To paraphrase another story about the psychological struggles of a sprawling cast of characters with tony English accents: Missandei is just a girl, standing in front of a eunuch super-soldier, asking him to love her. As the translator and trusted adviser to Daenerys Targaryen, Missandei has been brought to life for four seasons and counting by actor Nathalie Emmanuel. In Sunday’s episode, “Stormborn,” she also co-starred in one of the most romantic scenes in the show’s history, in which Missandei’s long-simmering romance with the tormented Unsullied commander Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) finally reached a boiling point. It’s a major personal breakthrough for two former slaves who, Emmanuel speculates, never before had the freedom to be intimate with another person like this. As she tells Vulture, anyone who focuses on Grey Worm’s castration instead of the duo’s emotional connection is missing the point.
It’s not often you get to talk to a Game of Thrones cast member about romance.
Yeah, yeah! It’s lovely that in this crazy world, with all this death and destruction, we can talk about these two lovebirds.
Both of them are part of a war council for a conqueror who’s remaking entire societies. With that kind of pressure, it seems important that Missandei and Grey Worm could put it all aside, at least for a moment.
In the environment in which they’ve found themselves with Daenerys, they’re able to explore this side of their humanity, which they haven’t before, coming from the backgrounds and history that they have. She definitely has encouraged them to embrace their freedom: freedom of thought and of feeling. In that environment, Missandei has been able to explore who she is as a person, as a human being. This pain and love is also a part of the human experience that she’s getting to experience for the first time.
This is the first time either Missandei or Grey Worm had an opportunity to freely choose a relationship with anybody, right?
I mean, they definitely weren’t expecting it. The walls that they’ve put up in the past to survive in the world still haven’t come down yet, though their environment has changed dramatically. But it’s developed in a very organic way. Their mutual respect for each other, their mutual understanding of each other, is where this romance blossomed.
It was a slow burn. Were you ever like, “Let’s get on with it!” or does that pacing have its own rewards?
Absolutely. There was an incentive for these two to find romance with each other, but I don’t think I was eager for it to go faster than it would naturally. The fact that we’ve waited so long affects them to act upon their love that way. It’s truthful for those two characters, because as much as they can’t pull themselves away from the situation, they’re terrified of it. When most people first fall in love, it’s pretty scary. Because it goes against everything Missandei and Grey Worm have experienced, it’s terrifying for them.
Grey Worm was reluctant to take off his clothes, but Missandei insisted, saying, “I want to see you.” It reminded me of a line from one of show’s other most romantic scenes, when Jon Snow and Ygritte are in the cave in season three and she tells him, “I want you to see me.” They both demonstrate that when you take your clothes off in front of someone you care about, it’s not just about turning them on. It’s vulnerable.
It is. In fact, it’s a trust thing too: I want to see you, and I want you to see me in my most vulnerable state. I’m scared, but I’m here. It’s the most vulnerable place you can put yourself, essentially. And I think this is a unique thing. Everyone knows that intimacy can be so scary when it’s someone you care about, but it’s especially so for Grey Worm, because he’s in a unique situation with his mutilation. His letting her take his clothes off is such a huge deal, because he probably never considered himself able to be intimate or a lover for any woman. The fact that he loves her is huge for her. It just shows how true their connection is. It’s a really beautiful thing.
A lot of people just focus on the mechanical nature of consummating their love. I think people have to stop and consider what consummating their love entails for these two characters, because of the fact that Grey Worm has that injury. People consider the anatomy of it and the mechanical nature of it, so they forget the emotional weight of it for these two characters — to be that vulnerable with each other, considering where they came from. Grey Worm has the obvious situation of having been castrated. And Missandei touching a man out of love and care, and with intimacy … no doubt, from where she’s come from, any sexual contact she’s had has been forced upon her. So for them, this is a huge moment. Almost like they’re essentially doing it for the first time, like they’re virgins exploring each other’s bodies. It’s a huge thing.
It’s not to say that what they do physically is unimportant, but the real consummation of their love is, as you say, seeing each other.
It’s almost not physical, which is so lovely about it.
It’s reflected in your faces in the scene. He looks terrified and ashamed — he’s desperately in love, but he still has all these things holding him back.
He’s expecting that in this moment he could potentially lose all of it, because he might not be enough, you know? Missandei doesn’t seem to care. She loves this man despite any of his mutilations. She wants to let him know that she wants him anyway, and that’s part of seeing him: I want to see all of you because I love all of you. I don’t think there was ever a question of whether or not she wanted him.
On Missandei’s part, was there a fear that because he’s so concerned about his condition, he might not let it happen at all?
Right, exactly. There is absolutely that fear. I don’t know if she necessarily went there with the intention of them having sex or being intimate with each other or whatever. But she goes there with the intention of getting the confirmation of how she feels, because she might not get another chance to. I think she is terrified as well of being rejected by him. In his speech to her, he’s basically saying that he loves her without saying “I love you.”
Even talking to you now, there are layers to this scene I hadn’t uncovered yet. It’s really rich material.
Yeah. We’ve been following these characters’ romance blossoming for a number of seasons now, and I just hope that we were able to show the truth of these two characters in that moment, what it meant for them, and what it meant for the fans seeing it. It was so much more than just two people making love or being intimate with each other. They’ve both been broken down and have to be completely vulnerable, terrified, and passionate with one another.
We took great care with it. Our director, Mark [Mylod], really took care of us, and we poured a lot of our heart into it. I hope that it comes across, that we did this moment justice, because it’s no small thing. Since the war is inevitably coming, this is their moment, and I’m so pleased that they did it. The scene was romantic, caring, loving, pensive. You could feel their nerves, their excitement. You could feel all of these things. My co-star, Jacob, I felt really supported by him in the scene, and by Mark as well. It was able to be what it was because I trusted them, and it was a great experience. I felt really proud of it when I watched it, because we did what we set out to do. We had our challenges for obvious reasons! But it was dealt with in such a way that you really cared. I hope that shows.
This interview has been edited and condensed.