"Probably the best thing about that panel was Hodor."
So said one of the 6,000 fans streaming out of the packed Hall H panel for HBO's "Game of Thrones," one of the hottest tickets at the San Diego Comic-Con.
But what can you expect from a "Game of Thrones" panel that is a full 18 months from the next season, which is set to release in summer 2017, for which they haven't actually shot a frame of footage? In the absence of information, you get a warm bath of adoration — and none more than for Kristian Nairn, the giant of a man who, until this season, played the gentle Hodor.
He was introduced last, after executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, director Miguel Sapochnik, Liam Cunningham (Ser Davos), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Conleth Hill (Lord Varys), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Faye Marsay (The Waif), and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark).
"I was in L.A. the other day, and all the doorstops said Hodor on them," said Nairn. "I didn't expect the outpouring of emotion. I apologize for making you cry. But I've got my job done."
After a short flick starring panel moderator Rob McElhenney and his "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" costar Charlie Day — in which they ask the question no one in the show ever does ("When, exactly, is winter coming?"), the panel progressed in a manner simultaneously interesting and not at all revelatory.
They did show a clip from the upcoming season — which was, basically, just BTS of set construction and prop fabrication. So if the sharpening of fake swords and the sawing of real wood floats your boat, then consider yourself lucky.
And there was a blooper reel that displayed Peter Dinklage (absent from the SDCC panel) repeatedly, and with an increasing level of profanity, blundering the word "benevolent."
Panels like this — after series finale, before production begins anew — are generally softball affairs and McElhenney offered questions to the panel covering subjects like the insanity of shooting the Battle of the Bastards, how the actors hope their characters would die (Bradley of Sam: "Buried under a pile of books") and who should ultimately take the Iron Throne (Nairn: "I think Westeros deserves someone with integrity. So I think Brienne").
Given "Game of Thrones' " year of female empowerment, Turner took what spotlight there was, offering her thoughts on Sansa and Jon Snow's path forward.
"[Sansa] thinks that she and Jon should be King and Queen of the North," Turner said. "But I don't think Sansa thinks Jon is fit to rule the North. He doesn't have the intellect or the savvy that she has. And I concur. He'll make the right decisions, the moral decisions, but whether they'll benefit anyone is something else.
"I honestly have no idea if she's going to be a leader and be a true Stark, or if she's going to become sadistic."
Was the panel worth the wait — the grueling, hours-long wait during an uncharacteristically warm San Diego afternoon? As with all things, one's mileage may vary.
Ultimately, the most surprising thing about the "Game of Thrones" panel was to see Lord Varys with hair. And not just hair: Hill has an almost Hasslehoffian head of salt-and-pepper hair.
Lord Varys does keep his secrets well.