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Game of Thrones’ Ian Beattie looks back at the bloody, award-winning season 5

“The big challenge was: How do you bring the monster to life?”

There’s no disputing Season 5 of Game of Thrones was its biggest and baddest yet. Just ask Lady Emmy, who bestowed the international phenomenon with a record-shattering 12 awards, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Peter Dinklage, as the incomparable Tyrion Lannister), and Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (David Nutter, for the action- and emotion-packed Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”).

Never one to rest on its access laurels, HBO wasted no time in making the entirety of Season 5 available in Digital HD a full 6 months before it receives a physical release on Blu-ray and DVD in March 2016. Viewers can access their favorite digital platforms right now to feast upon every S5 episode, in addition to exclusive bonus features such as The Weapons of Dorne and A Day in the Life, which encompasses what happens across a single day of shooting in Croatia, Spain, and Ireland.

I just didn’t realize what a horror I was portraying!

One character who received his due in Season 5 was Ser Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie), the despicable knight of the Kingsguard of House Baratheon who — spoiler alert! — justifiably had his eyes stabbed out and his throat slit by Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in the season finale. Digital Trends dialed up Beattie across the Pond to discuss shooting Trant’s ultimate fate and how best to watch the show. Enacting Valar morghulis — “All men must die” — has rarely been so satisfying.

Digital Trends: First, I have to ask — how are your eyes doing?

Ian Beattie: They’re OK. Even though everyone is saying that Maisie Williams is a wonderful little girl and a beautiful actress — Maisie Williams is a cold-blooded assassin! (laughs) No, my eyes are pretty good at the moment. They’re not too bad.

That’s good to hear. “Be seeing you” takes on a whole other meaning at this point.

Maisie and I now have this thing whenever we see each other. We point at each other’s eyes like, “I’m watching you.” (chuckles) Anything I can do for Maisie, now and in the future — tell her all she needs to do is call! (laughs heartily)

All she has to do is look at you.

Absolutely! (laughs more) But, yeah, it was a fantastic scene. Maisie is just incredibly wonderful. It’s not often you can put so completely and fully your trust in an actress, especially one who’s of a reasonably young age. But I trusted Maisie so completely during that final thing, and I hope that she did the same with me. I think that comes across.

Oh yeah, we got the impact of everything that went on there. We can’t use the term “heroic death” for what happened to your character, but it must have been satisfying, in a way.

I certainly agree. This past season was the first season we saw the private side of Ser Meryn Trant. And through the other seasons, I just didn’t realize what a horror I was portraying!

Game of Thrones Season 5

David (Benioff) and Dan (D.B. Weiss, i.e., Game of Thrones’ co-showrunners) phoned me at the start of the season to tell me, “Your time is up, my friend.” They said the viewers would get to see a very nasty side of him, and he’d have a very spectacular death.

Meryn morghulis, I’d call it.

Yeah, exactly right — Meryn morghulis. But he had to go. He was such a despicable scumbag.

How do you reconcile yourself with the person you’re portraying, someone who has such evil inclinations?

It was funny — going back to the first four seasons, I just thought he was really a coward! I didn’t realize that, in fact, those beginnings were a prelude to show us his true nature and his private character. And when I first read the scenes, I was terrified of him! The big challenge was: How do you bring the monster to life?

Thankfully, I had the incomparable David Nutter to direct me for that last year. I don’t have enough superlatives for David Nutter. He’s absolutely fantastic. He guided me with a very strong and very sure hand.

So you’re OK with going down those super-dark paths as an actor?

(laughs) Quite frankly, as an actor, you live for challenges like that. You wind up thinking, “How in the name of goodness am I going to pull this one off?” The more difficult the role, the more the satisfaction you get as an actor if you get to say, “Yeah, got that one. Did my job.” And that’s the main thing.

Your final scene was shot in two different locations, right?

That’s correct. We had done the exteriors in Croatia, and then the last three days, we shot in a studio just outside Belfast. It was remarkable, because all of those scenes in Episodes 9 and 10 were filmed in order — which is very, very unusual. We did Episode 9 first, then we did the first half of Episode 10 the next day with the other children, and then we did myself and Arya on the final day.

“He had to go. He was such a despicable scumbag.”

Funny enough, my last take on Game of Thrones was the last scene that you see — the death. That was the wrap. That was it. And we got that in one take. I was quite pleased with myself, actually.

It was then that was perhaps the worst moment of my professional career — when David Nutter yelled out, “That’s a series wrap on Ian Beattie!” I can’t tell you how that felt. There was a bit of satisfaction that I had done the job, but there was an awful lot of mixed feelings about this wonderful crew. It’s an incredibly talented, slightly dysfunctional family. And I was sad that I wasn’t going to be able to come back again.

I have to be honest and say I did burst into tears. The only good thing about it was, because I had these prosthetics over my eyes for the last seven hours of shooting, nobody could actually see me cry.

Will you continue to watch the show when Season 6 airs in 2016?

Oh, absolutely! That is one of the few good things to come out of it. I cannot wait for Season 6 to begin. I am as in the dark about it as any other fan, and I’ll be hopping around to find all the tidbits to see what is happening and see the places where someone has been spotted.

You watch the show with your wife. Do you two watch it on a big TV screen?

We have a rather strange way of doing things. I can’t wait week to week for a new episode, so what we actually end up doing is we record it all. And then it’s one episode a night, Episodes 1-9, and we watch Episode 9 the night before Episode 10 airs. We do it like a daily film fest where we watch 10 episodes over 10 days, because I can’t wait a week for another episode; I just can’t do it. It would kill me.

There are some drawbacks. When you live in a town where there are so many shops and people go, “Did you see what happened last night?” I have to say, “No, don’t tell me!!!” Luckily, most people who know me have been warned off: “Do not say a word to Ian about the show!”

Is your TV hooked up to a full speaker array?

Yes indeed. We have a pretty big TV. I’m much, much more interested in television now both as an actor and as a viewer. We’ve got the TV, the speakers, the whole sound system. Oh yes, I’ve got it as big as I possibly can.

Every week of Thrones is essentially a new feature film.

That’s exactly right, and that’s why I think Game of Thrones has been a real game-changer for television. It has brought a quality of production, attention to detail and storylines, and incredible acting talent to the small screen. I think it has set a benchmark for future television productions. They have to raise their game to be half as good as Game of Thrones.

I think you’re right. And it is good to see the digital technology that HBO uses is of the highest quality, so people choosing to go that route with Season 5 won’t miss out.

“The big challenge was: How do you bring the monster to life?”

I do think the digital quality gives the viewer a mark of what will happen to our industry in the future. You look forward to see where it’s going in the next 15-20 years. I think it could well be unrecognizable from what we have today. It remains to be seen. It’s a very, very exciting time for television — and for home viewing, whatever platform that may be, whether it be HBO GO or one of the other services. I think it’s an extraordinarily good time for television.

I agree. Like you were saying, if you want to watch 8 or 9 eps in a row to get all the details and subtleties for Ser Meryn in Season 5, by the time we get to those critical moments of yours at the end, we had the back story in hand so we felt everything that happened in that moment.

That’s right! Before Season 5 even began, I did a complete review of Game of Thrones from Seasons 1 to 4. By the time we were ready to watch Season 5, I had refreshed myself on everything. And it’s such a huge story with so many incredible storylines. You do tend to forget a little bit of it here and a little bit of it there. A refresher course is always well worth it.

Did you have a particular favorite scene of yours over those 5 seasons?

Yeah, I do. Apart from the final two scenes I had in Season 5 — which, again, were an incredible gift — I did really love Tyrion’s trial (“The Laws of Gods and Men,” Season 4, Episode 6). I did thoroughly enjoy that. I felt that was a fantastically well-shot scene.

And the performances in it were so incredibly strong, especially from the wonderful Sibel Kekilli (Shae) and the powerful Peter Dinklage. His performance was so strong in that, where he flayed them all. I thought that was just a fantastic scene. Tyrion’s getting shackled and tried was something Ser Meryn was waiting for, for quite some time. Yeah, I enjoyed that scene a lot.

And how did it feel shooting it? You had some interesting things to say there yourself, as I recall.

I did indeed! Though I do have to say on the first day, I couldn’t say one of them. I couldn’t get a single word out! It was probably my most embarrassing day. I knew I was in trouble when Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister) — who doesn’t let up on anything for anybody, let me assure you — came up to me and said, “I really feel for you here.” (laughs heartily)

I did promise the director, Alik Sakharov, that by Thursday, when my close-up was due, I would know the speech backwards, and also when I was 90, I would still know the speech backwards! And we were able to get my close-up in one take, so we got it right in the end.

OK, so in about 40 or so years, I’m going to call you, and you’ll have to recite it word for word.

(without hesitation) “Once we got King Joffrey safely away from the mob, the Imp rounded on him. He slapped the King across the face, and called him a vicious idiot, and a fool. It wasn’t the first time the Imp threatened Joffrey. Right here, in this throne room, he marched up those steps and called our King a half-wit, compared His Grace to the Mad King, and suggested he’d meet the same fate. And when I spoke in the King’s defense, he threatened to have me killed.” You call me up in 40 years, I’ll be able to get that out for you. (laughs heartily)

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Excellent, excellent. I’m putting that on my digital calendar now, because whatever technology we have by then, it will be some kind of digital/virtual face-to-face thing.

(chuckles) In fact, 40 years from now, we’ll probably be able to see where each of us are and walk side by side while doing it.

You pick the place, and I’ll definitely be there.

Good. (chuckles again)

Speaking of 40 years from now, what will Game of Thrones be viewed as in 2045?

I think Game of Thrones will have gone down in history for setting a benchmark for the new Golden Age of Television. And I honestly believe it’s so much a game-changer — the stakes in terms of quality, storyline, performance, special effects on television, and, as you said yourself, it’s absolute movie-quality. The best of the series from our past — whether you go back to The Sopranos or go back further to Star Trek — I honestly believe Game of Thrones will be the one series that people of our generation, as well as the younger generation, will remember where they go, “Yeah, something really happened in television.” That’s very exciting, for all of us.

If I’m still shuffling around 20 years from now, this series, and my having been in this series, will certainly go down in my book as having been the best of the best. I will always remember the fact that I was part of a Game of Thrones, and that fills me with a huge pride.