First Annual BWB gathering in Belfast for HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ and GRRM’s signing tour November 2009
A long title I know, but I think it says it all. Hello, I am serMountainGoat and welcome to this overly long and tediously detailed report of what went down in Belfast and Dublin when the Brotherhood Without Banners visited for George’s signing tour with the added bonus of meeting some of the cast from HBO’s pilot of ‘Game of Thrones’. If you don’t have time to read all of this then I can give you a quick overview – yes it was AWESOME and you are right to be insanely jealous that you were not there! So when the show is picked up (yup I said “when” not “if”) I am very confident that we will be back again for another meet up next year so save your money, keep your calendar dates free and maybe we will see you in 2010.
There are photos to accompany this report in my Brotherhood Without Banners Photo Gallery, although I am ashamed to say I did not take too many pictures (though given the poor blurry quality of my current camera that might be a good thing), but fortunately there are plenty of others who took lots of great photos that I will be linking to throughout this report. Click these links for the full galleries from JacMac30 and Werthead.
This report aims to not only be a thorough and complete review of everything that happened at the signings and BWB meet ups with details blatantly stolen from other boarders reports (thanks to Werthead and Silverstar) but is also a personal account of what went on around those events in Belfast and Dublin.
If you want to skip to a particular section of this report you can use CTRL+click on one of these handy little jumplink thingies below to take you there.
− Table of Contents −
Tuesday 3 November 2009 2
Signing at Easons 2
Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) and Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) 4
Ron Donachie (Ser Rodrick Cassel) 6
Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) and Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) 6
Richard Madden (Robb Stark) 8
The Linen House 10
The McHugh’s Moot 10
Esme Bianco (The red headed whore - Ros) 13
George’s speech and an unexpected question 14
Paul Hardwyck (Weapons Advisor and Combat Choreographer) 15
The Brotherhood Without Banners Awesome Book Raffle Prize Draw Thing 17
Julia Frey (Visual Effects Producer) 18
Wednesday 4 November 2009 19
Thursday 5 November 2009 24
Afternoon tea with Paedar Ó Guilín 25
Signing at Easons 26
Change of venue - blame Pod! 28
The Moot That Moved 30
Friday 6 November 2009 32
Same Time Next Year 32
Tuesday 3 November 2009
My ‘Flybe’ flight from Gatwick was delayed for one hour for the silliest of reasons. Alright maybe it was not that silly, I can’t claim it was delayed because of tap dancing mice in cute little waistcoats performing ‘Riverdance’ on the fuselage for example, but it was quite silly. The caterer had let them down and failed to supply fresh sandwiches for the flight, sandwiches that nobody was going to pay £6 for on a 1 hour flight anyway. What a waste of time. Because of the delay I knew I would not be able to meet up with Silverstar at ‘George Best Belfast Airport’ as we had arranged so I sent her a text and told her not to wait for me.
When I finally reached Belfast I realised that I had foolishly not printed off a map of the city with the locations of the places I needed to get to, like ‘The Linen House’ hostel where I would be staying that night and ‘Easons’ bookstore where George would be doing his signing in about two hours time. I took the number 600 bus into the city centre but did not know where to get off so I stayed on all the way to the bus station. Then upon leaving the bus station I turned the wrong way and ended up roving the streets of the south side of the city for awhile before getting my bearings and walked towards the big wheel which I knew was next to the ‘City Hall’ and from there I easily found Easons. It was about midday and I saw the raised area George would be signing at but no queue forming as yet.
I sent a text to Silverstar and discovered that she was round the corner at a café called ‘Brights’ with the other BWB members. I wandered around and found them sat right at the back of the café. I pulled up a chair at a table with Silverstar, Padriag (better known as Pod), williamjm and JacMac30. At a table next to them were three more boarders staying at The Linen House – Werthead, Jamie Heron and Knight of the Teabags. I was only there a few minutes before leaving for the signing, but before walking back to Easons “Jackie – not staying at The Linen House” offered Silverstar and myself the opportunity to drop off our bags in her room at ‘The Premier Inn’ round the corner which we gratefully accepted. She was a bit worried about what the hotel staff would think of her bringing back extra people to her hotel room but I am sure they have seen stranger things.
Signing at Easons
The queue was now forming in Easons so Jackie and I quickly bought copies of ‘Songs of the Dying Earth’ – the George R.R. Martin edited Jack Vance inspired compilation of short stories that he was here to promote and sign, and joined the queue. I am actually glad I was not in the queue with Pod, Wert and the others because they had ended up a long way distant from the platform whereas Silverstar, Jackie and I were quite close so we could hear everything that was said. In terms of numbers I believe there were approximately 100 people there for the signing and we were about half way down the line.
Before George arrived Jackie spotted Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner (aka Arya and Sansa Stark) over to the left of the signing podium. Jackie would know what all the actors look like in person because she was at ‘Doune Castle’ in Scotland the previous week and got to see almost the entire cast in costume during the filming there. Jackie also had a special souvenir given to her by a member of the crew. I can’t tell you about it but it is totally awesome and she got the cast who were at Easons to sign it with a silver pen which the girls loved. We also spotted a few more cast members in the corner of the bookstore behind the girls including Rory McGann (Sandor Clegane) but he left almost straight away and I don’t believe anyone got his autograph or the chance to talk to him.
While we were trying to take pictures George arrived to a welcoming round of applause. He took to the signing podium and gave a short speech about being happy to be here, he is still working on ‘A Dance With Dragons’ forestalling the inevitable questions about that, and that there was going to be a 3 book limit on signing. If you wanted more than 3 books you had to go to the back of the line and queue again. Everyone should fill out a post-it note with names because “you Irish spell names funny” and George did not want to get it wrong. George introduced Matthew Hughes (see www.archonate.com for his website), author of ‘Grolion of Almery’, one of the best short stories in ‘Songs of the Dying Earth’. Matt was here to sign his story in the book which was another added bonus. George also introduced his lady Parris who took to the stage saying “I’ve always wanted to say this – hello Belfast!” before going on to invite everyone to join us at McHughs for the moot at 7.00 pm.
After getting our books signed by George and Matt we went over to meet the cast who were all very friendly, happy to chat with us and sign anything we put in front of them. I had the cast sign my copy of ‘Dreamsongs’ which was the only book I brought with me from home. Hey, it’s got ‘The Hedge Knight’ in it, that’s close enough, right? OK, I should have thought to bring my hardback copy of ‘A Game of Thrones’, or better yet I should have bought a new copy while there, or even half a dozen copies and got them all signed to give away as gifts. Stupid me! Oh well.
Let’s run through the cast members who we met and cover anything and everything interesting they said during the signing or at the moot later in the evening, just so it is all collected in one place, and then I will come back to what happened at the end of the signing.
Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) and Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark)
I will talk about these two together since they are pretty much inseparable, seemingly joined at the hip throughout the day. In their own words they are “just like real sisters” already - so unlike their characters. They are both so perfectly cast and absolutely adorable! I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with how well they handled their first time in front of fans and how they are so excited about being in this series. Maisie is 12 and Sophie is surprisingly only one year older at 13 but is tall for her age and can easily pass for two or three years older, which means provided Maisie does not suddenly shoot up in height during the next couple of years they will be perfect for their roles.
Both girls Mums were there and Maisie’s Dad was on hand to keep an eye on things. All the parents are reading through the books and providing selected excerpts for the girls to read. A very sensible precaution given the adult nature of the books, but it has to be said they will hear all those nasty words sooner or later and we do have readers younger than that on the board anyway. Maisie’s Dad has finished reading all the books and far from being terrified during Arya chapters and thinking ‘what have we done signing up for this?’ he is happy, even excited, to let his little girl suffer through all the horrors of war that Arya will face. Perhaps George will not need to rewrite the entire series to make things nicer for the girls after all.
For anyone who thinks that Maisie is too cute to play Arya you can think again. At one point Alfie Allen held the signing queue up for about 30 seconds by wandering off somewhere and she (amusingly) reprimanded Alfie leaving him contrite in the face of some very Arya-esque withering scorn. She thinks Arya is a “brilliant character” and I really think you can see she has the determination needed for the role. She is already using the catchphrase “Stick them with the pointy end!” which she said a couple of times for the fans.
Sophie also really likes her character and just like a young Sansa I sense that she has a certain level of innocence and naivety about herself and the world around her. Not to the same extent as Sansa of course, Sophie is a confident young lady and I think was less nervous about being introduced to everyone than Maisie was, though of course Maisie was introduced first. Some of the comments we have had here is that Sophie “has no idea just how beautiful she is going to be”, though clearly she is already very pretty.
The character of Sansa has always received a lot of flack from fans on the Internet for reasons that I will never understand. The naïve things she does are absolutely central to the plot of ‘Game of Thrones’ and it is the depiction of her perfect childish fairytale of the world being shattered in the cruellest ways imaginable that makes Sansa one of the most challenging roles in the entire series, and I think Sophie is a very smart girl who will do a great job of portraying that. Sophie's Mum said that when Sophie and Jennifer Ehle (Catelyn Stark) are stood next to one another with their hair done up they look very much like mother and daughter.
Shaun Snow reports that at one point he heard Sophie teased about how she'd need to practice crying a lot for her role, unlike Maisie, who then piped up to say that she thought Arya was crying on the inside, which is an incredibly perceptive insight from someone so young.
During the moot Maisie’s Mum did say she would have liked to do some filming out in Morocco, it would have been a nice holiday at this time of year, and I nearly spoiled things for her by saying that if the show reaches season 4 Arya will visit Braavos (although that may be filmed on set rather than on location, but you never know), but thankfully I avoided that – unless of course she is reading this now (hello Maisie’s Mum *waves*), and I can confirm that the cast are very much aware of the Internet fanbase and do read what we are saying about them. Both Sophie and Maisie mentioned that the show already has thousands of fans on the Internet and they do feel a bit of pressure to perform to the high standard expected of the show, but they are definitely up to the challenge of their very demanding roles. When they mentioned the dedicated Internet fanbase Silverstar said “yeah that’s us, sorry!”
On a more serious related note Werthead reports that some people involved in the production have seen the negative comments about Tamzin Merchant (Daenerys Targaryen) posted on the Internet and let it be known that they are not impressed. Whilst Dany's scenes are being filmed separately in Morocco most of those present met Tamzin and the rest of the Pentos gang at the read-through and were very impressed with her performance and report that she is getting the role from the books dead-on. In my opinion if George says Tamzin is the Dany he always imagined her to be then that is good enough for me.
But let’s get back to Maisie and Sophie. I asked them if they have a tutor on set to continue their school work but for a shoot this short they said it was not necessary. If they had been needed for more than 10 days filming then they would have required a tutor, but for the pilot they were set homework by their schools which they worked on when they are not filming. When the series goes into full production they will get a tutor who will have quite a class of Stark and Targaryen children to teach. While I am sure Maisie and Sophie hate doing homework when they would rather be acting I think they know that it is important to continue their studies. I think they are also very much aware of what they are doing and what they want. This isn’t a case of their parents forcing them into acting for their own selfish reasons. The girls really want to act and know how lucky they are to get these roles. They have both their fingers crossed that the series gets greenlit.
Maisie revealed to me that she came very close to getting the role of one of the kids in ‘Nanny McPhee’. She was second choice and was gutted to have missed out on that opportunity at the time, but I think she is now glad because otherwise this role as Arya would not have come up and she understands that this is a much bigger and more serious role.
Sophie told me that during auditions she had worked with several potential Aryas including Maisie and that afterwards they both went home and separately told their Mums that they hoped the other one would get the role so that they could act together. They really are so much like real sisters already, finishing each others sentences and everything. We did point out to them that their characters don’t get on that well at all and they said they’ve been having practice arguments together, I thought they were about to have a mock argument for us there right and then but they both dissolved into giggles instead. I think whether the show gets picked up or not these two will be life long friends and we will see them on the screen sooner or later.
Silverstar asked the girls what it was like having Sean Bean (Eddard Stark) as a dad and they both giggled and said it was great. We all knew Sean would not be at the signing or moot, I mean there would have been pandemonium, but we had all secretly dreamed he would show up. One thing I did hear is that Sean was not at all sure about taking this role and it took a lot of convincing to get him to sign up for the show. For me one of the most interesting aspects of Sean playing the role of Ned will be seeing him as a father which is not something we have really seen him do before on film. Of course in real life he is a father of three daughters and it will be good to see him draw on that experience as the season goes on with the majority of his scenes as a father acted with Maisie and Sophie.
Ron Donachie is an absolute professional and was 150% pure cool. Completely laidback and happy to chat with other fans of the books. I say that because out of all the cast we met I think Ron has become the biggest fan of the books. He read all four within the last month before filming began and absolutely loves them. Apparently Ron is guilty of bugging George about the fifth book!
Of course he had that moment of shock in book two where he read about his character’s death but this did not bother him and the fact that he carried on reading beyond that point really tells you that he is now a true fan. When asked about Ser Rodrick’s fate he said two seasons was a good innings and he would be happy to stay for the duration. I think Ron will really relish some of the scenes towards the end especially the confrontation with Theon.
Ron is a very experienced actor who has made a successful career out of playing relatively small parts exceptionally well and I think he is going to do exactly the same thing in ‘Game of Thrones’. Perhaps Ron’s most well known role is as the Master-at-Arms in ‘Titanic’ and at the evening moot he recounted a story about the filming of ‘Titanic’ when they were overrunning on a scene with everyone in the water James Cameron just grabbed a camera and waded straight out into the water to get the shots needed before the sun came up. Ron said he was so incredibly impressed with Cameron’s dedication and commitment, the best director he’s ever worked with.
Ron revealed that he is a New York Jets fan and talked NFL with George for a bit. Then Jackie (JacMac) came over and it turns out she and Ron went to the same school, more than a few years apart mind you, but it’s a nice connection for them to have. Ron also has another connection to George in that back in the 1980’s he read ‘Fevre Dream’ and loved the book but did not realise it was by the same author until a few weeks ago. So you see Ron has always been a true fan and just never knew it.
We asked Ron who his favourite character is and he said Davos. He thought the idea of a character keeping his finger bones in a pouch around his neck was brilliant and everything Davos goes through with the death of his sons is a great character arc. He also cited Jaime Lannister as another favourite character saying that how George turns things around and makes you care about him is just great writing. Ron also said he likes Tyrion. It was at this point that I quipped “so basically you like mutilated characters” to which we had a good laugh.
Ron said that after he was done at the signing he was due to go for some horse riding lessons that afternoon and I believe several other members of the cast were doing the same thing. The interesting thing about this is that this is not really a skill they need immediately for the shooting of this pilot, by this point most of the filming was done, but it is something they will definitely need to be proficient at later in the series which I think speaks volumes about the confidence they have in the show being picked up.
Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) and Kit Harrington (Jon Snow)
Kit and Alfie were clearly tired at the signing and did not make it to McHugh’s in the evening, which is why I have less to say about them. Alfie said he had a heavy night out the evening before and Kit said he had just done three 17 hour days on set in a row and looked like he had only had a few short hours of sleep during that time.
Kit has read up to ‘A Feast For Crows’ and Alfie is currently in the second half of ‘A Game of Thrones’ and did ask us not to spoil it for him, although someone did ask him if he is good with boats and fortunately he said that he was. I think in this picture you can see Alfie getting his copy of ‘A Clash of Kings’ signed by George.
It was Lady Jane who said to Alfie “so you finally got out of bed and got a job then” referencing the song by his sister Lily Allen that made him famous. She is sure he gets that all the time but he gave her a cheeky grin and laughed. Werthead would have liked to ask Alfie about the possibility of getting his father Keith Allen to play Balon Greyjoy but bottled out of doing it at the signing, although he did mention this to Sophie and Maisie’s parents later on that evening and they thought it was a great idea, as do I, he really would be perfect for that role. Someone also suggested the crazy idea of Lily playing Asha Greyjoy but I strongly suspect both Alfie and Lily would recoil in horror at the thought of performing the scene where Theon and Asha are heavily flirting with each other before he realises she is his sister. Incest in the story is one thing, real on screen incest would be genuinely uncomfortable methinks.
I think it is worth stating that Alfie got this role on his own merit and not because of his famous family. George had never heard of Lily Allen before seeing Alfie’s audition. I think it is true to say that Alfie does not match the looks of what most people imagined for Theon but there is definitely something cheeky and naughty about Alfie that can be applied to the character. It remains to be seen if he can also play a serious cold-blooded son of a bitch, but I do think Alfie will be good at showing the part of Theon we see in his POV chapters where he is at times completely lost, doesn’t understand where he fits in with the world and his family and just makes really bad decisions about what to do. That’s not a poor reflection on Alfie, just my take on the character of Theon.
I think it was Romulocks who told me he thought Kit Harrington was one of the most talkative and friendly of the cast but I think most people avoided long conversations with him because he looked so tired. We took pity on him and as a result we did not learn much about what Kit thinks of his character. He did tell Wert that he is wearing a wig for the pilot but intends to grow out the hair for the role if and when the show gets picked up. Something I wished I had asked about is whether he wears contact lenses or whether he can get by without. We really should have asked Kit to take off the glasses for a picture or two to give us a better idea of what he will look like as Jon.
I know someone asked Alfie about what he thought of the costumes and he said they were very good “but wait until you see the weapons”. While Alfie may be impressed we met someone at the evening moot who does not quite share that opinion.
Kit, Alfie and Richard Madden did say that they enjoyed filming the scenes with the wolf pups and they are using real pups at least for the scenes in the pilot. I suspect some of the later scenes where the Direwolves need to perform very specific actions may require full visual effects, but who knows, maybe they won’t. Both Sophie and Maisie said they were sad they did not get to even see the pups but are really looking forward to doing some scenes with the pups in the future. I can reveal that they are using two almost identical white wolf pups for Ghost, though I don’t even have a theory has to why and while I have seen a photo of one of the Ghost pups I can’t tell you who took it or share it with you at this time.
Richard Madden (Robb Stark)
Brace yourselves ladies, its Richard Madden. Seriously this guy is going to be the biggest heart throb on the show. The hawt man of choice for female fans everywhere. I can report that there was some serious swooning going on. The type you have to clean up with a mop and bucket. It was faintly nauseating to be honest and yet I can’t hate him for his movie star good looks because Richard is such a genuinely nice guy. He was actually very down to earth and all that stuff about him winning the Best Dressed Man in Scotland Award, he just laughs it off. It would be quite easy to let all that attention stoke his ego but that really isn’t the case with Richard and I have a feeling that he is going to become a massive star in the near future.
And here is where I am going to say something controversial and marginally negative about the cast – at 23 Richard Madden is simply too old to be Robb Stark. For me he might have been better cast as Ser Loras Tyrell. The role of Robb Stark has been aged up from the 14 years old as written in the books to 17 – and to be honest I don’t think Richard can pass for anything under 20, perhaps he is capable of acting younger but I just don’t see it. Thinking ahead this could well necessitate changes, for example in ‘A Storm of Swords’ when Catelyn tells Robb he should “go kiss a girl in the woods while he is still free to do so”. I always liked that scene, a mother wishing happiness for her son when she knows his duty will always come before love as it did for her. But there is no way that scene can play now. A full grown man (and don’t forget Richard will be 26/27 by the time we reach this point) cannot convincingly play a virgin having his first experience of love with Jeyne Westerling. With the way Richard looks Robb should be of an age by which we would expect him to already be married. Hopefully this is something the writers will bear in mind and address because it is very important for how events unfold leading up to The Red Wedding.
Speaking of The Red Wedding, yes Richard is very much aware of it and he does know how his character gets killed off, even though he has not read up to that point in the books yet. Because he is not a POV character in the books I have always felt Robb was more of a background character but I think with Richard playing him Robb is definitely going to become a much more prominent character in the TV series and will certainly gain legions of female fans around the world. If you listen very carefully I think you can just about hear their collective wail over his death echoing back in time…
Anyway back to the signing and Wert reports that he spoke to a representative from HBO and she was delighted with how things are going so far and the enthusiasm of the fan response. She also said that often when a TV show is made from a book series an author tends to shy away from being involved in the production, but with George he has been so supportive and has made himself available to them that they have been very respectful of that and are committed to making the TV show as close to the books as possible. Any little detail that they want to change from the books is being run past George for his approval.
George revealed to Werthead that he has created a pronunciation guide for the show. In written form everyone has their own interpretation of how certain names and words are spoken and George has never been concerned by his readers doing that for themselves, but for the TV show they needed to work with consistent pronunciations. I take this as another good sign in that they are turning to the author for the real ones instead of making their own interpretations. HBO asked George for the guide after several of the actors mispronounced words and got picked up on it by some of the others. I don’t know whether this came out of the table read-through or after filming began when George visited the set. If it is the latter then some of the scenes shot first may contain some inconsistencies.
George also revealed that HBO have hired a dialogue coach and linguistics expert to create a working Dothraki vocabulary – an impressive effort to go to for the pilot! George said that in the books he just “makes a few words up that sound sort of right when he needs them” but if they start to actually work those words into a real language then it will be interesting to see if any of that goes back the other way and is drawn upon for inclusion in the remaining books. The language will definitely play a part in later scenes like where Dany is learning Dothraki to talk to Khal Drogo. Someone has even suggested that Dothraki could be the new Klingon!
Wert also reports that he heard that Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) is doing great work and her performance was nailing the character from the books superbly.
While everyone else was taking loads of photos of themselves with various members of the cast I was chatting with some of the other boarders there and checking out the books they got signed. Some people had everyone sign the front of the book while other forward thinking people had the cast sign the top of their first POV chapter in the book. I think it was Knight of the Teabags who first had the idea of getting the cast to sign the character listings in the back of the book. This is a great idea and anyone who can manage to get the majority of the characters signed by the actors playing them is going to have a book worth holding on to.
Towards the end of the signing Romulocks and his girlfriend finally arrived. I learned that Romulocks had been feeling unwell that morning and he was blaming the pumpkin risotto he had the previous night at McHugh’s and was advising us to stay well clear of it tonight. Both Romulocks and his girlfriend are true hardcore fans. They came over from Kentucky USA for a holiday in Europe and altered their plans so that they could be in Ireland for the signing. Back home they make shields for each House bearing their coat of arms which they have hanging up on their wall. I believe these are constructed in polystyrene which is then covered in card, painted and has suitable images added to it taken from book covers and various artwork sources. They had photographs of the 15-20 they have made so far on their camera which they showed us and they brought a Stark coat of arms which they presented to George as a gift at the signing. George said he “loves it when his fans bring gifts.”