Samwell Tarly left Jon Snow with a very serious question to ponder at the end of the Game of Thrones’ Season 8 premiere, “Winterfell.” After telling Jon about his true identity (that he’s Aegon Targaryen, the rightful king of Westeros) Jon put up some resistance and reminded Sam that Dany is their queen. But she shouldn’t be, Sam protested. “You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”
Actor John Bradley, who plays Samwell, told Collider that the driving motivation behind the question his character posed to Jon, and behind telling his pal about his true identity, was learning what Dany did to the Tarly men.
“It’s all been kind of expedited because of that encounter he had with Dany immediately before that. Once Dany told him about what she’d done to his family and the father and brother, the fact that she’s burnt them alive for a simple act of rebellion really, and a simple act of defiance, it kind of indicates to Sam this is a very volatile character and a very violent character, and not only that, but also unstable and imbalanced and hell bent on power,” Bradley told Collider. “I think he eyes her very warily now.”
When Samwell received the information about his family from Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) it was delivered by the queen in a very matter-of-fact emotionless, manner. Samwell had to process (1) the realization that Dany killed his father, Randyll Tarly, and then (2) deal with learning she also killed his brother Dickon. Dany’s decision to stand there silently as Samwell tried to process the news, made for a big moment.
“That really helped me. Emilia’s approach to that scene and approach to her character and the way she embodies her character at this point in the narrative – that really facilitated my playing the scene the way that I wanted it to, because the last thing that I wanted to do was burst into tears — immediately burst into tears instantly and be melodramatic, and be kind of back of the hand on the forehead kind of stuff,” Bradley explained.
Bradley revealed the script said, “‘Dany tells Sam this, and then Sam is upset and starts crying.'” He wanted to make sure the moment, though only a few seconds, felt long, just as those moments did for his character.
“I wanted to play as many different [flashes] of emotion across his face as I possibly could at that moment. I wanted to get the impression across that he’s having a breakdown and his brain can’t cope with all this deluge of emotion that he’s feeling at this one moment in time … anger, and the grief and the sadness and the sense of injustice – and also the fact that he has to maintain a certain degree of composure because he’s talking to the Queen,” Bradley recounted.
It’s a tough moment to watch as the Queen tells Sam what happens but makes no apologies for her actions.
“Emilia’s detached performance of that really fed into my performance. She’s cold and she’s not going to make it any easier for Sam at all and that’s when Sam realizes that she’s a psychopath. She’s not got any feeling. She’s not got any sense of emotion at all. He’s dealing with somebody whose very volatile and very kind of … morally bankrupt almost, and that’s what feeds him into going in to tell Jon Snow because you don’t want a morally bankrupt leader like they have at the moment. That’s when all of his doubts about Dany really are solidified in that moment, really.”
In eight seasons of Game of Thrones, that scene was the first time Bradley worked with Clarke, and he called it “such a joy.”
“That was the very first thing shot on Season 8, that scene. And it’s a tough one to start with, but David [Nutter] was wonderful and Emilia and Iain [Glen] – I’ve worked with Iain before, but never Emilia. They’re wonderful scene partners. … It was just a great environment to play something that tough. It was a very tough first day … David Nutter is so compassionate and so lovely. And Emilia and Iain, they were both so wonderful and yeah, it was good one with start with, straight in at the deep end really,” he said.
While Samwell was caught up in emotions after learning about Dany’s decision regarding his family, it’s worth wondering if the character recalls one of her other acts. Back in Season 5, Samwell shared with Maester Aemon the knowledge that came on a scroll about Dany staying in Slaver’s Bay, despite trouble with the masters, to free the slaves.
“I think even if he is aware of it — I think it’s a good point — but I think that Sam knows what to add and what to leave out in order to make a persuasive political argument. And he’s such a master manipulator and such a master tactician and politician and he’s so hyper-intelligent, he kind of knows what would support his argument and what would be detrimental to his argument at that moment. And his argument’s all that matters. His own agenda and moral code’s all that matters, so he wouldn’t mind omitting that tiny little snippet of information if it means that Jon Snow’s going to come ’round to his way of thinking, I don’t think.”
So finally, could Dany do anything to get him on her side? Unsurprisingly, the answer is no.
“I don’t think that Daenerys can do anything really, now. I think that Sam is very quick to make judgments and very quick to kind of write people off,” Bradley said. “I mean, she burned his family alive. It going to take an enormous gesture to kind of pull that one around, especially Dickon, who he loves … That’s a big thing to do to somebody. … I think that his whole point now is to not worry about what can she do to change his mind, it’s how can he change Jon’s mind about Dany and I think tjat that’s what his motivation is going forward.”
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