A wonderful thing about older British actors is that they generally don’t give a shit, not even about some of the world’s most fearsome NDAs. So it came to be that beloved character actor Jim Broadbent flat-out told ScreenCrush the identity of his upcoming Game of Thrones character immediately after joking that he couldn’t reveal anything. Broadbent explained that he’ll play “an archmaester … an old professor character,” and given that we’ve met only a single archmaester of note in George R.R. Martin’s original books, that narrows the list of suspects down to precisely one. Broadbent, we’re pretty sure, will play Marwyn the Mage, a character we haven’t seen much in the Song of Ice and Fire series — yet — but who will almost certainly play a significant role in the action down the road.
So what does this mean for the show’s delayed and abbreviated seventh season, the still-in-progress book series, and fans of both? Let’s squeeze this shred of information for all it’s worth:
Wait, what’s an archmaester? If you’ll rewind back to June, we last saw Samwell Tarly at the Citadel, the university-like institution where Westeros’s doctors/scholars/smart people, otherwise known as maesters, get their literal and metaphorical metal chains. (Get it? It’s because knowledge is a heavy burden!) Every discipline has a corresponding metal, and once a maester-in-training has mastered a discipline, he gets a link of that discipline’s metal in his chain-in-progress. Marwyn is an archmaester, meaning he’s the top-ranking practitioner of his particular discipline: magic and the occult. In the books, his expertise is signified by his mask, ring, and rod made of Valyrian steel, the super-sharp, quasi-mystical substance that makes up all the fanciest swords and, along with obsidian, otherwise known as “dragonglass,” is one of two known substances that can kill White Walkers on contact. Samwell hasn’t actually gotten to studying yet, but given that Broadbent has said he’ll be in the majority of the season’s seven episodes, it seems likely that Marwyn will take our boy under his wing and give him the information he needs to fight the Walkers.
He’s not a regular professor, he’s a cool professor. Broadbent is probably best known to American viewers for his role in Harry Potter as Professor Horace Slughorn, a suck-up with a taste for the finer things in life. Marwyn the Mage is … not that. To keep up the comparison, he’s more like Mad-Eye Moody: a potentially dangerous maverick with little love for conventional wisdom or institutions. He’s traveled the world, including lands as distant and dangerous as Melisandre’s hometown of Asshai. (In fact, Khal Drogo’s murderer, Mirri Maz Duur, learned human anatomy and the common tongue from a traveler named Marwyn — probably the same guy.) And he’s seen things his colleagues would prefer to deny or even suppress.
Science-loving rationalists like the maesters aren’t the biggest fans of magic, which, if you’ll recall, was about as much a thing in Westeros at the series’ beginning as it is in our world. People didn’t regularly come back from the dead, and dragons were extinct — partly, Marwyn thinks, thanks to the Citadel itself. Having studied with warlocks and dug up ancient Targaryen prophecies, Marwyn doesn’t exactly fit in with his colleagues. Or as he puts it to Sam in A Song of Ice and Fire’s fourth book, A Feast for Crows, published in 2005: “The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.”
The show is going to keep spoiling the books, even as it keeps deviating from the script. This all brings us to the multimillion-dollar question: What does this mean going forward?
In the books, we barely meet Marwyn before he resolves to cross the known world once more in pursuit of Daenerys Targaryen. Unlike in the show, the world of the books is still largely unaware or skeptical of reports that dragons are alive and roasting people again, despite the reignited obsidian candles in the Citadel that haven’t burned since the last dragons died out a hundred years ago. (Marwyn keeps one in his study.) But Broadbent said he shot all his scenes on Thrones’ Belfast soundstage and the scenes in Meereen, which Dany left at the end of last season, are largely filmed in Croatia — meaning Marwyn might be headed elsewhere.
Game of Thrones therefore won’t directly spoil the books, at least in this respect, as we continue the years-long wait for the sixth volume. Still, it’s likely that a magic expert like Marwyn can offer Sam all kinds of answers that even the books haven’t provided yet, probably about the White Walkers: where they come from, how to beat them, and where and how dragons come into play. That makes Marwyn’s sustained appearance yet another instance of late-period Thrones both moving ahead of and significantly deviating from its source material. Whether we’re ready or not, Broadbent is coming to (charmingly, British-ly) school us all.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.