As “Game of Thrones” keeps reminding us, it’s pretty dangerous to be a Stark in Westeros. And few people are more aware of that than Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Kristian Nairn. As the pint-sized lord Bran Stark (Hempstead-Wright) and his giant-sized faithful companion Hodor (Nairn), the two make up Westeros’ strangest odd couple — well, one of them at least.
As their storyline has grown over the years, so has Hempstead-Wright (he was just 10 when the series started), and together they’ve watched beloved co-stars come and go along with the fans. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise the two have developed a close bond off-camera as well, though in person, the seven-foot-tall Nairn has a far better vocabulary than the fan-favourite Hodor.
With Hempstead-Wright and Nairn making an appearance in Toronto to promote the Blu-ray/DVD release of Season 3 of “Game of Thrones,” HuffPost TV Canada spoke to the pair about the show’s transformation into a huge phenomenon, the toughest goodbye they’ve had to say, and what it’s like having one of the series’ most famous “catchphrases.”
HuffPost TV Canada: I don’t know if it felt like this for you, but it seems like this past season, the show’s popularity just exploded. Has working on the show changed at all from Season 1 going into Season 4, now that it’s become this massive worldwide phenomenon?
Kristian Nairn: What you say is very true. I definitely felt a shift in public interest in the show at the end of Season 2 and during Season 3 airing on TV. There was definitely a massive upward spike. I think it’s going to continue in Season 4, I really do. People are starting to ask, 'Well, how can they keep it up… Most of the characters are dead, what’s going to happen to the storylines?' But it just keeps going, and people will be surprised how many people we’ve still got to kill. [laughs]
Isaac Hempstead-Wright: Yeah, by Season 4, we’ve lost characters, we’ve gained characters, but also, all the characters that are there have completely changed. Bran in the first episode was a happy-go-lucky kid who wanted to be a knight and had a great time climbing the castle, and is now this hardy, steeled kid who’s lost half his family, who’s lost his legs, the only things that he really needed. I mean, every character has gone through something, whether it be good or bad.
HuffPost TV Canada: And you got to add two of those new characters to your storyline last season. Was that a nice change-of-pace for you?
Hempstead-Wright: Yeah, I think what’s nice about having them involved, is our storyline isn’t… not stagnating, but we’ve sort of been hanging around in the same place, doing very little. More just having other things happen. Our storyline is as a result of other things. So to have two new people who mix it up and add something interesting was really great.
Nairn: It definitely added a new dynamic to the group. I love the whole mysticism side of Bran’s story; it was nice to see that brought more into the fore.
HuffPost TV Canada: Do you enjoy getting to explore that even more this upcoming season?
Hempstead-Wright: Yeah, and what’s great about magic in this show is it’s almost as it would be in our world, in the sense that many of the characters are just as skeptical as we are about magic. You know, 'Oh no, the White Walkers don’t exist,' or 'The dragons have been dead for years.' So that makes all the magic that’s there all the more intriguing and exciting and rare. And to be a part of that is really cool, because I find it one of the most interesting parts of the storyline, because it could really topple the fate of Westeros.
Nairn: Which is weird, because it hasn’t really been shown in the show yet. There’s been very few demonstrations of magic. It’s almost there as a threat. And then something so small like 'warging,' eyes roll up and people completely freak out over it. It makes it feel really powerful, I think.
HuffPost TV Canada: Earlier, you mentioned ‘well, how can you keep finding characters to kill?’ And this show has become known for killing off major, beloved characters. When you get to the end of a season and you’re still there, is there a sigh of relief that you made it through another one?
Hempstead-Wright: [laughs] What everyone says is when they first get their scripts, they flick straight through to check they’re not dead.
Nairn: Because you never know. You never know.
HuffPost TV Canada: I know fans really feel it whenever the show kills off a main character, but you guys must too, because these are people you work with, that you see around all the time. Was there anyone that it was especially difficult to say goodbye to?
Nairn: Very much so. From Season 2…
Hempstead-Wright: Are you going to say Maester Luwin? That’s what I was going to say!
Nairn: Well, I’m going to say it.
Hempstead-Wright: Fine. You read my mind.
Nairn: [laughs] Maester Luwin, from Season 1 to Season 2, was played by Donald Sumpter, and in a way he felt like your real grandfather.
Hempstead-Wright: Yeah! He was kind, he gave us tips and tricks, because he’s been in the business for years.
Nairn: Yeah, he’s such an experienced actor, you really look up to him. We both learned a lot from him, and it was very sad to see him go. I know he had to film his death scene on the first day of the season, remember that? The first thing we did was to film his death.
Hempstead-Wright: Oh God, yeah. They’d said, 'Yeah, we’re gonna try and do it in a more chronological order.' Apart from the first scene, apart from the beginning.
Nairn: That was a very sad day. I remember genuinely choking up during that scene. It was definitely very sad.
HuffPost TV Canada: Does the atmosphere change on set when you all know you’re going to be filming something like that, or the “Red Wedding”?
Nairn: Well, these people have been here from Season 1. And you definitely feel an allegiance to your family, don’t you? The Stark family? And when you see the two figureheads -- well, all the figureheads really -- be slaughtered, there’s definitely a huge gap there. And that’s including the actors who play them, Michelle [Fairley] and Richard [Madden], they’re fantastic people. And there’s a big gap there when they go. But they fill it with other people. And they’ll be killed too, I’m sure.
Hempstead-Wright: [laughs] Yep! Soon enough.
HuffPost TV Canada: What’s your approach to reading the books? Do you try to stay surprised each season or do you want to read ahead to know what’s coming down the line?
Hempstead-Wright: Neither of us have read any of the books, we’re ashamed to say.
Nairn: My reason is pure laziness. [laughs]
Hempstead-Wright: For me, when I started, I was 10, so they were probably completely inappropriate for me to read.
Nairn: But you’re very advanced. He’s very clever.
Hempstead-Wright: My mom probably wouldn’t have let me read them. But also, since Bran is only a kid, a 10-year-old, 11-year-old naïve boy, he wouldn’t know any of the complexities of the political scheming and intrigue within “Game of Thrones” that the books provide.
HuffPost TV Canada: I know that both of you are on Twitter. Was there an episode or moment where you heard the most from fans afterwards, or do you just get “Hodor!” tweeted at you all day long?
Nairn: I get “Hodor” tweeted at me a lot.
Hempstead-Wright: [laughs] Do you?
Nairn: Yes. And… OK, I don’t want to sound like a douche, but I’m not going to respond to that all the time. [laughs] But I just wish people would, if they wanted a reaction from me, it’s better probably to ask me a human question. I am, after all, a human. But I appreciate everyone taking the time to tweet “Hodor” at me. I do, really. [laughs]
Hempstead-Wright: I don’t get “Hodor!” really.
Nairn: Why would you? You’re Bran. [laughs]
Hempstead-Wright: I don’t get “Bran!” either.
Nairn: Bran. Bran. Bran. Bran.
Hempstead-Wright: Bran! [laughs] But there are some lovely fans out there.
Nairn: Oh, there are.
Hempstead-Wright: It’s great to be able to communicate with people who really are absolutely passionate about something. I can’t describe how lovely it is to have somebody who is really excited by the show. It’s really cool.
The Complete Third Season of “Game of Thrones” is available now on Blu-ray and DVD. “Game of Thrones” Season 4 premieres on Sunday, April 6 at 9 p.m. ET/MT on HBO and HBO Canada.
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