[WARNING: The following contains spoilers from the Game of Thrones episode "Sons of the Harpy." Read at your own risk!]
Will Daenerys be the big cheese that stands alone?
On Sunday's Game of Thrones, the Mother of Dragons (Emilia Clarke) may have lost two her closest advisers to a bold daytime attack by the Sons of the Harpy. The gold mask-wearing dissidents' guerrilla tactics have been particularly effective since their identities remain hidden, which means anyone — even her so-called allies — could be scheming to bring her down. And while the former Kingsguard knight Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) and Unsullied leader Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) are two of her most skilled fighters, they never stood a chance.
After slaughtering several men in a public area (yet sparing the life of a suspicious-looking prostitute), the Sons of the Harpy converged upon a troop of Unsullied in a narrow corridor, where all were taken down except for Grey Worm. Just as it looked as if he'd be joining his comrades, Ser Barristan stepped in. Despite taking down every last Harpy, however, both men collapsed, grievously — and possibly mortally — injured. "Sheer numbers. There were two of us against 20 or whatever it was," McElhinney tells TVGuide.com. "At the end of the day, their numbers overwhelmed us. So you see us both lying there at the end of the fight session, and you don't necessarily know at that stage the extent of the damage to us, but we're certainly wounded."
Even if Grey Worm and Ser Barristan somehow survive, their injuries will render them out of commission for the near future. It's yet another harsh blow for Daenerys, following her recent ill-advised execution of a disobedient adviser."Her way forward is going to be significantly affected by losing those two people who are her fighting mainstays," McElhinney observes.
"Of course, she still has Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) and he's certainly a fighting man, but because she and Daario are involved personally, that's not a straightforward relationship like Dany & Barristan's [relationship] is," he continues. "He has a detachment and therefore could be relied on to be giving advice that was uncontaminated by personal interest. And because [Grey Worm is] an Unsullied, that's part of their training, to be dutiful and to defend the person who is their ruler. Whereas somebody like Jorah (Iain Glen) or Daario, they're personally involved with her, so they're harder to read how much their judgment and their wisdom is affected by how they feel about her personally."
Check out the rest of our interview with McElhinney and what Anderson has to say as they break down that latest skirmish and its implications.
Besides just fighting skills, what do Ser Barristan and Grey Worm each offer to Daenerys?
Ian McElhinney: First of all, age and wisdom. And secondly, essential decency. In a world with very few balanced people, he is one of the few honorable ones. I think he would say his opinion based on that sense of honor. And he will also think or propose the decent thing. She would also rely on him as the man with the proven track record as a soldier who actually could protect her. Also, because of his age and his history, he knew Rhaegar, the ruler that Westeros never got but probably should have had. He is able to tell her about that era, about those people, about Rhaegar's abilities, and give her a proper role model on which to fashion herself. So in that sense, I think he's very important to her.
Jacob Anderson: When the Unsullied were freed, Grey Worm very quickly identified an emotional response to it — that whole thing about, "I'm going to keep my name because it was the name I had when you arrived." I think that, to her, showed her that this was not just like a fighter or a soldier, but somebody who had the potential to become a decision-maker and an intelligent person who could counsel her in terms of conduct. The Unsullied are basically the police force now in Meereen. They have a mutual respect for each other, I think.
Are we assuming that Barristan has kept up with his training? He was kicking major Harpy butt for an older guy!
McElhinney: At the start of the series, Barristan's reputation has gone before him. I'd never had to demonstrate the fact that I am this soldier that I'm cut out to be, but everybody seems to know it. I think one has to assume because he's out there ... [as] one of her escorts, that he is an able fighting man. In this particular [season], we see some evidence of that. He certainly has a bit of a blaze of glory here. It's good that that happens. I think it's important that at some point you had to see him fight.
Discuss how you trained in each of their particular fighting styles.
Anderson: I had a fight in Season 3, which was really different. It was more methodical, almost robotic. That was easier to learn because it was counting essentially, counting and making sure you were in the right place at the right time. [This year], there's a lot of twisting and turning. There's a little warmup where I spin the spear around my head and spin it in each hand and switch it and go backwards. It's weird. I don't know if it's an actual style. I haven't seen it in action yet.
McElhinney: It wasn't one of the easiest things because it's a big broadsword. If you do any fancy sword work one-handed, it looks a bit silly and a bit lightweight. It's definitely a two-handed sword. If you do it as a two-handed sword, it carries much more weight and much more sense of power because you put your whole body into the various moves that you make. Anything less than that would not be right.
What was the rehearsal process like?
McElhinney: Before I started filming at all, I went in and met the stunt guys. They went through the routine with me, and every so often we would get together and work it through. As time went on, we would increase the speed of it a little and work more on the force of the cuts and perhaps some of the noises that we have to make to make them sound effective. It was quite fun. I'm no spring chicken, so you wouldn't do long sessions necessarily, but you'd do sessions whereby at the end of it, you've nailed something a bit more precisely here.
Anderson: I only had a few sessions this time around. I was starting the festival season, so it was quite difficult to get to Belfast to rehearse. I did like two sessions and then we did a few rehearsals out in Croatia. But I was trying things around my house, around my flat, which my girlfriend loved, knocking things over.
The fight takes place in a fairly narrow space. Was that challenging?
Anderson: It was really hard, which why it was good to practice in my flat, at home actually. The first year on the show, I did the same thing because we had quite a long corridor in our old flat. It's quite good to learn that way. This year, that corridor was tiny. There was like no space, there was barely space for the spear. You could probably have two spears in terms of width on that set. So me and all the Unsullied guys and the Sons of Harpy guys had to be really careful with each other. I'm sure I actually caught a few Sons of Harpy, in fact, I know I did.
McElhinney: It was quite a compact space. When we were in the rehearsal, they told me that it was going to be a confined space. I think in my mind's eye, I presumed it would be in a more open space. But in some ways, being in that confined space with all those bodies was very atmospheric.
What was the actual shooting of the fight like?
McIlhinney: They shot Jacob's fights one day and they shot mine the next. Also, with all the Harpies, the advantage, of course, is that they're all masked; all the Harpies were themselves stuntmen. That side of it, I didn't have to worry about. They knew their job, and I had to be fitted into their routine. So in that sense, it was much easier because it wasn't two actors fighting each other; it was an actor fighting a bunch of stunt people. I think it was 15 [stuntmen], and a few of them doubled up because some more run in to the scene. I probably shouldn't say that because it breaks the magic. Once they were dead, some of them came back from the dead and fought.
Anderson: They wanted it to feel scrappy and they wanted it to feel like they were being ambushed, which is exactly what happens. It's really hard to learn really specifically and precisely how to make something massive. It was a really difficult two days. There was so much dust on that set, and I got really ill for a few weeks after it. I didn't really leave the set apart from every now and then for water or to have lunch. So I must've inhaled some sort of virus. I think everybody got ill — all the stunt guys got ill as well. It was like the day after was Ian McElhinney's day for the fight, and I pretty much shut down toward the end of Ian's day. It was fine though because I was in the background most of the time. It was really cool to see Ser Barristan in action.
Did you do all of your own fighting?
Anderson: Yeah, I was pretty sore. I had a stunt guy who had been practicing with me and everything, and he's a really good stuntman, but he's a good likeness to me. But I wanted to do this myself. I liked the challenge, so I insisted on doing all of it myself. So I did the whole thing, and toward the end of the first day, I was like, "Maybe I should've let him do some of it." Now I understand why we have stunt people. It's for insurance.
McElhinney: There was a stuntman there to be a stand-in for me when and if needed. He didn't look at all like me as it happened; he was much younger than me. But the bottom line is that nobody ever wants — they don't want, you don't want — for a stunt person to be doing the fight for you. You want to get to the stage where you're doing it yourself. They want that to happen too. It's always much more believable and much more effective when that happens. So we didn't need to use a stuntman to cover any of the moves, and that's all to the good.
Is there hope for Daenerys to recoup after this?
McElhinney: As the story develops in [Season] 5, Jorah comes back and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is arriving, so there's a whole new world coming into Meereen. What the implications of that are, we'll get to find out, but obviously there's a new world dawning.
Whether or not your character survives, you're not shooting at the moment. What are you doing outside of Game of Thrones?
McElhinney: I'm in the midst of directing a show. So I'm in rehearsals every day these days. That show's going to open in just over a week's time and it's running until the 6th of June. It's called Killjoy, and it's a new play of a very particular type and style. I think it's commercially viable and a type that hasn't been seen in a while. Think of Deathtrap; it's a play in that sort of mold. It's playing at a theater called The Mill at Sonning. Our immediate neighbor is George Clooney because George just bought a house in this place called Sonning, a matter of months ago, but at the moment he's not here. He's having a lot of work done to this house.
Jacob, you're a musician that goes by the stage name Raleigh Ritchie, and one of your songs is "The Greatest." Why did you choose that name, and what's next?
Anderson: It's from The Royal Tenenbaums, the Wes Anderson film. They're two characters. It's one of my favorite films. So I just mixed two characters. I felt like we were kindred spirits. They're my spirit animals. I've got festivals. In the UK, we basically get all together in a field in the summer, in numerous fields. And I'm finishing my album. I've got a month left on it, and I've got to hand it in. We'll be finished by the summer and out in autumn. Hopefully it's a very good pop album that makes people feel something.
Do you get recognized when you're out and about for your work on Game of Thrones?
McElhinney: Yes, in quite a lot of different places. I could be somewhere where I think I'm entirely anonymous, and somebody will come up and say, "You're Barristan Selmy, aren't you?" And I say, "Yeah, I am actually." It's usually very nice because the people who recognize you are people who follow the show and they enjoy the show. They're not going to give you a hard time.
Anderson: It happens every now and then. I look pretty different in my day to day. Also, Grey Worm hasn't smiled. That's definitely a big difference. I like smiling. It tends to just be people who are diehard fans of it. They normally want to take pictures. People will say to me, "Oh, you're a lot shorter than you are in the show." I'm like, "Thank you."
What do you think will be the fates of Grey Worm and Ser Barristan? Does Daenerys stand a chance to bounce back from this?
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
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