[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the second episode of Game of Thrones' seventh season, "Stormborn."]
Westeros is not a happy place. It's a land where commoners suffer while would-be kings kill each other and those around them in pointless pursuits of power. When the righteous warrior stands up against the hulking bully, he receives no reward; he gets his head squashed like a melon. In the blink of an eye, something as jovial as a wedding ceremony can become a blood-soaked affair where thousands upon thousands of lives are brutally extinguished. Ask Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) about attaining that ever elusive "happily ever after." Given her life over the past several seasons, it's a sensitive subject at best.
With all of that said, every once in a while, good things do happen to good people on Game of Thrones. Even in the vicious and violent "Stormborn," the second episode of season seven, the action paused just long enough for two characters to share a long-awaited moment of physical intimacy: Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), two of Daenerys' (Emilia Clarke) closest allies, two warriors in their own right, and two people who have been on a collision course with each other for five seasons now.
In the seasons leading up to their first sexual encounter, some fans wondered exactly how Grey Worm and Missandei could be physical with one another, given that Grey Worm (as well as all other Unsullied) was castrated at birth. Indeed, following the episode, the cheeky Merriam-Webster Twitter account sent out this message:
Spoiler: The answer is "eunuch." For those still focused on Grey Worm's "stones and pillar," to use the show's previous parlance, Missandei actress Nathalie Emmanuel thinks they're focused on the wrong thing. She spoke with The Hollywood Reporter for a closer examination of the physically and emotionally demanding scene, as well as a conversation on how Game of Thrones handles matters of the heart, why these two characters have found such comfort in each other, and her thoughts on the fascination with how Grey Worm can perform sex.
Missandei and Grey Worm have had feelings for each other for several seasons now. In your mind, what draws them to one another?
They were both suddenly thrust into freedom. It was a whole new concept: freedom of having individual thoughts, or feelings, or opinions, as opposed to being told what to do and when to do it without question. They're both thrust into this world based on their own skill and the respect of, in Missandei's case, Daenerys, and Daenerys respecting Missandei's abilities. For Grey Worm, it's the mutual respect in his ability as a soldier. He's elected as the leader of the Unsullied by his peers. They sort of found themselves in this foreign environment with this queen who tells them: "You can be here if you want to be. I'm asking you for your opinions on things." They're facing this new situation together. Out of all the people who surround Daenerys, they understand where the other one has come from more than anybody else. Missandei is asked to teach him the common tongue. It grows from there. It grows from a mutual understanding, and also their vulnerability of being a little bit afraid, and also being afraid together. They clearly love each other very much, but they're also facing great danger together.
Game of Thrones is a massive show. There are dragons. There are ice monsters. There are huge war scenes. There was a huge war scene in this very episode. With so much urgency and with such high stakes in its storytelling, there isn't always time to stop down and examine matters of the heart, or at least legitimate happiness. What has it meant to you, then, that Missandei and Grey Worm have been afforded this level of attention and afforded some happiness, if only for right now?
I think it's amazing how the writers have told this story. They've given it the time it's due. These two characters, like I said, are both at least slightly nervous. This is all-new territory and slightly scary for them. To see this romance blossom so slowly over the last four seasons, it's happened when it was supposed to happen. At no point could this have been rushed in any way. It wouldn't have been truthful to them and the people they are, facing this whole new world and this foreign environment they've found themselves in together. I've had many people comment on how together and held Missandei and Grey Worm are. That's why people enjoyed the scene [in season six] where they're laughing and making jokes, because it's the first time we've seen them do that and break the form of duty. For them to then be as vulnerable as they possibly could be with each other, it would have taken some time. I think the only reason it happened is because he was leaving [for war], and she might not get the chance otherwise. The situation made it happen sooner than it may have happened organically if there wasn't the threat of war. I really appreciate the writers choosing to do that. It made it so much more of an impact. It made it so much more special when it did finally happen for them.
What was your reaction when you first read the scene in which Missandei and Grey Worm become physically intimate? Did you have any advance notice, or was it a surprise when you read the script?
I guess I had an inkling we would have a scene [that advances our relationship] together, because we generally do, but I didn't know how it was going to happen or what the scene was going to be. I wasn't massively surprised. We could feel the natural progression of their relationship anyway. I thought there would be some sort of scene that brought it to a head in some way that had progressed from the last time, when we thought he was going to die [in season five], and she was by his bedside, and they shared their first kiss. I thought there was going to be a natural progression, but I didn't know how or to what extent. So when I read it, I found it very touching. I thought it was very, very well-written. All of the moments and feelings of each of those characters was laid out so beautifully on the page already. It made me very excited about discovering more and seeing what else we could bring out of it. We had rehearsals for it when we eventually came around to filming. We played with other different ways of telling this next phase of their story. I was pretty touched by it. I thought it was so sweet. I was a bit like, "Aw, that's really lovely." (Laughs.) Obviously, I saw the fact that it would require me to be nude and obviously I dealt with that however I needed to. I was like, "OK! Here we go! That's fine." Then I just became focused on telling the story.
Were you nervous on the day of the shoot?
I think you're always nervous. I can't speak for everybody, but I've always found being nude on camera or on a set to be nerve-racking. You are nervous. Also, I was doing this with my colleague and friend. That's obviously ... it can make you very nervous. But I also felt incredibly safe. I trust Jacob explicitly in supporting me and us supporting each other through the scene. I think we did that. And we were in wonderful hands with our director [Mark Mylod]. We rehearsed and decided exactly what was going to happen in terms of the disrobing and the action of the scene. We walked onto set that day knowing exactly what was going to happen. That definitely made things much easier. It went very smoothly. It allowed us to pour our energy into the performance and hitting the notes we wanted to hit, and to show each character's feelings in the scene and what it meant to them.
Grey Worm is a very serious man, so it doesn't always translate on screen, but I have found Jacob Anderson to be a very funny guy in real life. Did he keep things light during the shoot, or in the lead-up to the day?
I think we both treated this day ... I don't want to say "seriously," because that's probably not the right word. We weren't cracking jokes necessarily. We were both very focused, I think, on that day. We knew we had to get it right. And we wanted to get it right. Not just as actors, but for our characters, and for the fans as well. We wanted this part of their relationship and the evolution of their relationship to be truthful. That's all we were striving for. We had to be respectful of each other. We were in a position where we had to be very vulnerable with each other in those moments of when we were shooting. At the end of the day, we just high-fived each other. "OK! We did it!" (Laughs.) We were able to be lighter once it was done, because it was no small thing from an acting point of view, but also from a people point of view. It was very heavy and specific. We really focused on what we were doing. We wanted to do it justice. I feel like we did do that. We poured a lot of heart into it.
Merriam-Webster tweeted that "eunuch" was the top search result on their website after the episode. Are you surprised at all that there's so much interest in how Grey Worm could perform sex?
Well, I think people are very unimaginative if that's all they can think about. It's interesting. I read an article this morning about the scene, and this idea that people who are eunuchs aren't sexual beings — these heteronormative ideas of sex of a penis going into a vagina, like it's the only way people can conceive sex and sexual intimacy. Obviously we know from the many different types of relationships in the world that penises aren't always needed. Clearly. (Laughs.) That's not saying that Grey Worm ... we don't know whether he has one or not. We don't know definitively what his situation is. The show has chosen not to reveal that, for whatever reason. Ultimately, it doesn't matter to these two characters. It doesn't mean they can't be sexually involved with each other, even if he has no penis. It's so interesting to me that people are like, "Well, how did they do it?" Well, if you don't know, I sort of feel sorry for you. (Laughs.) You maybe need to explore some things, because it's really fun if you do!
What do you think of the choice to keep what Missandei sees of Grey Worm away from the viewer?
Well, it doesn't matter to her. It doesn't matter to her. Her wanting to see him isn't about whether or not he has a penis. It's about seeing all of the man that she loves. Despite everything they've both been through, all of the scars and the brutality, she just loves this man. She accepts him in his entirety. That's what it's about. It's not about whether he can perform in the bedroom. Even if he couldn't, up to this point, it hasn't stopped her from loving him any less. She knows his situation. She came from that world. She knows what the masters did to those boys and she loves him anyway. Their intimacy is something else. It's an emotional connection, which, for me, personally, is the foundation of any physical intimacy that means anything. It's a great basis for them to have a physical relationship already, but whether or not the show decides to reveal those details is irrelevant. It doesn't change how Missandei feels about him. That's the point, and that's why they probably chose not to [show it]. I can't speak for the writers, but that's the obvious reason for me as to why we don't know or not: because ultimately, Missandei does not care. She loves him anyway.
This is Game of Thrones. Happiness doesn't last forever, if it ever comes at all. All signs point toward a bittersweet ending at best, according to George R.R. Martin himself. With that said, what's the happiest possible ending you can imagine, both for Missandei, and for the show at large?
The happiest ending would be that the Night King and his army are defeated and Daenerys becomes the queen, and she rules justly and cares about the people, the way we've seen her do already. And for Missandei, she gets to be with the man she loves, and he's safe and she's safe. That's the best we could ask for, really.
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