'Game of Thrones': The Night King Comes for the Comic-Con Panel

Here's everything that happened at the Hall H panel for 'Thrones,' though it can be best summarized with a single word: "Hodor."
Courtesy of HBO
'Game of Thrones'

For the first time ever, Comic-Con and Game of Thrones are happening at the same time. In the past, the San Diego convention would take place weeks or even months after the HBO fantasy epic finished airing its season. Not so this year: Season seven premiered just three days before Comic-Con opened for preview night, providing an unprecedented opportunity to discuss a season as it was actively airing.

How will Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) react to one another whenever they meet? Will the Lannister family reunion between Cersei (Lena Headey), Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) be as awkward as expected? Can the folks involved in the show cast any further light on the fiery vision the Hound (Rory McCann) witnessed in the season premiere, which strongly hints at a massive battle coming down the line?

Alas, rather than forecast the season ahead, all eyes were aimed squarely toward the past. With the exception of a new trailer that dropped at the end of the hour, the panel took on the same tenor as past Thrones panels: reflections on previous seasons, musings on odd topics (everybody wants to make a Game of Thrones musical, apparently; how about one of those spinoffs, HBO?) and other casual celebrations of the show's many achievements.

Executive producers and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss were not in attendance for the panel, nor was author George R.R. Martin, who also skipped the Los Angeles premiere. Instead, the panel consisted of a number of actors involved in the show: Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark), Conleth Hill (Varys) and Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark).

Oh, and one other familiar face:

That's right: Kristian Nairn as Hodor was the "maester" of ceremonies, serving as the panel's special guest host. He promised a relaxed and informal tone for the panel, and he delivered, asking his colleagues to reflect on their characters' quieter moments, which castmembers they miss the most ("Cough Hodor cough," Nairn even said at various points) and more. 

Cunningham, always one of the most energetic and delightfully verbose members of the Game of Thrones cast, was his usual self on the panel. When asked if he could ever imagine Davos Seaworth killing someone in broad daylight, he allowed the typically noble Onion Knight some wiggle room in the case of Melisandre: "I don't think he would do an Arya. I don't think he would have a list. But I think he would put [Melisandre] in a shallow grave somewhere if no one would find out."

As Davos, Cunningham plays one of the most morally sound characters on the show. In a world where the lions of House Lannister and the dragons of House Targaryen are always roaring or breathing fire, Davos keeps the ship sailing steady. Cunningham explained that he's actually very happy about getting to play one of the show's most straightforward characters, and that Davos' nobility creates unexpected depth.

Christie was another highlight performer on the panel, often forced to speak on the matter of Tormund Giantsbane's (Kristofer Hivju) increasing infatuation with Brienne. She dismissed any true romance between the two, saying that Brienne would not be flattered by someone only interested in her physically. There must be "mutual respect," she said — and as Cunningham rightly pointed out, that might not be something that's in Tormund's wheelhouse, much to the chagrin of Brienne-Tormund shippers everywhere.

The actress also spoke to what motivates Brienne to serve Sansa so faithfully, to be so fervent in the solemn vow she pledged to Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) long ago. Christie views Brienne as someone who is trying to put good into an evil world, through pure and simple positive action.

"Even if it's one small thing for one person, or two people, that's going to perpetuate a sense of good, which maybe subconsciously creates a greater sense of equality," said Christie. "That's what I think is driving her. She's connecting to an idea that's greater than herself."

Speaking of connecting with ideas greater than herself, the actress is deeply connected to another franchise that's popular around Comic-Con: Star Wars. Between playing Brienne on Thrones and Captain Phasma in the new Star Wars trilogy, Christie is at an interesting nexus point between two vibrant fandoms. While she's not prepared to say that one fanbase is more fervent than the other, she did provide some insight for how she hopes Game of Thrones will become more like Star Wars in the future, in providing fans with a sense of feeling at "home" for many years to come.

For his part, Bradley talked about the closest thing Samwell Tarly has ever felt to coming home: meeting Jon Snow. Bradley, who played an essential part in the season seven premiere, delivered an emotional interpretation of what it meant to Sam to meet Jon in those early days on the Night's Watch.

"Jon Snow was kind of everything to Sam," said the actor. "Sam arrived at Castle Black completely bereft of any positive role model in his life. What he found in Jon Snow was everything he needed in one person: a big brother, a father figure, a confidant and a best friend. Sam knew what it was like to be saved by somebody, and to have somebody take the burden of you on their shoulders."

If only Sansa Stark found such comfort in Jon. Turner spoke about how the Stark siblings are not quite seeing eye-to-eye on how best to run Winterfell. The actress said that there's still a pervasive sexism in the way Westeros politics unfold, and that both Jon and Sansa need to start recognizing the strengths that exist within one another. As for what Sansa wants more than anything else? It comes down to one simple word, which starts with the letter "H" — and no, it's not "Hodor."

"She's always on the search for happiness," said Turner, "but she doesn't view the world through rose-tinted glasses anymore. She sees the reality of the situation. She sees the world in a different light. She's woke now, guys. She's cautious. She trusts no one, man or woman, family member or not. She trusts no one. That's important when you play the game of thrones."

Also important when playing the game of thrones: dogs. At least, dogs were once important to Sansa and Theon, back when they were living under Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and his ferocious hounds. It doesn't look like any dog trauma translated from the screen to reality, as Allen spent most of the panel hanging out with a tiny dog he called Abbey — the star of the panel, easily, not to slight Hodor.

Toward the end of the panel, as always, the floor was opened for fans to ask their questions. A mother brought her child up to the microphone and asked if he could be anointed as a member of the Stark family. The answer was a quick and emphatic yes, of course, because Turner is not a monster.

But do you know who is a monster? The Night King, the wicked White Walker warmonger waltzing toward the Wall — and also toward the microphone, apparently, as the Game of Thrones arch-villain proceeded to ask a question and sketch out the entire room in one chilly moment.

That's one way to suck the winds of winter out of a room.

Watch the video below to see the new Game of Thrones trailer released at Comic-Con.

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