9:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones': John Bradley Previews Samwell Tarly's "Damaged" Family Reunion
[Warning: This story contains spoilers through episode five, season six of HBO's Game of Thrones.]
Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) more or less achieved such a thing by the end of season five of Game of Thrones. The studious Night's Watch steward fled Castle Black with girlfriend Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her infant son in tow, ordered to train as a maester at The Citadel. Now, as he travels south with Gilly, he's about as far away from the White Walker menace as possible, and increasing the distance by the day. He was nowhere near the Wall when Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was assassinated; in all likelihood, Sam would have died as well, and who knows if Melisandre (Carice van Houten) could have brought him back to life.
In a world where Hodor (Kristian Nairn) is no longer with us, in other words, at least Sam and Gilly still stand strong.
"He's feeling quite good about himself," Bradley tells The Hollywood Reporter about his character's current state of mind as he moves toward the great city of Oldtown. "He's not only on the way to take Gilly and the baby to a place of safety, but also a place where he can achieve his life's ambition as well. He thought it would never happen. He thought it would be impossible."
"But that said," he continues, "this is Game of Thrones. This show does not tend to keep people happy for very long."
Indeed, the joyride ends in the coming episode of Thrones, called "Blood of My Blood." As the title implies, Sam once again comes face to face with members of his family — including his ruthless father Randyll (James Faulkner), who once threatened to murder Sam if he didn't take the Black and join the Night's Watch. And for what? The simple crime of being a bookworm, according to what Sam once told Jon.
"When you see Sam with his father and mother and brother especially, he starts to make sense," said the actor. "The character is contextualized. Why is his psyche the way it is? Why does he behave the way he does? Ever since you first saw him, he comes from this very sincere and heartfelt maternal love, and then there's this monster. You can see why he's so damaged. His emotional life has been pulled in so many different directions. He's so incredibly confused."
It's Sam's first true confusion in quite a while, however. Since heading north, Sam has survived impossible odds during a range into the realm beyond the Wall, killed a White Walker, defended himself in the Battle at Castle Black, and even manipulated a political opportunity to install his best friend as Lord Commander. He earned himself an unforgettable nickname: Sam the Slayer. But even with all these considerable experiences under his belt, even with all this personal growth, does Sam have the backbone to face his greatest nemesis of them all — his father? While it's a daunting prospect for the character, Bradley wanted to explore this conflict as an actor, ever since Sam first appeared onscreen.
"You wonder if Sam has changed enough that he can go in with a completely different attitude and stand up to his father and look him in the eye and say, 'You have to accept me now. You have to, because I've achieved all of this,'" he said. "Or is the presence of his father so completely part of his psyche that when he gets in that situation, he emotionally regresses back into the broken man that used to be there?"
For Sam, if he's to derive any strength in the uncomfortable family reunion ahead, it will come from Gilly. Hannah Murray, who has played Sam's wildling companion since season two, explains that Gilly has been blissfully intoxicated by the road trip away from the north, at least up to this point.
"She's so happy," says Murray. "She's so thrilled. It's so lovely to play somebody who is so excited about everything she experiences. Everything is new to her. Her entire world just expands and expands. She was pretty thrilled about the Castle Black kitchen, for one. This adventure, going south for her, it's like going to a fantasy land. It's like a fairy tale, really. The fact that she gets to go, and it's real? She's blown away by it."
"One of the things that's beautiful about them, and they have in common, is that they're both infinitely curious," adds Bradley. "They both want to know about things. Knowledge blows their minds. With Sam, it's dragonglass. With Gilly, it's an orange."
But will their fruitful relationship survive the experience at Horn Hill, the seat of House Tarly? That remains to be seen, but for her part, Murray believes that the type of fear Sam is facing now is very different from and even deeper than what he's most recently experienced.
"We've seen Sam face these terrifying nightmares, but this is an incredibly different nightmare," she says. "Your fear is very different when it comes to your family. You can be brave in one big situation, and completely afraid in another. No matter how much of a grownup you are in the world, you go back home and you can regress to being a kid again. People can put you in your place."
"The things that scare you as a child tend to scare you your whole life," agrees Bradley. "It's because you wear the scars. There's something about the scars that you wear and the regression that exists."
Those scars will reveal themselves as soon as Sam returns home, and while there's reason to believe the happy ending won't last forever, Murray provided some hope for the future.
"You're going to see where his strengths come from," she says, "as well as his weaknesses."
Follow THR's Game of Thrones coverage for more interviews, news and analysis.