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As the King in the North’s right-hand man, few individuals have a better front row view of Game of Thrones than Liam Cunningham, the actor who plays Ser Davos Seaworth.
Cunningham, who first appeared on Thrones in the season two premiere, has emerged as one of the show’s greatest ambassadors, eloquent and entertaining in his insights of the ongoing storyline. With that in mind, he’s the perfect person to check in with following the show’s status quo-shattering season seven finale, in which the list of momentous occasions includes (but is not limited to) the fall of the Wall, the arrival of the White Walkers in Westeros, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) consummating their relationship, the official confirmation about Jon’s Targaryen heritage, the death of Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and more.
Read on for Cunningham’s view of how Game of Thrones wrapped its seventh season, his perspective on where the show will go in its final six episodes and his expectations for the mood that will fall upon he and his fellow actors when they settle in for their imminent final table read.
The White Walkers have officially invaded Westeros. It certainly makes sense that there are only six episodes left, right? Having White Walkers in the Seven Kingdoms isn’t exactly a sustainable situation.
“The Great War has begun,” is what Jon Snow said. I think it’s absolutely right. I think the next season is where all of the pieces of the puzzle are going to come together. I think that’s what we had in this season, overall, the disparate places and people. Eventually, the funnel has come to a point where everyone is together. It’s going to be interesting where it goes, because all of these people and families who don’t know each other are getting together to fight the common enemy. The dynamic is incredibly interesting.
What was your reaction when you read that moment in the script, the White Walkers finally entering mankind’s territory?
There was an inevitability about it, really. Ever since John Bradley [as Samwell Tarly] came across the White Walkers in that episode, with those extraordinary almost Celtic symbolism of the corpses of the horses and the people and all of that. When you look at that, you know it’s going to come up somewhere down the line. It’s only taken us seven years to get to the point where they’re coming across to take on the Seven Kingdoms. So there was obviously an inevitability about it. That’s what’s so exciting about the show. How are they going to do it? How are they going to make it work? How are they going to make it look gorgeous? I think they’ve managed to do that.
There was always a feeling that this story wouldn’t have a gigantic magical wall made out of ice in place to protect humanity from an undead army if that wall wasn’t going to come down at some point. Did you feel that way? Was the fall of the Wall always on your mind as an inevitability?
I think it had to happen. We’re obviously very loosely based on the War of the Roses and Hadrian’s Wall, which separates England from Scotland, and the fact that the Romans as well were afraid to go above that wall because there were monsters out there — basically, the Scottish people. So I think in George [R.R. Martin’s] mind, I think there’s an obviously magnificent storytelling at work. Hadrian’s Wall never fell in reality, and I think he wanted it, dramatically, to fall in our beautiful story.
We finally have it officially confirmed that Jon Snow is a Targaryen — awkwardly timed, considering Jon and Daenerys have just consummated their relationship…
I know. (Laughs.) It’s a bit of a trip, isn’t it? It’s a bit of a weird one, when you wake up the following morning, if you got the text message: “Don’t go near that woman! She’s your aunt!” That would be very awkward if you’re lying on the pillow and having a look while she’s still asleep! Or vice versa! What if she gets the SMS? It’s kind of awkward! I would not want to be sitting at the breakfast table with the two of them when they both find out, let me put it to you that way.
Should we brace ourselves for Jon Snow as the King of the Seven Kingdoms, now that we know he’s the legitimate heir?
On paper, the guy is legitimate. He’s the boss. He has the rights to be the king. Don’t forget, in episode six, which we saw last Sunday, he just bent the knee, even though he was in bed at the time. He has metaphorically said he’s bending the knee to his queen. So that’s another awkward conversation that’s going to be had. Is he going to turn around to her and go, “So, about that knee that I bent…” That’s going to make things incredibly awkward, in the middle of a having a hundred thousand White Walkers and wights and the Night King coming through the Wall. I think the priority is going to be to save the place first, and work out the politics a bit later on.
Which is a great way to transition into one of the other major developments of the episode: Littlefinger’s death. First of all, before anything else, do you have any regrets that you Aidan Gillen didn’t enjoy much screen time together? I would have loved to have seen the Onion Knight’s thoughts on Littlerfinger.
I know! Listen, I was always so jealous of those beautiful scenes of Varys (Conleth Hill) and Littlefinger, when they’re just strolling around the throne room, playing tennis with the beautiful words that the guys gave them.
When you think about the show’s more politically minded storylines, the wheeling-and-dealing and manipulating, few faces come to mind more readily than Lord Baelish. What does it say about where we are on Game of Thrones that there’s no longer a place for this character on the board?
That’s the thing about it. Look at what he’s getting replaced with. While he disappears, we have the Night King coming across the Wall. Littlefinger would be a little bit easier to deal with than this monster that’s arriving. To refer you back to the last point about the politics of it all, we’ve kind of gone beyond it. We’ve gone from politics and diplomacy, and now we’re into survival. That’s what the priority is. People like Littlefinger going, and Euron (Pilou Asbaek) was showing some colors as well with Cersei (Lena Headey) as well — he was stepping up to the plate as the next naughty boy to arrive on the scene — that’s going to pale in comparison now. The bad guys and the good guys are going to have to come together now, to sort out the really bad guy: the Night King. I’m interested to see it. We obviously haven’t seen the scripts [for the final season], but I’m interested to see what the dynamics are going to be. Differences are going to have to be put aside.
A lot of the conventional thinking was that this season of Game of Thrones would resolve most of the political intrigue, setting the stage for a final season focused only on the White Walkers. But exiting this season, doesn’t it feel like these stories are still running parallel with one another? Is it reflective of the fragility of the human ego, that someone like Cersei can’t put aside her desire for the Iron Throne, even in the face of the White Walkers?
That was the whole idea with showing the wights. Don’t forget, the original idea behind that was to really show Daenerys what they’re up against. Now, she’s seen the size of it. She doesn’t need any convincing. She said that in episode six. So Cersei has to see this beast and have her mind recalculated. Instead of Seven Kingdoms, there will be no kingdoms. It’s like that beautiful line I had the first time we met Daenerys: “It won’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne if we don’t stand together, if we don’t sit down and sort this out — if we don’t stop thinking locally, and if we don’t start thinking globally in a sense.” But knowing Game of Thrones, and knowing George and knowing [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss], it’s not going to be as simple as that. There’s still going to be stuff going on. There’s still going to be stupidity. It’s extraordinary, the possibilities with this. It could go anywhere. It just shows you the quality of the writing, that speculation is even more so than it has been as this story continues rolling out. People don’t know where it’s going, don’t know what the battles are going to be like, don’t know who’s going to be on the throne at the end. We don’t even know if there’s going to be a throne! Anything can happen. That’s one of the big reasons we still have the size of the audience we still have, because the audience has not been spoken down to or patronized or treated as children. It’s an incredibly complicated story, made by adults, for adults.
What was it like to shoot the scenes in the Dragonpit?
It was extraordinary. You have to remember, the Dragonpit was shot in one of the biggest colosseums outside of the one in Rome. We shot it in Spain. You have to remember, when we walked out there as actors in this magnificent ruin, there were hundreds, if not thousands of people who died in that arena during gladiatorial battle in the Roman times. Where we were standing, there was an incredible amount of violence that was cheered on by thousands and thousands of people who were enjoying this spectacle of death. So, from the get go, the atmosphere was quite strange and quite weird. It’s the first time I had been in a scene with Cersei and a few other people, and with the whole lot of us together, it was almost very odd when we stood there. They set up this raised platform where we all met, this place where Cersei has set up this extraordinary visual for us to arrive with her on her throne and in the middle of this platform. All of us standing there, all of the sudden, all of these stories — and all of us as actors — we all finally came together. Because the only time we would ever really meet was on red carpets! So, doing that in this scene was extraordinary. It really did feel like everything was coming together, both dramatically, actor-wise, location-wise… it was quite a bizarre feeling. It was very interesting to play that dynamic of what needed to be done, the convincing of Jon walking up with this box on his back. It was all fantastically dramatic. It was great to watch it all come together.
There are only six episodes left in Game of Thrones. What are you expecting the mood is going to be like when you all sit down for that final table read?
It’s going to be very weird. It’s going to be extraordinarily weird. What we’ve been doing, and what we’ve been saying — especially myself and Kit, since we spend a lot of time together, what with me being Jon Snow’s right-hand man — we’ve been preparing ourselves not at the beginning of this season, but for the last year, that this beautiful piece of gold that we were all handed is going to be taken back from us. But we all realized going out, that there’s a sense that it’s absolutely right for this story to have a beginning, middle and end. Just because it’s very successful and because it’s loved and it’s making a lot of money, those aren’t reasons to drag it out. Keeping up the level of quality on this takes an incredible amount of work. David and Dan have been working on this for 12 years. The energy and the amount of brain power and man power required to get this thing as good as it is is extraordinary. It’s closing the circle, that’s what’s going to happen. It will be time for all of us to move on. We’ve all done terribly well out of it. We’ve all had the opportunity to show whatever levels of talent that we have, which we may not have had in previous jobs that we did. For us to have this beautiful showcase, and to be a part of this story — this undeniable cultural phenomenon — it’s an extraordinary gift. It’s one of the proudest things I have on my résumé. I will smile about this job until the end of my days.
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