Actors John Bradley and Hannah Murray, who play the roles of Samwell Tarly and Gilly respectively in the superhit TV series Game of Thrones, talk about the final season of the show and their contribution to it.
Q. How does the final season of Game of Thrones begin for your characters?
John: Well, we start Season 8 where we left Season 7 back at Winterfell [one of the fictional kingdoms featured on the show]. Sam decided that the Citadel [a central settings of GoT] wasn’t for him—that that was just another institution that undervalued him, another institution where he’s an outsider, so he’s realised that the place for him, the place where he can do the most good is with Gilly and baby Sam—but also with Jon Snow. He knows that he’s never going to be accepted by the Maesters [a fictional order that advices lords of the kingdoms] or by the Night’s Watch [an organisation of guards]. He realises that the most important people to him in the world are his family and Jon Snow [played by Kit Harington].
To go back to Winterfell, it felt, for me, and probably for Hannah, that we’ve been almost peripheral to the show for a few seasons. It felt that we were narratively part of the main thing, but it felt that we were slightly distant and living in our own world with only a cursory relevance to the main goings-on. Now, it feels that we’re back with everybody. It feels that these characters are really back in the thick of it and back in the place where they are going to have some impacts on things. We’re going to go back to Winterfell and we’re going to hit like a bomb because we’re in possession of this information [about Jon Snow’s lineage] that we know is going to shake things up. We are the only two characters in the show who know probably the most important piece of information in the show.
Hannah: There’s also a really interesting sense of equality that happens in this season because everyone’s in equal amounts of peril. It’s a great equaliser across the board. Those hierarchies and statuses that used to mean a lot, now mean a lot less. You have interactions between characters you’ve never seen before, particularly with someone like Gilly who comes from this sort of nothing background. She’s a Wildling [member of a marginalised race]. She has no place in the political sphere. Yet she’s suddenly interacting with people who are completely out of her sociopolitical sphere. It makes sense for that to be happening because all bets are off anyway.
John: You just look around at them and you just think all of these characters have come so far since we first met them. They’re bringing all of this pain and all of this fear and all of these experiences they’ve had and they’ve all ended up in one place. The congestion of character story, character psychology, hopes, fears, aims, pain, battle scars, and experience is now all concentrated. That’s going to create friction and that’s going to create drama.
Q. Could you give us a tease, no matter how cryptic, of how things play out?
John: For Sam, just for the season in general, things have got to get a lot worse before they have a chance of getting a bit better. Everybody knows about the threat and everybody knows potentially how bad things could get. It feels climactic. Like the final act in a play where all the characters are suddenly on stage all at once. You know that there’s momentum building. There’s a kind of claustrophobia to it. We’re not going to six or seven vastly diverse and disparate locations in one episode.
Q. The Game of Thrones cast has worked together for eight seasons. Tell us about the chemistry between the cast members.
Hannah: I think for us as actors and for us as humans, it’s just been so much fun to get to be this huge gang of incredible, weird, wonderful people.
John: That’s such a good point. I think that with this show, which has had seven or eight different worlds that overlap narratively but not physically, what can happen is you can feel slightly separate. I think what’s happened with this show is that we still all feel like a family. Even when we weren’t on set together or when our characters didn’t encounter each other, we still felt like we were all on the same ship and all pulling in the same direction. That was a lovely feeling.
Hannah: I had that with Emilia [Clarke, who plays the role of Daenerys Targaryen]. I’ve met Emilia so many times at premieres but as Emilia—I’ve never seen her with a wig on. But this year we were in the hair and make-up studio at the same time one day. I saw her with her wig on, and it was so weird to get star-struck by someone you know. I said to Candice [hair and make-up artist], “I got a bit overwhelmed by the wig.” She was like, “You’ve met Emilia, you’ve never met Daenerys.”
Q. How much secrecy has there been around this final season?
John: Well, they come with so many layers of security now that we need to get through. The scripts are password-protected and they come on encrypted emails, so that kind of heightens the gravitas of the experience as well. It feels like sensitive information when you’re having to type in one password and then making sure your two-step notifications are on.
Hannah: Yes, a little bit like a spy.
John: But then you start reading it. I’ll tell you the bit that really affected me about reading these scripts. Normally, at the end of every episode you get, at the end of the script, it says, “End of episode 1. End of episode 2.” At the end of the final episode, it said, “End of Game of Thrones.” You just think, “Oh my God, it’s the actual end of Game of Thrones.” No matter what comes after with prequels and spin-offs, the core show is over. Once you read that, I think that really galvanises and inspires you because that’s when the work starts. Once you said, end of Game of Thrones, that was a real motivation for us to do this well. We’re starting the end of the journey now that we began nine years ago and people have been waiting for this.
Q. The show’s previous season aired in 2017. To fans who ask why the wait has been so long…
Hannah: I think it’ll make sense when they see it. I remember talking to David Benioff and Dan D.B. Weiss [co-creators of Game of Thrones] years ago and they said they knew where they were going with the narrative from talking to George R.R. Martin [author, Game of Thrones] and things like that. They were like, “We almost don’t know how we’re going to do it.” Especially on a TV budget. But they’ve done it. I feel like the scale of these episodes is unlike anything we’ve seen on television before.
Game of Thrones Season 8 premieres in India on Star World, on April 16 at 10 p.m.