It’s been a few weeks, but we’re still processing everything we glimpsed in the new Game of Thrones trailer. Are those Tyrell troops at the steps of the Sept of Baelor? Could that be Arya, practicing blind parkour, leaping from one building to another? All the clues about what’s to come in season six are being dissected, frame by frame. But perhaps the biggest tip-off are the moments with Davos and Melisandre, as she doubts what she saw in the flames, and he grabs a sword, making apologies for what we’re about to see next. Could he be fending off the Night’s Watch while she attempts some major magic with Jon Snow’s corpse? Liam Cunningham doesn’t want to spoil it for you, but he was willing to chat about what we saw, and what it might mean. Hypothetically, of course.
We need to talk about that last bit in the trailer …
Yeah! Somebody called it the mic drop. “Davos gets the mic drop in the trailer.” Made me smile when I saw that.
I think it’s because we’re not used to seeing Davos wield a sword, let alone any kind of weapon, because of his hand.
It’s not his bag. I’ve always had in my mind that he was a Tom Hagen character from The Godfather. He’s not one of the boys. He’s not one of the soldiers. He’s a consigliore. He commands respect because of his loyalty and his decency and his lateral thinking, and because he’s not fearful of his own demise. He tells hard truths. So it’s, “What?! Davos is pulling a sword?” What a teaser!
And not just any sword — Longclaw.
There’s a big close-up on Jon’s sword, yeah. He has no use for it anymore, has he? [Laughs]
Not at the moment.
[Laughs.] It’s funny. Did you hear the David Nutter story? He directed the last episode. We were at Comic-Con, and he said, “I was at a party, I was approached by a certain man, you may know him, his name is Barack Obama, and he came over to me and he said, ‘Are you David Nutter? Mr. Nutter, I have a question for you … ’ And I said, ‘Before you ask, Mr. President, Jon Snow’s dead. He’s deader than dead. Dead, dead, dead.’ And Obama said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and off he went.” Did you know he gets advance copies? POTUS. He gets DVD copies before we do. And we’re in it! [Laughs.] But they don’t want to believe it’s true. How many knives does a man need in his chest to be dead? And if you say Jon Snow can’t be dead, that means Ned Stark can’t be dead. That usually quiets people for a couple of seconds. But people love the intrigue. The best thing you can do to an audience is to make them work.
Right now, people are trying to work out what’s going with Melisandre and Davos. Is she doubting herself? Is he comforting her? That’s what it looks like.
Well, possibly. She’s fallen back. She doesn’t know what she’s seeing. And she’s the one who’s looking in the flames! She’s doing all this wizardry, this witchcraft, and at the same time, her failures have brought out a humanity in her. And they’ve both been brought together. At the end of season five, he has discovered that his world is gone, with Stannis and Shireen, but so is hers. So they’re now stuck in Castle Black.
With Jon Snow’s corpse.
Even before Stannis had gone, Melisandre had sensed something about Jon Snow: “There’s something important about you.” And as a parallel, Stannis and Davos had been doing that with Jon. He evidently was a good man and a leader, and Davos is magnetically drawn to that kind of character, because of the inherent decency in the man. And to have that taken … It does put the two of them in an incredible, bizarre situation, where they’re both suffering, they’re both grieving, and they’re both lost, and for the same reasons.
And they could be united for the same reasons. These are the folks who recognize that the true enemy is coming from the North, that these civil wars are just a distraction.
Jon was on that. Melisandre saw that in the flames. This is not the battle … It’s the one coming from the North, where the real danger is. The White Walkers were already at Hardhome, and that’s not far from the Wall, is it? And now we know from season five that the big enemy is that dude [the Night’s King].
That alone could draw them together, make these unlikely bedfellows unite. Some people are worried about why Melisandre is disrobing. Like, what if she’s going to have sex with Jon Snow’s corpse? They’re going, “Noooo!”
[Laughs.] There’s all sorts of speculation! People think she’s trying to have sex with Davos, too. She’s a trollop! She’s throwing herself around! [Laughs.] No. I mean, she does disrobe quite a bit, but she uses sex as a weapon. And it’s part of her magic. Absolutely. She has to do it with Stannis for the shadow baby. And that scene in the bath, with Selyse, that gives us a glimpse into her humanity. Melisandre’s on an extraordinary journey, which you’re going to see from very, very early on in the new season, I will tell you that. Very surprising. It’s really cool. When I read it, I went, “Whoa!” And then I was given a little bit more evidence … but I haven’t seen the first episode. We haven’t seen it. Nobody’s seen it. We’re all in it together.
But even though Davos and Melisandre could be our next team-up, they still have some issues to resolve. She just sacrificed Shireen, burned her at the stake, although he doesn’t know that yet.
Going into season six, the audience is going to know what he doesn’t know, and that’s a great thing to watch, especially if there’s any sort of relationship build up. What happens when he finds out? And how long are they going to hold that one out for? That elastic has just been stretched the whole time. Brilliant, brilliant. I remember when I first read that, I went, “You’ve got to be kidding me, lads.” And I remember when [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] were talking about doing it, David was saying it was really difficult, because every instinct in their bodies were going, “We really, really, really do not want to be doing this.” As writers, they were torn, because dramatically, it’s an extraordinary thing, because it is a proper OMFG moment, and at the same time, they’ve always got their hackles up for something that is exploitative.
But it was really necessary for the story. Dan said it’s about religious fundamentalism, extremism, and what it can drive a human being to do. In this case, it was an intelligent man, Stannis, agreeing to do that to his own daughter, and finding an excuse to do it. And you saw his reasons for doing it, which is what makes it very, very dangerous. It has a resonance in a way, in the real world, when you look at ISIS, you know? It’s always wrong. The justification of it. The repercussions of doing something like that are never going to be good. You take away a chunk of your humanity when you do things like that. It makes you less of a person, even if it works temporarily. And they had cultivated this gorgeous relationship with Davos and Shireen, which I loved as well. It was a little island of beauty and sanity in this sea of moral grayness, and to have that stolen? It was extraordinary. They said when George [R.R. Martin] told them about it, they went, “Oh … my … god.”
“Oh, by the way, this person is going to die this horrific death …”
[Laughs.] He probably says it like that, too! “Oh, by the way …” They went down to Santa Fe for a week where he told the end of the story to them, and that must have been a remarkable week. It would have been wonderful to have a documentary film crew with them, just following them around, because nothing like this has ever happened before. I’m sure the two were sitting there as George was rattling it off to them, going [jaw drops open]. I’m sure it must have been hilarious in a way. And then to get their heads around it, to dramatize it, to pace it. One of the producers was in for the edit, and he said he had to get out of the room. He couldn’t listen to the screaming anymore. It was just too much. But the show wouldn’t be as popular as it is if we didn’t push the boundaries. Not for the sake of sensationalism. It’s for the sake of this beautiful and murderous storytelling. It’s tough. The audience is most definitely not taken for granted on this one. We’re not just doing this to keep their retinas busy.
Melisandre does have certain powers. She may even have powers we have yet to see. But she attributes her power, her magic, to the Lord of Light, as if it’s proof that he’s real.
It’s just like the warg thing. The gods — are they real, or are they not? I put this stuff down to exactly the same as Bran with the warg thing. In a sense, it’s that your gods are inside you, no matter whether they’re real or whether they’re not. Good luck to you if you’re lucky enough to have faith. Some of us aren’t lucky enough. My mother has great faith and finds great comfort in it, and I’m jealous of her! I don’t feel superior because I think there’s no god. Actually, I would love to be able to go, “Well, the world hasn’t been kind to me, but there’s something good around the corner, because the man has a plan.” I wish I believed that. There’s wonderful comfort in that.
But the idea is that George is saying that, even though he is the god of Game of Thrones, he allows these characters to inhabit whatever they’re doing. Melisandre, are the powers hers? Or are they god-given? When she came in, she was trying to get rid of the previous gods, the Seven. She said, “That’s bullshit. There’s only one true god.” We see that all the time. It causes huge amounts of mayhem. If anyone gets arrogant about their religion, that’s when the religion isn’t effective anymore. Any decent religion, or any decent philosophy is always about tolerance and individual freedom, not about harm.
So if Melisandre were able to perform some feat of magic, say a resurrection, or some other huge thing …
Well … if we went down that road … in a purely hypothetical situation …
It would just prove she has magic. It doesn’t necessarily prove that R’hllor is the one true god in this world.
None of it does. That’s if she did it. [Laughs] I shouldn’t say. One of the most beautiful, glorious things about the show is those Red Wedding moments. Glorious. The things where you go, “What?!” When you’re screaming at the screen. When you’re crying. Even when you feel cheated, because you’re drawn back. There were people after [the Sansa rape episode] who said, “That’s it, I’m finished with the show.” And of course they’re coming back! Of course they are!
This interview has been edited and condensed.