Game of Thrones is full of warriors and rulers and schemers and seducers, but then there is Samwell Tarley. When he joined the Night’s Watch at the start of season 1, he seemed like the least likely character to make it to the final episodes — clumsy and fearful and seemingly physically incapable of handling the brutal life at Castle Black, let alone adventures beyond the Wall. But thanks to Jon Snow’s friendship and his own surprising reserves of inner strength, Sam has been quite the survivor and evolved into a key player (who is holding one massive secret) as we move into the final season.
We sat down in a hotel lounge in Belfast with actor John Bradley for a bit of insight on his character ahead of Sunday’s premiere…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I just had the feeling that I’m not going to do many more of these Game of Thrones interviews. Like it just now hit me.
JOHN BRADLEY: I think that’s how everybody feels. If you have to inhabit a different skin for six months of every year and then you’re told you’re never going to play that part again, it’s weird. When I got to the end of his story, I got the sense I was abandoning Sam. Because every year, you grow with your character. I wish I could stay with him a bit longer. Because the last couple of books are coming out, we will get more of these characters. They will exist in another form in a few more years. And for book fans especially, that first book came out in 1996. At some point the characters are not going to be in their lives anymore.
One thing that’s unique about Sam is he always seems like he wishes he was in a completely different story than everybody else.
And that’s why he’s so important. If every character was a Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen, if everybody was like them, then the threats wouldn’t matter. If everybody could handle it as well as Jon, it wouldn’t matter. You need a Sam in there as an example of what Jon is fighting to protect.
What was your reaction to the scripts for season 8?
It was the start of the goodbye process. The only time we’re really happy and content is that brief period between the show airing and receiving the next scripts, that thin band of time where we know as much as the audience. So when fans ask, “What’s going to happen?” we can say, “We don’t know, we haven’t read it.” As soon as started to read that script I became in possession of knowledge that so many people in the world want.
It’s literally a weight that you get paranoid about.
Completely. You guard it with your life. We feel a responsibly to keep all those secrets. But I think the audience is going to be delighted. It’s never been a show that gives people exactly what they think they want. If you asked any fan of the show going into season 3, “Do you want Robb Stark and Catelyn Stark to be killed at a wedding?” They’d say, “No! We don’t want that, we’re behind them, we want them to succeed.” Then it happens and we feel all those emotions and they realized that’s what we needed.
And now if you ask, “Do you wish The Red Wedding never happened?” fans would answer, “No!”
Exactly! We’ve never given the audience what they want, but we give them what they need — a nutritional dramatic experience. Not just the chips and chocolate. We challenge them and hurt them too.
So there was a big cliffhanger left in season 7 with Sam holding onto the big secret of Jon Snow’s parentage.
Sam is feeling the responsibility of the information. It’s like what we were talking about before — this is a big spoiler for Jon Snow, the character. But like when people ask us for spoilers, they don’t really want to hear the spoiler. They would rather see it. Like that, Sam knows if Jon has to hear this that he would rather hear it from Sam than anybody else because he trusts Sam to deliver it in a compassionate way.
You also get some fighting action this year.
Sam has shown a couple times that when threatened, he will resort to violence. He couldn’t talk that White Walker around with logic. He’s discovered when violence is the only answer, it is an answer. His relation with Gilly and Baby Sam has gotten to the point where he’ll protect them at all costs.
What was shooting the big battle like?
[Director Miguel Sapochnik] has such a forensic sense of detail the way he can see the point of view of all these different characters in his head and know what each individual beat means to them. It’s so inspiring. He will rein you in at times. When doing these huge fight sequences, you get carried away sometimes. You want to make yourself look as good as possible. Miguel said to me, “I know that you want to show you’re quite good at this. But remember your character. Sam’s not that good at this. You have to play him because that’s what’s going to be truthful. So stop being so good!”
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