What’s coming for the Starks in Game of Thrones
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Finally, “winter is coming” to Asia. The newest season of the HBO Original Series Game of Thrones makes its Asian debut this April 20 at 9 p.m. on HBO/HBO HD.

The medieval-fantasy saga rife with nobility and treachery is set on the mythical continent of Westeros, where winters and summers can last for years and years, but hunger for power outlasts them all. The 10-episode Season 3 of the adult series — adapted by creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss from the best-selling novels of George R.R. Martin — has been described by the cast as the most iconic yet.

Hereabouts, it’s not hard to understand the anticipation because Season 3 has already premiered in the US, Canada and other parts of the world to great press. But the wait is almost over. In between now and April 20, the uninitiated can go on a viewing spree of past seasons to catch up with the sprawling story that has captured the imagination of fans around the world since its Season 1 opener, Winter is Coming, in 2011.

HBO Asia recently flew The STAR to London for the international press junket of Game of Thrones, and the show’s global popularity was the running subject throughout the roundtable interviews with returning cast members.

It was a mini-family affair, so to speak, at the junket as we chatted with the noble residents of Winterfell, the seat of the House of Stark — the widowed matriarch Catelyn Stark (played by Michelle Fairley) and her polar-opposite daughters, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams).

If there was anyone who predicted how huge Game of Thrones would become, it wasn’t them three.

“How do I feel about that? Bring it on! Bring it on! It keeps the series going,” said Michelle of the show’s success.

Referring to the initial apprehensions that its genre — fantasy — might alienate a chunk of its target audience, Michelle said, “I am surprised, I must admit. There are assumptions that people who watch fantasy are geeks. But I meet the most unlikely people and when they introduce themselves, and say how much they love the show, internally, I’d be going, ‘You don’t look like the sort of person who would be watching it.’ I think that has to do with the strength of the storytelling and because of the production values of HBO, their makers, their writers.”

The popularity, she noted, emanates from “fans of the books from the start, those who like a bit of fantasy and there are those who have come across it and have remained with it simply because of the strength of the characters.

“These characters transgress the time. What they’re dealing with, most of us might one day have to deal with, or are dealing with — continuing to live, having lost, loved or grieving, experiencing war or having your family split up. There are lots of issues, particularly for women, in terms of your place within the world, what do you have to do, the choices that you have to make to survive, that are relevant and incredibly well-told.”

“It keeps you on the edge of your seats and it surprises you — nobody can say that I stay too long in this world,” added Michelle, saying in other words that the myriad of men and women coming (there are 11 new faces in Season 3) and going (even well-loved ones like Ned Stark played by Sean Bean) in the realm is not a cause for confusion, but rather, a source of suspense.

Sophie also weighed in, saying: “No matter how many more characters there are, how big the show gets, they (producers) always have time for every single person. It’s awesome!”

Asked to go back to the period she first worked on the series, Michelle recalled, “At the first-day filming that I had, I thought I was gonna get sacked... (After several days, I thought,) ‘Okay, I’m still here, I could sort of, you know, (relax).’ Not that you weren’t invested in it in the first place, but you know you’re gonna be here for the season.

“Then at the end of finishing it, the first look that you had was when you do ADR (automated dialogue replacement), and that’s a total shock really, sort of like an earthquake going on underneath your feet like, oh God, I look like awful. Then it goes on to TV and you get notification that it’s going great and as the years go on, in further fields you go, you realize the enormity of this thing, that no matter where you go in the world, there is someone who has seen it.”

The London-based Irish actress has an extensive stage portfolio and a filmography that includes Harry Potter (as Hermione Granger’s mom). The similarity in genre of her two best-known projects was not lost on one reporter that when asked about it, Michelle reacted with a laugh, “I’m not a fantasy actress.”

“It’s a job done! It’s just that if the shoe fits, wear it. You enjoy it, and I do. There’s no correlation. No deliberate plotting.”  

For Maisie, on the other hand, Game of Thrones is her first crack at professional acting. Joining the series as the feisty little tomboy Arya (“They do weird stuff that make me look like a boy”) must have felt like jumping on a speeding merry-go-round because “it happened really quickly.”

“When I got the part I was 12, and then Season 1 didn’t come out until I was 13, but we did the pilot episode before that. It all happened really quickly. It was kinda strange,” the now 15-year-old Maisie said.

“When I first started, I didn’t feel like it was a job. And I never heard of Game of Thrones and I didn’t even know what HBO was! I had a lot of fun in the beginning and still have until now, but I was just happy, being me, then it got a lot bigger and bigger, and I kinda realized what I was doing.

“But that’s great. That stuff doesn’t happen to people like me, everyone says that and it’s really clichéd… I’m enjoying it so far but I’m just sort of happy cruising along.”

Like Maisie, Game of Thrones is also Sophie’s first. “All I wanted to be was an actress. I just kind of want to go through doing films and television shows … I know it sounds cheesy but you know, (I told myself) watch out and I’ll be on your screen.”

 She recalled her audition experience: “It just kinda went through a whole bunch of girls and it kinda went to seven to one pretty quick.”

“I was in France on a holiday and my mom woke me up. I was like, are you just playing with me or have I actually got it? And she was like, ‘You got it!’ and I jumped in the pool. I was just so happy and that was the best holiday in my life.”

Sophie, the not-so-liked damsel in distress in Game of Thrones, is also a stunner off-screen, looking every inch a lady, although her wide-eyed expressions while talking to us belie her real age. Someone in the room had to ask again if she’s really just 17. “I just turned 17. I think that’s one kind of similarity between Sansa and myself. I kinda mature quickly…I’m definitely a bit more mature than my friends.”

While she feels that she has grown up more than anyone her age because of her work, Sophie’s treated like any regular teener at home. “My mom is just kind of a normal mom and she treats me like a normal teenage girl. So is my dad. And they’ll always gonna give me the talk like don’t do drugs or don’t have sex before whatever age, and that keeps me grounded.

“When I was in the final seven, my mom rang up my dad and she’s like, should we let Sophie do this? And my dad was like, of course. And the two are just supportive and happy on what I make as long as I don’t do obvious wrong mistakes.”

Sophie and Maisie had an action coach on the set because “all the kids kinda have to until the age of 16.” On whether they ever sought out acting tips from the seasoned co-stars, Sophie said that “you never really have to ask them anything, you just have to watch them. Just watching Peter Dinklage (as Tyrion Lannister) or Sean Bean, you just learn so much. You can’t really put into words what you learn. It just kind of becomes a habit doing it yourself. But it’s amazing to watch them.”

At the end of Season 2, after the Battle of Blackwater, the victors consolidate forces to rebuild the King’s Landing. New challenges surface, however, for the Iron Thone from unexpected places. Old and new characters must rise up to the demands of family, honor, love and survival as the Westeros civil war rages. At the start of Season 3, the Lannisters hold absolute dominion over King’s Landing. Yet, King in the North Robb Stark, eldest of Catelyn Stark’s brood of five, still controls much of the south and has yet to lose a battle.

So, where does the Stark women figure in all this?

Teasing much by dispensing as minimal info as possible, Maisie said, “Little people get in Arya's way. She meets more people. I met really great actors and stuff, and had a really good time this season.”

In real life, Maisie said, “I’m not that mischievous (as Arya). Usually, I just say, wouldn’t it be funny if I did this, but I didn’t ‘coz I’m not bold enough. But yeah, I think sometimes I do little things and then it reminds me and it just makes me laugh if that’s what Arya would do in present day.”

 For Sophie, “I feel (Sansa) is kind of the underdog. I think people dislike her because in comparison to Arya, she is, you know, not great, she is kinda whiny, but she’s just a normal teenager going through crazy experiences. People judge her too soon. I’d totally make the same mistakes.

“(But) she’s had a lot of events in Season 3 and again, the whole Sansa journey and becoming a politician herself. She kinda forms a life with different people. She’s getting clever, and she’s getting her way around people.

“It’s gonna be a rollercoaster again of emotions. Nothing is what it seems, everything’s good and then it comes to like crap the next minute. And it’s pretty much continuous, the torture and emotions. It’s not gonna be fun, that’s for sure.”

For Michelle, Season 3 brings “a lot of change and reflection for Catelyn. With spending a lot of time on her own, she has cause to reflect, on her past as well as her future. It’s all about mending relationships. Still, her prime goal is to get her family — or what she thinks remains of her family — back together. It’s one thing that keeps her heart beating and keeps her up every morning, the thought that she can reunite her children.”

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