Game of Thrones star on Bran's return: 'He's like Doctor Who!'
After a two-year absence, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) returns to HBO's Game of Thrones this Sunday with the most intriguing storyline for his character yet: Having studied under the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow), Bran begins using his powers to explore the past, present, and future of Westeros and Essos. As a result, fans will get to see scenes from the show's mythology they never thought they'd witness while Bran evolves into the first character on the show to gain a TV viewer-like perspective on everything we've witnessed over the past six years.
We spoke to Hempstead-Wright on two occasions, last October while the show was in production, and again just a couple weeks ago after the season 6 premiere in Hollywood (in an interview conducted by EW's C. Molly Smith). Here we combine both talks for a spoiler-free Q&A tackling some burning questions about the new season (note: a couple of these answers were previously published).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay first, what's your take on season 6?
ISAAC HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: Season 6 is superb. Things are really starting to tie up. Every other season has had this great kind of complex development of all these vast, sprawling storylines going all over the place. Now it feels like they've got right to the edges and are beginning to direct themselves toward a focal point, which will be an epic conclusion.
When you first got the scripts, what was your reaction to the way your part had evolved?
"Oh, that's the best scene I've ever done! On that scene is even better!"
So this is Bran's best season?
Definitely. His first two seasons he was reacting to other people's storylines. Then he started to get his own thing with his dreaming and journeying north. But we weren't sure what was going on. Now we've learned his storyline is pretty damn important. I love this season so much. His been very insular in his storyline. Now he's realized he's been having his dreams because he's got to save Westeros. It's such a cool storyline now.
What can we expect from his visions?
Bran is pretty damn close to being the Three-Eyed Raven now. Previously, he's seen tiny glimpses of future or past but never has he been very much in control of the situation. Now we're given looks into very important events in the past, present, and future of this world and Bran is beginning to piece them together like a detective, almost as if he's watching the show. Equally, he's now discovering how crucial he could be in the Great War. It's quite Inception-y. His power is not just in telling us about the history, but also might have a serious impact on the future.
So his powers have progressed quite a bit since we last saw him.
It started off with these disturbing dreams and finding he could control direwolves. Then he discovered he could warg into humans. Then he started to have these weird visions. Now he's starting to make use of the visions and starting to discover he can interact with the past — he's like Doctor Who. It's Doctor Bran!
In Bran's visions, from what we've seen in the trailers, you get to stand up. Has that been a refreshing change?
For the first two days it's like, "Oh yeah, I'm walking around and doing things." Then you're like, "You know what? Can we go back to the cave so I can lie down again and just relax?" But no, it's been nice to stand up for a bit this season.
You're also working with Max von Sydow, who has an incredible silver screen history.
He's a charming man. There are certain lines that you think are almost fillers, lines you don't think are imperative to any kind of storytelling, like, "He's over there." But when Max von Sydow says it, it sounds like it's the most important news you've ever heard. He just amplifies the sense of creativeness and it's quite something to stand next to. Even short lines that I would have no clue to how to make sound interesting he does it so effortlessly. And he's also a completely lovely man.
What was your reaction when you first learned you would be taking a year off?
When I heard the news [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] wanted to have a chat with me, I was like, "Oh no!" Usually when you get a phone call from David and Dan it's to tell you you're dead. So, comparatively missing a season, I was like "whew!"
Did you miss being away from the show? Or was it nice to take a break?
The main thing was I could completely focus on my school because that's one of my most important years. But also I've been doing [the show] for about five years, maybe six with the pilot, and it was quite nice to take one year off. It was quite a shock to the system to spend an entire term at school because I'd never done that before. By the end of it I was like, "I do miss Thrones. I miss Belfast." It's nice to come back.
Did your perspective on the show change during that year?
I saw really how huge it was. Being an outsider and seeing all the posters and all the chatter about it, that was quite bizarre.
What was it like watching Game of Thrones season 5 while sitting a season out?
I still haven't seen it.
How is that possible?
It [aired] right in the middle of my exams and I didn't get a chance to watch … I've been so busy. I genuinely would have happily watched the whole 10-hour season last night [after the premiere screening], so I think I'm going to do that on the plane back. I watched bits here and there, so I know the whole story of it, I just haven't seen every single scene. I should watch it because Bran has this all-knowing sense about him now, like he has actually watched the show with us. He's got a grasp of what's going on all over the kingdoms.
Is there anything you did to prepare for your return into character?
Having done this since I was about 10, it never really registered that I was even acting. It was just, "Come here, read these lines, put this costume on." It was only this season that it really dawned upon me that I can have some fun and do some interesting things with the character. I treated this season as if Bran knew everything that was going on.
What's the moment you felt most connected to Bran?
I've had such a cushy existence compared to the horrors that Bran has gone through. First he lost the use of his legs, then his family left him, then his dad dies, then his home gets burned down, then his mom and his brother die, then he's on the run, then he has to leave his other brother, then he gets kidnapped, then he gets attacked by zombies, and then he finally gets to this cave with this weird tree person. So there's not a whole lot that I kind of necessarily connect to him. But I feel I took something away from his overall arc. I felt very connected with what Bran went through in terms following this calling throughout the entire series, no matter what. He's going on this dreadful, miserable journey to get to this cave and he's had every opportunity along the way to give up. He ran into Jon at Craster's Keep and he could've said, "Jon take me home. I can't deal with this anymore. I just want to relax and be taken care of." But he hasn't. He's fought the whole way against adversity and he's lost most of the people [he cares about] and it's like: "Now let's get to it." So I suppose what I took away from that is that if there's something you really love, and you really feel like it's you, then you follow it — no matter what.
Did you see our season premiere coverage? Check out our interview with director Jeremy Podeswa, our deep-dive recap for "The Red Woman", and our interview with Carice van Houten.For more on season 6, follow @jameshibberd for ongoing GoT coverage, sign up for our Thrones email newsletter, bookmark this page for the latest GoT stories, and subscribe now to our season 6 podcast. Listen to the first episode below:
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HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.