John Bradley on Samwell Tarly’s Biggest Episode Yet

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The Season 8 premiere is full of reunions and revelations, and Sam Tarly has an important part in both. After spending over a season apart, Sam and Jon Snow’s reunion also brings one of the most important revelations of the series. Samwell actor John Bradley explains how his character is the only person who can deliver the life-changing news, and what it was like to act with Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) for the first time.

HBO: What was it like when you learned Sam l would be the one to tell Jon about his true identity?

John Bradley: As an actor, it’s thrilling for your character to be able to change things and be at the center of the story — not only is this news impacting Jon’s past, but there are ramifications going forward. Sam is the one Jon trusts more than anyone: He knows Sam wouldn’t tell him unless he was 100 percent sure.

It’s a big emotional moment for Jon because his relationship with Ned is something he always took pride in. As soon as that’s questioned, Jon reacts quite violently — you see it in Kit’s [Harington, who plays Jon Snow] eyes. But he quickly computes that Sam is saying this for all the right reasons and has Jon’s best interests in mind.

HBO: How did you and Kit prepare for this pivotal scene?

John Bradley: When you establish a good professional relationship with someone it’s great, but when there’s a personal relationship as well, there’s a real trust there — you feel so supported as an actor. When an actor puts as much energy into a scene when the camera isn’t on them as they do when it is, that’s how you know you have a great scene partner. Because we are such great friends and we want each other to perform as well as possible, it all becomes easier. That was established really early on. We just clicked.

HBO: Sam often helps Jon realize his leadership potential.

John Bradley: It happens a lot in their friendship. Sam understands Jon’s emotions really quickly — he sees that fire in Jon’s eyes — and Sam is the one who can talk him down and make him think differently about things. He sees that same flare of anger in Jon when he was made a steward. I think Jon admires and respects Sam’s intelligence as much as Sam respects everything about Jon.

HBO: How is Sam feeling when he learns about the death of his father and brother?

John Bradley: After leaving his family behind in Season 6, Sam has come such a long way. He feels like Jon, Gilly and baby Sam are his family now. When he finds out what happened to his father and brother, it comes as a surprise how much it affects him emotionally. There’s a moment where he rationalizes his father’s death and he looks for a positive — at least Sam can go home now. It keeps his emotions at bay (because he doesn’t want to be emotional in front of Daenerys). But when Daenerys mentions Dickon’s death, that really rips Sam’s heart out. Dickon is just another casualty of Randyll’s toxic masculinity.

The way Daenerys tells him is very cold and clinical and matter-of-fact. She looks him in the eye and tells him she killed his family. There is something about that that makes Sam realize how dangerous she can be for Jon and the Seven Kingdoms. This is the moment he decides to tell Jon about his heritage because he can foresee problems she may cause for Jon in the future. Sam realizes he is dealing with a very important, but dangerous person.

HBO: And what was it like acting with Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) for the first time?

John Bradley: Working with Emilia for the first time was such an exciting moment. Being a part of a show like this, you can be such a big fan of entire storylines you aren’t involved in. I could tune into Daenerys’ storyline with a certain distance and enjoy as a viewer. Suddenly, you are working with Emilia and see her in costume and see Daenerys in front of you — it felt like I was just walking into a show that I love so much.  

That was the very first scene filmed in Season 8, so everyone was coming into it with a certain level of excitement. There was a poignancy to it since it was our last, first day of shooting. It was the final time we were starting that journey again.

New episodes of Game of Thrones premiere Sundays at 9 pm.

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