Inside the publicity tent at a recent Game of Thrones event in New York City, actor Liam Cunningham is rolling a cigarette — while doing an interview.
He’s sitting in a director’s chair opposite a journalist, who is dutifully asking him all the questions that fans of the fantasy show want to know the answers to. What will his character, Ser Davos, do now that his king and friend Stannis Baratheon is dead? Is Jon Snow alive? Will the red priestess Melisandre use magic to bring him back?
Cunningham, 54, deflects with a combination of six seasons’ training in politely vague answers and Irish charm. The interviewer is almost not disappointed that all he’s basically divulged is that Ser Davos is “despondent” over the loss of his king, who had turned him from a smuggler into a knight. As for what’s to come, that’ll have to wait until this Sunday, when the show returns at 9 p.m. on HBO.
We asked him a few questions anyway.
In a show full of morally ambiguous characters, do you feel any responsibility playing one of the few good ones?
It’s incredibly important from a storytelling point of view. As you say, you have these morally ambiguous characters — I don’t think you can mess with them too much, otherwise the whole thing becomes anarchic.
And it’s incredibly important that you have a couple of good people — there’s a few of us there, Jon Snow is one even though he had to do a couple of beheadings and stuff. You’ve also got John Bradley with Samwell Tarly, he’s a good guy. We’re interspersed, but we have to give some sort of moral backbone.
People want somebody to do the right thing; Carice Van Houten [Melisandre] was saying who would she like to see on the Iron Throne at the end of all this, and she said, “I’d love to see Samwell Tarly on there — but it’s never gonna happen.” And I think she’s probably spot on when she says that.
It is interesting that it’s the soldiers who tend to be the ones who tread a righteous path, not the characters with the luxury of having their own morals.
It’s not the soldiers, it’s the thinkers. In a sense, “Game of Thrones” is an examination of power and the corruption of power and legacy and family and paranoia. And those things are a cancer — they can turn good men bad.
Political expediency does not give one an excuse to be bad, although some politicians seem to think it does. It does not give you a get-out-of-jail-free card to be morally ambiguous when dealing with people’s lives. And we reflect that in the show, and that’s one of the things I find incredibly interesting about it.
This is the first season that the show’s plot has passed the books. Do the cast speculate among yourselves about what’s going to happen?
Yeah, we do it all the time, the gossiping is fantastic! We get little tidbits, people give us little things, but sometimes they throw in a McGuffin, a little red herring and kinda go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s gonna die this year” and they’re coming back. And it’s all BS — the two guys, [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] do terrible things to the actors just to watch the speculation, watch the ripples flow through the cast. It’s funny, it’s really funny. But we play the game.
Since it’s pointless to ask about what happens in the new season, one fun question: Ser Davos is known as the Onion Knight — do you like onions?
I love onions. If I was ever trapped on a desert island, a couple of eggs, probably a few tomatoes, and you’ve gotta have an onion. There’s very little worth eating that doesn’t contain onions.