“The richness of GoT stems from the fact that you can’t predict anything about its characters based on age—just as in life. Older or younger, they’re complicated people.”
Like millions of other fans, I’m in mourning because Season 7 of Game of Thrones is over, and the final season might not be back until 2019. If you know nothing about this hit Emmy Winning HBO series, you’ve probably been hiding under a rock for the past six years, or you’re a Masterpiece Theater type who blanches at the sight of blood.
If violence is the problem, I suggest you get over it and catch up on all seven seasons, because Game of Thrones is the rare TV fantasy series that digs deep into human complexity—and it’s the show’s older characters that make it possible.
The Internet Movie Database succinctly describes Game of Thrones, known as GoT to fans, like this: “Nine noble families fight for control over the mythical lands of Westeros, while a forgotten race returns after being dormant for thousands of years.” That pretty much covers it, except the forgotten race happens to be an indestructible army of the dead who are determined to kill every living being in a world that resembles medieval Europe but also reflects contemporary America—in this series, elites rule while the poor suffer, leaders are in denial about climate change, women are treated like objects to be traded, there’s even a giant wall that keeps out impoverished outsiders. Meanwhile in Westeros, the noble families are so busy fighting each other, they’re sitting ducks for the oncoming zombie hordes. As the show’s biggest baddie, Cersei Lannister explains it, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” And the good guys are just as likely to be killed off as the bad guys.
This scenario may sound like an unlikely fan favorite for a 74-year-old woman, but here’s why people of all ages should watch it: GoT has brilliant writing, spectacular visuals, compelling acting and, of course, dragons. And unlike the limited, youth-centric worlds of other fantasy series, GoT has a breadth and depth that reflects real life. Its cast of characters not only includes non-stereotypical types like a sarcastic dwarf—the show’s hero—and the 10-year-old head of one of the noble houses. It also includes all ages, from teens to 90s. In GoT, you can’t assume that the good guys will win. In fact they’re just as likely to be killed off as the bad guys, which is how the show keeps us on edge week after week.
That’s not to say that older people don’t figure in other fantasy series, but they’re usually cast in a small range of standard roles: teacher, wise man, witch or villain. The richness of GoT stems from the fact that you can’t predict anything about its characters based on age—just as in life. Older or younger, they’re complicated people. They run the gamut from brave to cowardly, evil to good, celibate to lusty. Older generations influence younger for better or worse (often worse—a lot worse). Of course, it doesn’t hurt that many of the older characters are portrayed by veteran, classically trained actors who add serious acting chops to their roles.
Here are my favorite older GoT characters. (I’ve listed them in the order that I most enjoyed watching them—even if they’re bad to the bone.)
Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg, age 79)
Like the Dowager Countess Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey—except with poison—Lady Olenna Tyrell is ruthless and a master schemer who has no compunctions when it comes to protecting her own. She most famously orchestrates the poisoning murder of the evil 13-year-old king Joffrey to save her niece from marrying him. A quintessential scene stealer, she hasn’t been featured in many episodes, but every time she’s popped up, she’s had all the best lines. One of my favorites: “I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them.”
High Sparrow (Johnathan Pryce, 70)
Dressed in rags, the High Sparrow leads a group of religious zealots determined to combat vice in King’s Landing. He manages a coup that brings down Queen Cersei and forces her to walk naked through the slums of her own realm. A veteran actor who burst on the scene in the ‘70s with an Olivier Award for his title role in Hamlet, Pryce’s brilliant, multilayered performance keeps us guessing till the end about his motives for grabbing power. Think Jerry Fallwell without the suit.
Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance, 70)
Shakespearean actor Dance is extraordinarily compelling (and sexy) as the calculating and ruthless head of house Lannister, until he suffers one of the most ignominious deaths in TV history—he is shot with a crossbow by his dwarf son Tyrion while sitting on the toilet. Think Steve Bannon, but older and better looking.
Aemon Targaryen (Peter Vaughn, who died during filming at 93)
Aemon is the most respected Maester (ie: healer/scholar) in Westeros. A hundred years old at the beginning of GoT, Aemon is bald, wrinkled, shrunken and blind, but while he speaks softly, his counsel is so valued that many fall silent to hear it.
Secondary Older Characters
- Jeor Mormont, (James Cosmo, 69), heroic head of the Knights Watch, the military order that protects Westeros from outsiders, dead and alive
- Maester Pycell ( Julian Glover, 82), a scheming, treasonous maester who plays up his age to appear harmless but is actually sharp and dangerous
- Qyburn (Anton Lesser, 65), the unethical former maester who was thrown out of the order for conducting illegal human experimentation. “Hand” or head advisor to evil Queen Cersei
- Walder Frey (David Bradley, 75), The most evil character of all, the head of House Frey who orchestrates the infamous “Red Wedding” where the groom and all the guests wind up dead
I might have missed a few, and who knows who’ll turn up in the final season. Maybe a 74-year-old will get to ride a dragon or kill a wight (zombie). In Game of Thrones you never know.
If you don’t have HBO you can sign up for HBO GO and stream the show online for $14.95 per month. Just sign up for one month and binge watch.
Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook.