Samwell Tarly’s contributions to the "Game of Thrones" Great War have been nothing shy of significant and the final season is already proving what actor John Bradley has known all along.
“He’s not a coward,” says Bradley, who made his acting debut in 2011 in the role of Jon Snow’s trusted companion and former member of the Night’s Watch. “He’s realized how brave he is and this [battle] is the ultimate test of that.”
After slaying a White Walker, curing Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) of the seemingly fatal Greyscale, uncovering Jon Snow’s true lineage at the Citadel and then delivering the news in the season 8 premiere, Sam had yet another important mission to complete in Sunday’s episode.
While the North preps for the looming Winterfell War, Sam seeks closure with Jorah by gifting him the grand sword we witnessed him lift from his father’s house in season 6. The sentimental scene wasn’t just an act of generosity by the character who’s gained a reputation for being one of the softer men in the Seven Kingdoms.
It was a full-circle moment that just may help save Jorah’s life once the White Walkers arrive. The Tarly family sword, named Heartsbane, is made from the rare Valyrian steel, known to be destructive to the approaching undead enemy.
“That was about repaying Lord Commander Mormont and clearing his conscience, getting himself back to an equilibrium” before the war, Bradley, 30, explains.
Jorah’s father, Ser Jeor Mormont, the former commander of the Night’s Watch, served as “a paternal figure or some semblance of it” in early seasons for Sam, who never came to peace with his own father before his death at the hands of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons.
Jeor Mormont died in season 3’s “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” after Rast, a member of the Night’s Watch, stabbed him in the back while Sam and others watched. Handing the sword over to the late commander’s son, who was also rejected by his father, served as a way for Sam to pay back “his debts,” Bradley says.
“Sam carries around a lot of guilt,” he says. “A large part of that is as Commander Mormont’s death is concerned. Sam feels on some level that he should have protected him. He should have been standing toe-to-toe with all of the people who were rebelling. But he didn’t. He left with Gilly and he feels he left Lord Commander Mormont to die after all he did for him.”
He adds: “Those scars don’t heal. Giving Jorah the sword was kind of cathartic and it rid him of a lot of those demons, those emotional scars he’s been carrying around.”
Now, when faced with the chance to fight in a battle far larger in scale, Sam isn’t backing down.
While Gilly and Baby Sam head to “the safest place in Winterfell,” the crypt, Sam vows to stay on the front lines and fight in the Winterfell War.
“He has to do his bit; he has to do this,” he echoes. “He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if, for example, Jon Snow or Jorah Mormont, those friends who he loves, died protecting him while he was just keeping himself safe … He’d never forgive himself.”
Sam isn’t “the most proficient swordsman out there,” Bradley admits, which may place him among those in the most danger leading into the battle. Ridding his demons and seeking closure appears to be Sam’s way of preparing for the worst to come.
“He’s looking ahead and trying to eliminate any guilt in the future,” he says. “He’s trying to make sure he doesn’t have any regrets and wants to be on the front line with everybody else.”
Though "Game of Thrones" battle scenes featuring Sam are few and far between, his desire to keep Gilly and her child safe trump all. That, combined with looming senses of guilt, has lit a fire for the character.
Up to season 3, Sam believed “knowledge and academia can be just as powerful in the fight for the greater good.”
Until Gilly and Baby Sam faced danger, that is.
“His attitude toward violence and battle has changed,” Bradley says. “He’s starting to see now sometimes if the things you love, the most in the world, are in jeopardy, [it’s worth] standing up and fighting for them and standing toe-to-toe with the enemy.”
Will Sam’s academia and determination be enough to get him and those he loves through the winter — or even through episode 3 — safely?
“His heart is in the right place. He’s got the heart of a lion. In the next episode, we’ll see if he’s got the resolve to match that in battle.”
The third episode of season 8 runs 90 minutes and airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.