The third season of HBO’s lavish fantasy “Game of Thrones” concluded with a stunning finale Sunday — though it would be difficult for anything to live up to the gut-punch impact of last week’s “The Rains of Castamere” and its depiction of the Red Wedding, one of the most harrowing set pieces from the George R.R. Martin “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels that inspired the series.
Among the many interesting turns of events in the season’s concluding installment, “Mhysa” — and anyone who did not see the finale might want to stop reading now: Jaime Lannister finally returned to King’s Landing. His homecoming, however, might have been somewhat less auspicious than the kingslayer once would have expected.
“Finally he’s back,” Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau said in an interview with Hero Complex late last week. “I think that moment, he comes back, he arrives in King’s Landing. In the street, there’s this street vendor, and he’s more or less pushed out of the way. They just see a dirty bum. His reaction is a little puzzled, but at that point, he is in many ways a changed man. I thought that was a great way to show that.”
Jaime is indeed a changed man — he’s coming home without a sword hand for starters.
From the first, audiences were acquainted with Jaime’s swagger and charm, but also his supreme loyalty to his House and his instinct for self-preservation. When he’s discovered in an incestuous moment with his twin sister Cersei (Lena Headey) at the end of the series’ first episode, he throws young Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) out of a window to conceal the true nature of their relationship.
But this season, Jaime, astonishingly, has managed to make strides toward redemption. After finally being freed from imprisonment by Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), he’s soon captured and maimed by the group of outlaws known as the Brave Companions, at which point he’s forced to rely on the emotional strength of the valiant lady knight Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
“Game of Thrones” show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss said that they cautioned the actor in their earliest conversations that if the series made it to a third season, he’d have a tremendous arc to play.
“It was kind of an interesting conversation when we were first making the deal with Nikolaj,” Benioff said in an interview earlier this year. “We warned him, ‘It’s going to be a good first season, then you’re going to be mostly absent in the second season’ — we ended up writing him more scenes for the second season just because Nikolaj’s so good we didn’t want to be away from him for so long. ‘But I promise you, if we make it past the second season, where we’re taking this character is going to be fantastic.’”
Although he had studied at the Danish National School of Theatre and Contemporary Dance and had enjoyed success on stage and television in Denmark, Coster-Waldau, 42, was not well known to American viewers when “Game of Thrones” debuted. But he had the attributes that Benioff and Weiss felt they needed for Jaime — athleticism, humor, intelligence and charisma.
“Basically, what you need is a movie star,” Benioff said.
Benioff and Weiss directed Coster-Waldau in the season’s fourth episode, “Walk of Punishment,” in which Jaime loses his hand — and with it, his identity and much of his will to survive. Coster-Waldau said illness nearly overwhelmed him during production, but it helped him channel Jaime’s impaired state.
“We had two days to shoot that scene,” the actor said. “The first night we shot all the dialogue scenes more or less. The second night I got really sick. We were able to shoot, but I was very close to throwing up all the time.”
As important as that moment was, the scene in which he reveals to Brienne the circumstances that prompted him to slay the Mad King arguably stands as the most powerful moment in Jaime’s screen life thus far. Woozy from his injury, he tells her that he sacrificed his honor and broke his oath to protect the man who held the Iron Throne to save the people of the city from the fiery death Aerys planned for them.
“It was very special. I had never done anything like that where I had such a long buildup of anticipation,” Coster-Waldau said of Jaime’s confession in the episode “Kissed by Fire.” “It was such a pivotal moment for him. It’s a big scene, a lot of words, he’s been very close to dying. There’s a lot of elements to be aware of just on a technical level — and you’re in a bathtub and you have this fake arm you have to deal with.
“Usually on a show like ‘Game of Thrones,’ you don’t have much time to rehearse, a lot of the sets are not available,” he continued. “We were allowed to come in a few days before the water got into the bath and rehearse and talk about everything related to that moment. When we shot, they were really cool to allow me to do the whole scene in each take. It’s a long take, six or seven minutes. Do it four times through, it’s an hour, and it’s going to be everyone focused for an hour.”
The experience proved to be tremendously rewarding, he said.
“After, there was a really great sense of relief and achievement. I just felt we’d all done the best we could. It’s such an important scene for that character, you don’t want to mess it up. You spend so much time thinking about this guy, you feel such a sense of responsibility to give this justice.”
As for his rapport with Christie, Coster-Waldau said the duo has developed a bond off screen as well, a natural outgrowth of sharing so much screen time but also an indication of their creative chemistry. Watching Jaime’s growing respect for Brienne has helped humanize him — he even leaps into a pit to save her from an angry bear in the Martin-penned “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.”
“She’s a very, very smart woman and a lot of fun,” Coster-Waldau said. “Between takes when we’re just hanging out she’s a funny lady. Also with the bathtub scene, her reaction, just her eyes, the way she reacts to the words, are kind of guiding the audience on the importance of what Jaime says.”
“Game of Thrones’” fourth season starts filming in early July, though Coster-Waldau said he won’t begin work on the show until the end of next month — he’s currently in New York shooting the Nick Cassavetes film “The Other Woman” opposite Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann. (Earlier this year, he was seen on the big screen in the Guillermo del Toro-produced ghost story “Mama” and the Tom Cruise-led sci-fi outing “Oblivion.”)
But the actor already is looking forward to digging into the complicated family dynamics of his wealthy, politically motivated House now that he’s back in the seat of power, with the sadistic Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) on the throne.
“This is the first time we’re going to have the Lannisters together — [Tywin] with his kids,” he said. “I can’t wait to explore that. I hope to have a moment, a scene with the King, Joffrey.”
He also, of course, is reunited with Cersei, which sets up much of what will happen for Jaime in Season 4, the actor said: “They’ve both missed each other, they see each other and then [they realize], ‘Here we are, oh.’ A lot of things have happened…. It’s a closure for that journey.”
Readers familiar with the events of Martin’s saga know that the siblings’ relationship heads in a fairly unexpected direction, though whether the series will follow the same path is unclear. Benioff and Weiss have said that absolute fealty to the source material can’t always be their chief objective, and they’ve demonstrated a willingness to part from the books on many occasions. Even in the case of the Red Wedding, they made key changes that heightened the brutality of the already grim sequence.
Coster-Waldau said he took note last week of the outpouring of reaction online to the shocking massacre at the nuptials of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey. It brought home to him in new ways the devotion of “Game of Thrones” fans; he was also heartened that so many of Martin’s readers refrained from spoiling the surprise for newcomers to the world of Westeros. He was cheered to see such a sense of community take root.
“I saw some of those videos and I thought it was funny, but it was also very touching,” Coster-Waldau said. “They’re so invested in these fictional characters, it’s almost unbelievable. You go, wow, this really means something. The most amazing thing for me is the fact that people have been so loyal in not telling what happens. There are so many people who know what happens and there’s been a tremendous respect, these secrets have been kept and that’s a very cool thing.”
– Gina McIntyre
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