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Davos Seaworth rots in a cell, his future unknown, all thanks to an assassination attempt gone wrong.
The so-called Onion Knight — played by Liam Cunningham, a fixture on Game of Thrones since the show’s second season — receives a rare visit from a very special guest: Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), the steel-jawed man who would be king, the person Davos has sacrificed so much for, including his fingertips and very nearly his life. Despite Davos‘ selflessness, Stannis isn’t impressed with his right-hand man’s tireless effort to stop the red priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten), by any means necessary.
“You don’t have much of a care for life, do you?” Stannis asks his prisoner. Davos shrugs and offers a simple, “No.”
From Cunningham’s perspective, Davos‘ season three defiance against Stannis and Melisandre doesn’t come down to a lack of self-interest. Instead, it’s his prioritization of “the right thing,” above all else.
“He doesn’t have a death wish,” the actor tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s that there’s no point in living if you’re doing the wrong thing.”
Those would be the words of House Seaworth, if Davos came from nobility. Ever since the execution of Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) in season one, Davos has served as something of a moral compass for Thrones, often foolhardy in his loyalty to a man like Stannis, but always viewed as a true north for his misguided leader.
“In a strange way, Davos is a quiet hero,” Cunningham says. “This show would be anarchic if you didn’t have people like Davos, and maybe Samwell Tarly, where you have these people doing their best to do the right thing, not just for themselves, but because the right thing is the right thing to do. If you don’t have them in the show, it sort of becomes a free-for-all of who’s going to kill who, whatever it may be.”
Cunningham likens Davos to Tom Hagen from The Godfather, a “consigliere” of sorts. “He’s a corner man. He’s the dude you want in your corner when you’re in trouble,” he says. Except right now, Davos is in the corner by himself, thanks to the destruction of Stannis and House Baratheon at the end of season five. Even Jon Snow (Kit Harington), someone Davos viewed as “a fellow traveler,” is dead (at least for now), leaving Davos with few friends on The Wall. In fact, the only person Davos even recognizes is his longtime rival: Melisandre, equally broken by the fall of the Baratheons, albeit complicit in their destruction.
“I love this phrase, but they really are very strange bedfellows,” Cunningham says. “They hate each other, but they’re in the same position. Dramatically, it’s brilliant. It’s absolutely interesting from a dramatic point of view to see where these two characters are going to go. Right now, they’re not in a good place.”
Of course, the potential exists for things to get much worse between Davos and Melisandre, if and when he finds out what the audience already knows: Melisandre burned Stannis‘ daughter and Davos‘ dear friend Shireen (Kerry Ingram) alive as an ultimately fruitless sacrifice for Stannis‘ cause. Cunningham promises the show will “pursue that dramatically,” but remains tight-lipped on exactly how.
Indeed, the secrecy surrounding Thrones is at an all-time high, with season six pushing the story of Westeros further than its current status in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series. Cunningham has become an expert at navigating the world of spoilers (“HBO have sent us down to Langley, and the CIA have put us through their psy-ops,” he jokes), but most importantly, he feels that fans of the show need to experience the major ups and downs facing Davos and the others for themselves.
“One of the most beautiful things about this show are the glorious surprises: Ned Stark’s death, Shireen’s death, the Red Wedding of it all,” he says. “If anybody has the audacity to rob the audience of those moments? That’s beyond mean.”
In that spirit, Cunningham won’t say much about the road ahead for Davos, and why he’s wielding Jon Snow’s Valyrian sword Longclaw in the season six trailer. (“Why I’m taking it, and what I’m going to do with it, one will have to wait and see,” he says, “but it’s a very wonderful and clever sequence.”) He won’t offer any hope for fans desperate to know about Jon Snow’s return from the dead. (“He gives good corpse, that boy,” he teased.) But he does promise that season six contains the requisite amount of jaw-dropping plot stunners Thrones has become known for, routinely blindsiding its biggest fans — Cunningham included.
“I’m the one screaming ‘WTF! OMFG!’ when I read the scripts,” he says. “My personal judge is when I get the ten scripts [for the season] and lock myself away to read them. If I can put them down, things aren’t going well. But this season, there wasn’t an episode in the bunch where I went, ‘Where is this going?’ It was full of intrigue, full of newness, and filled with wonderful characters. We have quite a few new people on board this year, and as usual, there’s carnage with characters going down. There are parts of it that are business as usual, and I mean that in the very best sense. Then there are parts that are stylistically very new.”
For his part, Davos stands at the center of “business as usual” and “stylistically very new,” with the character poised for a central role in the coming proceedings.
“Where we find him [in season six] is directionless, and in a sense, that’s incredibly interesting,” Cunningham says. “What can he do? What can he achieve with so little, with so much taken from him? Everything’s up for grabs. It’s a fresh start — well, it’s either a finish, or a fresh start.”
It’s a fresh start for Thrones as well, proceeding forward without slavish adherence to Martin’s source material, but also the beginning of the finish; while HBO has not announced an end date for Thrones, Cunningham believes it’s not far off in the distance.
“This year, we pushed the limit even more, because we know it’s going to come to an end soon. It has to,” he says. “You can’t keep up this level of quality, because of the demands and everything — your personal life, your time, all of that. This show is bigger than the lot of us, the sum of its parts. To do justice to the finish of this story is very important, that we can walk away with our heads held high, that we can do no more, that we did as much as we could.”
The cast and crew of Thrones, then, borrows a page from the Davos Seaworth playbook: “Do the right thing.” Cunningham, at least, echoes the sentiment: “Whatever’s required for the job.”
Game of Thrones returns on April 24. Keep up with all the Game of Thrones coverage here.
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