, passion goes a very, very long way, and every so often the love for the material that the fans have for it intersects directly with those responsible for creating it. We’ve seen it before in various forms, in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Twin Peaks," "Fringe," "Star Trek," "Jericho," "Lost" and more. But there’s something unique about the way fandom has responded to "Game of Thrones," something that even "Lost" or" Buffy," at their heights, couldn’t achieve for whatever reason. It could be it’s the right time, the right place, the right people, the right political circumstances, or something even less obvious. Whatever the case, it’s abundantly clear the Game of Thrones is one that will be played until its proper ending , if both those involved with the creation of the show and the fandom have their way. There’s an implicit relationship here, a symbiosis that powers both the creators and the fans, that drives them and forces them to do their best.
Dormer, perhaps, phrased it best when the topic was broached in a slightly different manner. “It’s a two way street, which is a beautiful thing.”