John Bradley’s Samwell Tarly Is in the Business of Saving the World

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Disappointing maesters, surgical procedures, and the final straw: John Bradley breaks down Sam’s time at the Citadel.

HBO: Sam’s role at the Citadel really makes a huge impact on the story this year. What was your first reaction to reading the scripts for this season?

John Bradley: I was really excited. I liked that this season he’s proactively doing things that will make a difference. It’s really the first time Sam has a role at the very heart of everything: he just wants to fight it in the only way he knows how, and use his own skills in an environment where he can bring something to the table. He wants to let Jon know that sending him there was the right thing to do, and he’s going to reward him with results.

HBO: Has the Citadel been different from what Sam expected?

John Bradley: Sam believed the Citadel was where he would belong and find kindred spirits; and for the first time in his life, he’d be accepted and valued. Then he gets there, and he’s just as much of an outsider there as anywhere else.

He’s come across a group of people who are very keen on giving themselves a comfortable life and concerning themselves with trivial academia for the sake of it. Sam knows about the power of knowledge, and what a difference it can make. He thinks the maesters will share those values, but they don’t. They’re passive. And Sam doesn’t want to be that way. His passion and interest in academia is using it as a force for good. Everything he could get out of the Citadel has become a crushing disappointment: He starts to feel he doesn’t fit in anywhere.

HBO: What sort of reaction do you think Sam will have to the news of Randyll and Dickon’s deaths?

John Bradley: He’s now technically head of House Tarly, whether he knows it or not, but I don’t know if that would register with him. That’s a previous Sam who doesn’t really exist anymore. He’s broken free of that. As soon as he took that Valyrian steel sword and walked out of Horn Hill, none of that mattered anymore. He’s his own man now.

HBO: What’s been the most interesting thing about having Sam at the Citadel?

John Bradley: It’s nice to see Sam, for the first time, around academic company. It’s nice to see how he intellectually holds his own. He was always most intelligent person at Castle Black, and at home at Horn Hill. He’s frustrated to find out that he’s probably the smartest person at the Citadel as well. That’s the problem. He’s too progressive, and his ideas are too dangerous; too wildly controversial. The maesters aren’t used to dealing with these things, and Sam is. He wants to fulfill much more of a purpose than anyone at the Citadel, and so again he’s marked as being different.

HBO: Speaking of progressive ideas, Sam takes quite a risk conducting Jorah’s surgery. Why?

John Bradley: That scene was really beautiful because it showed Sam’s sense of duty. As soon as he discovered Jorah was Commander Mormont’s only son, he knew this was what he had to do, regardless of the consequences. He’d been helped so much by Commander Mormont; there was this affection between the two of them. That’s why he felt this connection with Jorah. Sam abandoned the scene of Lord Commander’s death, and he carries a lot of guilt for that. Now he’s got a chance to put some of those demons to bed and show what an honorable person he is.

HBO: Could you describe the process of shooting that sequence?

John Bradley: It was a tough day shooting that, but no matter how tough it was for me, it was so much worse for poor Iain Glen [who plays Jorah]. To have that prosthetic applied to him, he had to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, get to set at 3, and then sit in a chair and have it applied over the course of four or five hours. Then I’d bound onto the set around 8 o’clock ready to do a day’s work. So in that environment, you have to be as respectful as you can and try to keep the energy down between takes, because Iain has to portray a man undergoing such agony, which is such a tiring emotion to portray.

It was such a collaborative process, not only between myself and Iain, but also between the amazing prosthetic department, who designed this incredible shifting of pipes and patches of latex and all of that very specific, technical stuff that as actors we know nothing about. To see the other people involved, the other craftsman at the top of their game, was really fascinating. It really felt like a team effort. All of those shots were done individually to get them as specific as possible. The shot where Sam first cuts the tiny little hole in the greyscale was done in one three-second shot, basically with the director counting down, “Three, two, one.” And on “one,” I’d open up the prosthetic and the prosthetic guy would activate this pump which would shoot creamy pus out of the hole I just created that got all over Iain. There was something really nice and mechanical about all these departments working together to “go on one” to make this tiny moment. But we knew if we got it right it would be a very visceral, emotional and memorable one.

HBO: Ebrose both praises and punishes Sam for this action — what is Sam’s opinion of the Archmaester?

John Bradley: Archmaester Ebrose should be the kind of father figure Sam has been looking for all his life, and that’s what you’d expect him to be: the male presence who encourages him to use his skills and apply his knowledge. But he’s not. Even when Ebrose does concede — and you can see Sam’s face light up that he’s finally found somebody to believe him — he then proceeds to dismiss Sam in a roundabout way. That’s frustrating. Prior to the Citadel, Sam was constantly appealing to ill-educated people; now he’s talking to educated people like Ebrose and they’re saying he has validity in some of his points, but they believe that the lion’s share of Sam’s argument is not worth thinking about.

HBO: What is going on for Sam when the maesters’ decide not act on Wolkan’s letter?

John Bradley: Sam thinks, “I appreciate they don’t have to listen to me, but this note is coming from another maester they know. They should give some credibility to him.” But they don’t want to hear about it. You can almost see them thinking, “Let’s see if we can find a way to ignore this and let us off the hook.”

HBO: Why is that the final straw for Sam?

John Bradley: He’s not being allowed to fight the battle at the Citadel. He’s not being allowed to justify Jon’s decision. He knows he’s got to get out of there and go back to Jon’s side; he’s the only one who’s going to fly the flag of knowledge in this war. That really is the breaking point, when Sam realizes he’s talking to a brick wall. No matter what they suggest, these people aren’t in the business of saving the world, and he is.

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