In the War of Five Kings, Renly Baratheon appears to be the most powerful, at least on the popular front.
On HBO's Game of Thrones (Sundays, 9/8c), Gethin Anthony plays young Renly, who's become quite the charismatic young leader in the drama's second season. "He started off as a young man at court, very much a courtier, and had to go through a huge evolution into becoming a king, and not a king with an easy route to power," Anthony tells TVGuide.com. "He's had to take on a lot of responsibility. He's had to become more politically strategic with warfare and understanding armies."
Two other self-styled kings — Renly's older brother Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Robb Stark (Richard Madden) — have taken notice of Renly's impressive number of followers and have tried to convince him to join forces to overthrow King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
Going into Sunday's new episode, "The Ghost of Harrenhal," Anthony discusses Renly's political strengths, his relationships and that infamous shaving scene from Season 1:
How would you assess Renly as a player in the game?
Gethin Anthony: The reason why I like playing him is I think he's a fantastic man who believes in Westeros being a cultured and enlightened place. His major advantage — and why he gets on well in the world — is that he gets on well with people. There's lots in the books [on which Game of Thrones is based] about him being able to talk to queens and serving ladies alike. He can talk to anyone in the court and anyone from the populace. He would be a very popular presidential candidate.
Unfortunately, that's not how it works in Westeros. There are other problems that he faces along the way. But Mace Tyrell is behind him and is the head of a very wealthy family and no doubt wants one of his children to be royal somehow. That's how Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) becomes involved. I have no doubt that Mace told him, "Yes, I think you should be king. And here's my army and my money." Renly's war strategy is sort of bang on. He's got a lot of money behind him, he's got a lot of strategic power, he's got 100,000 soldiers and 22 families behind him.
What are his feelings towards Stannis? Why not let him claim the Iron Throne? Why does Renly want it for himself?
Anthony: He thinks Stannis would do a bad job. He worries that Stannis' manner and way of governing is less likely to yield peaceful results. A direct quote from Stannis from the book A Clash of Kings is "Kings don't have friends. They have subjects and enemies." Having another king like that means it's going to be a long, tormenting time.
Standing objectively back from it a little, I also think Renly has been in court a long time. He's grown up in court. He's been educated to think of himself as a royal family member despite the fact that his brother [Robert] took the throne in the rebellion. So he hasn't seen war on the front line, but he's been on the Small Council and he's the Master of Laws, so he thinks he'd be great in governance actually. I think he has real hope for the kingdom that it can become a kingdom of peace under his rule.
Your character means a lot to the gay community. Although there were hints from George R.R. Martin's books that Renly and Loras (Finn Jones) had a relationship, it's made explicit in the series. What are your thoughts on this?
Anthony: What's amazing about the project as a whole is that it has to create a world from scratch. Everything has to be handmade, props, everything because it's all from George's imagination, which is this bottomless well of an imagination. And in that world, as a sort of paradigm of our own world, there are complex human relationships and complex sexual relationships as we see in most episodes. I think it was absolutely right that they would have a homosexual relationship of some kind. I think it's kind of that idea of why not? If you see the full gamut of human experience, that relationship is very much part of our human experience and it's fantastic it's being reflected on the show.
That said, it's not all bliss between Renly and Loras. As a strong knight, Loras seems a little miffed that Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) was given a place in the King's Guard. That was a new scene written specifically for the show.
Anthony: The obvious answer to that is always this: the show is not told solely from the point of view of the characters. You get to see behind the scenes, and Renly and Loras have an affectionate, loving relationship. But, like any relationship, it has obstacles and barriers to it running smoothly. I think that added scene fit in very nicely because it adds to the drama in the relationship.
Why does Renly promote Brienne to an honor post in the King's guard? How does he see her?
Anthony: I think he thinks she's a fantastic warrior. He thinks she's incredibly loyal. And why not? Of all the people in power, Renly doesn't really see labels. He sees people. Without getting too maudlin and contemporary about where he sits politically, he sees this fantastic warrior. I think he's possibly naive about how much love she bears him. He sees it as utter loyalty and thinks she's fantastic. Her father's been saying how wonderful she's been for years, this wonderful warrior. And she is this amazing warrior. It's almost a glorious thing to behold. You would think, "Well yeah, you can be a talisman in my King's Guard."
He's entered into a political marriage with Margaery Tyrell. What's your take on this? We see that she's pretty open-minded and open to inviting her brother Loras into their marriage bed if that will help Renly get excited enough to provide an heir.
Anthony: What was really exciting for me was that they cast Natalie Dormer in that role, who's a fantastic actress. I knew that if they were doing that, they were adding a whole other element to the character. In the books you don't get as much of her. Bringing Margaery Tyrell to the fore politically and how dramatic she is is a fantastic element and it adds to the power play in the relationship between Loras, Margaery and himself. It makes it even more interesting. It brings the drama right into the bedroom at home. I'm really glad they did it.
I have to ask about Season 1's infamous shaving scene in which Loras is shaving off Renly's body hair but also convincing him to become king. It was so nervewracking to watch the shaving process! Were you nervous shooting it?
Anthony: You know what's funny about that is I have a thing about my nipples. I'm quite sensitive about them. So to have a naked blade near any sensitive part of the body is quite nervewracking! And even after I had filmed the scene, while I was watching it, I was equally nervous that something was going to go wrong. Afterward, I only had one armpit shaved because they didn't shave the other one. I did feel lopsided a little bit. It was a weird feeling.
But I have to say that instead of Finn they used a hand double, it was fantastic barber from Belfast, a young man who came in. I don't think he knew what hit him when he walked on set and they told him, "You're going to be shaving his chest." But he's a very talented barber and so obviously he was a professional and knew what he was doing. I think it was the longest take I had ever done, I had to do a straight take, so it was 15-20 minutes of sitting absolutely still and not flinching. Me and Finn were very excited about what that scene added to that relationship, that element of Loras being involved in the machinations of power.
Check out this sneak peek of Sunday's episode:
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.