The coming winter strikes fear in the hearts of all who reside in the seven kingdoms of Westeros. But for a handful of "Game of Thrones" actors, it's just another day at the office.
"Clearly, they don't trust us to fake being cold," John Bradley (Samwell Tarly) says in the warmth of a Beverly Hills, California, hotel room as he talks about why they were sent to shoot in the winter wonderland of Iceland instead of re-creating the freezing frontier far beyond the wall on a soundstage. "The costumes help keep you warm from the neck down, but your face gets the brunt of the wind. The wind is absolutely chronic. You can't move your face or open your eyes, and when you are doing tight shots, your face is what you need, your tool to work. We did one shot where me and Kit [Harington] were this far apart [gestures about two feet], and I couldn't see Kit for eye line."
"It was a complete whiteout. We were stuck on a hill for hours. The crew was so close to walking off, and eventually they did," Harington (Jon Snow) added. "You know you are in trouble when the [locals can't handle the weather]. And then you find out the producers are the most fearless people in the world when they want to get something done."
Even on those truly bad days, Bradley doesn't request a snow day. "I'm so terrified of annoying anybody, I'm usually the kind who gets up and goes, 'No, it's fine. I'll do it again. No, I don't want anybody else to lie on the floor for me. I don't want any of those little heat pads. I'm seriously fine.' You never know when you're going to have to call in favors. I don't like to get on the wrong side of anybody."
His co-star Rose Leslie, the flame-haired captive-turned-captor Wildling Ygritte, figures that's a good strategy on a show with an ever-growing body count. "Best to play it safe." Not that she practices what she preaches. "I thought I would get better going out there for the second time around [for Season 3], but I'm a wimp and if my feet are cold…" Harington pipes up, "Then I don't hear the last of it."
"I have bored Kit's ears off many a time talking about how cold my feet are," she says, charging ahead and ignoring his mocking. "They look after us incredibly well with layers and heat packs, but I'm pathetic."
It isn't the first or last time during the half-hour interview that Leslie and Harington act like an old married couple, which is surely a sign that their forbidden tribeswoman/traitor love deepens in Season 3. "It picks up where Season 2 ended, with Ygritte and Jon Snow entering the Wildling camp, and we certainly see the relationship develop. You get a good insight into [the Wildlings'] world and why they are ruthless killers. You learn the extremes they go through to survive this brutal, harsh landscape for so long," says Leslie. "From Ygritte's perspective, I think she wants to live a long and healthy life with Jon, [get a cottage] by a river, have some kids. Good luck with that. That's not complicated at all."
Here's everything you need to know about the Wildlings:
One complication is Jon's conflicted loyalty. He swore an oath to his brothers in black, which includes celibacy, but the temptress has already proved to be forceful in the bump-'n'-grind department. Harington explains, "You can see there was affection for each other in Season 2, and this season we see where that goes. Jon has his vows, and he's on a mission playing the spy. It's falling in love with the enemy, that kind of classic tale of not knowing where your heart really lies. He doesn't know if he is going to become a Wildling or whether he will stay true to Sam and his brothers. I hope the audience who haven't read the books can't guess."
Leslie, who takes time out to excitedly brag that she split an arrow while learning how to use Ygritte's weapon of choice for this installment, reminds us that there is a precedent for changing sides, as the current charismatic Wildling leader is none other than Night's Watch deserter Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds). "You find out what kind of man he is and the kind of loyalty the Wildlings have toward him. They genuinely believe he is going to lead them away from the supernatural element of the White Walkers, keep them safe, and spread the joy of freedom."
Meanwhile, poor Sam, sad to be separated from his protector Snow, is alone, stranded, and far too close to a passing White Walker for his liking. "We find him literally on the run from White Walkers. With the adrenaline and the fear coursing through him, he doesn't have time to take stock of anything. He is just blindly running away from danger," Bradley sadly recounts. "There's a scene in Episode 2 where he finally stops and thinks about how badly he's been treated. Jon's gone and he thinks he won't see Gilly [Hannah Murray] again. He breaks down, confronts [his Night's Watch brothers], and calls them out [for leaving him]. Once he takes stock of that, this boy thinks nobody cares about him and he's got absolutely nobody."
"That's heartbreaking," Leslie pouts.
Despite not having seen any new scripts, Bradley cheers himself up by looking forward to Season 4, which might find his character in warmer climates if they stick to the novel's outline. "I think Sam's journey on a certain water-borne mode of transport would be quite nice just to get a bit of sunshine."
Which brings us back full circle to the actors' discussing the on-set weather, and that quickly turns into a gentle chiding of their co-workers who soak in plenty of vitamin D on location in Morocco and Croatia. "It was annoying when you're in minus temperatures and they'd call and say, 'It was just too hot to work today. We're by the pool.' That was rude," Harington shares. "They were just ringing up to gloat." Bradley adds, "Bear in mind how cold it was when we still worked."
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But despite the bellyaching, this trio wouldn't want to switch places. "On our days off, you would experience these incredible situations. A whole bunch of us went down into a genuine cave, and there was a pool at the bottom naturally heated because the volcano was however many miles off," describes Leslie. "I was swimming in the water thinking, 'How the hell did I get here? This is incredible! Morocco don't have this.'"
Harington agrees. "The scenery in Iceland is so utterly beautiful. [On] a clear day on some of the locations with the most spectacular views, I genuinely wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Give me Croatia or Morocco and I'd turn you down."
"Game of Thrones" Season 3 premieres Sunday, 3/31 at 9 PM on HBO.