Beric Dondarrion and his flaming sword proved one of the enduring images of “Beyond the Wall,” Sunday’s confounding, spectacular, action-packed episode of Game of Thrones. The leader of a group of outlaws called the Brotherhood Without Banners, Beric served as a blunt fiery force against the Night King’s icy undead, igniting wights aflame with a single touch of his blade.
The Lord of Blackhaven is the only man in Westeros besides Jon Snow who’s been resurrected by the Lord of Light. His fellow Brotherhood leader, the drunken Red Priest Thoros of Myr, revived him six times before succumbing to the jaws of a zombie polar bear. (R.I.P. Thoros.) Without him, Beric is left with the knowledge that his next death will be his last—a notion he now welcomes with open arms.
In Jon Snow’s heroic band of freaks and misfits, Beric fit in like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the group—the elder spiritual warrior (with a cool-as-hell sword) who passes on his wisdom to the Chosen One. Unlike Beric, Jon has never been at peace with being chosen for resurrection. He doesn’t understand what the Red God wants from him, and certainly doesn’t “serve” him, as Beric suggests. “What’s the point in serving a god if none of us know what he wants?” Jon scoffs.
“I don’t think it’s our purpose to understand,” Beric responds. “Except one thing: we’re soldiers. We have to know what we’re fighting for. I’m not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords. [I’m fighting for] life. Death is the enemy. The first enemy and the last…The enemy always wins, And we still need to fight him. That’s all I know. You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here, but we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves. Maybe we don’t need to understand more than that. Maybe that’s enough.”
Finally, Jon is able to process the unresolved trauma of his death and resurrection (he crossed to the afterlife only to find “nothing,” as he once told Melisandre) and translates Beric’s words to ones he understands—a line from the Night’s Watch oath: “I am the shield that guards the realms of men.” With that renewed purpose in mind, they head into battle: two in a party of seven (give or take) against legions of the undead.
The Daily Beast talked to Richard Dormer, who plays Beric, about battling in the wintry tundras of Iceland, what it’s like wielding a flaming sword, and why Jon Snow’s plan to snag a wight from the Night King was “absolutely” a stupid idea.
Beric’s flaming sword is pretty much the coolest thing since a lightsaber. Is it as fun to swing around as it looks?
It was absolutely incredible. It was a joy coming to work every day. I mean, it was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever had to do, filming that battle. But every time that thing was lit up, it was just like, you could just hear everybody on set and on the crew look and go, “That’s so cool!” (Laughs.) It just never got boring. And the sound it makes is actually even cooler than a lightsaber. ‘Cause you know how the lightsaber goes, “vwoom, vwoom?” Well the flaming sword, the sound it did was like, “fwooosh!” The flames make this whooshing noise, and so I think it’s even better than a lightsaber. Also because when the sword touches someone who is impure or evil or bad, it ignites them into flames. You don’t just chop an arm off or something, you just have to touch them and they’re dead. So I think it’s even more lethal than a lightsaber.
One of the most famous swords in Game of Thrones lore is a flaming one just like Beric’s, the one the Prince Who Was Promised owned. But Beric’s doesn’t work quite the same way, right?
I’m glad you asked that. There are a lot of people asking me that and I have to tell them that if you actually remember Season 3, when I had the flaming sword, it was cut in half by The Hound. So Beric can do that with any sword. I hope I’m not bursting any bubbles. When I used my blood to light it up like in Season 3, that was because it was a trial before God. So it was a ritual. It was nothing to do with setting the sword alight, it was just a ritual of “this is my blood, and here’s this man’s blood, and if he wins, he is going to do it before God.” When Beric and Thoros light their swords, it’s because they are true believers in the Red God. There’s a couple of words that they say or think, basically, when the sword lights. It’s a prayer.
“Beyond the Wall” is the first time since “Hardhome” we see a skirmish between a group led by Jon Snow and the Night King. After what we saw the Night King pull off in that first battle, I wasn’t expecting most of the group to survive this time around.
I know. I think it was absolutely, probably a stupid idea, really. (Laughs.) How can seven guys go against, like, 500,000? I dunno but it worked, I suppose, so yeah. They put their blind faith in the greater purpose.
What was it like filming the actual battle scenes? You said it was one of the hardest things you’ve ever done.
It was the most physically demanding thing I think I’ve ever done, yeah. I had just finished filming six months on Fortitude, the Sky Atlantic show that I do. And it was a really, physically, emotionally draining part and I was so exhausted. And then I went straight into doing Thrones, which is an even more exhausting part. So yeah, it was tough. At times, it was really tough. But with brilliant stunt guys, a brilliant cast, there was great camaraderie. We trained for weeks to do all those moves. I mean, it may have looked like it was just a melee, but every single move was choreographed because, you know, it was so ferocious and dangerous. But it was brilliant fun. I look back fondly, even though at the time it was like being in hell. (Laughs.)
Beric is the only character we know of besides Jon Snow who’s been resurrected by the Lord of Light. They talk about that together for the first time in this episode—what do you think that means for both of them?
I think that Beric sees a true leader in Jon Snow. He also is very interested in the fact that his god has brought this man back. Because Beric believes that the only reason why his god allows him to keep coming back through Thoros is that he must have a greater purpose in his life. And finally when he does die, he will have served his purpose. The Red God is also obviously interested in Jon Snow, otherwise he wouldn’t have brought him back. I think Beric is looking at this young man and thinking, destiny has brought me to him. We both have this one thing in common and, whether we like it or not, and whether Jon Snow knows it or not, he’s inextricably linked now to the Red God.
Thoros of Myr sadly dies in “Beyond the Wall,” which means Beric can no longer be resurrected. Do you think it’s significant that his last life is his seventh? Seven is a pretty important number in Game of Thrones.
Yeah, I don’t think that’s an accident. I think Mr. Martin is a very, very clever mind and he thinks way ahead. Seven is the number. I mean even in the books, he dies seven times. So yeah. (Laughs.) You’ll have to watch, because it’s the last life.
Beric and The Hound part ways at the end of “Beyond the Wall” and he stays at Eastwatch with Tormund. Will we see him again this season?
Is this interview going up before the screening of episode seven?
Ah. Well, then… (Laughs.) You never know.
OK! That answers that. Moving on: Unlike Jon Snow, Beric seems outwardly at peace with not knowing why he’s been resurrected, and with the idea of death even after he’s on his last life. It’s interesting to see how he conducts himself when faced with an army of literal undead things. He seems fearless.
I think weirdly though, he is in turmoil. He can speak so casually about it and try and make it lighthearted, but I don’t think the man sleeps. I think the only difference between him and the things coming from the North is he is animated by fire, they are animated by ice in death. He can’t remember the woman that he once loved, he can’t even remember what his parents looked like. So there’s something very broken within him. I find something very tragic about Beric, actually. Every time you come back, you lost a part of yourself and maybe even a part of your soul, in one way. That’s why Beric clings so fervently to his beliefs and his faith. He needs the spirit of religious belief to keep him alive because he’s so dead inside.
How do you think knowing he’s on his last life changes him, if at all?
I don’t think it changes him at all. In fact, if anything, I think he’ll welcome death with open arms because he’ll know if he does die, then it’s meant to happen. So I think all Beric wants is to die a meaningful death in service of others.