Game of Thrones: now and then

Series 7 trailer is here... plus an interview with John Bradley from the Big Issue North archives

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It’s been a long wait but here it finally is, the new trailer for series 7 of Game of Thrones, and it’s got a real northern feel to it. It doesn’t give a lot away about what’s in store, but unsurprisingly one of the three contenders for the Iron Throne to make the “long walk” is Lena Headey – who grew up in Yorkshire – reprising her role as the brilliantly malevolent Cersei. And if you’re a fan of Manchester band James, make sure you watch this with the sound on.

Not present in the trailer but sure to be making an appearance in the new series will be Wythenshawe lad John Bradley, who plays bumbling Samwell Tarley. And you can read an interview with him from the Big Issue North archives below.

From the archives…

John Bradley tells Richard Smirke why he’s decided to stay in Manchester as his career builds, in an interview that we published in April 2014.

John Bradley was sitting on the 101 bus travelling from Manchester Piccadilly to his home in Wythenshawe when he received the news that he had been cast in the recurring role of Samwell Tarley in HBO’s mega-budget fantasy TV series Game of Thrones.

“At the time I was more thrilled about getting my first professional job than being thrilled about being part of Game of Thrones,” recalls a chuckling Bradley, who was in his final year as a drama student at Manchester Metropolitan University when he auditioned for a part in the show’s first series just a few months earlier.

“I hadn’t read the books at that stage and I didn’t know much about the nature of the show. I would have been equally delighted playing second spear holder from left in a Shakespeare production somewhere,” continues the chirpy 25-year-old. “It was only when I got on to the set and saw who I was going to be working with that I realised that I had really struck lucky and that it was going to be this huge life-changing thing.”

Three years and 30 hour-long episodes of copious blood-letting, dastardly betrayal, orgiastic incest and Machiavellian twists later and Game of Thrones has grown larger than Bradley, show creators Daniel B Weiss and David Benioff or anyone else connected to the swords, sex ’n’ dragons spectacle ever dared imagine. Last year’s third season was the biggest yet, breaking both TV rating and DVD sales records while further expanding the show’s crossover appeal into mainstream culture. Expectation for the fourth series, which begins this week on Sky Atlantic, has since reached fever pitch with fans hungry for any morsel of information on the labyrinthine twists and turns that lie ahead.

Game of Thrones Big Issue North
John Bradley is Samwell Tarley

“We can’t afford to let the pace drop,” says Bradley, whose tender portrayal of the portly, downtrodden and awkwardly shy Night’s Watch steward Samwell Tarly has made him a fan favourite since debuting in the fourth episode (Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things) of series one. “Everybody’s progression and development is so fast through this series. Nobody finishes up in episode ten in anywhere near the same state emotionally, physically or geographically that they were in episode one.”

Samwell, in particular, will undertake “the most dramatic, steep and affecting emotional journey that he has ever been on,” says Bradley, who is understandably reluctant to discuss too much in the way of upcoming spoilers, but does reveal that his character makes “a terrible error of judgement” that has catastrophic consequences.

“He starts the season in a relatively contented place, but because he is so unfamiliar with happiness – it’s alien territory for him – his neurosis and self-loathing start to have an influence. Before long he has plummeted back down into an even deeper depth of despair than he has ever been to before.”

Thankfully, Bradley does not outwardly share any of the neurosis, anguish and despair that torment his character. Still proud to call the Manchester district of Wythenshawe that he grew up in home, he is as polite, gracious and down to earth an interviewee as you could wish to encounter. His decision to remain based in the North West, as opposed to relocating to the acting hotspots of London or LA, is born of his love for the region, friends and family, he says, coupled with his desire to stay firmly rooted in real life.

“You have to remain familiar with the rhythms and culture of everyday life. Talk about the arts and drama and what it means to be a struggling actor I can tolerate up to a point, but after that I like to escape and talk about something else.”

A keen music and Manchester United fan, Bradley was recently joined by fellow Game of Thrones star Kit Harington at Old Trafford to watch a rare victory (at least this season) for the home side. “He seems to be our lucky mascot,” says Bradley of Harington, who plays fellow Night’s Watch guardian and Samwell Tarly’s loyal confidant Jon Snow. The close friendship between the two characters is mirrored in real life with the actors having maintained a strong bond since day one. That, in turn, has influenced the pair’s on-screen relationship as writers and producers incorporate elements of each actor’s persona in their dramatic portrayal.

For Bradley, it is Tarly’s use of humour as a shield that resonates strongest on a personal level. “That is something that I can very much relate to,” he explains. “Sam is the kind of person who if he knows that there is an elephant in the room with regards to his weight, his awkwardness or his lack of self-esteem, he will be the first person to reference that. A lot of people in the show use their humour as a weapon. Sam very much uses his humour to protect himself from hostility. I think everybody relates to that at some time or another.”

“The weight issue,” as Bradley terms it, is a key part of Tarly’s identity. “It informs everything about him. I could very easily lose weight, but I know the characterisation of Sam would be muddied by that.”

Prior to being cast in Game of Thrones, Bradley had never acted in front of a camera nor heard of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels on which the hit show is based. Unaware of the books’ adult themes, he confesses to being initially apprehensive that the show he had signed up for was going to be “slightly ludicrous and outlandish. But as soon as I read the scripts and then the first book I realised that this was something completely different.”

He has since read all five novels and, much like Martin’s huge legion of fans, eagerly waits to discover Tarly’s eventual fate with the publication of the final two books. “That’s the great mystery of it – we don’t know where our characters will end up. It always leads us to be nice to George whenever we meet him,” jokes Bradley, who is due to appear in two forthcoming feature films set a world away from Westeros: an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar and the contemporary thriller Traders. It is nevertheless his involvement in Game of Thrones of which he remains most proud.

“To hear that Barack Obama watches the show doesn’t quite compute. It’s only when you discover that the most powerful man in the world is a fan of your show that we realise what a massive global impact it has and how far reaching its appeal stretches.”

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