'Game of Thrones' actor explains his surprisingly early exit
Warning: This contains a major spoiler about Sunday’s Game of Thrones, “Sons of the Harpy.”
Ser Barristan the Bold has fallen, but the legendary knight went down fighting. Sunday’s Game of Thrones killed off Daenerys’ trusted advisor after he was overwhelmed by a gang of insurgents in Meereen. The scene finally showed Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) in action, but also marked the exit of a kind and noble presence on the series. Ser Barristan upheld the sort of Arthurian-knight values that are very rare in the pragmatic world of Game of Thrones. His demise also represents another departure from George R.R. Martin’s novels, where Ser Barristan is still alive after five books.
EW was fortunate enough to witness McElhinney shoot his final Thrones scene in Belfast last fall. (It’s the one where he tells Daenerys about Rhaegar Targaryen disguising himself as a minstrel.) Afterwards, we chatted in the actor’s trailer while the Northern Ireland rain pattered on the roof. (And yes, this is the actor who was blindly quoted in EW’s recent Thrones cover story about his exit, a tease that generated plenty of online speculation.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you doing after shooting your last scene on Thrones?
IAN MCELHINNEY: The totality of it didn’t really hit me until once it was over, and then I was surprised how emotional I felt. The guys were lovely; they gave me a really nice gift. I got a little bit tearful. It’s been great fun. The crew has been fantastic. They’re a great gang of people. Never mind their professionalism, they’re nice people. And coming in here and seeing the sets and the costumes and all that kind of thing. There’s so much thought and care and expertise that has gone into making this. It probably won’t really hit me until this time next year when people are gathering for the next [season]. Hopefully I’ll be busy doing something else. I’m not worried too much about that.
How did you find out?
It proves you should probably not read the books. I’ve read the books. So I thought this season I was going to have more to do, and I was really looking forward to that. And then I got my dates from my agent and I thought, ‘That doesn’t tally.’ Because there was no way if they were sticking to the books that I should be in for that number of weeks. It seemed to me they must be writing me out. So I had a word with the line producer and said, “Can you corroborate that they’re writing me out?” Then the [showrunners] rang me and told me, ‘Your time is up in this series.’ So perhaps I took them by surprise that I knew.
What would you say to book-reading fans that are upset that Ser Barristan is no longer with us?
I’m disappointed. But I think you have to accept—as I have accepted—that the demands of TV are different than the demand of book writing. With TV there’s a pressure to create a number of high points. One of the big things about this series—it’s true in the books and even more true in the series—is the surprise element, the shocks. They’ve got to keep that up because people expect that. You can’t predict anything but what you can predict is that there will be surprises.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
One of my favorite scenes up until this point was the scene where he [tells King Joffrey in season 1] “to hell with this” and storms out. I enjoyed shooting that. I would have liked to work more with people like Lena, for instance. I find it extraordinary I’ve gotten to this stage and never met Peter. The scene where I leave Daenerys and end up in the fight and get killed, it’s a lovely scene and a lovely set up for what happens. It’s very well written, I’m very happy with the way I’ve come to an end.
It sounds like a strong scene to go out on.
He had to be seen fighting. He’s been talked about as the greatest knight that ever was, so he’s got to fight. So it’s great that he does. There’s a lovely contrast with that scene that we did today [on the balcony with Daenerys] and what happens right after. There was a nice scene last week too—where he’s advising her. They were very personal scenes, and it’s nice to have something like that. It’s a memory you’ll take with you.
HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.