Warning: This article contains spoilers for Season 8, Episode 4 of Game of Thrones.
Gendry, the bastard boy whose existence helped prove that Queen Cersei's children were not fathered by King Robert and set into motion the War of the Five Kings, is a bastard no longer.
For his service forging dragonglass weapons key to Winterfell's defence, Daenerys bestowed Gendry with legitimacy and a lordship on Monday, giving him the Baratheon ancestral seat of Storm's End. She might have done a bit more than that, given that a legitimate Baratheon could be a rival for her claim to the throne. In a phone conversation this week, actor Joe Dempsie shared his thoughts on Gendry's ambitions and the controversy surrounding his character's love scene with Arya. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: Congratulations might be in order now that Gendry's been legitimised and made Lord of Storm's End …
A: Yeah, it's sort of been a roller coaster, right? I don't think the title necessarily means that much to him, but the recognition that comes with it and the fact that he's been legitimised does. It probably means the world to him, the acknowledgement that he belongs. Gendry's story, leading up to this point, has been searching for his place and his purpose in this slightly pompous world, and I think he finally got it, to an extent. And then he got all excited and carried away with himself, didn't he? [Laughs.]
Q: We'll come back to his proposal to Arya, but first, let's examine what it means for him to be legitimised. I'm not sure if Dany thought it through, or perhaps she did, but she just gave Gendry the best claim to the Iron Throne.
A: Outside of Jon Snow, do you think? Ahead of Jon Snow?
Q: Yeah. The Targaryens were removed from office, so to speak, and the line of succession since has been derived from King Robert. That's why Joffrey, Tommen, and then Cersei were able to make claims. And Gendry, unlike Joffrey and Tommen, is actually King Robert's son.
A: So he's the linear heir to the throne, now that he's been legitimised. I think by recognising the potential threat he causes, Dany's attempting to neutralise it. What none of us really know yet is how much does Dany know about Gendry? Did she do any research? Because she's taking a huge risk. In Season 8, we're really seeing the effect of what all this yearslong obsession for the throne has done to Daenerys, you know? You can see it in Jon Snow's face, every time she expresses her concern about their secret. Only it's not that much of a secret anymore, is it? More people know about it now, Jon Snow's true parentage. But she seems far less concerned about the fact that she's his aunt, and far more concerned about what this will do to her claim to the throne.
Q: If you found out that the woman you were dating was your aunt, wouldn't you be more bothered by the accidental incest?
Daenerys vs. Cersei. Who has the edge in the final Game of Thrones war?
A: Especially if I was in love with her. "What are we going to do about this? I've already fallen in love with you, and you're my auntie." And you can see that in Jon Snow's eyes. "Really? That's the thing that's bothering you right now? What it's going to do to your claim?"
Q: Jon keeps saying he doesn't want to be king, but what about Gendry? I'm not sure he realised, before this, that he could be a lord, let alone a king. If he realised he could have a claim, would he want it?
A: My instinct tells me no. Varys said in the episode this week that maybe the person best suited to rule might be someone who doesn't actually want to. I think Gendry has spent such a large part of his life being kind of passed around as a pawn, and control over others isn't something he's ever craved. Maybe he's not quite bright enough to rule, but he certainly understands the plight of common folk in a way that not many past leaders of Westeros have. So I think he would be a very compassionate leader.
Gendry's been searching for his place in the world, and he had this innate feeling that he was destined to be a part of something bigger or more important. He wanted his life to have meaning. He found that when Davos found him in King's Landing in Season 7. He was like, "This is it. I didn't know what it was that I've been waiting for, but I've been getting ready for it." His part in the Battle of Winterfell fulfilled that desire for his life to have some meaning. Being legitimised solidified that for him. I don't know that there's a craving for greater power, but we'll have to wait and see. It all depends on what kind of a character Gendry really is.
Q: When they first brought you back to the show, you said you pumped up at the gym in anticipation of a shirtless scene, and then you were disappointed there wasn't one. You got to have that this season.
A: Yes, I did, didn't I? [Laughs] Be careful what you wish for. But it was great to work with Maisie [Williams] again. I think it's been a really well balanced and a deftly told story about two people who haven't seen each other in a long time, who have changed a hell of a lot in those intervening years, being reunited and rediscovering each other. And then also having to go through the most kind of arduous experience in Episode 3, and what that does to your psyche.
Q: What did you think about the audience reaction to Gendry and Arya's love scene before the battle? What was your take on it when you first discovered it was in the works?
A: When I first read it, I was slightly cautious about it, because I've known Maisie since she was 11 or 12 years old. And so it was always going to be a slightly strange thing, to try to wrap your head around knowing you would be imminently shooting a scene like that with someone you've known since they were so young. By the same token, Maisie was 21, she's 22 years old now. She's a grown woman and a fantastic actor, so we were just completely professional about it.
The scene itself was kind of fun — we made sure to keep the mood light. For my experience, it was not an arduous scene to shoot, and I hope Maisie felt the same way about it. I hope she felt the atmosphere was familiar and supportive and safe. The reality is, though, she doesn't need me to look after her. She's spent way more time on that set than I have over the years. The level of respect she has from everyone is sky high, and I think everything was done the way she wanted it.
It's an interesting conversation that started around it, though, with the audience discomfort. The conversation kind of forces you to confront some hypocrisy. I was 11 once, and then I got older, and then I started having sex, and that's absolutely fine. That's part of my expected journey through life. We all go through it. We all sort of bristle when we feel patronised about it, when someone suggests we're too young to be doing something. But when it's somebody else, we find it uncomfortable to watch.
Q: When the Arya/Gendry shipping first started in Season 2, it had another layer to it because she was a minor at the time. She's an adult now.
A: Yeah, exactly. That was the reality of that situation. I did a show called Skins a number of years ago, and my character Chris was naked, taking drugs, having sex with his teacher, and no one batted an eyelid. I think I was about a year or two younger than Maisie was, when I was shooting this? The difference is, the audience didn't watch me grow up on screen. It wasn't like I played this character from the age of 11 or 12, and all of a sudden I was 19 and doing all of this incredibly adult stuff.
When Maisie was a minor, and I was an adult, it seemed completely ludicrous to expect me to have an opinion on Arya/Gendry shipping other than, "Well, it's never going to happen. It's not possible." And I was forced to confront my own initial discomfort this time around. OK, now it's technically possible — let's not be patronising to Maisie. Some people were saying, "Oh, they should never have asked Maisie to do that." But why? If I was a new actor to the show, playing a new character who was 31, and Maisie was 21, then it wouldn't be a thing.
It's just because I've been on the show for so long, and I've known her for all this time that it becomes slightly odd. And I understand that. I understand people being uncomfortable watching someone they've feel they've seen grow up on screen take part in things like that. I get it. But once you confront it rationally, I don't see how you can have much of a problem with it. And it's important to guard against that concern spilling over into a form of prudishness that actually risks removing the agency from a fully grown adult, you know what I mean?
Q: Afterward they have completely different reactions — Gendry fell asleep and Arya didn't seem thrilled.
A: So much of Gendry's story has been so incredibly meme-able over the course of eight seasons, and that shot was certainly one of them! [Laughs.] Afterward, possibly it's the realisation that she's not, at least not now, capable of that kind of love, because of what she's been through. While Gendry obviously had a great time and is just getting some sleep! [Laughs.] It's a very common scenario.
Q: And yet, his next move is to propose.
A: The amount that all of these characters are having to process ... They just survived this huge battle with death itself, and the elation that must come from that, and the grief for those who were lost, and the trauma of that experience. And for Gendry, to be legitimised, it's allowed him to anchor himself. He just felt, "My god, my life is finally coming together!" I think his life was fairly lonely before, and he probably thought, now that I'm a lord, I need a lady. He is very attracted to the woman that Arya's become, but all the things that he likes about her are the things that will make her never be with him that way.
Q: Do you think he loves her?
A: I think in that moment, he thinks he loves her.
Q: If this is our goodbye to Gendry, is he going to be OK?
A: Gendry's hurt, but he doesn't have to think about it for too long to realise that Arya's absolutely right. He got a bit carried away. He just let his mind and his heart race away a little bit. If he sits down for half an hour and thinks about it, he'll understand. It's not going to be something he's hung up on for too long.
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Written by: Jennifer Vineyard
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