Return to Westeros: Kristian Nairn revisits ‘Game of Thrones’

Wright (left) and Nairn PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO

Fans of “Game of Thrones” (GoT) were shocked beyond belief when Hodor (Kristian Nairn), the fan-favorite gentle giant often seen carrying or lugging Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) around in an unwieldy basket, was viciously killed by a horde of wights in the fifth episode (“The Door”) of the show’s sixth season. “Obviously, it was very sad [when I learned about it in the script],” recalled Kristian when Inquirer Entertainment spoke early this week to the 6-foot-10 tall, openly gay actor-cum-DJ for this Philippine exclusive. “But every year, everybody in ‘Game of Thrones’ expected to die. I don’t think anyone expected to make it to the last episode of the final season.

“I was sad, but it didn’t really come as a shock. I knew it was going to happen at some point. I was just happy that Hodor died in such a meaningful way. So, for me, it was a mixture of happy and sad.”

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Iron Anniversary

We interviewed Kristian via Zoom last Monday to help HBO commemorate the so-called Iron Anniversary of the show—from April 12 to 26—widely considered one of the greatest TV series of all time.

“Game of Thrones,” about warring clans vying for the Iron Throne in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and Essos, received 59 Primetime Emmy awards—the most by a drama series—throughout its 73-episode, eight-season run, from April 2011 to May 2019. The sequel “House of the Dragon,” starring Olivia Cooke and Matt Smith, is expected to debut in 2022. “The Game of Thrones Reunion,” hosted by Conan O’Brien, is now streaming on HBO Go, featuring appearances by cast members Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac, Sean Bean, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Mark Addy and Jason Momoa.

‘Totally different show’

During our chat with Kristian, the 45-year-old actor was ready to reply to any issue thrown his way, answering every question with no-holds-barred relish.

“I don’t care, just ask away,” reassured the actor when asked if he was ready to address the backlash that greeted the episodes of Season 8.

When we asked him what he would change about the show if it’s given a do-over, Kristian said, “Oh wow, that’s a good question. I’ve never been asked that before. I’ve always said that it’ll be interesting to see what will happen if Ned Stark didn’t die (Sean’s character was beheaded in Episode 9 of the first season). But, if his head wasn’t cut off, things might get boring after that (laughs). It would change the whole storyline—and we’d have a totally different show to watch.”

Our Q&A with Kristian:

Hodor was your first acting role. From your perspective, could you talk about what the show meant to its actors?

I don’t know if there’s ever been another show like it. I was very lucky to start with “Game of Thrones,” because I learned so much from some of the best British and American actors in the cast.

It opened a lot of doors for everybody, regardless of how big or small the role was, to work on other things. It gave people so many opportunities and changed their lives forever. I think we all feel very lucky

Aren’t you tired of hearing people yell your name in the streets?

It doesn’t happen as much as you think (laughs), although it sometimes does when people are drunk. But never this year, because I’ve just been stuck at home. That said, I love “Game of Thrones” and I love playing Hodor, so I don’t mind. But ask me again in five years, I might have a different answer (laughs).

You’re also a busy DJ. How have you been coping with the pandemic?

DJs and people in entertainment all over the world have had a tough year. I really feel bad for them. I haven’t deejayed in over a year, which is sad, especially for someone who’s used to traveling around the world and working five nights a week.

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Kristian Nairn as Hodor and Isaac Hempstead Wright (foreground) as Bran Stark —PHOTOS COURTESY OF HBO

I had about 1.6 million miles’ worth of travel time the year before COVID. But in the past year, I was just in my bedroom—which has been very difficult. But I still feel lucky because, as an actor at least, I’ve been able to do some work.

I did a horror movie before Christmas (Jon Wright’s “Little People”), where we were filming in a bubble with groups of six people each, and learning how to wear protective gear properly. It was very strange. We had to stop three times with two weeks of lull each time before coming back on. But I was just glad to work.

It’s been 10 years since “GoT” premiered on TV. Any special plans to celebrate it?

Just like everybody else, I’ve been watching the whole show because there are lots of episodes I haven’t seen. I’m now in Season 7, and I’ve been really enjoying it. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I’m just grateful that people are still interested in it.

Hodor is one of the most loved characters in the series. Why do you think has this character resonated well with fans?

Because of my wonderful performance (laughs)? No, I just think he’s in a world where everybody’s really mean and has an agenda. They all want to kill everybody else in this harsh and twisted universe. But Hodor is just a nice guy. I don’t think he deserved all the bad things that happened to him, so people empathize with him.

If Hodor survived his run-in with the White Walkers in Season 6 and made it to the final season, what do you think could he contribute to Winterfell?

I think he would have run away. Hodor would be on his own. I don’t think he likes fighting because it would have scared him. He’s pretty much like a child—he doesn’t like violence or seeing people get killed.

What do you remember about your first day on the set?

I was so nervous it was embarrassing! If I could go back, I’d tell myself to calm down. I’d say, “It’s OK. Just do the job, don’t worry about it.”

If you could decide the ending for Hodor, what would it look like?

You know the part in the end where you see Podric (Daniel Portman) pushing Bran in a wheelchair as the Kingsguard (the royal bodyguards of the Iron Throne)? I thought that was a lovely scene and a really nice way to end this.

Scene from “Game of Thrones” PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO

But I also thought, “Hey, that’s my job!” I think Hodor should have been there. It would have been nice to see him with Bran at King’s Landing. Yeah, seeing that got me a little bit sad.

Which other members of the cast do you still get in touch with?

In a normal year, we do lots of fun events together. Of course the past year has been different. But I still talk to Isaac a lot, because we spend so much time together. He’s like my little brother.

Funny enough, I still talk to Daniel and Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy)—we’re like family. It might be six months before you talk to someone, but when we do, [our fondness for each other] is always the same.

In what way is your 6’10 height an asset and a liability?

I only see it as an asset. I mean, the only thing that bothers me is hitting doorframes or getting into airplane seats. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time not liking being tall. Then, I realized that it’s really my greatest asset. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You might feel uncomfortable answering this question. But what are your thoughts about what went wrong with Season 8? Why were lots of diehard fans unsatisfied with it?

Some people might disagree with me, and that’s cool—but I don’t give a ****. “Game of Thrones” is a massive show with a lot of well-loved characters. Everybody has ideas about what he wants to happen to his favorite characters, like Daenerys (Emilia) and Jon Snow (Kit), and who they want to sit on the Iron Throne.

So, I don’t think there was any way to end “Game of Thrones” without some people getting angry. It’s the same as “Breaking Bad’s” dilemma. But I love Season 8. Perhaps my only comment would be, I would have liked to see two more episodes to wrap up some scenes better, like Jamie (Nicolaj) and Cersei’s (Lena) scene.

Viewers learned to love these characters, but in the end, what they got was bang, bang, dragons, Transformers—it suddenly felt like a Michael Bay movie (laughs)!

Apart from that, I think it was absolutely amazing. I don’t really get why people are so angry about it. I think they’re just upset that it’s over! INQ

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