“Game of Thrones” fans know Grey Worm for his stoic visage, ramrod posture and endearing soft spot for Missandei of Naath. Happily, the actor who plays him, Jacob Anderson, appears to feel the same way about his on-screen love interest ― tissues were whisked to the stage at a Build interview in New York on Thursday as the actor teared up watching a particularly touching scene between the characters before they face the Battle of Winterfell.
“You’re cruel,” Anderson, aka rapper Raleigh Ritchie, said after seeing himself and Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei, plan a future for their doomed relationship.
Spoilers ahead — beware if you’re not caught up on “Game of Thrones.”
Anderson made one thing clear: He likes keeping busy. After the HBO hit series takes its final bow on Sunday, the actor will home in on his music career, working to put out a second album sometime this summer. Asked whom he would love to collaborate with, Anderson quickly came up with his answer ― Lizzo.
But in between work on his album, the actor has also been paying attention to the response to the show’s eighth and final season. He’s well aware of the devastated fan reaction to Missandei’s death in Episode 4, having spoken extensively with Emmanuel in private about their characters’ significance as some of the very few named people of color on the show. (“We have to be better” about inclusivity in casting, Anderson stated.)
And while everyone could see how Missandei’s gruesome death set up Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) snap decision to wreak havoc on King’s Landing in Episode 5, Anderson thought fans were getting Dany all wrong by calling her the “Mad Queen.”
“She’s just human. People lash out in really unexpected ways to things that hurt them,” the actor said. “I feel like there’s some weird stuff of people being like, ‘Oh, crazy woman!’”
We nabbed some time with Anderson to chat about “Game of Thrones” fans, filming and the upcoming finale airing Sunday.
Now that “Game of Thrones” is done, are you planning on focusing on your music for a little while?
I feel like I’m not very good at doing just one thing at a time. Once this album’s done, on to the next album. But if something comes along to audition for, or whatever, that I think is going to be really fun or really challenging, then I would think about it. I want to do everything.
And maybe the Lizzo thing can happen.
So last episode, Grey Worm has that heel-turn after seeing Dany just let Drogon loose on King’s Landing, and then everything devolves into that moral free-for-all. What is Grey Worm feeling after that battle? I kept thinking, “What would Missandei think if she could see this?”
I don’t think that would have ever happened if Missandei was there. I think he’s responsible for doing that himself ― I don’t think that was just a response to Dany. But obviously, he has no loyalty to anybody else. All he has left is Dany, and he does really care about her. But I think that never would have happened if Missandei were there. I think it’s just got to a point now where he’s been through an insane amount of trauma ― I can’t ever imagine what it feels like to go through that ― and then on top of that, he essentially has to fight for people that don’t want him. And he’s lost half of his army, which is like, they’re not just an army, they’re people that he cares about and has grown up with. He’s lost them, for what? For all of these imaginary factions, like Starks and Lannisters ― he doesn’t know what any of that is. He doesn’t care.
You think he just feels numb?
Yeah. Basically, we talked about it as like he’s just gone back into Unsullied mode ― he’s just fallen back into his trauma. Like, all of the stuff that caused him to be who he was when he first came into the show, when he first came into that story, when they were freed. He’s built up his humanity, and I think, at that point, I think when they take the one person that really accepted him and that he accepted, and they loved each other, once she is taken away from him, it’s like, gone. All of his humanity is gone. And it’s just all he’s seeing is red uniforms. And he’s going to go find Cersei. That’s where he goes, as far as I’m concerned. [Laughs]
Editor’s Note: Anderson also discussed his battle rampage shortly before our conversation. “I want to point out, he didn’t kill any civilians. And he wouldn’t,” he said during his Build appearance, adding, “but if you’re wearing the red armor, then, fair game.”
You’ve talked in interviews about conversations you and Nathalie have about your characters, just by yourselves. Is there anything you wish there had been time to show the audience about the two of them?
I think it would’ve been nice to have seen, sort of them being together and not proclaiming their love for each other to each other. Just like, living.
Yeah. Just like, what do they do when they go for walks around together. What do they talk about?
[Laughs] Yeah, patrol. More patrol.
A bit more of their internal life, I guess. It generally would have been something that would have been nice to see.
A lot of fans seemed to wish that we, as viewers, had been given more time to understand why Dany snapped when she did. What are your thoughts on that?
I think ― I’m not going to say whether people should like it or not. But personally, I felt like Emilia was fucking amazing. She was outstanding in that episode. I bought it, you know? Especially in that first hour. She’s going through an incredible amount of pain, and that’s built on top of years of working for this thing. Her code has always been like, “I’m going to get what I want, and if I have to hurt people to get there, I will.” She has a history of protecting innocent people and trying to go the way of justice. But she has also along the way always been like, “However, if you fuck with me, I will destroy you because I can.” And I think that’s why she decided to do it.
I think it’s not ― it’s hard. I think the show has been telling us, and Emilia has been telling us ―
She has this in her?
She has this in her, but also, something that I find interesting is that I don’t think this makes her “mad.” She’s just human. People lash out in really unexpected ways to things that hurt them. “Hurt people hurt people.” I know that’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. I feel like there’s some weird stuff of people being like, “Oh, crazy woman!” And I just don’t think that’s true because I don’t think Emilia would have ever played that. Emilia loves Dany. Like, she loves her. And I think it was a really huge, but human, mistake that attached to something that was already within her. Not because of genetics, but because of everything that she’s been through in life. And politics corrupts people ― power corrupts people ― in very profound ways.
So this season was particularly grueling to film, based on everything that I’ve read and heard, and you’re obviously in all of the battle scenes, too. How did you guys keep up morale on set all that time, night after night after night?
I brought my Nintendo Switch for the night shoots. [Laughs] So that was good. They gave us a TV. Just like, singing and dancing and messing about. The crew and the cast get on really well ― you just have to. Also you reach a certain point, particularly on night shoots, where you just reach a certain, very specific madness that can actually be really fun. It’s like that caffeinated, frantic, like, “Yeah! Ha ha!” silliness.
Like when you’re too tired and everything just starts being funny.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Overtired fun is pretty great.
Is that what was going on in that video that you posted to Twitter?
No! No, that was from three years ago on Zumaia Beach [in Spain]. That was just me and Nathalie, that’s just what we’re like.
In an alternate happy universe, what would Grey Worm and Missandei dance to as their wedding song?
This is the hardest question I think I’ve been asked all day. Is there a song about butterflies? [Sings] “You give me butterflies …” But not the Michael Jackson version. The one that Floetry does.
I might have to look that up ...
[Laughs] So “Butterflies” by Floetry, because of Naath.
Editor’s Note: Before our chat, Anderson outlined a snapshot of the characters’ lives that could have been, saying, “In an alternate reality for the show, Missandei never dies, and the two of them just get on a boat, after all this nonsense, and they’re like, ‘Dany, we love you, we’re loyal, but this doesn’t feel good. We’re leaving. Wakanda forever.’” Perfect.
Here’s a heavier question. Nathalie has talked about the fan response to Missandei’s death and how some people were upset to see the show’s only woman of color taken away, and in chains, no less. Again, you and Nathalie have talked about representation on the show — did you guys anticipate that agitated reaction from fans?
Yeah. To be honest, yeah. I was. We were. But I think the way Nathalie played it, she played it with some real control and dignity. I think Nathalie did a beautiful job making that about something, you know? There’s a few moments that I think ― like the collar moment in Episode 5, Grey Worm throwing the collar into the fire, that was like, that’s not what she was to him. That’s not what she represented. She didn’t represent slavery and chains. Even if it was true that she kept that to remember her past, I think he rejects that idea.
In one word, how would you describe the series finale? What do you want fans to take away from it?
I have no idea what people are going to think. Just know that we worked really hard!
Oh, we all know that. OK, one word. I know it’s a dumb question.
It’s not a dumb question; it’s a good question. It’s just so hard to answer … I think “surprising.” Or “unexpected.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.