While every TV show prefers to keep its plot details and twists under wraps, Game of Thrones takes the secrecy to much higher, near pathological levels. The actors don’t see the episodes until the public does; last year, cocreator David Benioff wouldn’t even tell his wife, Amanda Peet, if Jon Snow was coming back from the dead (and she’s Amanda Peet!). HBO no longer gives the press advance copies of upcoming episodes; and just this week, the actress who plays Yara Greyjoy, Gemma Whelan, confessed that she was almost fired for publicizing her casting online. After building a reputation for show-stopping surprises like the beheading of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding, Thrones has rightly recognized how important those moments are to its success and to the audience, so the show really doesn’t play around.
That puts the stars of the show in a tough position. Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Co. are required to promote a new season — just as stars of any other show would be — and because Thrones is the last semblance of monoculture, countless publications and late-night shows are more than happy to be the outlets for them to do so. But Jimmy Kimmel is human, and so is his audience, and he knows that all anyone wants from Harington is plot details. Even though deep down we all know that a twist is only good if we don’t see it coming, we never stop asking what’s going to happen. (I don’t know why; please don’t ask me to explain the complexities of human nature.) So there’s Harington, getting pummeled with questions that he knows damn well he can’t answer, but he knows he has to say something.
Dancing around those questions is an art that not everyone has mastered. Some of the cast fumble in their responses, others come out of the difficult position looking humorless. But there are some who beat around the bush with deftness and grace — who make you feel satisfied even though they’ve technically revealed absolutely nothing. Let’s find out which of those categories the stars of Game of Thrones fall into.
"There has been a couple times where I’ve actually, by accident, said something I shouldn’t have," Coster-Waldau told The Observer in May. He may be referencing an interview from March, when he let slip that Jaime Lannister might be on the market in Season 7. "He loves his sister unconditionally. Plus, there are no other suitors. Well, that’s not true …" he told The Daily Beast before adding, "Wow, I was about to reveal something from Season 7 and thought, ‘What am I doing?’" Bad news, man: You kind of did reveal something! You definitely did not stop yourself soon enough!
Of all the cast, Coster-Waldau may be the clumsiest when it comes to these answers. (I can’t blame him for being carefree — look at his face and hair.) Check out how turned around he got when Mashable asked him about the theory that Jaime will kill Cersei:
"I mean I don’t think he — I’m just saying it’s a valid theory. I can see it makes sense, it has a beautiful — it’s a nice circle [that] they are born together in the womb and then he kills her at the end. … It makes sense."
It’s impossible for me to read this answer and not picture beads of sweat pouring down Coster-Waldau’s face. He gets a C-minus, because when he’s not literally failing at avoiding spoilers, he’s totally tripping over himself.
Turner has spent her entire adolescence as a character on Game of Thrones — her company-man strategy for answering these questions is proof of that. She was presumably media-trained by HBO, so it’s not surprising that her responses are manufactured sound bites that package obvious information to seem like detailed revelations. These quotes are from three different interviews:
- "It’s more about her figuring out how to treat that power and how to surround herself with the people that are best for her. This season is about trust and loyalty."
- "Reconfiguring her brain to deal with the power that she now has, and how to be in command. And to use that power without getting carried away in all of it. She also needs to learn to trust."
- "At the beginning of this season, it’s about her dealing with a certain newfound power, but also kind of figuring out who she really wants to trust and where her loyalties lie — and who’s loyal to her, too."
I am going to go out on a limb and say that in Season 7, Sansa will struggle with trust and loyalty.
Again, this isn’t really Turner’s fault — she’s in a tough spot, and you can’t blame her for coming up with a stock answer to use for all of these interviews. But that route is pretty boring; the most skilled cast members know how to reveal nothing in ways that entertain and showcase their personalities. Sophie Turner gets a C-plus.
Kit Harington, who dressed up as Christof from The Truman Show for his late-night appearance, did a pretty good job on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. At two points specifically:
1. When he wasn’t fooled by Kimmel asking when he’d start filming Season 8 (an answer that would confirm that Jon does not die in Season 7) and said, "Ahh, well, you see, that was sly," and then later, "Nice try, though." This is a game to Harington now, and he’s clearly approaching these interviews like they’re chess matches.
2. When he told Kimmel about how, this season, they filmed decoy scenes to throw paparazzi off. Some backstory here: After Jon Snow died to end Season 5, many speculated that he would be resurrected, a theory that was almost instantly confirmed when paparazzi caught Harington once again on set, in costume. Dropping this detail about decoys to Kimmel is smart — especially if he just totally made it up — because it basically looks Reddit in the eye and says, "What you think you know might not be true." The pap photos circulating ahead of Season 7 might reveal real details, but Harington effectively cast a shadow of doubt over all of them. The message boards are already aflutter, questioning everything. Which, true or false, was the point of Harington’s story.
Harington’s quotes in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter were less impressive, though. Speaking about the true parentage of Jon Snow — "R+L=J," as it was known by book readers and then everyone on earth when Thrones (probably, almost definitely) confirmed the theory at the very end of Season 6 — Harington said, "It’s important to say at the moment that it looks clear that this fan theory is going to come true, but we don’t know that yet. We know Lyanna Stark is his mother, but we don’t know who his father is for sure yet."
This quote is attempting to do the same thing that the story about fake scenes was, but come on, stop it. R+L=J is almost canon at this point. Everyone knows it, everyone is cool with it — it no longer needs to be a twist, and the show would be worse if it was, so let’s cross that bridge later only if we have to. This level of performative obfuscation is just grating. Overall, I give Kit Harington a B.
The Mother of Dragons has the most calculated approach to these questions; her answers carry a sense that she has studied the nature of the fan base and the show’s canon, so she knows what’s important to the story and to the people following it. She doesn’t try to outsmart anyone or play dumb — she gives the people just enough crumbs to chew on.
"Spoiler alert — I normally don’t spend very much time in Belfast, but this last season I spent a little more time there," she told Rolling Stone in a June profile. And then: "I am doing one more season."
In two sentences, Clarke drops hints that amount to: "Daenerys will brush up against the rest of the main cast and probably Jon Snow" (because, as fans know, Belfast is where scenes that take place at The Wall, Dragonstone, and the King’s Road, among others, are filmed) and "Dany will not die in Season 7." The meaning behind these mini-mysteries isn’t that revelatory: The Season 7 trailers have hinted at Dany traveling across Westeros, and as the show’s most indispensable character, it’s not much of a stretch to assume she’ll make it to the end. But the fact that we have to decode her answers at all makes them feel as though they are. It’s a smart tactic; I actually feel manipulated right now. A-minus for Khaleesi.
Maisie Williams, who seems just like Arya Stark in real life, has decided to just openly troll the entire Thrones fan base, and I am here for it. In August 2016, she just tweeted this:
She is the Nicki Minaj of Game of Thrones, tweeting cryptically for seemingly no other reason than she thinks it’s funny how much power she has over her fans. Did she read a script that actually shocked her? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, she definitely knew that tweeting two melodramatic words would set the fan base on fire.
Fast-forward to this March, when someone asked her why Sophie Turner was rocking blonde hair rather than Sansa’s red and she just replied, "She’s dead."
Honestly, we all deserve to be trolled this hard for being so obsessed with a TV show and overtly demanding to be spoiled on plot points months in advance. God bless Maisie Williams, who gets an A.
Here is a sampling of what Lena Headey, a.k.a. Cersei Lannister, says when asked about plot details:
- "Are you [expletive] serious right now?"
- "Um, [Cersei’s] not having a good time — there you go."
- "Apparently winter is really coming, finally."
- "It can’t be me [on the Iron Throne] because I’m already up there. So I’m [expletive]."
This is how you respond to questions that you’re not allowed to answer — with a hilarious level of incredulity. In these quotes, Headey shades her own character, the New York Times interviewer, and Games of Thrones as a show in general. "Apparently winter is really coming" is a delightfully vicious takedown of a show that has been using that tagline since 2011. All Thrones actors should answer every plot question with "Apparently winter is really coming," like when Marshawn Lynch repeatedly said, "I’m just here so I won’t get fined" during media day for Super Bowl XLIX. Lena Headey gets a well-deserved A here, and I will crown her as the best deflector on the Game of Thrones cast. This honor will probably not save her from being killed in Season 7.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.