Note: Contains spoilers from Game of Thrones season 7, episode 5, “Eastwatch”…
Gendry is done rowing! The long-missing Game of Thrones character returned Sunday night after a three-season absence — and it’s not just for a cameo. The bastard-turned-blacksmith has a major role to play this year. Gendry (Joe Dempsie) has joined Jon Snow’s dangerous quest North of the Wall to capture a wight and bring it back as proof of the Army of the Dead. “We’ve always expected to bring Gendry back since we saw him rowing out,” writer Dave Hill says. “We almost brought him back in season 6 and it didn’t quite work out. We definitely wanted him here for the big mission, and we wanted Robert Baratheon’s bastard son back into the show. It made sense that Davos would want to save this boy who’s like a surrogate son. And Joe is great — which is a big positive.”
We spoke to Dempsie on the set last fall about episode five. The British actor (known for Skins), bundled up for his Jon Snow mission, was warmed up with some green tea in a trailer and chatted about the return of his character following years of fan curiosity about his absence.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what were you told back when you left?
JOE DEMPSIE: After season 3, [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] told me Gendry is going to go off a little bit. It was always in their minds that he’d come back.
And did you keep in touch at all?
I didn’t keep in close contact with them during the intervening years because I like David and Dan a lot and I didn’t want them to think there was some other motive [in reaching out]; that I was trying to wrangle my job back. So I kind of just left it. And Thrones, you understand, is bigger than any one of us. If you’re part of it, great. If not, you just get over it.
How often did you get the question from fans?
“What’s happening with Gendry?” became part of my daily life, answering the question. And I could say with clear conscious that I had no idea. It’s been a meme-a-week, but I’m partly responsible for that by tweeting “still rowing” at the end of season 4. They even worked a reference into the show of that… There are some real crowd-pleasing moments this season.
So now that he’s back: What has Gendry been doing all this time?
He’d gone back to his old life, but there’s a restlessness in him. He bored of safety and wants adventure and he’s itching to get involved and then an opportunity presents itself. He’s got his father’s blood in him and he’s a natural born fighter.
What was it like to sit back and watch the show continue without you?
My years out of the show came at a good time. There’s an element to [GoT] professionally where you can start taking it for granted, assuming it’s going to be there every year, and it made me a little dismissive of some of the great work that you can get in the U.K. So I took those three years to get my head down and do other stuff. But I felt ready to go back. I think a lot of us, our main want, is to have some part to play in the end game. So it feels like a good time to come back in.
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What was your reaction when you found out that not only are you back but have this great action-based storyline with Jon Snow and all these other popular characters?
That’s the main thing, the selfish actor part of you reads that and goes, “That’s going to be great! I’m going to look cool doing that!” Part of this feels like Avengers Assemble coming together, this ill-advised mission North of the Wall. When you imagine wanting to be an actor, these are the sort of pinch-yourself moments.
Plus you get some cool scenes with Ser Davos.
The Gendry-Davos scenes are really good. He’s sort of a surrogate son and they’re both from the same place. Davos kind of knows what Gendry has been through. And Gendry has never had a father figure in his life.
They can also bond over their mutual Melisandre horrors.
They’re both still slightly scared and slightly fancy her, almost like they both have the same [evil] ex-girlfriend. His return and his role have been an interesting addition to the gang. You do find out a little more about how potentially scarred by the Melisandre experience he is. He’s not over it yet.
There’s also been a lot of speculation about Gendry’s parentage. Given that he’s Robert Baratheon’s bastard, could that play some kind of factor in the end game?
Yeah, I feel like there’s stuff to explore. Gendry’s position in this war has to have some kind of constitutional value. What part he plays in the politics has still to be seen, if anything. For the moment, I’m pleased to be back involved and be one of these Avengers.
What’s your prediction?
If he survives [the North of the Wall mission]… I would assume … I know he’s illegitimate, the last known son of the Baratheon blood line. I don’t know. He doesn’t seem like the kind of character who would make a play for power. But then maybe it could be something foisted upon him reluctantly…
I feel like you’re trying not to say: “Gendry — Iron Throne!”
Well, obviously! Everyone is like: “Where do you want to see your character?” That seems fairly unlikely. I feel like him and Jon Snow are forming a bond over the bastards thing. They’re also two of the inherently good characters in the series. Not that that protects you, but I think they’re quite a formidable force — if they can carry on cooperating…
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO.