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Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel on Missandei’s Romance, Khaleesi’s Title, and Opening Up the Fighting Pits

Photo: Donato Sardella/Getty Images

Missandei–Grey Worm ‘shippers finally got a little love when the couple finally kissed a few episodes back. (Compare it to the completely loveless matches between Dany and Hizdahr, or Sansa and Ramsay, and a genuine connection seems all the more rare in Westeros or Essos, although this one isn’t without its own difficulties.) Actress Nathalie Emmanuel is excited by the story line, since Missandei in the books is still a child and consequently has no love interest. “I like not knowing what’s coming,” she enthused. “I have great freedom in deciding how Missandei is going to respond to certain situations, and how much emotion she’s going to show. It’s really fun to make that decision for her.” Emmanuel chatted with Vulture about the mini-controversy over the Khaleesi title, kissing while sick, and opening up the fighting pits, which we expect to see take place in Sunday’s new episode.

From what I understand, you and Emilia Clarke like to think of your scenes in terms of Beyoncé songs. Give me a few examples? What would the Grey Worm–Missandei love theme be?
Oooh. That’s really hard. I have to think about that. To be honest with you, it tends to be “Who runs the world …” [“Run the World (Girls)”], and then also I’ve kind of dedicated the song “Diva” to Daenerys as a character because, you know, she’s like just a bit of a boss, isn’t she, really? [Laughs.]

Have you seen the fan campaign asking people to stop calling her Khaleesi? Since that’s an honorific, a title, not her name?
Yeah, a lot of people know her as Khaleesi. And a lot of people are naming their children Khaleesi. [Laughs.]

But that’s like naming your child Princess or Queen.
Yeah. That is a bit strange. But I think it’s a name that people really respond to, either because they like the sound of it, or …  People just do whatever sounds comfortable for them. She has been a Khaleesi, and it is part of her. She didn’t stop being a Khaleesi when Khal Drogo died. I personally refer to her as Daenerys, and then people go, “Who?” And I say, “Khaleesi,” and they go, “Oh, yeah.” [Laughs.] Sometimes, after you get a nickname, it’s hard to shake it.

What was it like to shoot the kissing scene with Jacob Anderson?
Actually, we were both incredibly unwell that day! [Laughs.] Jacob had a really bad cold, I had a really bad cold, and I remember going to work that morning going, “Oh no! I’m going to make Jacob sick! Oh no!” I was feeling really guilty, and from what he told me, he was feeling the same way. And then we both got to work, realized each other was sick, and then we were like, “Oh, okay. I don’t feel bad now.” So that day we were both under the weather, but it was a really lovely scene to shoot. You just see Missandei’s relief, and she’s so over the moon, and when he tells her he was afraid of not seeing her again, he’s basically just said, “I love you”! It’s just very overwhelming for her, and out of that relief and love, she embraces him and kisses him, and it’s a really lovely moment for them.

In the wake of Ser Barristan Selmy’s death, Dany’s reversed herself on a major decision: to reopen the fighting pits, which we’ll see in episode nine. What do you think of that, given that you’re a boxing fan? Do you get the appeal?
[Chuckles.] Okay, I am a boxing fan, but we’re dealing with people who are fighting to the death, so it’s so much more violent and gory, people losing limbs and whatnot. What I like about boxing is that it’s such a gentleman’s sport. It’s a real test of strength and speed. And the athletes, the fighters use strategy. So I love when you see a really strong fighter outbox the other. It’s not about the knockout all the time, although that’s there. I’m definitely a fan of when you see two different fighters try to box and the outcome of that. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. But I like a fair fight. I don’t like the showboating and fluffy business. But in respect to the fighting pits, Missandei is a nonviolent individual. As you know from the books, the people of Naath are a very peaceful people. They don’t eat animals. They don’t kill anything. They don’t believe in killing or hurting any living thing. So she has endured a lot of violence, and is probably a little defensive because she’s had to be. In season four, we have a scene where Dany is asking Missandei what Meereen was like, and she says that she’s been many, many times, with Master Kraznys, so she would have been to the fighting pits before. And she understands the way people are there, their culture, their traditions. So I think if Missandei got to choose, she probably would not want to sit at the fighting pits. At the same time, she’s lived and operated in that world, so she accepts their traditions for what they are. I wouldn’t want to go, though! [Laughs.]

Prior to the Grey Worm–Missandei love story, there was some speculation that Missandei would take the place of Irri on the show, since Irri, as with some other characters, is dead on the show but alive in the books.
Oh! You’re talking about the lesbian masturbation scene, right? When they become lovers in the books? Dany starts masturbating and her handmaiden takes over? That’s the first time she felt aroused sexually in any way since Khal Drogo’s death. Right. Yeah. I think a lot of people would be happy to see that. [Laughs.] But I don’t think that’s going to happen! I personally don’t think it needs to happen.

Dany has three dragons. If you could have one, which would you pick for Missandei?
The most tame one! I’m really not sure if any of them are tame right now, but if Missandei could ride a dragon, I would like the most docile one. [Laughs.] Missandei’s a pretty intuitive girl, so maybe she could imprint on one of them. That would be really cool!

GOT’s Nathalie Emmanuel on Missandei’s Romance