'Game of Thrones' postmortem: Richard Dormer talks flaming swords and the Azor Ahai

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Richard Dormer as Ser Beric in ‘Beyond the Wall’ (Photo: HBO)

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Beyond the Wall” episode of Game of Thrones.

News flash, Game of Thrones fans: Yahoo TV has found the one person in the world who didn’t watch last night’s barnstorm of an episode, “Beyond the Wall,” the super-sized penultimate installment of the show’s seventh season. Then again, our subject, Richard Dormer, didn’t have to see it because he lived it. As Ser Beric Dondarrion — he of the flaming sword and multiple deaths and lives — Dormer was amongst the group of hardy (or, if you prefer, foolhardy) souls that ventured deep into the winter wonderland past the Wall on a suicide mission to capture a wight. “I haven’t actually watched the episode yet,” the actor sheepishly admits to us the morning after “Beyond the Wall” aired. (For the record, he also hasn’t seen next week’s season finale, but teases an “epic” last episode that’s “vast in scale.”) That said, Dormer has plenty of intel to share about what went on behind the scenes. Read on to learn what a flaming sword sounds like and who he thinks deserves to be the Azor Ahai.

So let’s start with the biggest development for Beric: his friend and frequent resurrector, Thoros of Myr, is now one of the casualties of this prolonged war. How will that change Beric’s calculus as a warrior, knowing that he has only one death left?
I don’t think it changes anything because Beric believes that the Red God has allowed him to be resurrected so many times, that his time has not come. He still has a purpose. So even with the loss of his best friend and the knowledge that he’s mortal, I don’t think it’s going to change how he throws himself into things at all. If anything, he would welcome death because he would finally be able to put a lot of ghosts to rest. It’s got to be quite difficult to be resurrected six times and lose half your mind and your memories.

He certainly didn’t shirk his fighting duties when the group went head to head with the White Walkers on that frozen lake.
He’s such a perfect soldier, because if he falls in battle, he would just accept it with a smile on his face. He’d be going, “At last, at last I’ve fulfilled my purpose. Now I can go to a decent sleep.”

When you first got the script, were you at all concerned that Beric might be the one to die for good in this episode?
I knew there was going to be a battle and that I was in it. I was like, “At least let me get to the end of the battle! Let me go out in a blaze of glory, literally.” [Laughs] I was surprised that he’s still going, but in a way, not surprised. I think there’s a character arc that David [Benioff] and D.B. [Weiss] are going with in terms of the story from the books, and that’s exciting.

Beric had a lot of flaming sword action in this particular episode. Is that blade actually on fire or is it special effects magic?
It’s not CGI at all — it’s a real sword. There are two swords and they can only burn for two minutes. Sometimes, if I was in the middle of a fight and I was moving too quickly, the sword would go out! We’d have to cut and everyone would reposition themselves. When there was a very strong wind or if it was snowing heavily, it was hard to keep alight.

(Photo: HBO)

Would you light the sword yourself?
Sometimes I do the lighting myself and sometimes I call upon the Red God. [Laughs] If I were watching the show, I wouldn’t want to know [how it’s done] because I wouldn’t want to spoil the illusion.

When Beric and Thoros ignited their swords for the first time in the episode, I couldn’t help but think of a Jedi activating a lightsaber. Do you ever make lightsaber noises when you’re fighting with your flaming sword?
We don’t need to! The lightsaber makes those “woop woop” sounds, whereas when you’re standing close to that flaming sword, it already roars. Every time you moved it and the wind caught it, the people standing nearby said it sounded like it was growling! And when we were doing the sequence towards the end where I was swinging the big arcs with the sword, people actually thought they heard it moaning. Believe me, it’s way cooler than a lightsaber.

How much of the battle was filmed on location versus on a soundstage?
All the stuff that was outside was pretty much outside. We were walking across the tundra in Iceland, and the stuff on the frozen lake was all outside [in Belfast]. I don’t know how much I should say, because I don’t want to destroy the illusion, but there were a couple of water effects that may have been done in a water tank. We spent five weeks doing that and were at the mercy of the elements. It was only horrible weather for two days where it rained solid. I did this show on Sky Atlantic called Fortitude, and [my co-star] Dennis Quaid used to say, “I pray for bad weather.” Because then you fight the elements as an actor, and that’s very interesting to watch from an audience perspective. It’s really dramatic and informs your performance.

Audiences see the army of wights as decaying corpses with missing limbs and other body parts. What did they look like on set?
We had about 50 to 70 stunt guys coming at us, and we were each allocated 10 of them. So in every take, you’re “killing” 10 stunt guys all dressed in costume. Some of them were dressed in green so they could be made to look like they had no arms or were missing a rib cage. But mostly, that’s what they looked like! They were absolutely the stuff of nightmares. It was pretty intense.

With so much time spent outdoors, how did you kill time in between takes?
We formed a kind of little band called the Brotherhood Without Banjos. It was Iain Glen, myself, Rory McCann and Paul Kaye, and we would just sit and jam on ukuleles and guitars well into the night with plenty of red wine. We came up with these funny little songs. Some of them were pretty good! I recorded some of it, so you never know. Maybe I’ll release it one day.

Ser Beric also got to take a dragon ride at the end of the episode. What was that scene like to film?
It was very surreal. That was filmed in the studio on a giant mechanical dragon–this giant green thing. We spent two weeks just doing that sequence. Watching them filming it was incredibly detailed and like something out of a sci-fi movie. There were these “spider cameras” that flew across the ceiling and came down and swooped. It was tough doing that again and again, but it was all worth it.

He didn’t seem especially thrown by seeing a dragon up close and in the flesh.
Beric has been to the other side. He’s seen Death so a dragon is just like a nice big doggy in the park. [Laughs]

(Photo: HBO)

Fan speculation has placed Beric amongst the candidates who may be the Azor Ahai, the warrior who holds the key to destroying the White Walkers as The Prince That Was Promised. Anything you’d care to tease on that front?
I’ve heard a couple of rumors about the Azor Ahai thing. I certainly don’t think Beric is. In the books, he couldn’t be because he’s already dead. It all depends on how far they’re going to go from the actual books, but I imagine they’ll be as close as possible to whatever George R.R. Martin has planned for his ending. If anyone is the Azor Ahai, I’d put my money on Jon Snow. That’s who Beric thinks he might be, I think.

As a fan, who would you most like to see named the Azor Ahai: Jon Snow or the Hound?
I think Jon Snow deserves it. He’s a born leader. I love the Hound as a character and Beric is very fond of him. He can’t help but like this gentle gruff giant even though Sandor killed him! He sees a good man inside the Hound and believes he has a purpose as well. So I think Beric would lay down his life for either of them. Rory [McCann, who plays Sandor] is one of my favorite guys to work with. He has a great sense of humor, loves music and loves a drink. Also he’s Scottish and I’m Irish so we get on. [Laughs]

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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