'Game of Thrones' Cast (Sans Creators) Tackle Final-Season Controversies at Last Comic-Con

Creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss skipped their planned Comic-Con appearances, leaving the cast to tackle lingering questions as co-star Conleth Hill blamed a "media-led hate campaign" for the divisive final season.
Helen Sloan/HBO

Despite previously announced plans to the contrary (not to mention a record haul of Emmy Award nominations), Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss were not present at the HBO drama's final Comic-Con appearance, having pulled from the show with only two days' notice. 

The primary storytellers behind the recently concluded fantasy epic, Benioff and Weiss were expected to use Comic-Con as their first opportunity to address fans directly about the events of the final season — the swift and sudden fall of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and the equally swift and sudden rise of Bran the Broken (Isaac Hempstead Wright), among other choices many in the audience viewed as controversial at best. In their absence, several members of the cast were present to engage Comic-Con attendees: Hempstead Wright, Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), Conleth Hill (Varys), and newly Emmy-nominated stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark).

Oh, and coffee. Plenty of coffee.

The cursed caffeinated beverage (which was briefly and accidentally featured in the final season's fourth installment) was in healthy supply at the Game of Thrones panel, with cups placed in front of each of the panelists — a piping hot way to break the ice about some of the final season's more controversial moments.

"Someone left some coffee cups here," Cunningham muttered at the top of the panel, prompting him and the other actors to take a big sip. "It's Dornish wine!"

The panel began cheerfully enough, with the actors weighing in on what they hoped happened next for their characters. Hempstead Wright, who joked that he's "forced my family and friends to now only refer to me as 'Your Grace,'" said he doesn't imagine Bran's reign is exactly "a barrel of laughs."

"I guess Westeros is now a surveillance state," he joked, "with Bran now aware of what everyone is doing."

Williams said she expects Arya is enjoying her trip abroad, "like Dora the Explorer," while Anderson believed Grey Worm would be keeping his promise to Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) by protecting Naath. Bran's council members, Bradley and Cunningham (Samwell and Davos), joked that "their relationships must have soured by now."

Of course, not everyone survived the finale. Regarding Jaime's ending, Coster-Waldau said he felt it was "the perfect ending" for his character to die in Cersei's arms. (Not everyone in the crowd agreed, to which Coster-Waldau replied, "Just my opinion!") Hill, for his part, joked that he "wasn't sorry for starting the petition," a crack at his widely publicized disappointment over his character Varys' death. (That disappointment was expressed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly; Hill said he felt his comments about being upset over Varys' death were taken out of context by other news outlets.)

"We're here [at Comic-Con] to thank you for watching us all those years," he said. "We were never divisive as a cast. We always did our hardest work for you as a crew. I think this is the reality, rather than a media-led hate campaign."

Hill's comments opened the doors for other actors to weigh in on the audience's reaction to the finale.

"It was surprising, the absurdity of the online petition," said Coster-Waldau, commenting on an online movement for HBO to redo the final season of the series. "Of course HBO is going to change the whole thing, because that's the power of the internet. Every season, there was a huge controversy, from Ned Stark to the Red Wedding. Obviously, the end … I feel so lucky to have met so many people, fans, realizing this show brought so many people together. When it comes to an end, it's going to piss you off no mater what, because it's the end. And that's all right. If you hated the ending, or you loved it? That's great — just don't call people names."

"You have to remember, it's a metaphor for life," added Cunningham. "It's not arriving at the end that's the point. It's the journey. I started in season two when it was starting to create lives. To watch it grow … the reason you're here is you recognize the amount of love we had for making this, sure. We were on this journey together. We never knew how big this was going to get. All of us feel absolutely blessed to have been a part of it. We're all huge fans of the show. You have to be. It's beautiful storytelling. I was blessed to be a part of it."

"For the record, I loved all my 10 years on Game of Thrones. I started when I was 15," joked Hill, before becoming more serious about his ultimate takeaway from the finale. "The last season was about the futility of conflict and the pointlessness of war. If you got one thing from the series, take that. [War] doesn't work."

A few plot-specific questions were asked:

• Anderson was asked why Grey Worm didn't kill Jon Snow after his assassination of Daenerys. "In my head, a point came to Grey Worm: enough is enough. That's a big reason why he left. Everyone who was ever dear to him was dead, and he had just learned how to have people be dear to him. He decided, 'This is a violent place, and I don't want my existence to be just violent anymore.' He was willing for there to be a trial. He didn't want to kill everyone anymore. He didn't necessarily want to kill Jon Snow; he just didn't want him to be alive."

• Did Varys' final plot involve assassinating Daenerys via poison? Hill answered: "Yeah, and he's not wrong; the coin, when a Targaryen is born, is going one way or the other, and hers has come down a bit cray-cray toward the end. I think Varys knew he was going to die. There was an inevitability about it. He knew he couldn't get through to Jon Snow or Tyrion because they were in love with Daenerys, and that blinds people's judgments. He knew he had to stop her and very possibly be killed. I thought it was a cool death, and very dignified — and I swear, the dragon thought twice about it."

• Hempstead-Wright entertained the fan theory that Bran the Broken is secretly evil: "I think it's quite cool that it's slightly ambiguous. I've heard [theories] that Bran is the Night King, or whatever. Is he really a bad guy all along? That's one of the cleverest things about the ending. It doesn't conclude everything neatly. It's left totally open. The kingdom is in total disarray, Arya's starting her own journey, Sansa is queen, Bran is king, and they are storylines that could warrant their own spinoffs — but they don't. They're unfinished. It's almost as if the world of Game of Thrones still exists in the ether. It's quite nice that it's not finished conclusively and it allows you to read into it — like the Evil Bran theory."

• Is there any shot at a romantic future for Arya and Gendry? "I don't think being with a partner would make her feel the most at home or fulfilled," said Williams. "They'd probably see each other at a friend's wedding and be like, 'Oh, hey! Good to see you! How've you been?'"

• Williams also weighed in on the theory that Jon Snow encouraged Arya to kill the Night King by distracting the ice dragon. Where does Williams land on that theory? "She did that on her own. If we're going to give credit to anyone, it's Melisandre. She knew what she had to do to put the mission in Arya's head. This is the first time Arya has fought and had something to lose in so long. If we're going to put it to anyone for getting Arya's head back on track, it was Melisandre and the 'brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes' [prophecy]."

• Asked if there was anything they were informed about by Benioff and Weiss over the years that never wound up on the show, Anderson volunteered some surprising information to settle the "pillars and stones" debate. His crass revelation: "Dick, no balls." Cunningham joked, "That's actually how they described Jacob to us."

The panel concluded with the cast offering final fond memories of their time working with one another on Thrones and what they miss most about the process — including a reconciliation with his own "panicky" personality in the case of Anderson, and an appreciation for the hard and diverse work accomplished in Hill's home country of Ireland. Because the final remarks from the cast went so long, the panel concluded without time for questions from the audience, which moderator James Hibberd of EW said "is on me."

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