What ‘Game of Thrones’ cast really thought of final season
Early in 2015, before Game of Thrones returned for its fifth season, David Benioff sat at a table in the Oxford Union’s 200-year-old debating chambers, trying to repress a smirk.
He was flanked by Kit Harington (Jon Snow) and John Bradley (Samwell Tarley) and fellow Game of Thrones showrunner DB Weiss.
They’d been on stage some 70 minutes, discussing the series and taking questions.
A woman near the front asked if actors ever protested upon learning their character was to be killed off.
“Before we deliver the scripts ... we make a phone call,” Benioff smiled.
“Usually people are quite gracious. This year, for the first time, we got some pushback. ‘Are you sure?’. And we said, ‘yeah ... we’re quite sure you are going to die this year’.
“There was a long conversation and we [received] a long letter explaining this was a bad idea, which just made us want to kill that person much more.”
Benioff’s relish was unmistakable. He didn’t identify the ticked-off actor, who later turned out to be the veteran actor Ian McElhinney whose character, Ser Barristan Selmy, was to die in a bloody ambush.
What irked McElhinney was that, in the George RR Martin novels, Barristan is very much alive and at the side of his queen, Daenerys Targaryen.
“I gave some arguments of my own why I thought Barristan was kind of important in Daenerys’s story, important enough that he should stay in Daenerys story, and he didn’t,” McElhinney said.
His protests were ignored.
Yet now, as viewers stagger away from what is generally agreed to be a crushingly inept final season, his protestations have taken on an aspect of foreshadowing.
Twelve months after McElhinney went down fighting, Alexander Siddig gave a bruising “exit interview” after his character, Dornish ruler Doran Martell, was abruptly snuffed out.
As with McElhinney, this was perceived as a disgruntled actor hanging out his dirty laundry.
Three years later, with Game of Thrones going down in flames, it is clear, however, that even better known cast members have had issues with how Benioff and Weiss steered the show since running out of books to adapt.
“I am having sleepless nights about the whole thing,” Kit Harington said at the European premiere in Belfast in April.
He seemed genuinely concerned about the direction Benioff and Weiss had taken.
“I really hope we have done something that most of the people who follow this show – you cannot please everyone – will love.”
His misgivings are now vindicated: Jon Snow was essentially written out of his own story. The Bastard of Winterfell was built up as the resurrected warrior fated to battle the Night King, but then Arya Stark popped up to do the job for him.
Arya killing the Night King was contentious even for the actress who plays her, Maisie Williams.
“I immediately thought everybody would hate it; that Arya doesn’t deserve it,” said Williams, though she later said the expectations-subverting twist was an example of what Game of Thrones does best.
That bombshell pales compared to the hand-brake turn pulled with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who went full “Mad Queen” in the final season.
As one of Thrones’s biggest stars, Clarke was never going to publicly bad-mouth Benioff and Weiss but, her unease over the path taken by the saga is unmistakable.
She also gave a strange interview at HBO’s Emmy party last September.
“Best season ever,” Clarke said, her eyes a little too narrow; voice a little too high pitched. Was she trying to tell us this was going to be the worst season ever? – © Telegraph Media Group Limited 2019