Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5.
Conleth Hill seems a bit despondent.
The Game of Thrones actor sat off stage on the show’s Northern Ireland set during season 8 and detailed his feelings about the fate of Varys — the enigmatic master of whispers who was introduced on the HBO hit series in the first season. A professional royal advisor, the bald eunuch was an unlikely power player in Westeros. Varys’ off-stated aim has been to serve the best interests of the realm, not himself; a true civil servant in a land of ambition and treachery. When Varys learned the true heir to the Iron Throne was Jon “Aegon Targaryen” Snow and not the ambitious queen he served, Daenerys Targaryen, Varys stayed true to his ideals — a decision that resulted in him being executed for treason.
At the time of this interview, the Irish actor had known Varys’ fate for months but was still in the midst of production. Hill expressed mixed feelings, sometimes contradictory, about his role in the show’s recent seasons and Varys’ fiery exit. GoT cast members are very close to their characters, particularly those who have been on the show since the very beginning. Talking to Hill was not entirely unlike interviewing a man still going through the stages of grief.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you think when you got the scripts?
CONLETH HILL: Mixed, obviously. Part of you didn’t want it to finish. Part of you is, “Oh, that’s very good.” And part of you is, “Oh, that sucks.” Very, very mixed. Bittersweet. I think it’s really good in retrospect now that I’ve had the time for it to sink in.
What was your reaction to Varys fate?
I took it very personally. I took it as a person, not as an actor or an artist. I understood the reactions of previous actors who had been in the same position a lot more than I did at the time. You can’t help feeling that you failed in some way, that you haven’t lived up to some expectation that you didn’t know about. The only thing that consoles you is people who worked a lot harder than you are in the same boat. So that helps. I don’t think anybody who hasn’t been through it can identify with it. They think, “What’s all the fuss about? You’re all finishing anyway.” But you take it personally, you can’t help it.
What did you think of the specific way Varys goes out?
In retrospect, great. At the time, nothing could console me. I kept thinking: “What did I do wrong?” There wasn’t any pre-warning. All these famous stories about [actors on Thrones] being taken out for a meal or being phoned at the very least [to notify them that their character was being killed off]. This was just reading cold hard copy.
Wasn’t that how they did it for every actor this year since it’s everybody’s final season?
Yeah, that’s how they did it this year, because there are so many [deaths]. But still, it added to the personal temporary ill feeling.
What did you think of Varys decision to betray Daenerys?
All brilliant. All noble. He was absolutely true to his word the whole way through. All he wanted was the right person on the throne and a fair person on the throne. He said it so many times in the scripts. I don’t have the distraction of love or desire or any of those things. And the people he needed to see clearly were both in love. So that makes perfect sense. And now with hindsight, I’m okay, but I really was inconsolable.
You felt like that even though you made it so far in the show? You survived to the penultimate episode.
That’s true. You can’t possibly begin to understand. It’s a human nature thing. It’s stupid. Because with a bit of perspective to the view, you go, “Oh it’s a great way to go, it’s noble and for the good.”
I think ending your character this way is a higher compliment to you, and to him, than if he had just hung around as part of the group for one more episode.
I think that’s true now. But no one could have told me that at the beginning of the season. I’m glad I didn’t say anything at the time. It’s just that feeling of not living up to some expectation, but it’s not that, and I know that now.
Were you disappointed not to have a final scene with [Littlefinger actor Aidan Gillen] last year?
I was very bummed to not have a final scene with him. I was bummed not to have any reaction to him dying, if he was my nemesis. That’s been my feeling the last couple seasons, that my character became more peripheral, that they concentrated on others more. That’s fine. It’s the nature of a multi-character show. It was kind of frustrating. As a whole it’s been overwhelmingly positive and brilliant but I suppose the last couple seasons weren’t my favorite.
Is there something else you wish Varys had gotten to do?
It would have been great to have had one more meeting with Littlefinger. I think they tried to make that work and couldn’t. It just felt like after season 6, I kind of dropped off the edge. I can’t complain because it’s six great seasons and I had some great scenes these last two seasons. But that’s when It changed for me a little. There was that Magnificent Seven trek up north to bring a white walker back. It makes total sense that Varys wouldn’t go. But the human in you is like, “I want to go.” It made perfect sense. He’s not a hero, he’s not a fighter. And even when they went back to King’s Landing a couple times they sneaked him in there. They had set it up that he knew the city like the back of his hand so I guess he was just … I dunno. I’m not dissatisfied on the whole. It sounds like I am. But it’s been brilliant.
I’m reminded of something Gillen once told me about that: Even when you’re off screen, fans still think you’re there in the world — we’re just not seeing what you’re doing. So viewers think you’re on screen more than you actually are because they fill in the world continuing.
Yes. I agree. I’m perfectly willing to admit this is all personal and selfish. With hindsight you go, “Of course it was a fantastic journey.”
What was your favorite Varys scene?
I loved the traveling with [Tyrion actor Peter Dinklage] and just the two of us in that cart. I think the stuff that was said in there understood the nature of freaks and outsiders so precisely. In a way, that was lost when we got past [the narrative in George R.R. Martin’s] books. That special niche interest in weirdos wasn’t as effective as it had been. Last season and this season there were great scenes and then I’d come in and kind of give a weather report at the end of them — “film at 11.” So I thought he was losing his knowledge. If he was such an intelligent man and he had such resources, how come he didn’t know about things? That added to my dismay. It’s now being rectified with getting a great and noble ending. But that was frustrating for a couple seasons.
How do you think fans will feel about the finale? Without using the word “bittersweet.”
I have no idea. I don’t know how I feel. I can’t anticipate it until it happens. I don’t think they’ll feel cheated. The fan favorites are all there.
What was your favorite moment working on the show?
When we shot on Fair Head [a mountain cliff in Northern Ireland], which is where I grew up. My brother [production sound mixer Ronan Hill] has like five consecutive [Cinema Audio Society] awards and three Emmys for his work on Game of Thrones. He and I were on this clifftop. We used to play there as kids and there we were back there and working on this worldwide phenomena. And I could see my house. That was surreal and brilliant.
- Read more coverage of season 8, episode 5 “The Bells”:
— Lena Headey on that King’s Landing battle ending: ‘The first time Cersei has been at peace…‘
- — Game of Thrones recap for season 8, episode 5: Queens of the ashes
- — The Hound actor breaks down that Game of Thrones Cleganebowl fight
- — Game of Thrones trailer for the series finale released