It’s 3 p.m. Norwegian time when I get Kristofer Hivju on the phone, and the first thing he explains is that he’s just been to the dentist and half his mouth is paralyzed. That’s why, he says, “I will talk like Marlon Brando.” Except Brando has never sounded as gregarious or downright silly as Hivju, who laughs his way through this interview after what may be Tormund Giantsbane’s final moments on Game of Thrones. He won’t say whether or not Tormund will return from the North after his sad parting with Jon Snow in “The Last of the Starks,” but he does tell us what’s in that giant horn Tormund chugs from, who the life of the party is behind the scenes, and who may have left behind that coffee cup.
I have to ask: Who forgot about that coffee cup during filming? Do you want to point the finger at somebody?
The suspects are of course Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, me, and David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], the creators, because they were in the scene playing Wildlings. So they are suspects as well.
They were extras in the scene?
Yes. If you look closely, they are playing Wildlings.
I think we know who it was, then. A lot of fans were disappointed that Brienne chose Jaime over Tormund. What was your reaction when you read that part of the script?
Well, I must say on behalf of Tormund, of all his approaches, she has never shown him a single centimeter of affection. And Jaime and Brienne have a long story together. So on some level, I can understand her. But when you saw how the episode turned out, you could avoid a lot of crying if you just went with the guy who loves you the most! [Laughs.]
I thought it was lust, but then Tormund was sobbing and saying he’s in love with her. Was that the booze talking, or did he really think they were meant to be?
Even though this has been a running joke throughout the last three seasons, I have always taken Tormund’s love for Brienne seriously. Yes, he’s in love. No doubt about that. Brienne has been mocked all her life because she’s tall, because she’s a warrior, because she’s different. And I didn’t want there to be any irony in that. Tormund doesn’t ironize. For him, she’s perfect because in the North, women should be the warriors, you know? That’s a value in the North to be strong and tall and skillful with the sword. So even though it’s been a joke, Tormund’s love has always been real.
That’s really sweet. It makes me much more sad for him, knowing that this was true love.
I could have sold that scene very differently. I didn’t actually need to cry in it, but I thought that I should take his emotion seriously. People [were] cheering for Tormund and Brienne, so it was on behalf of me and my people.
The giant horn has become Tormund’s trademark. What are you really drinking in those scenes? Is there something in there?
We had to dig out some DNA — some bones from a real giant — and we had to go to China and grow a real giant, and then breastfeed the giant, and then I can drink it. So it’s real giant’s milk.
Obviously. In that feast scene, Tormund is definitely the guy who gets the party started. Who is the Tormund of the cast? Who was the one telling wild stories and getting everybody to go out at night?
Everybody is very serious on the show, and everybody is doing their job. That said, Kit Harington has been a center of restaurant bookings, and I would say Liam Cunningham has the most jokes per minute.
That’s so funny because Davos is so sincere and so serious. It’s hard to imagine him breaking character—
Liam Cunningham, he’s an adventure in himself.
I read that you filmed some scenes during the Battle of Winterfell where Tormund died.
That’s just bullshit. That’s fake news.
Yeah. That’s never been true, and it’s never been said, and it’s never been a fact. You can write that. You can counter whoever wrote it. You can counter-news it.
The cast and crew have talked a lot about the brutal filming for the Battle of Winterfell. You guys were awake every night for weeks and weeks. What did you do to stay sane through all of that?
I’m very easily pumped up. I can go from sleeping condition to berserk mode in a split-second. You just put the sword in my hand and I’m activated. We were a bunch of people gathered in a circus tent, so we had to keep the spirit up. Miguel Sapochnik, the director, he was a great general on this shoot. He kept us going with his mission and he took care of us.
Were there any great Tormund scenes or lines that didn’t make it through to the final cut?
Not this year.
Have they cut lines from previous seasons that you really wanted? Did Tormund have, like, a whole wedding and we missed it?
No, no, no. It’s very seldom you have a show, or a project, a movie, where you don’t change a single comma. [But] we haven’t changed anything. It’s just beautifully written. Of course there’s been improvisation, but it’s not necessarily with words.
Of all of the Game of Thrones characters who have died, who did you miss filming with the most? You’ve seen a lot of people go.
I miss Rose [Leslie], who played Ygritte. Since most of the people that I have worked with died in this season, I didn’t get a chance to miss them because we shared a lot of time together on this shoot. But of course Richard [Dormer] and Iain Glen, people I am really fond of and respect and have had a lot of fun with. They’re both great musicians, and they’re very intelligent, and we have had so much good conversation through the shoots. We did the lake together, you know? And we started a band called the Brotherhood Without Banjos.
Rory McCann plays the guitar, right? I’ve seen the video of the two of you singing together.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody plays guitar, I play the bass, we keep a set of drums, and we were all singing. The lake was just a big music festival.
When you find out that someone’s gonna die, do you offer condolences? How do you handle that behind the scenes, as friends? Are you like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry”?
It’s more like, “Are you dying this season? I am not!” [Laughs.] [But] I’m talking about previous seasons now! It’s not very emotional, “Poor you.” It’s more like, “Yeah, Valar Morghulis. All men must die. I hope I’ll die late.”
I love following you on Instagram because of your behind-the-scenes videos of silly things on set. What was that feast scene really like? You guys finally got to let loose on camera. Everybody’s drunk and playing drinking games.
I must admit, we became very silly. Even though we’re not drinking alcohol, when you pretend you’re drinking alcohol, the sense memory kicks in. When we were cheering, everyone was trying to throw wine at Kit. That was the running joke, so he had a horrible day.
Did you get him?
Yeah, many times. He was soaking wet. We had a lot of fun during that scene. It’s like being pulled back in strings for eight years, and suddenly you’re allowed to go crazy. And when you have David and Dan standing with stupid beards and no hair, that gave the scene an extra flame because they were very unserious.
So we don’t know if we’re gonna see Tormund again, or Ghost either. What can you tell us about the next two episodes?
It’s gonna be spectacular. It’s gonna be great.
That’s a terrible answer!
[Laughs.] No, I can’t tell you anything.
Okay, then let me ask you a personal question: What are your plans for your beard?
Well, if you look closely at my beard through the microscope, you see it says, “Owned by HBO.” This is HBO property. It’s insured by HBO. If you touch it, you have to pay HBO. So that trademark is now going away. It’s growing new hairs, and now I am starting to re-own my own beard.
That must be weird.
If I want to take a scissor and cut it, I can do it. It’s still there, I can tell you that. But if the right part comes along, my loyalty to my beard is not staying.
Last question, so I can let you and your mouth go heal: Do you have a horse in this race? Are you backing Jon because you’re good friends with Kit? Do you have a hope for who gets the Iron Throne?
Well, I have to talk on Tormund’s behalf, and he doesn’t give a shit [about] that throne. He thinks it’s a stupid thing and it’s a stupid game, and his perspective has always been to come back home. But it has to be a safe home. Since he was old enough to hear and understand words, he has heard talk about the White Walkers and the Army of the Dead, so that has been his perspective in his life. That’s why, at least in episode four, he chose to go back North instead of joining the last war. I won’t tell you what’s gonna happen, but that’s his priority because it’s not his war.
Well, I hope he ends up very happy with a lovely Northern woman.
What? Not Brienne?