9:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones': Looking Ahead at House Lannister's Roughest Year Yet
When Mel Brooks claimed it's good to be the king, he did so without consulting Tommen Baratheon.
"It's terrible," Game of Thrones actor Dean-Charles Chapman tells The Hollywood Reporter about the difficulties of presiding over Seven Kingdoms, let alone one. "It's not as good as people think."
Chapman, the 18-year-old actor who plays the sole surviving child of Queen Cersei (Lena Headey), faces a difficult road in the season ahead. Indeed, tough times are in store for all of House Lannister, thanks to a perfect storm of tragedies both personal and political. After spending several years as the most powerful family in the land, lopping heads off of Starks and busting up Baratheons on the Blackwater, the golden lions of Westeros finally suffered a string of crucial deaths in the form of patriarch Tywin (Charles Dance), King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and, most recently, Princess Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free).
No one feels that last loss more vividly than Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who held Myrcella in his arms as she bled to death from poison.
"It was horrible," Coster-Waldau says. "Finally, he told one of his kids that he's their father, and she responded in the most beautiful way: 'I know, and I'm happy.' He was happy for that one second, and now she's gone."
It's a brutal end to Jaime's equally brutal season five sojourn to Dorne, escalating tensions between the Lannisters and Martells to all-new heights. ("Dorne is in hot water," is all that Areo Hotah actor DeObia Oparei will say about the coming conflict.) But before Jaime can set his sights on Sunspear, he first has to bring the fallen Myrcella home to her mother.
"[When the season begins], they find each other over the corpse of their daughter," Coster-Waldau says. "You can only imagine being the mother of a dead child. It's not a great way to start a conversation. That's a tough ice breaker."
It also thaws the ice on an old, frozen prophecy. Early in her life, Cersei Lannister encountered a woodland witch named Maggy the Frog, who foretold the deaths of Cersei's eventual children. Now, two of the three are dead, sending both Jaime and Cersei into overprotective parent mode.
"They have one kid left, and they want to protect their son," Coster-Waldau says. "And he's in such a vulnerable position. He's supposed to be the ruler of Westeros. That's a lot to handle when you're 15."
Hence the heaviness of the crown, according to Chapman: "Tommen's in a bad, depressing, sad place. His sister's dead, his brother died … [and his parents] are more protective now, mainly Cersei. It's that prophecy, isn't it? It's an awful feeling for me. I want to keep working! And of course, I want to see Tommen succeed."
If there's an air of inevitability surrounding Tommen's fate, there's also a sense that the young king, given a few years and some breathing room, could actually lead the Seven Kingdoms on a peaceful path. "It would make this place we're in a million times better," Chapman says. "Everyone would get on. Everyone would have a cat."
The campaign slogan writes itself: "A Ser Pounce for every home." Instead, Tommen remains manipulated and powerless, controlled by thirstier individuals than himself. "He's not doing his job," Chapman says. "He has a lot of people who are doing it for him, and that's why it's all gone upside down."
Since the show's inception, the quality of life in King's Landing has been trending downward, but House Lannister suffered its most palpable setback in season five, with the arrival of the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and his increasingly powerful Faith Militant force.
"The Lannisters used to be able to buy themselves power," Coster-Waldau says, "but that doesn't really work with this guy. It's annoying!"
In speaking about the religious zealot, Pryce both acknowledges the character's view of himself as the hero of the story while also ruthlessly condemning those with values left of center — like Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), guilty of nothing beyond his sexuality. What does that make the High Sparrow, then?
"He's an evil hero," Pryce says with a grin.
Unfortunately for the Lannisters, the masses of King's Landing are looking past the "evil" part of the equation. Eugene Simon, who plays Cersei's cousin (and onetime lover) Lancel, represents one of the most prominent lieutenants in the High Sparrow's army, leading the revolution against the existing power structure.
"The High Sparrow takes care of the homeless and the sick," Simon says. "When you give to people who have been put into positions of destitution, and wrongly so, these people get empowered and angry."
Lancel is as empowered as anyone, according to Simon. Since his brief love affair with Cersei — a period of time that led to his complicity in the assassination of Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) back in season one — Lancel has found renewed purpose under the High Sparrow's wing.
"I think it's impossible not to fall for the charm, intelligence and sense of focus of the High Sparrow," Simon says. "I think Lancel has become very committed to what the High Sparrow wants to achieve. There's a real camaraderie there. It's a very patriarchal relationship."
(For his part, Pryce says the High Sparrow holds a more "pragmatic" view of Lancel; he's willing to look past the young man's crimes of incest purely because he's a powerful pawn in the mission to topple the Red Keep.)
At the same time, Lancel can't escape his family ties: "It's complicated. He has no loyalty to the Lannister household, nor does he want to be the one guilty of killing them. He's out to get them, but also to purify them."
While Lancel might stop short of lethal means against his own family, one imagines the same isn't true for Cersei, who now boasts a secret weapon of her own: Robert Strong (Hafthor Bjornsson), a human nuclear bomb formerly known as the Mountain.
"We'll have to see whether that guy is as nuclear as we think he is," Simon teases.
Even without Strong's support, even if they can't buy their way out of conflict with the High Sparrow, and even as the threat of Dorne looms in the distance, the Lannisters aren't without assets. While gold has always been their most obvious form of currency, they're also rich in moral flexibility. Despite an apparent redemption arc over the past several seasons, Coster-Waldau says Jaime is now prepared to step up and do whatever's necessary to protect his family.
"I don't think he's changed that much," says the actor. "I think it's more about the perspective around the character. Everything he's done, even the most terrible things, were done out of loyalty for his family. But as he gets older, hopefully he gets a little wiser, and hopefully he can learn from some of his past mistakes. Now that Tywin's gone, he has to step up. That's what's expected of him. There's a lot on his plate."
Whatever the future holds for House Lannister, and whether or not Tommen can shake free from his prophesied fate, Simon promises one thing: "No one I spoke to who read the scripts I read was able to predict the way it was going to go. It's going to be explosively tangential, and I can't wait for people to see it."
Game of Thrones returns on April 24. Read more interviews and analysis of the show here.