'Game of Thrones' Star on What's Next After That Killer Return

"I never took it for granted that I was going to be returning. It was certainly a lovely surprise," the actor tells THR about his big comeback in "Eastwatch."
Helen Sloan/HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the fifth episode of Game of Thrones' seventh season, "Eastwatch."]

"I wasn't sure I'd find you. I thought you might still be rowing."

As he often does, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) speaks the words so many Game of Thrones fans have uttered on the matter of Gendry, the brooding blacksmith and Baratheon bastard played by Joe Dempsie. King Robert's illegitimate son was last seen in the third season of the series, rowing away from Dragonstone, escaping certain doom at the hands of Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Three seasons passed without a single sign of Arya Stark's (Maisie Williams) first crush, and with each passing year, the character's absence became more and more conspicuous. 

Well, wonder no more: Gendry resurfaced this week in "Eastwatch," once again working as a blacksmith in King's Landing, keeping a low profile and manufacturing weapons for the Lannisters, the same people who killed his father and butchered the half-siblings he never knew he had. When he reunites with Davos, Gendry is ready and willing to answer the call, without even needing to know the stakes of the war ahead. When he does learn the extent of what humanity is up against, Gendry eagerly volunteers to join the deadly operation beyond the Wall to capture a wight and prove the existence of White Walkers to all of the skeptics. He makes fast friends with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), bonding over their shared background and the history of their fathers, even if neither man knows the real relationship between King Robert and Jon's biological father, Rhaegar Targaryen.

What's next for Gendry, now that he's back in action? Will he forge the dragonglass weapons needed to defeat the White Walkers? Will he live long enough to reunite with Arya, and what will he make of his former traveling companion now that she's a full-blown killer? For those answers and more, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Joe Dempsie, who opened up about his long absence from the show and his hopes for his character moving forward.

Did you always know that Gendry would come back eventually? Were there ever times when it wasn't clear that you would return to Game of Thrones?

At the end of season three, [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] spoke to me and sort of said, "Look, your character is going to disappear for a while. We don't want you to panic. We're not trying to sack you. We like your performance and your character, but we have plans for him further on down the line." But there was never a definitive time scale put on it for me. In the intervening three years, I would always welcome the opportunity to come back to the show with open arms. I have so many friends on the show and have such a great time making it. I learn so much when I'm on that set. But with each passing year, it sort of goes a little bit further to the back of your mind. You just have to get on with your other stuff. I think their plan was for the character to disappear for long enough for people to finally start forgetting about him, so by the time they decided it was right for him to come back, it would be A) a surprise and B) hopefully with some level of import. But you're aware of the fact that the prevailing mentality on the show, which everyone subscribes to, is that this show and this story is bigger than you and your character. If you're in their plans to come back in, then it will happen. If the story takes them in a different direction, then it might not happen. They have a lot they're trying to cram in. I never took it for granted that I was going to be returning. It was certainly a lovely surprise.

How did you find out about Gendry's return?

It was just before Christmas of 2015. I went in to catch up with my agent. A couple of things had happened, I can't remember exactly what... a couple of frustrations, maybe a couple of jobs that didn't go my way. I was going through a phase that I think a lot of actors probably do at various points, which was feeling a little bit jaded. It's amazing how this industry suddenly throws up these things when you most need them. I had just come in for a regular chat, and before we got going, my agent said, "Before we start, I had a bit of good news this morning: they want you to go back to Thrones next year." We weren't going to be starting shooting until I think September of 2016, so it was nice that they got in there very early. They wanted to make sure I was available and secure me for the upcoming season. It was great. The irony, of course, is they wanted people to start forgetting about my character, which I'm sure many people did. If you venture onto social media, it felt like every passing year Gendry's absence became more conspicuous. The speculation became almost a fever-pitch, like the opposite had happened. That every passing year, the hysteria over the unanswered question became more and more palpable.

I started getting angry at Davos: "The man can't swim! He probably drowned!"

That's why I never took it for granted that I hadn't come back yet. You could just tie up this loose end with one fucking line: "The boy drowned at sea." (Laughs.) "See you later." I got involved in some of that speculation and that hype a little bit, and it was great to know that there are people out there that still cared and wanted to know where he was. Hopefully some questions will be answered this season.

Well, here's one answer: we now know Gendry went back to King's Landing after he left Dragonstone. Davos discovers him and recruits him into the fold in this episode. What do you think leads him back to Gendry?

There's that connection he forged with Gendry back in season three. This is someone from the same place as him. He probably shared a lot of the same struggles, growing up and trying to survive in that environment. He's also a man who sadly lost his only son at the Battle of Blackwater, and maybe very briefly saw himself as a surrogate father to Gendry. I think he just had this feeling that I might be around. And also with the knowledge of the coming troubles, I might be someone to keep an eye on, and someone who is better to have in your sight than to have roaming free. 

Were you surprised that Gendry returned to King's Landing?

Well, Gendry had to be relatively canny throughout his life to get by. It was explained to me and justified to me that he's hiding in plain sight. Sometimes the best place to be is somewhere where you know the area and you know the people, and therefore there are ways you can probably better conceal yourself in a familiar environment. In terms of where Gendry goes from here? Davos has offered him a way out. He's here in the armory, essentially making weapons for the family who killed his father. It's not easy to get yourself up and go to work every day when those are the circumstances you're working under. I think he feels that he's been training and getting himself ready for some kind of reckoning. He's never been sure exactly what that reckoning would be. But when Davos turns up, I think he feels that this is the calling he's been waiting for. Having a taste of life outside of King's Landing and finding out about his lineage and all of these things that would never have crossed his mind before, he's had a taste of excitement and danger. There's something intoxicating about that. We're in this slightly heightened fantasy world. Essentially, he's someone who is bored with a humdrum life, and Davos offers him a way out of that. He's relieved and excited to join Davos on his adventure. 

Can you see a future for Gendry in which he keeps the Baratheon name alive and furthers his family's legacy?

I'm really interested in discovering and exploring what the implications of his return might mean politically. People talk about Gendry as "the Last Baratheon," even though he's illegitimate, so he's not a Baratheon currently. They talk about him as having potentially the strongest claim to the Iron Throne out there. Gendry as a person, I'm not sure he has the desire to take power for himself. Sometimes those kinds of people are the best leaders. 

Kit Harington has said similar things about Jon Snow.

Yeah. Power should be forced upon you. So I don't know if he's someone who would make a clear play for the throne himself, but what I would personally like for Gendry — and a lot of actors on the show [would say this] if you asked them what they would like for their character — is for him to play a significant role in the end game. There are certainly unanswered questions about him. You remember it the first time you ever see Gendry in Game of Thrones, when Ned Stark (Sean Bean) comes to visit him in the forgeries and asks him about his mother. He says: "I don't remember her. All I remember is she had yellow hair and she used to sing to me." It's the only time it's ever been referenced. You hope there are some answers in terms of who Gendry's mother might be, and maybe that could have a domino effect. It's exciting, because he's a character with a lot of potential significance. Whether David and Dan decide to run with that, or just like the idea of him being back around as an extra member of the gang with his own sort of skill set that can prove useful? It's great either way. 

Gendry is a terrifically useful character right now. He's a great fighter, but he's also a blacksmith, and Jon Snow's priority right now is turning dragonglass into weapons. Will Gendry save the day by forging the weapons needed to kill the White Walkers?

Hopefully! You never know. What that would mean is I really need to brush up on my smithing skills. You'll notice on the show that any time you ever see me do any of that stuff, I'm either just finishing or I'm just about to whack something when somebody comes in and interrupts me. It's very convenient for me, as a non-blacksmithing actor. (Laughs.) But yeah, he's a useful guy. He's been getting himself ready and getting himself in shape for some kind of reckoning. And let's not forget, he does have his father's blood coursing through his veins, and he was a pretty formidable warrior by all accounts. He's a useful guy to have around.

Jon and Gendry are fast friends when they meet, but I wonder how they will get along in the future, given that Gendry's father killed Jon's biological father, Rhaegar Targaryen, long before the series began. 

That's an interesting point. It's something that may well become an issue later on in the series. The irony, if so, is that as far as they're both aware in this moment, their fathers were the best of friends. As far as Jon Snow knows, his father was Ned Stark. Initially, there's a sense of kinship there that's brewing. They have a common experience of being the offspring of two fated and much talked about men and warriors and leaders. There's that added caveat of them both being bastard sons, and the identity issues that go with that. Two people who have during the course of their lives struggled with their places in the world, and will hopefully discover their calling together.

With Gendry back on the show, hopefully it's just a matter of time before he reunites with Arya. Is there any hope for such a reunion?

I would love it. Just purely because I love hanging out with and working with Maisie. I said years ago when we were shooting the show is that she's one of the best actors I've worked with. She's a phenomenal talent. It's been a joy to watch not only Maisie but all the youngsters on the show grow up with the show. Every year you come back and there's something a little bit different about them. They are very formative years, and it's been a joy to watch them grow into such lovely young adults. I would love to see Gendry and Arya meet again. They seemed to get on. It was a nice banter between the two of them. It would be great to revisit that. 

How have you viewed Arya and Gendry's relationship? Friends, or even almost like siblings? There are some fans out there who want to see them end up together...

Yeah, I think it's implied in the books that there might be a romantic element to the relationship, and in the books I think the characters are significantly closer in age. I know from my personal experience, when we were filming the earlier seasons and people would ask about that and talk about that, I would feel slightly uncomfortable. I'm acting alongside a child here. I was a 25-year-old man. I sometimes found that question a little hard to address and a little tricky to answer. As a result of the difference in age, I think one of the roles Gendry played in Arya's story was as him being an older guy who sort of awakens certain feelings in Arya for the first time as she's becoming a young woman. There's that scene in season two where I'm forging a sword — fairly inexplicably without a shirt on — and I think the idea was to convey the idea of Arya experiencing feelings she's never felt before. Everyone's had that at some point. Whether that means Gendry has a place in Arya's heart or vice versa, I have no idea. I think there's almost a sibling element, too. At that point in the story, Gendry really reminded her of her brothers and of home. That was the comfort with him. But it could go a number of ways. It would just be nice if they met again, wouldn't it? It's a pairing you wouldn't want to mess with. 

You were on Game of Thrones for three seasons, and then you were gone from Game of Thrones for three seasons. How has the show changed since you last left it?

Well, first of all, half of my mates are dead. (Laughs.) You come back and go, "Where is everyone? It's quiet around here!" That's certainly the way it felt. A lot of the people I used to hang around with off camera who were similar ages — Oona Chaplin, Finn Jones, Richard Madden — they're long gone. But it's also different in that [some of these actors] were kids and now they're adults. It's really nice to be able to hang out with them and go for dinners after a day's filming and for them to feel like they're part of the adult group. The other main difference is the security with which everything is guarded now, the storylines and characters. Aside from that, the really reassuring and comforting thing that makes me feel so at home is how much of this has stayed exactly the same. It's pretty much the same crew that's been on it since season one. The people in Belfast, they're some of the friendliest people in the world anyway, and because we've been there for so long now, they kind of don't care anymore. It's like, "What, you saw Kit Harington again?" So it's nice to be back around and back in Belfast. In a lot of ways, it felt like I was never gone. It made me realize how much I missed it.

Game of Thrones is ending soon. Call your shot. Do you see an Iron Throne at the end of the story? Does the world as we know it still exist?

First of all, I don't envy David and Dan, having the task of bringing this thing to a satisfying conclusion. It must be the hardest part of any writer's job. I'm sure they're going to do it. I have no idea and I can't wait to see what they do do with it. The only thing I think is the ending has to be bittersweet. We don't get happy endings on Game of Thrones, do we? I would be very surprised if things end on a rosy note. Whether it's a character we adore ending up on the Iron Throne with absolutely nothing left to rule over, I don't know, but something of that tone. In my head, it's going to be a very bittersweet ending. I love that. I'm a fan of the bleak, anyway. I wouldn't mind all-out tragedy, but that's just me. Obviously everyone is excited reading these scripts, but there's a slight sense of apprehension, too. When you get to the final page of that final episode, that's going to be it. That's going to be a very strange thing for everyone to get their heads around, particularly the guys who have been around since day one and have been in it the whole way through. It's such a huge part of their lives. It will be a closing of the book on what's probably the most significant chapter of their lives to date. It's going to be great, but I'm sure there will be a few tears as well. 

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