7:15pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones' Star Breaks Down Final Season Premiere's "Terrifying" Ending
[This story contains spoilers for the final season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones, "Winterfell."]
Several years ago, right before Game of Thrones cut to its closing credits for the first time, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) had the last word: "The things I do for love." Almost seventy episodes later, Jaime returns to Winterfell, once again face-to-face with Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), but this time? Not a pithy one-liner in sight.
It's understandable why the Game of Thrones antihero can't exactly find his words. Both Jaime and Bran have undergone enormous transformation since they saw each other last, with the golden-haired swordsman losing his fighting hand and his family, while the latter party lost all shreds of his humanity — mostly, at least. These days, Bran Stark prefers a different name: the Three-Eyed Raven, a title he's inherited alongside the all-seeing magic powers he gleaned from his journey beyond the Wall. Those powers will be an instrumental force in the five remaining episodes of Game of Thrones, as already evidenced in the final season premiere.
While Bran may be a bit out of touch with mortal dealings, things could not be more opposite for Isaac Hempstead Wright, who has inhabited the role of the young Stark since the very beginning of Thrones. He's transformed in his own right, an adult now, taller than several of his colleagues, with plenty of wisdom to boot — and much as Bran is ready for the great war against the Night King and the White Walkers, so too is the actor ready for the Game of Thrones watch to finally end.
Ahead, Hempstead Wright speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about the events of the final season premiere, Bran's arc specifically, and how he will interact with Jaime moving forward, what to expect in the remaining episodes, and why he's more excited than sad about the award-winning HBO drama's ever-looming conclusion.
What was your initial reaction to reading the final season premiere and getting to the final scene: Bran and Jaime's reunion?
I think we've all anticipated that this was going to happen. Bran's known everything [for quite some time], and so it was inevitable that he would be waiting around creepily for Jaime to turn up. (Laughs.) I can remember when I first read the episode, I was still at my university hall. I remember thinking, "I better make sure to lock myself in here. Everyone would love to be reading this right now." I read the first episode, and it was so amazing. We're coming back after two years since the last you saw any of these characters. The key is to get people back into the Game of Thrones universe, bringing them back to all of the new alliances and so forth. The cliffhanger at the end? It's just genius. It's the exact same cliffhanger we had in [the series premiere]. It's a really neat, cyclical thing that the final first episode mirrors the very first episode.
It does, in several ways: Daenerys' arrival mirroring King Robert's arrival, even a small boy running through Winterfell to spy on all of the action, much like Bran back in the day. What do you remember about filming these scenes? It must have felt surreal.
That queen's arrival scene was really interesting, because it really was pretty much exactly the way we had done it before [in season one]. It brought back a lot of memories. Here we were, standing next to each other once again, now in completely different height order, and me sitting down, ten years older. It was really fun. I recall it took a couple of days to film; it was quite a big scene. Of course, Bran has all of these weird lines: "We don't have time for all of this!" Again, it was so fun. I've really grown to love being this weirdo in the corner who pipes up with a strange, abstract comment every now and then that makes everyone go, "What?" (Laughs.)
Has your approach to Bran changed at all since season seven, or are you still viewing him on the same terms as last we saw him?
More or less, it's pretty much the same. But I was conscious of trying to have slightly more wisdom. I was trying to make him a little bit more like Max von Sydow's Three-Eyed Raven. In season seven, I felt like he was just overwhelmed. He had just had everything downloaded into his head. He hasn't quite come to terms with it yet. My approach in season eight is that he's slightly more in control of his powers, sitting there like the wise old man who knows what's going on and needs to explain to these petty mortals what the real important thing is.
Another cool thing about this episode: getting to act opposite Emilia [Clarke] as Daenerys. It's so funny. I don't think it's something I ever thought would happen. For so many seasons, my character has been on the periphery of the main storyline. Daenerys has always seemed so far away. She was on another continent. Why on Earth would I ever get to have a scene with her? I particularly enjoyed getting to do that, acting opposite Emilia, and all of these other people who are now suddenly involved in this scene.
It's your first scene with Kit Harington since the very beginning, too, right?
Right! The funny thing is, these big reunions… for me, these are some of the first scenes I have ever had with these people. I could count the number of scenes I've had with Kit on my left hand. It's so funny. Because of the story, the audience is hooked in: "What a great reunion!" But really, these are some of the first times I'm acting with these people, especially as an adult, rather than just as a kid. It was terrific fun.
What kind of energy does that bring to the performances?
It's really, really exciting. Because then, you're off-set, and there's a whole gang of you. It definitely gives you a different atmosphere. We're used to hanging out at premieres and stuff. These are people I've never really been on the same set as. The fact that we're all there for the same reason gave us this really vibrant set. Having a lot of different people around naturally brings a very different energy. I think it certainly comes through.
How did you view Bran's outlook on reuniting with Jon Snow? He tells Jon he's less of a man than he looks, since he's the Three-Eyed Raven now. Does Bran feel joy reuniting with his family member?
There's a sense of … I wouldn't necessarily say "joy," but there's still a part of Bran in the Three-Eyed Raven. He remembers what it was like to be Bran. Usually, his mind is occupied with so many other things. But when he's there in Winterfell, surrounded by so much of his family and so many people he hasn't seen in such a long time, it certainly flares up the parts of his brain that are Bran. I think there's a flicker of him thinking, "Good to see you again. It's been interesting to see your journey." But I think it's all in the context of how interesting it's been to see how someone's life has panned out, the journey you've been on, the things you've seen, why you're here today and where you must go from here. It's not like Bran's going to sit down and shoot the shit for an hour with Jon. It's more like: "Nice to see you again. You've had an interesting journey — and you have an interesting journey still to come."
Toward the end of the episode, Bran cranks up the peer pressure on Samwell Tarly, coaching him into telling Jon the truth about his Targaryen roots. Why doesn't Bran tell Jon himself?
Because Bran's not stupid. He might not be hugely emotional, but he does have a sense of how the world works. He knows it's not going to be the best reveal to his brother — or what is it, now? His cousin? — who he hasn't seen in many years. What's he going to say? "By the way, you're shagging your aunt and you're the heir to the Iron Throne." Bran is wise enough to know he's not the right person to deliver the news. That news has to come from Sam. It needs a very human touch, and Sam is one of the most human characters in this. He's sweet, he's vulnerable, and he's best friends with Jon. Jon needs to hear it from someone like that. He can't be reactionary. He needs to take it at face value.
Getting back to the end of the premiere, how much had you allowed yourself to wonder what it would be like when Bran saw Jaime again? This is the man who pushed him out a window and started him on the path toward becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. Did you always feel like a reckoning was inevitable?
You know, I'm not sure. In a sense, it's just so irrelevant to Bran, really. His sole focus is that he wants the living to survive. He's on the side of the living. He's the ancient arch-nemesis of the Night King. He's so far beyond any petty squabbling or wanting to get revenge or a comeuppance on someone. He doesn't view the world like that anymore. He just views things as timelines that intersect and have to end up in certain places. I think from a story point of view, it's amazing to see it happen. Me, as Isaac? I was thrilled to see that reunion, because it's such a poignant moment, and such a cool thing for Jaime to come back here and realize that Bran is not Bran anymore — he's fucking terrifying. In terms of Bran, though? I don't think he really cares. It's just not on his list of priorities.
Five episodes left. What are we in for?
Well, if you noticed, the first episode was quite funny. I suppose that's a warning, to ease you back in before all the pain that's about to come. (Laughs.) The rest of the season might not follow quite as happily.
We know there's a big Winterfell battle coming up. Anything you can say about that?
I'm not sure how much I can say about it, actually. But obviously, there are battle scenes in season eight. The White Walkers are coming. In terms of the sheer scale [of the season], well, we saw "Battle of the Bastards," and it seemed like the pinnacle. There's no way we can beat that. It's one of the best battles in TV history, right? Well, the stuff you see in season eight… it's going to be something else. The amount of work the crew put into this, the weeks and weeks of heavy, hard, difficult shooting with impossibly difficult stunt sequences and epic VFX … I haven't seen any of the battle stuff yet, but I have heard through the grapevine that it's completely out of this world.
You finished filming months ago. You're now on the last leg, with publicity and watching the season unfold on television. Where are you at with your feelings on Game of Thrones ending — is it more that you're sad to say goodbye to such a big part of your life, or more that you're excited to have all the secrets out in the world within the next six weeks?
You know what? It's been so nice having this interview, because I can actually talk about [specific plot details]. I've done so much press the past few months and I can't really say anything. I keep thinking I'm saying the same thing every day! There's no more analysis I can possibly do on the past seasons! So, yeah, I really can't wait. Especially because there's so much I'm excited about in season eight. There are so many really cool moments that are going to define the entire series, frankly. I just wish I could talk about them all. I can't wait for it to roll out, for the dialogue to open, and everyone can really chat away about it. And I am ready to say goodbye. I think everybody is. It's been a long, long time. It feels like it's the right moment for it to wrap up.
Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for full coverage of the final season.