Iain Glen: 'This is an extraordinary experience and occupies a big space in the memory bank in your heart'

By James Hibberd
April 30, 2019 at 12:45 PM EDT
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Note: This story contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3.

Iain Glen has just finished filming his final moment on Game of Thrones.

It’s last spring in Northern Ireland, and the actor who has been with the HBO drama since its very first episode has spent the morning laying perfectly still as dead Ser Jorah Mormont in front of the Winterfell castle. After wrapping his last shot, the 57-year-old Scottish actor treks his dusty boots into his trailer to chat. If he’s feeling sad about departing the series, he’s not showing it. The actor has had an enviable arc on the series as the protector, advisor and formerly unrequited lover of Daenerys Targaryen. He’s survived battles and gladiatorial fights and greyscale to make it deep into the final season, where Ser Jorah died in perhaps the manner that would most please him: Protecting his queen. (Note: Some of the quotes below have previously been reported).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was honestly starting to think they had a figurine in place of you on that pyre because you were so still even between takes.
IAIN GLEN: I know. I slightly drifted off, to be honest. I was aurally saying goodbye. Listening to the GoT set operating. What a vast slick machine it’s become and to hear It orchestrating. I got into it. Everything echoes backwards over the past decade. Trying to let the whole thing go. I feel happy about it. Having been in the pilot and every season I’ve had so many work experiences. [Acting is] an ephemeral beast and you go from one [job] to the other and this is an extraordinary experience that went on for nearly a decade and occupies a big space in the memory bank in your heart. 

What was your reaction to learning Ser Jorah’s ending?
You go through a bundle of emotions. Your best indication of what happens is they always list the cast on the first page of each script. I think all six came together at once. First script, yeah, I’m in that one. Second, yeah, I’m in that one. Third, I’m in that one. Fourth, yeah I’m that one — just being a corpse, but I didn’t know that yet. Then fifth, no, I’m not there. Sixth one: Oh no! So I knew I definitely died. Then I read the scripts and I just think they’re so good. I enjoy reading them. I’m as intrigued as anyone to find out what unfolds, whether it’s The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. You know you can’t please everyone all the time but I just think they did it incredibly right, the way they resolve all the various storylines. When I read the nature of his demise it felt right. It was the right conclusion. For eight years in a row, you go, “Please, please…” You just want to stay in the party. You just want to stay on board. Then this season comes and this is the season to go, if you’re going to go. It’s a heroic and satisfying demise. I think [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] were sweetly nervous about everyone’s reaction and their instinct is you’ll be upset that you’re out. So the first thing I did is I went and emailed them and told them how much I loved the scripts. And they said, “Aw, you’re a gent.” And I said, “No, I’m really grateful for this conclusion.”

Your character has survived death so many times. You must have thought you had a shot of making it to the end
You could be a question mark or conclude as a character. The question mark ending is where you get to the end of the whole thing and people try to project forward what his future is that you’ll never know. I’m happy to conclude — particularly, as you say, as somebody who teetered on the edge of going out earlier. I remember when I got greyscale I asked [the producers] if this is it and they said, “No, not this season.” So I thought I was definitely f—ed next season. But they were joshing. It has been a great gig.

Is there anything you wish your character had gotten to do?
Other than the painfully obvious one of making love to Daenerys, way back when, in all honesty, no. It would feel churlish and ungrateful even if I could conjure up something. I’ve always felt very looked after. The whole greyscale journey was not in the original books, and that was something they gifted the character. I could say I wish Jorah expressed himself more, but that’s just not who he was. [The showrunners] always said, slightly joshing, “You’re great in silence. We always like having you in a scene when you’re not speaking.” But they were being sweet. But no, there’s nothing. 

What was your favorite scene shot?
If I had to pick, I’d say two: The whole gladiatorial sequence — what was required physically during that sequence for Daenerys’ benefit, trying to win her back. It was a very hard week and I loved doing that. So for the action side of things that sequence encapsulated it. In terms of emotional demands, and feeling satiated, it was probably being rejected by Daenerys when she found out there was a duality to my approach to her. When I came in front of her and she said she told me she never wanted to see me again.  

There’s often been bit sadness there, Jorah pining for Dany all those years when there was always with somebody else.
I don’t know what people perceive. But in my mind, there was a significant shift when he lost her love and made this journey to try and win it back; once he won her favor again and was in her orbit. Of course, there has always been a profound love there but him wanting a reciprocal physical love has gone and he was just happy to be with her.

That’s definitely the vibe on screen.
Good. And being promoted to being the head of her army is where he wanted to be. So Jorah got complete forgiveness and then went out the way he wanted to. I die saving her life and I’ve said that for a good few seasons the nobility of the man is very much within him and he would absolutely sacrifice his life for her to succeed. In a way he was given the conclusion he wanted.

The night shoots for Episode 3 have been super brutal.
It was a real test. Most of this crew of dragon were on 11 weeks and it completely f—s your body clock. You have no life outside it. At least on day shoots you’ll go have a meal in the evening and then you do a bit of something. On night shoots those down hours are removed. You get to sleep at 7 in the morning and wake in midday and you can’t really do anything. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had on Thrones; the least enjoyable of all of it.

As I understand it, the more time shooting on these practical sets the less that’s done by special effects and the more realistic it is.
It bleeds through to the reality of the Thrones world. You have an absolute f—ed bunch of actors. But on screen it’s horrible and dirty and dark and cold; it’s really miserable. Without getting too method about it, it bleeds onto the screen

What was working with director Miguel Sapochnik like?
Miguel is an animal. I don’t know how he does it — to stay as engaged as fresh as he is with the weight on his shoulders. He takes care of each individual storyline so well. This kind of episode can get lost in action. If [the episode is] not telling an emotional story then it’s not going to be half as good. Everybody is fighting for a personal reason and he tries to imbue every moment in that. It’s phenomenal. 

Read more “The Long Night” coverage:
— Maisie Williams, Kit Harington on the battle’s big Night King twist: ‘I thought it was going to be me!’
Lyanna Mormont actress Bella Ramsey discusses her Winterfell battle fate 
Game of Thrones releases trailer for season 8’s mysterious episode 4
‘Game of Thrones’ showrunners: Why Winterfell battle didn’t have ice spiders
Our deep-dive recap for “The Long Night”

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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