[Warning: This story contains spoilers through the season seven finale of HBO's Game of Thrones.]
As is often the case on Game of Thrones, this week's season seven finale offered good news and bad news.
Let's start with the good: Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is a Targaryen! Not that this wasn't known already, but the show finally made the news explicit and official. The King in the North is also the heir to the Iron Throne, born with the historically significant name Aegon Targaryen, with the same name as the man who once conquered Westeros and united the Seven Kingdoms under one rule.
Here's the bad news, or at least the awkward news: As a Targaryen, Jon is officially related by blood to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who is secretly his aunt. The revelation about Jon's heritage comes during a conversation between Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), who put the pieces together at the exact same time as Jon and Dany have sex for the first time on a boat sailing for White Harbor. If you felt both excited and icky about the Targaryen twist, you're certainly not alone.
For more on his role in delivering the big Jon Snow news, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Sam himself, John Bradley. Below, read Bradley's thoughts on how Jon's true Targaryen roots have the potential to change everything we know about Game of Thrones, why Gilly (Hannah Murray) didn't receive proper credit for the revelation, and how the fall of the Wall might have an immediate and fatal impact on the man who recently brought Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) back from the brink of death by greyscale.
What did you think of the finale, John? It's going to be hard to forget the fall of the Wall any time soon.
It was certainly a memorable one, wasn't it? The problem we've always had is that we've had to create cliffhangers that outdo every cliffhanger that we've ever done. People can get used to things, and get desensitized to things. We've shocked and kept people in suspense so many times over the course of this series, that how can we keep doing it? How do we shock people and surprise people and worry people and all of these things, when we've done it so many times before? In terms of an ending, in terms of cliffhangers? It's going to be a long wait before we revisit that world again.
How did you react when you read the scene in which Sam and Bran arrive at the big Jon Snow reveal?
The first reaction was just excitement. I've known that it's been such a popular and widespread theory for so long about Jon and his true parentage and the circumstances of his birth and conception. It's a question that's been passed around for so many years among fans, and it was nice that it was revealed in that way. I was very flattered for my character to play a role in that reveal. It was just nice to be a part of a moment you knew everyone was going to be talking about. It's a moment that a lot of people were waiting for, and a moment that validates a lot of people's theories. You know it's a real game-changing moment. No one and nothing is going to be the same again. You'll never view Jon Snow the same again. Nobody's going to see the entire landscape the same way again, because there's this new player in the game. The rightful heir to the Iron Throne has been revealed. Of all the different stakes and claims for the Iron Throne, we now know who technically and irrefutably is the heir to the Iron Throne. It completely changes the game. As Bran says, Robert's Rebellion was built on a lie. Everything that people fought for was built on a lie. All of those sacrifices were because of this one piece of information that was missing, this one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that could have prevented all of this. But it didn't. The fact that it's revealed now, it's such a huge game-changer. I was so happy and flattered and honored to have a hand in revealing a piece of that information to the world.
One of my favorite parts of the scene is how readily Sam accepts the idea that Jon is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. It's almost as if there's nothing about Jon Snow that can surprise Sam anymore.
I think Sam's always known there's something special about Jon. He's always known there's something about Jon, a certain kind of weight to him. It also might be that Sam is such a fan of Jon, and has such a real love for him, that if anything suggests Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, Sam will be very willing to believe it. Sam was the one at the Citadel talking about how Bran Stark has seen the Army of the Dead marching toward the Wall. Sam believed Bran. Sam has met Bran before and they have interacted before. Sam holds a lot of stock in what Bran has to say. If Bran's giving him information, especially if it indicates Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, Sam's going to believe it. Sam holds Bran's abilities in such high esteem, because they were dismissed by the maesters of the Citadel. They didn't want to believe it. Sam knows there's something special about Bran. It fits in with his idealized worldview of what Jon represents. Also, he knows Bran's special set of skills are reliable.
There's some cognitive dissonance involved in the scene. It's awesome to finally have official confirmation that Jon is a legitimate Targaryen, but the news is presented at the same time as Jon and Dany are consummating their relationship, and she's his aunt. What do you think we're supposed to feel in this moment? Should we feel joy? Should we feel a little bit icky?
I think so. The show has been really good in this area before, that sense of dramatic irony. There's so much dramatic irony in the audience knowing something the characters don't. It's been used to such great effect before, where you can see the consequences of things happening, or you can foresee the consequences happening, before the characters in the show can see them. The reveal happening at the same time that a physical relationship is developing between Jon and Daenerys, it should be all of those kinds of confusing feelings. There's something to the moral core where you should be slightly repelled by it, and rightfully so. But also, there's the idea of this unity between them now, and what kind of team they would make, and what happens if they can take power together. They would be a pretty unbreakable team. If they're united, nobody else really stands a chance, because of what they both represent and what their claim to the throne is and what their place in this entire network of ambition is. Even if you feel slightly, as you say, icky about the physical relationship, there's something about it that feels kind of meant to be and unbreakable. In the face of all of that, you would think Cersei (Lena Heady) doesn't stand much of a chance if they're as united as they seem to be now.
Do you feel that Sam should have given Gilly a little bit of credit about the Rhaegar-Lyanna reveal? She brought it up first!
Yeah, I was thinking about that! Why wasn't Sam giving Gilly credit? I think what happened there is that Sam is so efficient at absorbing knowledge, because he's been doing it his entire life, and his wealth of knowledge is so all encompassing. Any piece of knowledge that's in the air, even if it's coming to him subconsciously, it goes in and is absorbed and stored away for the moment that he needs it. He can almost process information without thinking about it, all while thinking about something else, even while thinking about how he's been shut off by the maesters of the Citadel. People ask why he didn't mention Gilly, but it would have slowed down the momentum of the scene a little bit, if Sam has to say, "Hey, Bran, remember Gilly? Of course you remember Gilly. You're the Three-Eyed Raven! But anyway, my girlfriend Gilly ..." (Laughs.) There's no time for that. You have to get to the heart of the matter. Also, in terms of misplaced credit and credit flying around and credit being due, nobody seems to be mentioning Sam Tarly in terms of curing Jorah. Jorah hasn't told Daenerys or Jon that a fellow named Samwell Tarly at the Citadel cured him of his greyscale. There's some credit that Sam deserves somewhere. I think the universe is all about equal and opposite reactions. The universe is a circle. Any bit of credit Sam's getting illegitimately about Jon Snow's parentage is just credit he's owed and should be getting for curing Jorah's greyscale! You can forgive Sam for soaking up a little bit of the glory on this one. He's owed some elsewhere!
Besides, Gilly will get full credit when she picks up Heartsbane and kills the Night King.
Oh, she's going to be in it. She's going to be very involved. But also, Sam taught Gilly to read. If he hadn't taught her the importance of reading and the importance of knowledge, she wouldn't be reading anything. So if you go back far enough, Sam is the root of everything that's good on Game of Thrones. (Laughs.)
The episode ends with the fall of the Wall and the White Walkers coming into Westeros. Sam is dangerously close to the White Walkers right now. You can really see the scenario in which the White Walkers march on Winterfell as soon as the final season premiere. How worried are you for Sam's immediate safety? Are you nervous that this could be a quick final season for Samwell Tarly?
Yeah, a little bit. At the moment, it's kind of all about the physical at the moment. You saw what happened at that battle beyond the Wall. Sam wouldn't have necessarily been able to apply his certain set of skills in that fight. He would be no good standing in the middle of all of that, with the Army of the Dead gathering around them, and having to swing that sword. At the moment, Sam's not going to be able to practically apply the knowledge that he has in this fight. It's all about how well you can swing a sword at the moment, because there are still uncovered pieces of information out there, but Sam is not yet equipped and knowledgeable and does not yet know quite enough what he needs to bring to the table. At the moment, it's really about how well you can chop a living skeleton in half. Between Samwell Tarly and Bran, there's not a lot of swordsmanship going on between them. There's not a lot of physical power. Unless they can be repelled or unless he can get to Jon who can protect him physically, I do think immediately it's all about the physical and the battle and the military strategy, and how well you do in a military environment. It's not necessarily what Sam is good at in the moment. Unless he can get to Jon to do what he needs to do, it's definitely possible that he could be looking at the chop quite early on.
How would you feel about that? If we're getting very close to the end of the line for Sam, if it ends in a very tragic death for him very early in this final season ... is there a way for that to be satisfying for you?
It would be tough, because he's only just now realizing his potential. He's only just realizing what he can achieve. He's only just shaken away all of that emotional baggage and all of those scars of abuse that he's suffered, and all of that crippling self-doubt he's carried around every single day. He's only just gotten over that, and has only just started understanding how important he is. I think it would be more tragic to happen now than it would have been to happen three seasons ago. Back then, he didn't know his potential or how important he could be. Apart from Gilly and Baby Sam, he didn't have much of a reason to stay alive. But now he does have a reason to stay alive, now that he knows how much of an important part he can play in this game, and the impact he could potentially have on the Great War if he were to stay alive. I think if he were to go now, just as he's about to make a difference and just as he's about to prove all of those people wrong — prove his father wrong, prove wrong all the people who said he would never have any kind of impact — I think if he were to die now, it would be the worst possible time, because all of that potential would disappear. Before, there wasn't much potential to disappear, no potential to be crushed underfoot. Now, there's so much. He's starting to realize it now for the first time, how much of an impact he could have. If he died now, it would be the saddest, most frustrating and most tragic and most regrettable and most heartbreaking time that he could go than at any other point in the last seven seasons.
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