Warning: If you haven’t seen Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” spoilers ahead.
The last time we saw Joe Dempsie’s “Game of Thrones” character Gendry, he was departing Dragonstone in a rowboat, noting that he could not swim.
Four years later, Sunday night, in the fifth episode of the seventh season, he came back ashore and things got very interesting in the quest for the Iron Throne.
Gendry was one of the fantasy drama’s most tantalizing loose threads: the illegitimate son of and only known true blood heir to King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy).
It turns out, the last known Baratheon was hiding in plain sight: he rowed all the way to King’s Landing and went right back to work as a blacksmith in Flea Bottom.
Dempsie always knew his character would return but, he says, he tried not to think about it.
“[Executive producers] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] were keen to reassure me at the time, ‘He's going to go away for a bit ... but don't worry, he's going to come back,’” he said. “It gets to a stage where, in terms of your own sanity [I thought], ‘I'm just going to forget about that now ... and assume actually they're not going to bring you back.’”
With each passing year, as the memes of Gendry aimlessly rowing multiplied online, Dempsie admitted he began to wonder if the story was veering in a direction that could easily exclude a return. He said with a laugh, “Gendry's fate could be explained with just one line: The boy died at sea.”
Luckily, Gendry is not only alive and well but in the thick of the action in the war against the Army of the Dead with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and a misfit band of wildlings, knights, the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Hound.
We recently chatted with the affable 30-year-old actor— who also had a memorable run on the popular British teen drama “Skins” — about his return to Westeros.
So were you sending David and Dan holiday cards just to remind them you were out there?
You actually sound like my mum! Periodically, she would say I should email them: “You get on with Dan, have you? See what they're planning and it'd be nice to know wouldn't it?” I'm like “Mum, if they've got plans for me to go back in the show, I will go back in the show. I don't imagine that he's going to see an email from me and go, ‘Oh my God, we should put him in now, and he should totally win the whole thing.’” [Laughs.]
I just thought best to just leave it be, and in truth, of course I was keen to return to the show whenever it was that they decided was an appropriate time, but also I was doing fine without it. I think that actually leaving the show for a while gave me the kick up the ass that I needed, because when you have that period of time every year where you know you've got solid work; yes it's good. It gives you a certain amount of freedom and security, but it can also make you a little lazy.
You’re not only back but you’re part of this team, sort of “Ocean’s 11: Beyond the Wall.”
Yeah, with slightly fewer brain cells than those guys. I’m an Avenger, an Expendable, whatever you want to call it, I’m part of the gang. It’s great. Episode 6, which is coming, up is a real set-piece. Episode 4 was insane enough but this might even take it up a notch.
So Gendry is an expert at forging swords but doesn’t know how to use one? Is that mighty hammer an homage to his father?
I don’t really know, would you buy a sword from someone who didn’t know what a good sword was? [Laughs.] But yeah, since he’s learned a bit about his true lineage he’s actually gotten quite pleased with himself — enough to blurt out immediately who you are when you’re told not to because you’re proud and you forge a weapon with the Baratheon sigil and one that your father used fairly formidably.
Do you see Gendry and Jon Snow as kindred spirits?
Certainly he’s heard about Jon Snow and the mythology that surrounds him and how he’s risen from being a bastard to lead the people in the North, and I think Gendry has both a huge respect and also feels like they probably have a lot of shared experiences. He’s someone who’s been looking for his place in the world for the majority of his life and he’s finally had a bit of information that he’s the son of a king and that maybe gives him some semblance of where he comes from. He knows he’s still a bastard. It doesn’t make him a prince or a king, but it gives you just an idea of who and where you’re from. He’s pretty chuffed with who he is.
Although he told Jon Snow who he was, Gendry doesn’t seem like he has designs on power. Yet. But, technically, he could have a claim to the throne, couldn’t he?
If I'm legitimized, then yeah I have the strongest claim to the throne… At some point later on, that's when the political implications of Gendry's return are hopefully going to start a little more strongly. For now, it's just reintroduce him into the story and establish him back in the world of Westeros as someone who could potentially be a player in the endgame.
And there are the fan theories that he’s actually Cersei’s son with that line from Season 1 about her first child, who supposedly died, being a “black-haired beauty.”
Yeah, well there are these things that I think George R.R. Martin is great at sprinkling in early on and then leaving be completely, and so you do forget about them. David and Dan have been great in weaving that into the narrative of the TV show. The first scene that I ever shot on “Game of Thrones” is when Ned Stark comes to visit Gendry down in the armory. He asks me about my mother, and all I remember is that she had yellow hair, and that she used to sing to me.
I've always thought, well, that's something that has to be addressed at some point.
But you don’t actually know, you’re not being coy?
I'm not being coy. They're not giving too much away. I think in terms of Gendry's story through Season 7, the main aim of it is to reintroduce him, to rediscover him; sort of find out what he's been up to the past few years.
And what has Gendry been up to?
He's been keeping his head down, getting on with it. I guess biding his time, really. Hoping this moment would arrive but never being quite sure that it would. But then Davos shows up and offers him a way out of the monotony of the hiding.
Because five years ago making swords was fun but not with everything that he knows now.
Now, especially [since] he’s making a Lannister sword for a Lannister army that he knows killed his father.
Yes, that does sound depressing.
It's not the best, slightly demoralizing; and I think more than anything Gendry's had a taste of excitement. I think that in getting away from Dragonstone, Gendry just wanted his safety first and foremost. After a while it became a little boring.
There's a war coming, and I feel like Gendry has a part to play. Not even necessarily because of his lineage and his blood. I think because he's a … warrior.
Gendry's spent most of these past few years on the periphery. Practically, that makes sense, but he's getting itchy feet now; and so Davos has shown up at just the right time to offer him an assignment, which maybe doesn't have the best odds of survival, but it sure is going to be an exciting adventure.
I imagine putting the band back together must've been really fun.
Yeah! On a personal level, being back around in Belfast and seeing all the old faces; there are certain members of the cast who I've been friends with for the whole time anyway, but it just means getting a bit more time with them than you would do normally.
And you probably got a chance to work with people that you hadn’t yet.
Absolutely, and actors that I've admired for years watching the show. In the past there's been times where you meet. Belfast is often the hub of operations, and it's a bit of a revolving door. You'll often be able to hang out with and spend time with actors that you don't feature alongside. You'll spend these six months during the shoot hanging out in Belfast off set, having dinner, going out, drinks on the weekend, getting back to London, doing the same thing. It's only nine months later when the season airs that you can actually watch and go, “Oh my God, you're an amazing actor. I'm starstruck now, I've been hanging out with you.” I was hanging out with Conleth Hill (Varys)!
So, you may or may not be back for the final season of “Game of Thrones” but what is next for you? I hear you’ve filmed a musical [based on the Arthur Darvill and Ché Walker stage play “Been So Long”]. Are you a vocalist?
There's the question. No, I am not a vocalist.
Now I really want to see this musical.
You and every single one of my friends. [Laughs.] They cannot wait. Yet that is something I imagine I'll be waking up in cold sweats thinking about.
The next thing is I'm in the midst of shooting a eight-part espionage thriller called “Deep State” for Fox Europe and Africa's first original commission. I play an MI-6 operative.
So watching as a viewer the last few years, which stories have you invested in the most?
I think it's a few. From a personal level, I've always been keen to follow Maisie [Williams] and Arya's story through … and the fact that she's spent a lot of time with the Hound. Because I just think that Rory McCann, I mean he gets the best lines but he delivers them in the most fantastic way.
Rory has such a dry sense of humor anyway, that he's just perfect for the role. Ramsay Bolton [played by] Iwan Rheon— I think this show has been great for villains that you love to hate. You spend the entire, however long they last, just praying that they come to meet their maker and when they do it's kind of bittersweet because you realize you've been watching an actor give a fantastic performance.
You mentioned that David and Dan told you that they hoped you’d be gone just long enough for people to forget Gendry a little bit. But fans of this show don’t forget and the clamor only grew stronger over the years.
It's become a part of my almost daily existence now answering, or avoiding answering, questions about what's happening with Gendry. So that's almost the biggest plus point for coming back in, is that I can stop answering those questions about whether he's still flipping rowing or not. [Laughs]
‘Game of Thrones’
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)