The third season of “Game of Thrones” showed the beginnings of a bold new side to a character we’d only known as meek and timorous.
Samwell Tarly, best known as Sam, was the cowardly Robin to Jon Snow’s Batman, but he finally had a few moments to shine last season when he killed a White Walker and rescued Gilly from Craster. As Season 4 of “Game of Thrones” approaches, we know there’s a lot more in store for Sam now that he’s finally realized his courage without Jon leading the way.
HuffPost TV met up with John Bradley, who plays Sam, at the “Game of Thrones” Epic Fan Experience at Barclay’s Center on March 20 to chat about the new season and Sam's character transformation.
What can we expect to see from Sam this season?
Because we have to condense 600-page books into 10 hours of TV, the pace has really got to keep moving all the time. The characters are developing so rapidly. Between the episodes no character is really the same, they’re all progressing so much. Sam’s progression over the 10 hours of Season 4 is one of the most rapid, dramatic progressions we’ve ever seen because he starts in a relatively content place, makes some catastrophic decisions -- based on his own neurosis and his own self-loathing -- that plunges him back down to the lowest emotional point he’s been in the series. For Sam, that’s kinda saying something. From then on it’s a very, very slow, a very, very palpable upward progression, culminating in what will essentially be his finest hour.
Do you think he’s becoming more independent? He was so attached to Jon Snow, but now that he’s in love he has this whole new side.
That’s the thing, Sam and Jon were such a partnership, with Jon the more prominent one and Sam was the sidekick. Because they run off and have their own adventures and Sam achieves so much, not only in terms of killing the White Walker, but also rescuing Gilly. He wouldn’t be very comfortable just fitting back into the sidekick role; he’s achieved so much and he’s worth so much now. He knows that a sidekick role would be a waste of his time. So he doesn’t just run along with everything Jon says, he’s not in the background. It’s much more of a 50-50 relationship going into season 4. They bump heads a lot and they argue a lot, and we’ve never really seen them argue before because Sam has the confidence necessary to fight his karma.
Will there be more instances where Sam gets to show his bravery again?
Absolutely, yeah. Sam is the best kind of bravery there is. He’s the best kind of hero because he doesn’t know he’s a hero. I was doing an interview the other day and the reporter pointed out the parallel between Samwell and Joffrey, that they’re both completely unaware of their blind spots. Joffrey’s unaware of the negative aspects of himself and Sam’s unaware of the positive aspects of himself. Sam is the last person to acknowledge that he’s any good at all because he’s been told all his life he’s no good and worth nothing. There’s so many places where he doesn’t have time to think, to convince himself not to do something. He has to act impulsively and that’s when you see the best of him. I think he’ll have plenty opportunity to flex those muscles this year.
How do you watch the series, do you binge it afterwards or watch as it airs on HBO?
I watch it weekly. I tend to only watch it once, but I like the communal spirit of it. I like the watching it as the U.K. watches it. Also because there’s so much we’re not involved in directly. We can watch 7/8ths of the season as fans. We get all of the complete scripts before we start shooting and we read them once, but when you watch it there’s always something you’ve forgotten about, always something you were just waiting to see how they were going to get it onto the screen. When I read about the Blackwater episode I knew it was going to be special, but you’re kind of skeptical about it, you think this is going to be such a challenge for David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss]. We know they’re going to pull it off, but I’m always surprised how well they pull it all of these seemingly impossible things off. Somehow they manage to make the impossible possible every year.
What is your favorite part of the creation process, is it doing it or seeing it after?
It’s definitely doing it. I trained so exhaustively in theater, the drama school I went to is very theater based, that I had to learn the process of making film and TV on the job. The first time I ever stepped in front of the camera to act was on the first day of “Game of Thrones,” so I just love the challenge of keeping your concentration up and shooting things out of sequence. To cobble together a TV show, shooting scenes so vastly out of order and present that as a story to people, I think that’s one of the greatest challenges in entertainment.
In a crazy world, if Sam could claim the Iron Throne what is the first thing he’d do?
Sam, as we saw in Season 1, would be somebody so frightened of authority that he’d freeze up and wouldn’t feel confident to do anything. I think that Sam has got such a strong and direct moral complex, he’s so aware of the difference between right and wrong. If only people would listen to him I think the world would be much better place. His relationship with Gilly, she’s an example of his virtuosity, even though he thinks about sex a lot and he talks about it with Jon, it comes from a kind of innocent place. I say that Sam thinking about sex is like most people thinking about space, you know what I mean? Something that he’s got nothing to do with, he’s just curious about it. I think his mission to save Gilly is born out of this strong moral code that he has. So Sam is kind of on a one-man crusade to let her know that the male population aren’t all bad.
What do you think it would take to break that moral complex?
Sam, because of the relationship with his father, is so repelled by the whole thought of violence and killing. He just finds that so unpalatable. But there are times, especially this season, when he realizes that such extreme acts are morally justifiable sometimes. If something that you care about is being threatened, your natural impulse is to do whatever you can to stop that happening. There may be times this year where he feels the validity of violence more than he ever has before.
If you had to sum up Season 4 in one phrase, what would you say?
Don’t get comfy. This season, just when you may be thinking you’re starting to catch your breath a little bit, something’s going to shock you.
"Game of Thrones" Season 4 premieres on HBO on April 6.