The Game of Thrones panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday was a high-profile victory lap for one of the most beloved — and in the end, controversial — shows of the last quarter century. But the panel was also one of those quintessentially fan-friendly SDCC showcases in which actors are asked to theorize about their characters’ future fates and soft facts materialize out of the ether. Such as that Isaac Hampstead’s favorite line from the show is “Chaos is a ladder,” and that Maisie Williams stole fobs of synthetic blood from the set in order to render the bathroom of her trailer something like a murder scene during a lull in production.
Unlike so many of the public conversations held to great fanfare and gigantic social-media buzz during this four-day event, GoT’s panel wasn’t selling anything. Entertainment Weekly writer James Hibberd, who moderated the event — which brought together co-stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Conleth Hill, Jacob Anderson, Liam Cunningham, John Bradley, Williams, and Wright — announced up front the aim was to answer fans’ “burning questions” about the HBO show, the eighth season of which concluded in May.
But the cast members, some of whom have been coming to SDCC since 2011, had a different agenda. Several wanted to use Game of Thrones’ last go-round in Hall H to set the record straight. Chief among them Hill, who plays the Machiavellian consigliere and fan favorite Lord Varys on the show, and who became a lightning rod of controversy earlier this year in light of comments he made in EW that “the last couple of seasons weren’t my favorite.”
At Comic-Con, the Irish actor dismissed the blowback he received from the article as fake news. “I did an interview with EW way after we’d finished the show,” Conleth said. “The question was, ‘How did you feel at the time?’ I was very honest that I was gutted to get so close and not make the end. So I thought I gave a very honest answer to how I felt but I put that in the context of, that was one of the risks of being in a multi-character show.”
“I thought the whole initial interview was very balanced,” he continued. “But it was picked over like a whale on a beach. They took all the negative out of it and none of the positive. For the record, I loved all my ten years on Game of Thrones. I started when I was 15,” he joked, adding: “It was a life-changing experience and I met wonderful people who were beautiful inside and out. The thing the last season was about was the futility of conflict and the pointlessness of war. If you get one thing from that whole show, take that.”
With that said, it was time to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room: widespread fan opprobrium of the handling of GoT’s final season. With the conclusion of the final episode, complaints ranged from rushed storylines to the artificiality of Daenerys Targaryen’s vengeful turn to grumblings that the series had become too tonally dark, ultimately sparking a change.org petition to “Remake Game of Thrones season 8 with competent writers,” which has been signed by over 1.6 million people.
Hill tackled the issue first. “You look at the amount of people who are here. We are here to thank you for watching us all those years,” he said. “This is the reality rather than a media-led hate campaign.”
Danish actor Coster-Waldau, who plays incestuous warrior prince Jamie Lannister, expressed a sputtering disbelief things had gone that far. “It was surprising the level of absurdity of the the online petition,” Coster-Waldau said. “Of course HBO’s s going to change the whole thing. Because that’s the power of the internet! Every season, we had huge controversies. From Ned Stark being killed, ‘I’m never going to watch that piece of shit show again!’ And then there was the Red Wedding. And obviously, the end. I feel so lucky to have met so may fans of the show, and to realize this show has brought so many people together. Watching it, loving it. So obviously, It comes to an end, it’s going to piss you off no matter what. It’s the end! But at the end of the day, it’s absolutely fine. If you hated the ending, if you loved it, that’s great. Just don’t call people names.”
Just then, Cunningham — long-suffering “moral compass” of the show Davos Seaworth — interjected: “You have to remember, it’s almost a metaphor for life. It’s not arriving at the end, that’s not the point of this whole thing. It’s the journey.”
The 6,500-person audience combusted in laughter when Hill deadpanned: “I don’t regret starting the petition.”