HBO’s epic masterpiece Game of Thrones is back for Season 3, with bigger battles, devastating betrayals and more deaths, as everyone fights for control of the Iron Throne. Now that magic is growing stronger and the dragons have been let loose, there’s no telling who might be in jeopardy or in power next.
At the show’s press day, co-stars Kit Harington (“Jon Snow”), John Bradley (“Samwell Tarly”) and Rose Leslie (“Ygritte”) talked about what’s it like to film with the conditions in Iceland, how isolating the location can feel from the rest of the cast, how Jon Snow will face his biggest struggle yet this season, what Samwell’s place in the Night’s Watch is, how Jon Snow’s relationship with Mance Rayder will develop and what it’s like to have Ciarán Hinds join the cast, how complicated things will become between Jon and Ygritte, whether Jon still wants to know who his mother is, how much deeper the fantasy aspect will get this season, how much of the books they’ve read, and their hopes for their characters, beyond this season. Check out what they had to say, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
ROSE LESLIE: I think condition wise and temperature wise, certainly. But, we’ve all fallen in love with Iceland and it is phenomenal to be able to go back there. It’s just so beautiful and inspiring. It’s a very special country. Actually, I love being able to go back there. But of course, a little bit of sun would never go missed. A little bit of heat would be fabulous. I don’t think we got the butt end of the stick. At least we’re not always in Belfast. At least we do branch out a little bit.
JOHN BRADLEY: I think we did get the butt end of the stick. A question about adverse weather conditions prompts an answer relating to Iceland, but let’s not forget that the Belfast weather can be quite unpleasant, as well, in a different way, and you don’t get the amazing scenery to compensate for it. We film a lot of the Night’s Watch stuff in the start of the shoot, in July and August. Sometimes it can be boiling hot, and in those costumes, it’s really uncomfortable. I know that me and Kit used to get a lot in Season 1, “You guys are freezing cold?” We’re not freezing cold.
KIT HARINGTON: It’s a warm summer’s day, and I’m standing next to a fire. I’m not cold.
BRADLEY: I don’t think, in terms of weather conditions, we can really win. It’s either too hot, or mind-numbingly cold.
Because you’re filming in Iceland, do you feel any sense of isolation or separation from the larger contingent of the cast and the people who you were working with in Season 1?
HARINGTON: When we’re all out together, it helps. Actually, we spend a bit of time in Belfast as well as Iceland, and there you’re always crossing like ships in the night with other actors who are doing their scenes, and you get to hear what’s going on with them. The surprising thing for us is how close we are, as a group, when we actually don’t see each other that much. We, on purpose, meet up just as friends, outside. We all mostly live in London, so it’s quite easy. Especially for the young members of the cast, who have not experienced a show like this before, it’s a massively shared experience. It’s like we’re all in this together. So no, we don’t feel isolated out in Iceland, at all, actually.
BRADLEY: What can really help, depending on what your process is, is that Sam is up in the north of the wall and he’s pining for Gilly, who feels so far away. And Jon is probably up there, thinking about his family and thinking about Arya and Bran, and all of those guys. If you can picture and just get a sense of the actual actors being so far away, and not reachable because you’d have to overcome so many physical obstacles to actually physically get to them, if you wanted to, you can really use that to feel distance.
LESLIE: It feeds it.
Kit, has your ankle healed?
HARINGTON: It has, yeah. I had my last physio session the other day. I’m running, jumping, skipping, hopping. Yeah, it has healed, finally. It was a rather irritating period of my life. Don’t do it to yourself.
Jon Snow has the classic undercover story going on right now, with where that line is when you become the thing that you’re undercover as. How much of a struggle is that for him, this season?
HARINGTON: I think it’s the biggest struggle he’s come across. He obviously had a struggle in Season 1, where he had to decide whether he’d go down and avenge his father. His struggle in Season 2 was what to do with Ygritte. And then, Season 3 is that classic spy thing of falling in love with the enemy, and the enemy not being what you expected them to be, but actually maybe being something you prefer. In convincing yourself that you have to be one of them, it eventually seeps into your very being.
Does Ygritte really have feelings for Jon, or is she suspicious of him?
LESLIE: Oh, very much so! I think the love that she has for Jon clouds it, big time. But, certainly at the end of Season 2, of course she’s suspicious and not quite sure how to handle him. We see the relationship between them, for Season 3, develop. I’m not too sure how far we can dive into that, but her feelings for Jon Snow cloud what she suspects.
John, did the White Walkers make a mistake in letting Sam live, and will he be involved in bringing them down?
BRADLEY: I think there will come a day where the White Walkers will rue that decision not to kill Sam when they had the chance.
LESLIE: My god, I hope they do!
BRADLEY: There’s only so much we can say for people who don’t know the books, but I think that Sam has had a function, all along, in terms of his place in the Night’s Watch, as far as being instrumental in keeping Jon there, and being instrumental in forcing Jon to make these decisions and stay with the Night’s Watch for a brief amount of time, while the Night’s Watch needed him. I think his function in Westeros, as a whole, is going to become quite apparent as the season goes on.
The Slayer element was not in the season premiere. Were you sad about that?
BRADLEY: No. I think that the longer that we wait to introduce that strand, then the more effective it will be because the longer the threat goes on, the more essential a solution is to it. I think that that element comes into it at a perfectly-timed moment. That’s another life-changing thing for Sam, once he finds that out. That’s another reason to keep going. He needs to spread all this knowledge that he’s gathered.
LESLIE: I want to know what you’re talking about! You’ve wet my appetite, John.
In the meantime, you really sympathize for him and think, “Come on, Sam, get it together!”
BRADLEY: Yeah, I know. He’s such a put-upon character, really. If a character was like that for no good reason, you’d get quite frustrated with him. Once you know how he was treated at home and the psychological abuse that he suffered, all his life, you realize that he’s absolute damaged goods and you realize that he can’t function properly. He’s a completely dysfunctional man. I think that’s down to quite deep psychological damage. So, it’s easy to be quite glib and get quite frustrated with Sam, but you do have to treat him with kid gloves because he’s a seriously troubled, and justifiably troubled and damaged, young man.
Does Sam consider all of the Night’s Watch his brothers, or just Jon Snow?
BRADLEY: I will say that when Sam first comes into the series, Jon Snow is everything that he possible needs, at that point in his life. Jon Snow is like a family, rolled into one for Sam. In Season 2, when Jon then has the opportunity to go off with Halfhand, Sam seems to completely support that decision and say, “If Jon goes, I can do his work while he’s gone.”
HARINGTON: It’s an interesting bit, that we think Dan and David were very clever to put it in, with the betrayal of Jon to Sam when he refuses to help Gilly. He says, “You can’t touch it.” Suddenly, Sam sees this side of Jon. He thought he stood up for people who were weaker, and he’s let him down. And then, the next scene that we see them interact, Sam who wants Jon to stay says, “Go! Piss off!” It’s quite brutal, them leaving. They don’t even get a goodbye. There’s no kiss and a hug. It’s like that’s it, they’re gone.
BRADLEY: In that moment, Jon metaphorically hands the savior baton on to Sam. Sam then feels the responsibility to help Gilly all by himself because he knows that Jon isn’t going to. That’s a pivotal scene for both of us, really. We split, not only physically, but also in terms of how Sam’s dependency on Jon dissolves in that moment.
How does Jon’s relationship with Mance Rayder develop this season?
HARINGTON: It was amazing, first of all, to have Ciarán Hinds playing Mance Rayder. I think you really should watch him this season. He’s incredible. I don’t know. I think Jon knows to respect him, and respects him from word go. But, it’s quite nice having another older, paternal figure. He’s had so many. He had Ned, and then Benjen, and then Maester Aemon, and then Mormont, and then Qhorin Halfhand. Finally, he gets one that he doesn’t actually have to listen to. He’s telling him where he’s going wrong and all this, and he can go, “You know what, mate? Piss off! I am fighting against you.” But then again, this man has bonded all the people from beyond the wall because he’s got amazing charisma, and Jon will fall for that, too. I think Mance knows exactly what he’s doing, by twisting Jon around his little finger and knows that Jon hasn’t quite come over to their side yet. It’s a really interesting relationship to develop. I wish me and Ciarán had more.
HARINGTON: Yeah. When we saw the premiere, I was blown away by the dragons.
LESLIE: They looked spectacular!
HARINGTON: Whoever is doing the special effects needs serious kudos because those dragons are amazing. They’re better than anything I’ve seen in film, and this is TV.
BRADLEY: I was really impressed with how well it stands up on the big screen. If you’re made on a TV budget and it’s blown up to those huge proportions on that big of a screen, sometimes you can see a lot of the cracks in it, but I was really impressed with it all and how cinematic it looked. I think it suits a big screen perfectly.
And that’s throughout the season, right?
LESLIE: Well, hopefully!
BRADLEY: They spent all of the special effects budget on that one thing.
LESLIE: It all went to that one dragon.
HARINGTON: Over the three seasons, it’s crept up on you. It’s one of those things where you realize how much of it now is fantasy. In the first episode, you’ve got a giant, you’ve got dragons, you’ve got White Walkers, you’ve got dead zombies, you’ve got that creepy little girl, at the end.
LESLIE: Yeah, what was she?! That was scary!
Ygritte has been raised in this world.
Is there anything that Jon Snow has raised in her that’s making her question or evaluate what she’s heard about people, on the other side of the wall?
LESLIE: Yes, I think he does. The brutal landscape that she’s always grown up in, and the harsh surroundings that herself and the rest of the Wildling community have always lived in, seeps into their personality and the way that they are. I think they are, as a whole, incredibly brutal and strong, and she’s always heard nasty stories, especially of the Night’s Watch. But, she’s confused by Jon Snow and confused by the way they live their lives, and can’t quite wrap her head around the fact that they don’t want to be free and they want to answer to these old men who are dated and, in her opinion, just get everything wrong. You see her barriers break down this season, and I think that has a lot to do with the relationship between herself and Jon Snow.
BRADLEY: The relationship between [Jon and Ygritte], and there are a lot of other relationships like it in the show, and it’s been examined before in other series and in other movies, where war is war, and war is a huge thing between two shapeless, amorphous facets that clash. But, whenever you get personalities and human beings, even if they’re on different sides, people find the connection with each other, regardless of the bigger picture. It’s always interesting to see that. For example, I don’t know if you’ve seen War Horse, but the horse is trapped in no man’s land and those two soldiers forge a bond to free this horse. When you boil war down or all conflict down to two people, it’s a great advert for humanity sometimes. People can find connections with each other, regardless of the bigger picture.
Do you think Jon still wonders a lot about who his mother is?
HARINGTON: When Ned dies, that was a double blow because his father died, but it was also the only person in the world who know who his mother is. The real pain with that, and when Sam tells him to get over it and move on, he’s, “Well, I’ll never know who my mum is then. There is no chance in hell that she’s ever going to find me, or that she’s even alive.” So, I don’t think he thinks about it. He’s put it to the back of his mind and it’s not important to him anymore.
LESLIE: When I left Downton Abbey, it hadn’t yet taken off and become the phenomenon that it is, to this day. That all happened after I left. But, it was fabulous to be a part of it and to be a part of the cast. We had an absolute ball! It was about six months of shooting. None of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into, at the time. I hope I can speak for everybody involved, and certainly for the younger peeps, but at the time, we were like, “Lush, we’ve got a job! This is great! This is so good! It’s ITV. Brilliant!” And then, it all escalated afterwards. [With Game of Thrones,] it was daunting to come into an established series. But certainly, on the first day in Iceland and meeting everybody, they’re all been incredibly friendly and charming. It’s a very close-knit little family going on, on set. It’s been fabulous!
Who has read the books and who hasn’t, and do you try to avoid hearing what’s going to happen, in future books?
LESLIE: I wanted to know, so I read the books. I’m on book 4, at the moment.
BRADLEY: I’ve always said that one of the beautiful things about this story, in the book and on the show, is the fact that most things have got one great plot and maybe a bit of a subplot, but this has got five or six really good plots that could stand up as a narrative on their own. So, I’ve been able to read the rest of the books without touching a lot of the Samwell chapters. I purposely jump over them because you can’t get attached to anything. You’ll be practicing certain lines in front of the mirror and thinking about how David and Dan are going to tackle that, and it may be the case that there’s no time for it. They have to edit things out, so it’s best not to get too attached. You’ve got to be a slave to the script. You’ve always got to be a slave to the script because you’ve got to trust David and Dan’s better judgement to edit responsibly.
Do you find that the scripts are taking more departures from the books in Season 3?
LESLIE: Book 3 is so big. It’s huge, and I’m not quite sure how David and Dan have been able to widdle it down. And they take different aspects from all the books, as well, and filter it in.
HARINGTON: I’ve read the books, as well, up until book 4, but it was such a long time ago that I read them. I do revisit them a bit, but sometimes you can’t quite remember. But, I like not knowing sometimes.
What do you each hope for your characters, beyond this season?
BRADLEY: I’d love for Sam to go back to Horn Hill and smash a few doors down and call his father out. Randyll Tarly despised Sam for his inability to be brave and his cowardly nature, and I’d love for him to go back and show him just how brave he’s become.
LESLIE: I would love for Ygritte to escape the north with the rest of her community and run away from the White Walkers and get over that wall and build a life there, where it’s slightly safer. Hopefully, that will be with Jon Snow, but you never know.
HARINGTON: What I really want, and what I’ve always wanted, is for Jon to go and avenge his father’s death. That’s what I want, in the long, long term. I want him to get that satisfaction and that sort of justice. But, I don’t know if that will happen, or if that’s even right for him.
Game of Thrones returns for Season 3 on HBO on March 31st. Click here for all our coverage.