The North descended on Chicago this weekend for the Game of Thrones panel at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo. While the conversation strayed to other parts of the HBO drama’s fictional land of Westeros, the focus always returned to the slice of the world occupied by Osha (Natalia Tena) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn) and the characters who surround them.
Based on George R.R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy novels, Game of Thrones is a sprawling epic that films in numerous locations across the globe. "Croatia, Malta, Iceland, Belfast," rattled off Tena. Most of the action involving Hodor and Osha takes place in and around Winterfell, filmed near Belfast, Northern Ireland.
"The way I explain it is if it's green, it's Ireland,” Nairn said. “If it's sandy and there are breasts, then it's probably Croatia. And if it's white it's Iceland.”
Because Osha and Hodor haven’t, until recently, strayed far from Winterfell, the two actors haven’t filmed outside of Irelan, and therefore haven’t even met many of the actors who work primarily at the other locations.
Tena has never shot a scene with Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister. "He's someone I met in the hotel room in LA," she said. "We had a great night." When the large and boisterous crowd laughed and whistled, she hastily added, "No, no, not like that!" Members of the cast, some meeting each other for the first time, had a great party, she said, chastising the audience, and Nairn, for their dirty minds.
The first season included a trip by Dinklage's character to Winterfell, so Nairn actually worked with the Emmy Award-winning actor. “I've done one scene with Peter,” he said. “He's a cool guy. He's very funny, has a dry wit. He reminds me a lot of Tyrion, actually.”
Although they haven’t worked with a lot of the actors, Tena and Nairn still have some strong opinions about the other actors and the story as a whole. Tena’s familiarity comes from having read the source material. "When you get a role, obviously, you read all the books so you become a fan yourself of that whole world anyway," she said.
"I didn't,” Nairn interject. “I didn't read the books. The books are fantastic – apparently. I sat on stage only recently with George R. R. Martin. I sat and looked him in the face and said, 'No, George, I have not read your books. So if I can do that to him I can do that to anybody.”
Despite never reading the novels, Nairn has definite ideas about the characters and the direction their lives may take. When asked who he would like to see on the Iron Throne, he remained loyal to the North. "I want to say a Stark, because I think the Starks deserve a little payback," he said. "Everyone would expect me to say Bran, but I think Bran will be – in my opinion, not spoilers – in my opinion he will be concerned with bigger things. I think Maisie, Arya.” The crowd cheered.
Tena opted for Brienne of Tarth, the powerful female warrior. But she also had a second choice: "I personally, other than Brienne, I'd love to be on the Iron Throne.”
Both agreed on two other points. Asked which character he would like to see die next, Nairn sad, "Walder Frey. Horribly. Really, really horribly." Tena readily agreed. When asked which Lannister he disliked the most, Nairn took a few moments to come up with a name. "I think the Lannisters are complicated, man. They are difficult to flat-out hate. … It's hard, because, Lena [Headey], Cercei, I hate her, but I love her," he said. Then inspiration struck. "I don't like that little shit Lancel, the bedwarmer."
"Yeah, him, let's pick him," Tena added. Again, the crowd approved, although it was clear many were hoping for a different answer.
Opinions split again when it came to the fate of Daenerys (Emilia Clark), who in the series gathering an army a continent away in Braavos in hopes of returning to Westeros to seize the Iron Throne. "Her dragons will burn everything and she'll win,” Tena said. “That will be awesome!”
Nairn was more circumspect. "She's not going to win. I don't think so,” he said. “I think she will get to King's Landing, but I think it's going to be more complicated than that.”
One topic that comes up repeatedly when Nairn makes public appearances is his, well, manhood, which makes a rather celebrated appearance in the Season 1 episode "The Pointy End."
"Well first of all, that was a prosthetic," Nairn said.
"What are we talking about?" Tena said.
"My penis,” he replied. “One of the first things, when you saw it, you grabbed it.”
"Oh, yeah, I grabbed it," she admitted.
"You know, mine is inside there [the prosthetic sleeve]," Nairn continued. "Thank you for that.”
"First of all, it was 16, 15 inches long. I don't want that. I don't want that,” he said. “I like some blood in my head. I don't need that." On the props sheet, he said the phony penis was listed as "prosthetic penis pants." "And it was like this horrible, horrible thong. Skin-colored thong. But the pubic hair had to be glued and platted into my own by a very lucky make-up girl. And for weeks, I had bits of false mange stuck in my hair. So being an actor is very dignified."
The scene took a long time to get right. "Two years," joked Nairn, before settling on a full day of shooting, "A whole day of misery."
Another topic no Game of Thrones panel would be complete without is a discussion of the infamous Red Wedding, a slaughter orchestrated by the aforementioned Walder Frey that resulted in the destruction of the Stark forces. "When I read it, I was like, 'What are you talking about!'” Tena recalled. “I was so angry. So angry, so angry."
Nairn said he had grown to expect the unexpected on the series. "I'm never surprised by Game of Thrones," he said. "I was kind of shocked, and not shocked at the same time. I think for all of us as well it was more sad saying goodbye to the three actors that we loved for three seasons." He paused before adding, "Richard [Madden, Robb Stark], and – I loved them so much I forgot their names," he joked. "Michelle [Fairley, who played Catelyn Stark]."
Tena also talked about the rigors of filming in the Irish weather. "We're in a forest. Like, those are real trees. And real rain. And real hair," Tena explained. "It's really cold, most of the time. It's really cold." After filming, she said, "I always go for a sauna to try and help myself be alive again. Then we always go to the bar for whiskey. Then it begins again." The work day begins at about 5:30 a.m. and ends at about 8 p.m.
Nairn's character presents a different challenge, as he must carry around Bran Stark (played by Isaac Hemstead Wright), who is paralyzed from the waist down. "Obviously I have a different challenge with Isaac," he said. "He's now like a WWF wrestler. … There are three stages to Isaac's evolution. He was small and light, and then he was tall and light, and now he's just tall and heavy."
Despite the difficulties, Nairn said he relishes the opportunity to play Hodor. "I love the guy. He's such a good part... my mother’s a huge fan of the books." When he told her he was auditioning for the role of Hodor, "she nearly fell off her chair. 'Take the part! Take the part!'" she told him.
In embodying Hodor, Nairn turns to elements of his youth. "Well, I was quite a shy kid. Growing up big, tall and different-looking ... I sort of cast my mind back to that,” he said. “[Hodor is] inward-thinking, and sort of a bit slow. I don't think he is slow. In my interpretation, I don't think he is slow, I think there's something more to it. … I think he's a more interesting character than the books would have suggested initially. I feel very strongly about him. I think he's very loveable .... [he's] very much an enigma. I sort of made up my own backstory for him. I really want to find out more about him but in a way it’s … I think he's a bit of a sleeper character."
Osha is a little less subtle, in Tena's interpretation. "I thought about Osha as being a mad wild raccoon, and that really helped,” she said. “The way that you move, and once you get that movement" the rest of the character becomes easier to understand and portray.
As for Osha's costume, "Mine's basically a bag, for stuff, with bits of dead animal on it, and that's about it," she said. "I love my costume because in a way you don't have to think about looking pretty, ever. I just walk in looking rough and they throw some mud on my face, and I wear a bag. It's great, and you can concentrate on the acting."
Hodor's outfit is not much different. "My costume has been the same costume since day one ... it's never properly laundered. You can literally smell my costume from about a mile away. It smells like a barnyard. It's awful ... in Season 4, they added a whole layer of dead rabbits. Thank you, Natalia, that was [your idea]."
"My legacy," she said.
Before appearing on Game of Thrones, Tena played Tonks in the Harry Potter film series. She described the difference between Harry Potter fans and Game of Thrones fans. "I love Game of Thrones fans, I love them. They are obviously much more adult," she said. "And I love that, I love the whole, 'We're all into the same sex and death shit.'"
When it comes to death, both actors said they would want a dramatic end for their character. "I want it to be amazing, and dramatic and violent," Tena said. "Drawn out, horror."
"It has to be something dramatic," Nairn said. "But knowing my luck, I'll just be found. [Hodor's death] was never explained, he was just found lying in a hedge." The crowd erupted with laughter.