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Has there ever been so much speculation about a quick kiss in a trailer?
Leading up to Game of Thrones’ second episode of the new season, “Stormborn,” fans obsessed over the intriguing footage of Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) smooching Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma). Was Ellaria giving Yara one of her fatal poisoned kisses? Was this the beginning of some new inter-Great House romance? Turns out, the duo just wanted to hook up, yet were tragically interrupted by the raging arrival of mad pirate king Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk).
But as Whelan tells us, the fleeting kiss that had everybody talking was actually improvised between the actresses.
“It wasn’t directed that we would kiss,” Whelan says. “It just seemed like something we should do. We led it, very much so. It was meant to be a suggestion [of flirting] and then it became more sexual than we expected because it seemed right. There was only a skeleton crew working because the rig could only take so much weight, so we were left very much on our own. And who wouldn’t want to kiss Indira? I mean, come on!”
It turns out there was one person who did seem a bit reluctant to smooch the Luther star — Whelan’s stunt double, who had to take her place kissing Varma during the shot where the ship is rocked by Euron’s attack.
“Gemma had hurt her back so there were some stunts she couldn’t do,” Varma says. “So I had to start kissing this poor stunt double and she was so terrified! That was quite funny, bless her. I don’t think she’d ever been put in that situation before. She’s used to falling over and being attacked and all the stunts, but to be kissed by an actress was a bit beyond her.”
Adds Whelan: “I think it’s a wonderful scene and amusing as well — like that look from Yara to Theon that says a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…”
The attack sequence was extremely intense for the actors (read our interview with Sand Snake Jessica Henwick), with Yara facing off against her murderous uncle amid fire and water and a ship’s deck that never stopped moving.
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“It was just extraordinary to film,” Whelan says. “We rehearse our fight sequences very slowly in a clean tidy environment with no costumes. It’s very easy. But on set there’s fire flying everywhere, the deck is really wet, there are these incredible stuntmen running around. Pilou and I worked together carefully to make sure we didn’t hurt one another. I also had a fantastic stunt double to do a couple of the bits that weren’t convincing for me to do.”
During the attack, Varma wished Ellaria had fought too, but conceded hanging back was more aligned with her character. “Sadly, Ellaria just stands there while her daughter takes over,” Varma says. “Which as an actress I wasn’t very happy about but it was brilliant.”
The action-packed sea battle concludes with Theon (Alfie Allen) abandoning Yara, jumping off the ship as his Reek side is resurrected by the threat of his bloodthirsty uncle.
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“It’s such a shame, but it’s such a beautiful heart-wrenching twist!” Whelan says. “We think Yara has managed to get Theon back, they had all these scenes of solidarity and comradery in season 6. It seems like he’s back, then there’s that wavering faltering moment that Aflie plays so beautifully. Yara’s just willing him, ‘no, no, stay with me.’ It’s just so heartbreaking!”
Yara and Ellaria are now in the hands of Euron, who promised Cersei he would bring her back a gift. Hopefully, we’ll find out more in next week’s episode, the forebodingly titled “The Queen’s Justice.”
More Game of Thrones “Stormborn” coverage:
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO.