On the most recent “Game of Thrones,” Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) met her match when her power-mad uncle Euron (Pilou Asbaek) boarded her ship, and after a prolonged and bloody battle, took her prisoner.
What comes next could literally be a matter of life or death. After losing the Kingsmoot, Yara had fled the Iron Islands since her uncle wanted to kill her for challenging his claim to the crown, but now that he has her back in his clutches, her fate is uncertain.
“I don’t know if she’s got any currency. I really don’t know at this point,” Whelan told IndieWire. “but I imagine she’s more valuable to him alive because he can torture her; whatever the psychopath that he is wants to do. But he’s keeping her for a reason. I guess only he knows why as yet.”
Yara had been doing so well before this. After she and her brother Theon (Alfie Allen) had escaped with much of the Ironborn fleet, they beat Euron to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whom he had intended to woo and create an alliance to take over Westeros. Instead, Yara convinced Dany to team up with her in exchange for keeping the Ironborn away from their usual pillaging of the shore. Now equipped with new allies and a two-pronged attack plan to take down Cersei (Lena Headey) things were looking up… until this last sea battle.
“I think she feels desperately disappointed and devastated that this has happened,” said Whelan. “They had a plan, they were on a mission, they had Theon back… but she feels very defeated at the moment.”
Euron added insult to injury when he challenged Theon to save Yara from him. Sadly, after a few tortured moments and assessing the situation, Theon instead opted to jump overboard and make good his escape.
“I don’t think [Yara is] hugely surprised,” said Whelan. “I think she knows that at that moment he’s got no choice and she recognizes that there’s nothing he can do right now. I think people made a very good point on Twitter about his PTSD and that he’s gone. In that moment, he’s not Theon anymore, he’s having terrible flashbacks and he’s incapable of doing anything but running for it.
“Yara can’t think it all through right there and then, but he’s saved himself and maybe that means he’ll help down the line… and maybe gather some forces elsewhere, or whatever he may or may not do.”
The entire battle took approximately a week to shoot, evenings only. Everyone involved had to execute complex and tiring action and fighting scenes.
“Alfie and Pilou really are fantastic in terms of what I’ve seen on set, they really nailed it,” Whelan said. “The boys really, really were fantastic, so I felt like I was in good hands. I felt like I could trust Pilou. We could trust each other in terms of our spacing and how we worked together. We didn’t want to hurt each other, but wanted to look as realistic as we could in terms of our hatred for one another.”
Although there were no injuries involved with fighting, the cast did have to endure other dangers, since the battle took place on a ship that was on fire.
“I think we got a few burning ember burns. They spray burning embers at you,” said Whelan. “Just when you think there’s enough action going on, they shout ‘Embers!’ Then the flying, burning fragments come into frame as well. So a couple of little pock marks that go away after a few days.
“That’s all my mum wanted to know: ‘How close are you to the fires, darling?’ But you can really really feel it. It’s properly burning but of course they’ve got this special gel … It’s completely impossible for [the fire] to spread, apart from where the gel is. It’s very contained and there’s firemen concealed all around. But you really really feel the heat of it, absolutely.”
The part of the battle Whelan enjoyed the most didn’t require fighting or flames.
“My favorite part was probably jumping off the ship onto Euron,” she said. “That was a lot of fun ‘cause when we filmed it, I jumped onto a whole bunch of cardboard boxes. It was like being a kid again, that was fun. We had to do a few takes of it because … I’ve had a lot of ballet training. They’d let me watch it back and I’d say, ‘Oh my god, my toes are pointed. I’ve got ballet arms.’ I was jumping off quite elegantly, and we had to go again a few times to find the sort of the inner brute that she is, rather than the elegant ballerina that I am.”
Working with Asbaek was also a fun part of the job because he kept changing up the takes to try to express Euron’s pure psychopathic glee when he catches her and teases Theon. On the show, Asbaek ends up giving a maniacal laugh, but at one point, he had tried kissing Whelan and then licking her face.
“Yeah, he did lick me,” she said. “He and I make a great team, and I’m very free and open to things on set. I never get very rigid. It’s just perfect. I thought what he chose to do in that moment is he’s [playing] a psychopath, and so, it only helps if you’re being licked by someone when you’re covered in blood and sweat and whatever, and they’re covered in filth as well. It’s horrible, but if you can stay in the moment and react as if its horrible, then that’s great.”
“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.