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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season six premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones.]
Winter is coming, but few people in Westeros are preparing for the storm.
Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) is one of the rare exceptions, more aware than most of the ice-cold menace known as the White Walkers. The Onion Knight, a mainstay on HBO’s Game of Thrones beginning with the second season, knows the true enemy facing the Seven Kingdoms — if not quite how to handle the threat.
In Davos‘ defense, the man has a lot on his plate. First, he lost Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram), the two most important people in his life. Then, his back-up plan fell through: Jon Snow (Kit Harington), betrayed and killed at the end of season five.
Season six begins with Davos learning about Jon’s fate firsthand, recovering and protecting the fallen Lord Commander’s corpse from Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) and the other Night’s Watch mutineers. Davos‘ allies are few: Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton), a handful of Snow loyalists, Jon’s direwolf Ghost and Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the titular “Red Woman.”
Needless to say, the relationship between Davos and Melisandre is a complicated one filled with bloody history — bloodier than even Davos knows, considering Melisandre’s role in killing Shireen. But that’s far from Melisandre’s greatest secret. In the closing moments of the episode, the Red Priestess from Asshai privately reveals her true form — an old woman, impossibly ancient, a far cry from the famously seductive and youthful physique she normally boasts — to nobody but herself and the viewers.
The morning after the Game of Thrones season six world premiere in Los Angeles, The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Cunningham to talk about Davos‘ immediate call to action following Jon’s death, his current alliance with Melisandre, his take on the red priestess’ big reveal, and how the White Walker threat reflects a real world adversary.
In the past, you have said that Davos saw a “fellow traveler” in Lord Commander Snow. Is that why Davos doesn’t hesitate to act when he sees Jon’s body?
He’s a straight-shooter, the boy. He has this legendary decency and loyalty, and knows what the right thing is. He sees in Jon … which is obviously, after Stannis goes, and even prior to that, before he died, Stannis said, “He’s a good boy. He’s Ned Stark’s son. He’s the real deal.” So that sort of thing is something Davos can throw himself into. He’s not going to align himself with the Boltons, or any number of the Lannisters, because they’re just power hungry animals.
Even if the best move for his survival is to lean into Alliser Thorne’s new leadership, it’s just not in line with Davos‘ moral compass.
No, there’s just no question. Even in the premiere [when Alliser confronts Davos], he turns around and says, “He’s lying. I’ve been around men like that all my life. There’s no good on the other side of the door. They’re coming in to kill us.” So, things are pretty clear cut for him. Even in a confusing world, the answer for Davos is always: “Do the right thing.” He knows what the right thing is for any given situation. It’s one of the joys of speaking those gorgeous words that these gentlemen provide. It’s proper stuff.
We saw the true Melisandre at the end of the episode. Davos has had a complicated relationship with her in the past…
To say the least! [Laughs]
How would Davos‘ opinion of Melisandre change if he found out her secret?
There’s no need … again, he’s that character where there’s no need for revenge or pettiness or anything like that. He’s not going to be passive aggressive around the red woman. He doesn’t have use for it. They’re fellow travelers at the minute. They’re strange bedfellows. They both lost their reason for being on the show, with Stannis gone, and with what she’s done to Shireen — even though Davos doesn’t know that she’s responsible. She had seen a great battle at Winterfell with Jon Snow leading it, and now, he’s dead. He’s gone. Her world’s falling asunder. Then we see this remarkable moment, where her humanity comes out.
Many fans have theorized that Melisandre is older than she lets on, but even they will be surprised at her true form…
The poor guys who made love to her! [Laughs]
Do you have any insight into how that scene was created?
The remarkable shot where she’s looking at you … that’s Carice, from the neck up. She spent a lot of time in a head cast. There was a huge amount of work put into getting the prosthetics done. She showed me one photograph; I wasn’t there when they shot it. It was very much a one-off thing. She showed me the photograph of her in the gear, and when I saw it on the phone, I thought it was remarkable to see. I’ve always wanted to do something like that. I’d love to get something like that done, to throw yourself into a character like that. But she thought it was very weird. I think she liked it a lot more than she thought she would — getting adorned. That stuff she wears … it must have taken six hours, or something like that to get it on. She only had to do it for a day.
But she’s quite constricted in the costumes that she wears, as well as where we’re shooting, [because] Carice does not like the cold, and the irony is, Melisandre doesn’t feel the cold. So it’s very tricky for her. We have to keep her warm. [Laughs] We have to keep her covered in duvets quite a bit. It’s very tricky for her. Of course, the old woman who came into play the full-length Melisandre … that remarkable moment at the end. The reveal at the end makes you go, “Uh, what?” But this is what I love about the show: the remarkable moment where she just climbs into bed, with this very sad look in her eyes, recognizing that there’s something lost.
For a moment, you wonder if Melisandre is becoming her true self so she can cast some great magic — to show off her power, like Davos alluded to when speaking with the Night’s Watch. But no; instead, she just crawls into bed.
Her world is shattered. We saw the real Melisandre. That’s why the episode is called “The Red Woman.” She’s taking it all off. The facade is down. That’s remarkable to me. Whatever you saw for the last five [seasons], it’s gone. You’re never going to look at Melisandre the same way again. That’s really great. That’s just an additional thing for an actor to have. And she doesn’t even need to play it; the audience [feels] it for her. Everything she does now is a lie. It’s not the real Melisandre. We’re always going to be watching to see when the reveal is going to take place — if it ever takes place. It’s amazing. Great drama.
Looking forward, there’s a great line from Davos in one of the trailers: “The real war is between the living and the dead…”
“…and the dead are coming.”
It alludes to the idea that the politicking and infighting within the Seven Realms means nothing compared to the threat beyond The Wall.
And the Red Woman has already seen that. She said, I think at the end of season four, that these petty wars between the Lannisters and whoever it may be — the Starks, the Boltons, the Khaleesi and her Dothraki trying to come across the sea — this is all just f—ing schoolyard fighting, when the real f—ing war is this army of a hundred thousand zombies.
Did Davos believe her at the time? He’s never kept close counsel with Melisandre, but have recent events opened his mind to this threat?
It was Hardhome. He found out about Hardhome, and he’s seen what [the White Walkers] are capable of, and sees the difficulty required to take these guys out. They are moving closer and closer to The Wall. They’re coming, and they’re not going to be stopped by bows and arrows. This is the big enemy. No one is paying attention to the big enemy. It’s almost a bizarre thing to say, but the metaphor could almost be climate change. The White Walkers are climate change. People are dropping bombs all over the Middle East, when the actual big problem is going to kick us in the f—ing eye and nobody cares. It’s nuts!
An especially interesting metaphor, when you think about the White Walkers heading toward a gigantic sheet of protective ice…
Yeah! It’ll be quiet. Our demise will be quiet, with ice cold water.
What did you think of Davos‘ story in the premiere? Stay tuned to THR.com/GameOfThrones for full coverage all season long including interviews, video and analysis.
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