By Doug Gross
If you thought the Red Wedding was rough, "Game of Thrones" promises more blood and brutality when it returns to HBO for its fourth season on Sunday night (April 6).
The season picks up in the aftermath of the devastating wedding reception from hell, which proved, in case it was still unclear to anyone, that in the world crafted by novelist George R.R. Martin in his "A Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy series, no one is ever safe.
Unlike some series, this season does not take long to heat up. In King's Landing, brutal King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is due to be married in an elaborate affair that will bring together a slew of characters, some old and some new, to -- er -- celebrate.
So, yes. A wedding in Westeros. What could possibly go wrong?
For one, siblings-with-benefits Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) are back together for the first time since Jaime was captured, and partially butchered, in season three, with all the awkwardness that entails. We've already seen that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) ends up in major trouble (what else is new?) and that new character Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) -- will be attending the joyous occasion with less-than-love in his heart for the Lannisters.
As for our other main players:
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), with an army of freed slaves at her back and a trio of increasingly formidable dragons to keep in line, confronts the promise, and pitfalls, of her ascent to true power.
After narrowly missing a longed-for reunion with her family, Arya (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann) face what comes next. As bits of her back story come together, Arya will become arguably season four's first true scene stealer.
At The Wall, the coming war between the wildlings and the Night's Watch simmers to a boil, with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) caught awkwardly in the middle. Look for this conflict to spur some of the epic battle scenes the series, and Martin's novels, are known for. And what of the White Walkers?
Elsewhere, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is down but not out after his defeat on the Blackwater and turns increasingly to the creepy "Red Priestess" Melisandre (Carice van Houten) for answers. Bran, with Hodor and friends, continues his mystical trip north to seek what his "green dreams" really mean. And, for those of us who can stand to look, we'll see the continuing travails of poor, tortured Theon Greyjoy.
In September, I hosted a pair of panels at DragonCon with cast members from the show. James Cosmo (Lord Commander Mormont), Burn Gorman (Karl, the Night's Watchman whose actions lead to chaos at Craster's Keep) and Natalia Tena (wildling Osha) talked about what it means to be a part of the massively popular series.
Below are some excerpts from those panels: (Editor's Note: Contains spoilers for season three of the show.)
On what has made the show beloved by so many fans:
Cosmo: If I knew that, I'd be a really rich man. I have worked on lots of historical stuff, but I think "Game of Thrones" ticks so many boxes for so many people. And its production values are so high, continuously. It's just set a new standard for that sort of television. As far as identifying what it is, I think these shows come along once in a lifetime that people just embrace and it becomes something really special. The books that George Martin had written were so well-loved by so many people, and (show runners) David Benioff and Dan Weiss brought that to the screen so beautifully.
Tena: I think it's because it's got that "Lord of the Rings" magic, with just a hunk of sex and death thrown at it. And I think that's something we all have a link to and it's also how I imagine the medieval world to be -- brutish and short and sexual.
Cosmo: When you said that it was "Lord of the Rings" with great sex and violence thrown at it -- well, the sex bit missed me. I am the only guy there who's got this crew of guys and we're all celibate.
On the intense fan reactions to the show:
Tena: When you're working you don't think about what something means. You're just thinking about playing a moment, and a truth. I can see now that it means a lot to so many people and that's humbling. But in the moment you're just trying to do the best job you can.
Cosmo: When we were doing it, I had no concept about how huge it was going to become. I don't know if anyone did. But from reading the part of Mormont, I just loved the character. He was the one who stood out to me as a man of such innate dignity. It was just a joy to play.
On memorable moments from the set:
Tena: We skinned a rabbit. ... (A forest ranger) just plunked a rabbit in front of me and Ellie (Kendrick, who plays Meera Reed) and he showed us how to do it. And, it was fine. But when we did it on the day, after skinning 40 rabbits and pulling their heads off ... all of it congealed. It was a hot day and by the end of the day, I had flies all over my hands. I did go a bit mad. I had, like, three showers. Everyone thinks fish smell and you don't really think about meat. Meat, by the end of the day, is horrible. I felt like Lady Macbeth. I was, like, "Out, damn spot!" Pulling their heads off as well -- that was pretty interesting. We ran out of rabbits, so sometimes we had to kind of plunk bits of the bodies back together. It was a special day.
Gorman: I wanted to talk about pig s***, if that's all right. That's what I noticed most in Ireland. It's like this really glamorous show and I turn up and it's like, literally, 3-feet depth of pig mess everywhere. I couldn't believe it. I only had a week there and I was like, "I'm done."
On how he learned his character would die
Cosmo: I'm a dedicated fly fisherman. I fish quite a lot up in Oregon for steelhead. And my fishing buddy who's a few years older than me, Bo -- he hasn't read many books in his life. But when I said I'm doing this thing, "Game of Thrones," he said, "Oh, man. I'm going to get these books." We'd be standing up to our waist, trying to catch steelhead in the river ... and he'd say, "Well, I got to Chapter 23 last night. You're still there, kid."
And then it came to book three and he says, "I can't see you anywhere, man. He's not talking about you." So that was my conduit to learning where my career was going -- this old guy standing next to me while we were fishing.
On the show's Emmy Award-winning costumes
Cosmo: As you get helped into the leggings and the big leather chest piece and then the cloak, you can feel the sort of gravitas of the character coming. Even the way you walk is informed by these things that drag along behind you; you're almost pulling your cloak behind you. Costuming is a hugely important part of building the character and I wouldn't have it any other way. It does help, although at times it can be a bit annoying and cumbersome. It must have been about 50-60 pounds when it was on. As you see, I'm a lightweight kind of guy (his agency says he is 6-foot-1 and weighs about 240 pounds). But I know when I was wearing all the costume and I was about to get on my horse, he looked really, really unhappy.
Tena: With every single character you play, your costume is your outward appearance to the world. ... That immediately determines how the world, and you yourself, see you.
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After the 'Red Wedding': 'Game of Thrones' promises more surprises, blood
By Doug Gross
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