This interview contains plot revelations from Game of Thrones season 7, episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice” …
Ellaria Sand is not dead. She might continue to survive for months or even years … unfortunately for her. Yet we won’t see Ellaria on Game of Thrones again, confirms actress Indira Varma, who played doomed Prince Oberyn’s hot-headed lover.
Ellaria and her Sand Snake daughter Tyene were tortured by Cersei (Lena Headey) in Sunday’s aptly titled episode, “The Queen’s Justice.” The agonizing scene showed Cersei poison Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) with a laced kiss (just as Ellaria fatally poisoned Cersei’s own daughter Mycella last season). Then Cersei verbally tormented a bound and gagged Ellaria, who was left helpless and unable to do anything except watch her daughter slowly perish. The fate of Ellaria Sand is one of the darkest character endings on Thrones yet and will be one that’s largely left to our imagination.
Below Varma (Rome, Exodus: Gods and Kings) spoke to Entertainment Weekly about her riveting performance in her character’s final scene:
How did you find out about Ellaria Sand’s fate?
[Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] called me, but I kind of knew already. Obviously there’s lots of trimming going on. It’s all coming to a head and you have to get rid of less important characters that the audience hasn’t had the chance to invest in as much. So I was expecting it. I wasn’t heartbroken. And I was like, “As long as I die on screen…” and they were like “Yeah!” But of course I don’t die on screen. I stay alive, I’m just not going to reappear. I think it’s really clever.
It’s more haunting, I think, doing it this way …
It’s really dark. What I love about this scene is you’re reading it and from one sentence to the next you don’t know what’s going to happen — how Cersei is going to treat her victim. I just thought the delivery of that information was so clever. Especially since the kiss comes before the information.
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What was it like shooting that scene?
It was hard work. A lot of blood snot and sweat and tears. Myself and Rosabell had to be shackled. They very kindly put some felt inside the handcuffs so we didn’t get bruised and battered — though we ended up doing that anyway because your acting takes over. The shackles kept coming off so they had to tighten them and then we couldn’t get them off at all. At the end of the day I was like, “I’m stuck! I need somebody to help me!” and they had to cut me out of them. All in a day’s work.
It probably helps getting into Ellaria’s mindset by having something to pull against.
Definitely, any human being that is trapped by somebody else — not only trapped but her daughter is trapped as well. As a parent, all I need to do is think about that and you get [into that mindset] as an actor pretty quickly. But the older I get the more I just leave myself alone in my work. I don’t need to beat myself up before a take. I just go there in my thoughts. I don’t have to think about my dead cat or anything. I like that sense of play.
One of the great things about the scene is it plays with audience expectations and allegiances. Because, I think, we’re naturally inclined to feel sorry for Ellaria and Tyene, the victims. But your character, as Cersei rightly points out, did murder her innocent young daughter, and your daughter is a killer too.
I hope people feel that. Ellaria hasn’t had quite the screen time so people are inevitably more invested in Cersei. But people were so in love with Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) and there’s a bit of that residue carrying on, and obviously, nobody wants to see somebody’s child killed in front of them — that’s every parent’s worst nightmare, beyond worst nightmare. It’s quite a challenge from an acting perspective to be interesting with no lines. It was fun trying to play anger resentment and impotence in that situation, but still wanting to fight. At what point do you give up wanting to fight? It’s a human paternal instinct where you just want to keep fighting for your child.
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What was your favorite scene?
It’s really difficult to reduce it to one moment and the line is blurred between what happened on stage and off. I loved all the work I did with Pedro, but I also loved working with the girls. I loved Pedro’s big fight in season 4, it was wonderful to watch how brilliantly they make a fight and how each stage of it is covered. We were playing Scrabble behind the scenes, it was great fun. And I loved doing the first scene, the brothel scene, it was just so decadent — my life isn’t like that. The filming in Alcazar Palace [in Spain, the setting of Prince Doran Martell’s Water Gardens] was amazing, just pretending to be this powerful woman in this crazy family is amazing. And the scene with the three girls with the character with the scorpion on his head when he was buried up to his neck — I just remember they wanted to do this extra shot of his head in the foreground with the scorpions all over him and I was so anxious about the scorpions I kept forgetting my lines.
Did you get to keep anything from the show?
I have kept Ellaria’s leather wristband. It’s getting harder for them to give actors stuff because everybody wants something from the show. I was so lucky to be part of this incredible beast and I’m still marveling at how generous and professional and yet totally unprofessional it is — because they’re always having a good time. David and Dan are so generous and clever in their storytelling, it’s so masterful; they run this crazy massive fleet with such good humor. It’s an ensemble piece that’s constantly creative and fun. I think that why it’s lasted so long
What’s next for you?
I just shot a one-off drama from Channel 4 called The Truth. I think it’s really good actually. Director-writer David Nath was originally a journalist and it’s about a mother who is divorced and has a new boyfriend who’s younger. And she has a nearly 12-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy and after she drops the kids off at school she gets an anonymous text message saying, “I’m concerned about your boyfriend’s relationship with your daughter.” And it’s what happens over the next 48 hours. Once somebody is accused of that, even if unfounded, it’s an accusation that can taint somebody for the rest of their lives. It’s basically an emotional journey of what happens to this woman as she becomes more and more paranoid. That was amazing. And then I’m probably doing Melrose for Sky Atlantic, which Benedict Cumberbatch is producing, based on the novel and also a film, but that hasn’t been signed off yet. So I’m busy-busy, which is great.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays (9 p.m. ET) on HBO.