NEW YORK (AP) – Oh, how special it must feel to land a role on a new pilot for HBO – or better yet, get a call saying you’ve got the part on the show that has become a pop culture phenomenon – only to know that your character could be killed off.
On the spot. Anytime. Maybe in the same way as the book from which the show was adapted. Or maybe not.
That’s been one of the running themes of the groundbreaking Game of Thrones (GoT) – which premieres its eighth and final season on HBO today.
An adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin’s series of fantasy novels, show creators David Benioff and DB Weiss launched the series in 2011, unsure how the fantasy drama full of sword fights, dragons and horses would do with TV viewers.
But it proved to be a major hit, with fans clinging on to their favorite characters only to see some – well most – killed off.
The Associated Press takes a look at five characters who died during the series, and the actors who played them reflect on life during and after Game of Thrones.
– Character: Shae, a prostitute and Tyrion Lannister’s ex-girlfriend (season 1-4).
– Death: Strangled to death with chains by Lannister, who found Shae in his father’s bed, fought her, then killed her.
– Experience on show: “I grew up with the show,” the 38-year-old German actress of Turkish decent said in an interview with the AP. “The first year everything was smaller. They weren’t even sure if there would be a second season. …Then it got bigger and bigger. The fan base grew with the show. Production was like, ‘OK, no photos anymore. Don’t post photos from the set.’ If you wanted to drive to the set, you had to pass some security and it got crazier, and crazier, and crazier.”
– Dealing with death: “The third season I thought my character was going to die. I read the script and I was like, ‘OK, I’m still alive.’ I asked DB Weiss and David Benioff … ‘Oh my Gosh, you changed my story line? She will be alive a few more years?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, no, Sibel, not really. Your character will die in the fourth season.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was hoping, I was just trying to blackmail them. I wanted to give them money – ‘Can we make a deal that Shae’s going to live?’ They were like, ‘No’,” Kekilli recalled. “When I met George RR Martin, he said, ‘Oh my gosh, Sibel, your Shae was better than my book Shae. If I had known you before, I wouldn’t kill you.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah then, let’s do a prequel or sequel, or whatever’.”
– The fans: “Fans can be so merciless. They can be really grateful. They can love you, but at the same time, if you do something wrong, or your character is doing something wrong in their eyes, they can be really mean to you. I had both experiences. At the beginning they were like, ‘Yeah, maybe we like Shae,’ and at the end it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we hate her.’ It’s really difficult if you’re not used to that,” Kekilli said.
– Life after death: Kekilli, who won Lola Awards (German equivalent to the Oscars) for her roles in 2004’s Head-On and 2010’s When We Leave, appears opposite Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke in the film Berlin, I Love You, released in February. Though Kekilli is no longer on Thrones, she’s still in touch with her cast mates: “(We) became a big family.”
– Character: Pycelle, a Grand Maester for multiple kings (seasons 1-6).
– Death: Stabbed repeatedly by little children.
– Experience on show: “It was extraordinary to be in this show, which we had no idea was going to be so wonderful at the beginning,” the 84-year-old English actor said. “On the other hand, it was a job … which took me five months of every year for six years, which was a nice thing to do. We enjoyed all the ins and outs and the turns, the wiggles that we had to manoeuver ourselves through, very much indeed. … As we know, it is something very special indeed, a totally unique piece of television which can’t be repeated.”
– Dealing with death: “I didn’t want to do it anymore … I didn’t like being ticked off by Cersei all the time, because that was always happening to me. They said, ‘We have a very good scene for you.’ I said, ‘OK, what’s the scene?’ They said, ‘Oh, we can’t tell you,’ because you know how it is. They’re so secretive about everything,” Glover said. “I said, ‘I’m not interested in doing it unless I see the scene.’ So eventually, they let me see the scene. Then I decided and said, ‘Yes … because the death was so good.’”
– The fans: Glover said he enjoys going to conventions to meet with Thrones fans.
– Life after death: Glover, who won an Olivier Award (British equivalent to the Tony) in 1993 for his role in Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2), will appear in the West End production of Night of the Iguana with Clive Owen and Anna Gunn. Performances begin July 6.
– Character: Shireen Baratheon, a young princess whose left side of her face was scarred by Greyscale (seasons 3-5).
– Death: Burned alive as a sacrifice to R’hllor, known as the Lord of Light.
– Experience on show: “Everyone was so welcoming and I think that made it so much nicer because I was joining a show that people were already on for years. It was good to watch everyone treat me like one of the family. It taught me so much. Being young, it’s really nice to learn stuff from being there instead of going to a school. I think I learned things that you just can’t learn anywhere else,” the 19-year-old English actress said. “It opened so many doors. I’m very grateful.”
– Dealing the death: “For me it was such an honour, to at such a young age, be given the responsibility of a scene that involved so many emotions; it’s hard to dig down into the thoughts of someone going through that,” Ingram said. “I worked on it for a while. I just kind of thought about little things and put them all together. It was kind of like this big weird emotion. I don’t even think anyone knows what to call it. It was incredible just to kind of go through it and think about different ways of doing it. It was really exciting.”
– The fans: “It happened a little more after season five. I think the nice thing about it is because of my makeup and stuff, I didn’t really get (noticed) unless I went to a Game of Thrones specific event. It’s really nice to see people get really into a show that we’ve put so much hard work into,” Ingram said.
– Life after death: At age 12, Ingram won the 2012 Olivier Award for best actress in a musical for Matilda the Musical (shared with three other teen actresses). Since 2017, she’s been one of the stars of the Netflix children series Free Rein, which won two Daytime Emmys last year. “I went to a kids show about horses; just the contrast in the two different projects was so weird and so crazy. Because I’d gone from this show where people are getting stabbed and beaten up and all this, to making horse puns and throwing parties,” Ingram said.
– Character: Lancel Lannister, former squire for King Robert Baratheon who was in a relationship with his cousin Cersei Lannister, and later joined the religious movement the Sparrows and abandoned his family name (seasons 1-2, 5-6).
– Death: Stabbed in the spine by a child, then burned to death by the explosive green wildfire, which was orchestrated by Cersei Lannister and also killed Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, High Sparrow, Mace Tyrell and Kevan Lannister.
– Experience on show: “It was life-changing. It was an absolute joy. I grew up from the age of about 18 to about 24 going in and out of Paint Hall in Belfast. I’ve been all over the world: Croatia, Spain, Northern Ireland. It was an adventure that gave me so much, I guess, just awe,” the 26-year-old English actor said. “It was probably one of the greatest learning experiences of my life as well. I’m forever going to be grateful for it.”
– Dealing with death: “I always had suspicions in the back of my mind because it’s Game of Thrones – everyone dies. Dude, if you think you’re getting off lucky, who are you kidding? I didn’t know about my character’s death until just before we started filming season six. Usually what happens is the actors get a call out of the blue from Dan and David and I, instead of getting a call of death, I got an email of death,” Simon recalled. “I thought for a little while in season two they might not bring (my character) back … so I was quietly hopeful but never kind of assumed that he would carry on.”
– The fans: “They’re so enthusiastic about who their favourite character is and passionate about subjects like, ‘Who do you think is going to end up on the iron throne?’ …That is like the No 1 question,” Simon said.
– Life after death: Simon’s credits following Thrones include the Netflix film The Lodgers; the National Geographic series Genius; a film he produced called Resonance; and Kill Ben Lyk, which won several awards at film festivals. “My horizons are very much spread out between the UK or Europe and LA and North America – I think Game of Thrones has made a lot of that possible. It kind of widened the world (for me).”
– Character: Ros is from the North.
– Death: Repeatedly shot with a crossbow, including one to the heart by Joffrey Baratheon.
– Experience on show: “It was equal parts exciting, terrifying and surreal. …I was only meant to appear in one scene in the pilot,” the 36-year-old English actress said. “I knew that the books had been pretty popular, very popular, but I had absolutely no clue that the show was going to turn into the phenomenon that it has. I’m very glad. I think had I known that at the time, I would have been so much more intimidated at what was about to happen.”
– Dealing with death: “I was starting to get a little suspicious because I hadn’t received anything and I was like, ‘Hmm, this is a bit strange,’” she recalled. “Then I got an email asking could I do a conference call with the show runners (and) then I knew it. I was like, ‘Oh, this is it.’”
– The fans: “It still always, always happens to me when I’m going through US Customs. I have no idea why. Maybe because they really concentrate on looking at your name and your picture, but they’re all huge Game of Thrones fans it would seem,” Bianco said.
– Life after death: “It was a little difficult at first. I feel like there’s so much expectation when you come off a show like that … I put a lot of pressure on myself right after I came off of Game of Thrones. Like, what am I doing next?,” said Bianco, whose credits include the animated Disney series Star vs the Forces of Evil, Syfy’s The Magicians, CW’s Supergirl and more. “It’s very difficult with a show like Game of Thrones because, well arguably, when it comes to television, there isn’t really anything bigger.”