On this week’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” Jon Snow led a group beyond the Wall and we finally saw this season’s secret star — Beric Dondarrion’s flaming sword. Turns out, it’s not only a great weapon for fighting the undead, it can also cauterize wounds, burn bodies, light decoy fires and provide heat on a cold winter’s night.
The actor Richard Dormer fielded our burning questions about the sword, what he thinks about being designated a “fire wight” and how the band of brothers formed an actual band. Following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
How does the flaming sword work? In Season 3, Beric had to use his blood to help ignite the blade. Now it seems much simpler. Why doesn’t he do this for everyone?
It’s pretty cool to have a flaming sword. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s actually the Lord of Light who makes it go like that. The reason Beric used blood to set the sword alight in Season 3 was that it was a trial by combat, a trial being judged by God. But actually, Thoros and Beric don’t need to use the blood. They just say a prayer. [Laughs] I can’t tell you what those words are. But they say those words, and God lights their sword for them.
You can’t tell me because I might go around setting swords on fire?
[Laughs] Yeah! Literally, you could go pick up a kitchen knife, and it would go, Womp! I don’t think I’m allowed to say, just in case they explore it further, but it’s two words, in Valyrian. That’s all I can say. But you have to be a true believer, a follower of the Lord of Light. It’s not like Beric can run around doing it for everyone, like: “Hang on! There you go!”
What are the challenges of fighting with that sword when you’re also wearing an eye patch and have limited vision?
It’s an incredible weapon to have, but it’s very, very hard to fight with it. It’s three times heavier than a normal sword. That battle, on top of the island — that sequence took five weeks. And it was terrifying because you’ll notice that I’m right on the edge. And every time the sword went in front of my face, I would get slightly blinded by the flames. You lose vision, because if you look at a bright light and you look away, everything’s blurred. It leaves an afterimage.
So you have to really, really practice and practice and practice, for all the sword moves, for weeks before we even filmed, because you’re basically fighting blind. It’s choreographed to the very last detail, and in sequence. It’s like a dance, so even if I can’t see anything, I know I still have to do this particular move, or there’s a guy coming, and I have to make this other move. You need really good stunt guys. They can’t suddenly do a move, or move differently from what we rehearsed, because otherwise they’re going to get cut in half. Literally, a fraction an inch different, there could be an accident. Luckily, we didn’t have an accident with the flaming sword.
Rory McCann, who plays the Hound, was injured, though. What happened?
He’s a big, strong guy, but the constant strain of carrying someone … I defy anyone to carry the dead weight of a person over their shoulder for a couple of weeks without it causing havoc. In the sequence when we’re running down to catch the wight, we filmed that all day, and no accidents. Everything was fine. On the very last take, I turned around to walk up the hill again, and I twisted my left leg. I pulled a tendon or something inside my knee. It was absolute agony. And they had to strap me up. Luckily, we had done most of the fighting already, but Rory and me both got injured. It’s incredibly intense, you know, to repeatedly do physical moves like that. No matter how fit you are, eventually, something’s going to give.
George R.R. Martin recently revealed in an interview that your character is not actually a living human being anymore, but a wight. A fire wight.
Yeah. I’ve always believed that. I’ve always believed that Beric has some similarities to all the undead, since the very beginning of the show. The wights with the blue eyes have been reanimated by a dark force, the Night King. Ice. Beric is reanimated by fire, the Red God. Fire and ice. So it made sense to me when he mentioned that. I’ve always thought of Beric as someone who isn’t quite alive, isn’t quite dead, because he keeps coming back. But he’s animated by fire, not ice.
That’s what he and Jon Snow need to talk about. They could swap post-resurrection tips. Talk about their open wounds that will never heal.
They could compare scars. Beric has six scars. He’s been killed six times. I think Beric’s changed. He’s becoming less and less of himself. He used to have more of a mischievous personality. He used to be more of an animated sprite. The women loved him. He was very handsome before he started to die and look wrecked.
Beric doesn’t get any extra lives anymore. With Thoros gone, if Beric dies again, that’s going to be final.
Yes. He’s mortal now. I think he’s almost relieved that he can’t be brought back for the next time. I don’t think he particularly enjoys it! The only way to accept it is that he thinks there must be a purpose for him. He has to do something with his last life. I’d like to see him do something bold and brave, to help his fellow man. I think ultimately, he will do something courageous and important for the story, but they haven’t told me.
He tells the Hound that he’ll see him again, so at least there’s that. It was nice to see the two of them being so chummy considering the Hound had killed Beric before.
[Laughs] I think they’ve got a grudging kind of respect for one another. And they do like each other, even though the Hound says he’s dull as dishwater. There’s a glint of warmth toward Beric. He just doesn’t trust them. I don’t think he likes people who say they’re good, because he believes everyone always has a darker side. And since the Brotherhood is no more, he’s going to stay with Tormund and help guard the Wall.
The Brotherhood Without Banners might be no more, but what about the Brotherhood Without Banjos? What’s this musical group you guys started while shooting this episode?
The Brotherhood Without Banjos will be reunited next season! There’s Iain Glen, Jorah Mormont, on guitar. Rory McCann on harmonica and rhythm guitar. Paul Kaye, Thoros of Myr, on guitar. Me on ukulele and guitar. Kit Harington on rattle eggs. You know those eggs you can shake? He was on those. And Joe Dempsie, Gendry, on percussion. A pretty good band. We started doing it right at the beginning of the season, and it was just a brilliant way to relieve the constant exhaustion and cold. We could just go in and keep warm in our little hut. It was a real kind of camaraderie. I recorded about three tunes that we did, and they were pretty good!
You could have serenaded the dead between takes.
Whenever the dead were surrounding the lake, there would be a call out over the loudspeaker: “Everybody, switch on.” Watching hundreds of pairs of blue eyes appear through the mist was really scary. All these horrible, dark shapes with blue eyes, surrounding us. We all got goose bumps, the seven of us. I’ll never forget that.