It’s Monday night and the newly opened Brew La La craft beer bar in Tokyo’s Shinbashi neighborhood is hopping. As the clock strikes 8 p.m., however, the 60 or so people gathered there fall silent. “Game of Thrones” is on.
It’s the seventh season premiere and watching it with such a large group gives a cinematic vibe to the event. In fact, more and more people seem to be watching the show in groups (if YouTube reaction videos are anything to go by).
One person who watches it live — literally, live — is Isaac Hempstead Wright. He plays Brandon Stark on the show. When he’s not involved in the filming, however, he says he watches the show at home with his family. So — spoiler alert — he was just as surprised as we were when the character Oberyn Martell died in the fourth season.
“I hadn’t actually read that in the script so I didn’t know it was going to happen,” he says on a recent trip to Tokyo. “I was as shocked as the audience, cheering along for the underdog to be victorious for once in ‘Game of Thrones’ — which never happens — and then all of a sudden this brutal, horrific, gruesome death happens!”
Hempstead Wright, 18, is in town promoting the seventh season of “Game of Thrones,” the first six seasons of which are now out on Blu-ray in a box set that also features a special bonus disc that includes short animated vignettes on the histories and lore of the show. For a lot of new fans, especially in Japan, this is the way to catch up on a series that has become a global phenomenon. The first episode of the seventh season scored a whopping 16.1 million total viewers, reflecting an increase in viewership worldwide.
While a lot of Japanese are just hearing about the show, though, Hempstead Wright is thinking about the end. The series’ eighth season will be its last.
“I think ‘Game of Thrones’ and a few other TV shows like ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ and things of that mold have completely changed the way TV is perceived forever,” Hempstead Wright says, adding that these shows are more immersive than most films. “I think what ‘Game of Thrones’ has really demonstrated is that you can take time telling a story. You don’t need to fit it all into two seasons … or a two-hour blockbuster. I think it makes the ultimate conclusion so much more satisfying.”
The extended story arc has allowed Hempstead Wright — who started with the show at 10 years old — to grow up with the character and grow up as an actor.
“I think for the first few seasons at least, I wasn’t all that aware of creating a character because Bran was really a kid going through some traumatic things.” Fans of the show know Bran is absent from the fifth season but returns in the sixth season to learn from a shamen-like character called the Three-Eyed Raven (played by Max von Sydow). Hempstead Wright says it was nice to come back to the show having grown up himself and seeing his character in a different light.
“Season 7 has been the most interesting in terms of formulating a character. He (becomes) the Three-Eyed Raven fully, it’s not just hints, and he has completely downloaded the history of the world into his head, which obviously changes the way he behaves.”
One of the things that has affected the character, according to Hempstead Wright, was the death of his traveling companion Hodor (Kristian Nairn).
“I think it was one of the most traumatic scenes in ‘Game of Thrones,'” he says about the death scene. “To suddenly reveal this tragic back story to a character you never really thought held much significance, and to feel the complexity and depth of this poor, gentle giant who was essentially ruined by Bran’s hubris. And it was a shame not to have Kristian on set because he’s been a very big figure in my life, like a brother or father in many ways, so it was sad not to have him around.”
But Bran’s quest must go on. Hempstead Wright is tight-lipped on upcoming shows, but has a warning for the audience: “Winter has come.”
The first-run limited edition “Game of Thrones” Season 1-6 Blu-ray box set, which includes 34 discs, is out now via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.