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Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Jaime Lannister’s Next Move

As Game of Thrones stampedes toward its seventh-season finale, Jaime Lannister has his, uh, hand full. The so-called Kingslayer is now a king himself in all but name, preparing to openly parent the baby he’s conceived with his sister, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey). At the same time, he’s attempting to broker an armistice between his incestuous lover and her rival, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), via their younger brother Tyrion, one of Westeros’s most wanted men. This comes after Jaime and his sparring partner Bronn (Jerome Flynn) barely escaped incineration by Dany’s dragon — a fate many of their forces were not lucky enough to dodge. It all leaves actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau feeling like his character should probably check his fatherly impulses at the gate of the Red Keep: “They shouldn’t do this!” he exclaims when asked about Jaime and Cersei’s plans for parenthood.

Coster-Waldau is a busy guy: He also stars in Shot Caller, the third film in director Ric Roman Waugh’s “Prison Trilogy,” in theaters today. Alongside a talented cast that includes Lake Bell, Omari Hardwick, and Jon Bernthal, Coster-Waldau plays a California stockbroker whose stint behind bars following a drunk-driving accident sees him join a white-supremacist gang for protection. But the higher he rises in the prison food chain, the harder he finds it to reunite with his family once he’s back outside. The story bears powerful parallels not only to the things Jaime does for his love, but to the rise of violent hate groups in Charlottesville and beyond.

The last time you and I spoke, Jaime just gotten his hand chopped off. Somehow, I think he’s worse off now.
Well, he’s trying! He’s done his best since then, but it seems like everything he’s doing hasn’t worked out for him. Like, last season, he actually had a very successful campaign going up to Riverrun. He persuaded Lord Edmure to give in without having to attack or kill anyone. Then he comes back and his sister just blew up the city and he has to deal with that crap.

This season, up until episode four, he was a successful commander of the Lannister forces. They managed to take out House Tyrell without too much effort, and they may pay off the Lannister debt. They were doing very well until Daenerys decided to use her weapons of mass destruction. Then the game changed completely. It’s not easy. Then, of course, there’s the whole issue of his sister being a little crazy … and that complicates things.

If you look at what’s happening in King’s Landing, it seems like Jaime’s gotten everything he wants. They’re in charge, they can be open about their relationship, they can be open about their new child. But in the scene where Cersei tells him she’s pregnant, it’s so deeply unpleasant to watch them interact.
It was very unpleasant. You know this is not a good situation. I mean, I don’t think these people should have any more children!

Jaime knows that this is not necessarily great as well. But if this dream is the one thing you want more than anything your whole life, you can’t help yourself. He experienced it for a second with Myrcella — what it felt like to be a father and have his daughter tell him that she’s happy that he was her dad — but it was taken away from him the second after. Now, the idea that you don’t have to live a lie, you can have a son or daughter and this can be beautiful, he forgets the reality of their situation and he’s happy.

But only for a second. After that, Cersei has to go all Darth Vader and say, “Don’t ever betray me again.” Which is dark. It doesn’t make sense, because he didn’t betray her. He actually came to her and told her about it as soon as he got back. But maybe that’s just because she’s paranoid.

Jaime’s certainly aware of the dangers in both Daenerys and Cersei, and his formative experience as a young man was murdering a king to stop him from burning thousands of innocent people to death. Things haven’t quite gotten to that point, but he’s got to be reliving that, right?
I think there’s a difference between the Mad King and Cersei. What Cersei did was a lot more specific and calculated, and it was aimed at her enemies. The Mad King was just going to take out everyone, and he felt he was going to be able to rise from the ashes as Daenerys did. When Cersei killed the Tyrells and the High Sparrow, it was very gruesome, tough thing she did, but it was very Red Wedding–style. She took out the people who wanted her dead, and she took them out in one ball of flames, but she didn’t take out the whole city. So there is a difference. I’m not justifying it, but I’m saying there’s a difference.

I think that what Jaime just witnessed with Daenerys is more than frightening. He knows that if she goes to King’s Landing with three dragons, when he’s seen what she does with only one, that will be the end of it. He knows that there is no way that they can fight back, or at least they’d need a hundred scorpions. It would just be very difficult.

I talked to Jerome Flynn the other day about how disturbing that battle was. We’re so accustomed to seeing Bronn and Jaime act bravely in the context of warfare that seeing fear on their faces was truly unnerving.
It was an unnerving sight. That was the beauty of that whole sequence with the dragon attack. It’s been mentioned before, but Daenerys is one of our favorite characters. The viewers love her and we want her to reclaim her throne and all that. But we also know Jaime and Bronn very well. [It’s like] the scene earlier in the season where Arya meets the Lannister soldiers. Up until then they’ve just been the Stormtroopers, if you will, and now they’re just regular guys like everyone else. It added that really nice complexity to that sequence.

The realization for both Bronn and Jaime is that this is impossible. They’re gonna fry now! There’s no way out of this. That’s exciting. And when Jaime does his final, crazy run for Daenerys, you understand it. You also understand that it’s not going to end in anything but tears, but I can definitely understand why he does it in the moment. That could be his one shot at ending this horror for the Lannisters.

One of the show’s big themes is the true cost and horror of war. You’re almost never let off the hook. Even characters like Daenerys fill us with fear sometimes.
That whole thing about her saying, “You lost this battle but I’m going to give you a choice: You can bend the knee or die.” That’s not much of a choice! It’s insane! When she fries Randyll and Dickon Tarly, it’s extremely ruthless. But of course, we still root for her. That’s what’s great about the show. It constantly challenges our loyalties.

It obviously frightens Jaime, then, when his sister goes, “I don’t care. Bring it on. I’m gonna buy some soldiers, get the mercenaries to come here. I’ve talked to my friend Euron Greyjoy.” She refuses to accept reality — at least, that’s what he believes. So when he goes to her with the information [about a potential truce with Daenerys] from Tyrion, he goes from a point of being 100 percent certain of what to do to being completely overwhelmed by her telling him, “Oh, by the way, you’re gonna be a dad and I’m gonna be a mom, so get to work on the nursery.”

What’s that like for Jaime, after he’s lost all his children?
Oh, he can’t get enough. He’s out shopping. He’s not in the episode this coming Sunday because he’s in Lamaze class.

He’s baby-proofing the Red Keep.
That’s exactly what he’s doing. King’s Landing is now going to be the safest place for kids! He’s safe-keeping the high towers! He doesn’t risk anything! [Laughs.]

In Shot Caller, you play another man who cares deeply about his family. But whereas Jaime is so embroiled and enmeshed with his, Jacob’s struggle is to keep the family away from all the things he did to survive in prison.
You’re right, that’s one thing they have in common. I think that’s about it. But they will do anything for their families. Jaime says, “The things I do for love,” and Jacob is willing to sacrifice anything to keep his family safe. In that sense, they’re both selfless to a certain degree. You could go back and forth many times over the choices Jacob makes inside, because he decides to go with the white gang and that has consequences that he never foresaw. The way I see it, he shakes hands with the devil and then the devil won’t let go. But you’re right, love of family drives both men.

I watched it on the day of the white-supremacist attack in Charlottesville. It was tough.
It’s hard to watch a movie with all that [spoken sarcastically] “beautiful tattoo art.” I was flying in and watching the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, and then I turned on the news afterwards and I couldn’t believe it.

When I did research [for the role], I asked a guy about this gang. He was out and lot of his tattoos had been covered up, but I could still see what they used to be. I’d say, “What about this? What about this? Are you all white supremacists in these white gangs?” He said, “No man, we’re gangsters. It’s just business.” “Then why do you put on the Iron Cross? That’s dark shit.” He said, “That’s exactly why we put it on. It’s armor. It’s meant to scare you and put the fear in you.” I said, “Well, it does that. It works very well.”

It makes sense, of course, because if you look at all those gangs, like the Mexican gangs, they also have “war paint” on, if you will. That’s what it is. Of course, there are some criminals who believe in the ideology, but those gangsters are quite different from the people marching in the streets these days.

I know you can’t say much, but what should we expect from Jaime in the remaining episodes of this season?
A lot. [Laughs.]

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Jaime’s Next Move