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Game of Thrones’ John Bradley on Jon Snow, Gilly, and Sam’s Power of Persuasion

Spoilers ahead for the season five finale of Game of Thrones.

Just as Sam Tarly says good-bye to his BFF Jon Snow and departs Castle Black, everything falls apart. “It’s a double whammy of grief,” actor John Bradley says, because he had to say good-bye to both the character Jon Snow and to working with his friend Kit Harington. Bradley, who also walked us through some Jon Snow theories, chatted with Vulture about how his character is indirectly responsible for Jon’s death, his lost virginity, and what Sam wants most of all.

What did you think about Jon and Sam’s last conversation, where they say good-bye?
Jon’s gone off to deal with Mance Rayder, to deal with the mutineers at Craster’s Keep, so they’ve said good-bye before, but there’s something about this good-bye that seems final. I knew it was going to be difficult when I read it, but I think it’s a moving experience. It’s a fairly low-key chat, and they talk about their problems, as friends do. It’s a beautiful way to end their friendship. Despite all the fantasy elements, all the dragons and ice zombies, the show is about people, and sometimes it’s nice to see people interacting. Sometimes one of the more interesting moments, at the heart of the show, is just two people talking.

Sam’s come a long way since we met him in season one. For one thing, he’s no longer a virgin
I remember the first time I found out about that. I knew the scene was going to happen, but I’m slow to go through the scripts. I like to absorb everything. But Kit, he races through scripts. We were in the car, driving from San Diego to L.A. to fly home after Comic-Con, and he was chuckling to himself, so I said, “What are you laughing at?” And he showed me the “Oh, my!” line. He was delighted about it. It was just perfect, he said. That scene says a lot about the treatment of sex on Game of Thrones. I’m very reluctant to call it a sex scene. I think it’s a love scene. There’s a difference, and I think sex can be treated on the show in almost animalistic terms. It can be seen as a very base symptom of the human condition, to want that. And a lot of times on the show, it can very guttural and scatological and dealt with very practically, as just a physical act. But when you see a love scene on the show, there’s a difference in tone. It’s treated with more respect, and that’s where the layers come from in that scene. You’re seeing two people physically demonstrating their love for each other. Gilly’s changed him. She saved him. Sam saved Gilly’s life, in a very literal sense, but Gilly has saved Sam’s spirit. They saved each other.

In addition to no longer being a virgin, Sam is also no longer a coward. He’s killed a Thenn, he’s killed a White Walker …
He brings that up a lot, doesn’t he? Everyone else is going, “It’s a cool story, but we’ve all heard it now.” He’s only got the one anecdote that he’s recycling. But now that he’s had sex, he might have more dinner-party conversations. Although when Jon Snow comes back from Hardhome and we find out he’s killed a White Walker, too, all of Sam’s currency has gone out of the window. He’s not the only person who’s done it! That’s why he has to leave in the end. [Laughs.] “You look like that, you’ve got amazing hair, and you’ve killed a White Walker. There’s no point in me being here. I might as well go to Oldtown and lie about myself.” You know when people leave school to go to college and that summer they invent a completely new personality? I hope Sam arrives in Oldtown with sunglasses and a leather jacket on, lying about what a legend he is.

Sam’s the one here who proposes the idea of going to the Citadel to become a maester, versus Jon imposing this on him, as in the books.
That’s a really a key change. Sam gave quite an impassioned speech about Jon Snow becoming Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and if you look back on it in a way, you can see that was actually an acting performance by Sam. On the surface of it, he was putting Jon Snow forward because he believes he’s the best man, with the subtext being that if Jon is the Lord Commander, that’s the best chance Sam, Gilly, and baby Sam have to be happy. You can go all the way back and see when he was giving that speech, he was thinking about Jon, but he also had his own interests at heart there. It gives it a whole new level, a whole different edge to it, in retrospect. And it follows from the scene where Sam talks about if Ser Alliser Thorne becomes Lord Commander, how that would be bad for them because he hates wildlings, so he’ll hate Gilly and he’ll hate baby Sam, and from that moment on, Sam’s whole season is orchestrated in a way to get him and Gilly and the baby out of Castle Black. It’s a much more satisfying narrative arc of the season if it is Sam’s decision to go. And Sam’s always had this power of persuasion over people. It’s just in this season, he’s able to do it on a grander scale, using logic and pathos and persuasive language, almost political language, to get someone to try to change their mind.

Or to unwittingly confirm to someone that they should go ahead and make a really bad decision.
When that scene happened between Sam and Olly, Sam, completely obliviously, puts the final nail in Jon’s coffin. He really does. Last season, Sam told Olly to grab a bow and arrow and start killing people, so indirectly, Sam caused the death of Ygritte, and indirectly, Sam caused the death of Jon Snow. Completely just by accident. Same when he sent Gilly away to that brothel in Mole Town in season four. He had the best intentions, then, too. It’s best if Sam never does anything for anybody, because it never turns out well for them! Maybe he shouldn’t be a maester. He’s an absolute walking disaster. Everybody he tried to help ends up dead, or very nearly dead. He should keep his good heart to himself!

Is there anything Sam could have said to Olly that would have changed things?
No. What can you say? People who’ve never had their parents killed by a certain tribe of people probably don’t understand how hard it is to communicate with somebody who has. People try to appeal to other characters all the time to try to get them to think, but so many characters just feel, and Olly really feels, in his gut, what happened to his family. Olly was very impassioned when talking to Sam: “The wildlings killed my mom and dad. They killed everybody I knew.” Olly’s not acting on instinct. These feelings are deep-rooted. He probably made up his mind a long time ago. And obviously, people like Alliser Thorne, they’re going to be in Olly’s ear all the time. I don’t think Sam and the forces of tolerance and kindness really stand a chance when you’ve got a headstrong young man and a brutal, warmongering figure with bloodlust in his ear telling him to do it.

Too bad, because fans are going to freak out about what Olly does. Or what the show does. One of the stages of grief is bargaining …
Who are they going to be bargaining with? [Showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss]? You going to send an aggrieved email? Just all get together and chip in, get some cash in a hat, and send David and Dan a check? You’re barking up the wrong tree. It’s not going to work. [Laughs.] It’s all very well to try to bargain with God, but you’re dealing with Benioff and Weiss now. Now you’re dealing with real power. [Laughs.]

GOT’s John Bradley on Sam’s Power of Persuasion