For a brief moment in last Sunday’s Game of Thrones, Daario Naharis, while trudging through the hills surrounding Vaes Dothrak, stops bragging about his intimate knowledge of Queen Daenerys’s sexual prowess long enough to notice the tear in his travel buddy’s shirt.
“You know what happens?” he asks Ser Jorah Mormont, eyeing the cracked, hardened skin on his forearm.
“I know what happens,” replies Mormont, nodding in resignation.
He knows that, barring a miracle, all the skin on his body will harden and calcify. It’ll turn a mottled black and gray, cause him agonizing pain, and isolate him from the rest of society. In years, the disease will spread to his internal organs and to his brain, robbing him of his sanity and, eventually, killing him.
Greyscale: Hardly the death we imagined for this gallant, lovelorn knight.
Though Jorah’s fate was seemingly sealed last season when he was infected while saving Tyrion Lannister’s life from a crazed Stone Man in Old Valyria, his resolve to see his beloved Daenerys claim the Iron Throne has continued propelling him forward. She’s banished him, broken his heart, and nearly watched him die in the Fighting Pits, but his faith in his Khaleesi has never wavered.
So you can imagine his reaction to seeing Dany murder every khal in Vaes Dothrak, burn a temple to the ground, then emerge from the flames naked and unscathed, as she did in the triumphant finale of this week’s “Book of the Stranger.” For Jorah, who is faced with death, it was a life-affirming moment, a tangible testament to the sublimity of his life’s purpose.
“It really strongly echoed the culmination for the first season when she walked into the pyre of Khal Drogo,” says Iain Glen, the veteran actor who’s inhabited Jorah for five years. “[The camera] went up with the flames into the night sky and when we came back, we were at Ser Jorah’s feet as he walked through these prone, bowing people toward this godlike woman who had shown herself in a completely different light.
“He’s always adored her,” Glen continues, genuine warmth in his voice. “He’s always hugely admired her and known that she would be a benign leader of people. But then there’s always been this other side to him that understands she’s beyond his knowledge. She possesses things that are so extraordinary, they can’t really be spoken of. So in that moment, I think he was probably reminded as to why he’s decided to dedicate his life to this woman and how right he is to do that.”
We’re on the phone discussing his newest gig, a gritty six-part Australian Aboriginal “superhero” series called Cleverman that will air on SundanceTV in June. In the series, Glen plays a shadowy media magnate (modeled after Richard Branson, he says) with connections to both the glossy corporate world and the run-down underbelly of The Zone, a quarantine area where a race of people called “Hairies” are kept in internment. The show has been billed as an Aboriginal “superhero story” and is loaded with commentary on the European migrant crisis, terrorism, and racism.
But more on that later. First: More Jorah talk.
Pessimistic online bettors currently place poor Ser Jorah first among all the characters most likely to die this season. (Blame the greyscale for that.) But despite his character’s impending doom, Glen is reluctant to speculate about anything so morbid as the legacy his noble knight might leave behind.
Instead—perhaps a bit morbidly, depending on how things shake out this season—he dwells on the excitement he feels every year at the prospect of reading new scripts, going back to work, and strapping himself yet again into that infamous faded yellow shirt.
“All I can say is it’s been a dream job from beginning to end. It’s been nothing but a ball doing it,” Glen says. “If you can count on one hand at the end of a long career things that have come close to resonating in the way Game of Thrones has, then I think you should be a pretty happy bunny.
“It’s been pretty transformative for most people on the show, certainly the actors, the principles of the show,” he continues. “It’s sort of changed all our lives for the good. I’m hugely grateful, really. The show is bigger than any single person within it. It just fills me with excitement every year at the prospect of reading those scripts and going back to work and getting into that costume again and hanging out with the same people.”
In the hands of another actor, I point out, Jorah’s series-long unrequited love affair with Daenerys might have eventually become cloying, obsessive, or pathetic. Glen humbly deflects credit to writers and series creators Dan Weiss and D.B. Benioff.
“My job is just to make [Jorah] as deep or as believable as possible without being saccharine in the wrong way,” Glen says. “He’s just a profoundly loyal man. But I also wanted him in some ways to be an ordinary man, because I think she is extraordinary. And that’s what fuels his huge passion for her.”
With Daario Bro-haris still the object of Dany’s lust (we wouldn’t go so far as to say “love”) and Jorah’s time above ground slowly running out, the infatuated knight may never live to see his affections returned. But, says Glen, that’s not to say he won’t tell her how he feels one last time.
“He told her, even as she sent him away [in Season 5,] that he loves her. He said it, she knows,” he says. “You almost needed that breath away from our story, between Daenerys and Ser Jorah, to see the separation and sort of again understand his need and, perhaps, her need.
“But maybe it’ll be said again in a different context,” he concludes cryptically. “We’ll see.”
This is one part of a longer interview with Iain Glen, which will run in full next month.