Iain Glen Knows Why You're So Thirsty For Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones
Editor's note: There are spoilers about the Battle of Winterfell ahead.
Ser Jorah Mormont crossing the wide terrains of Westeros on horseback is a familiar sight for fans of HBO's Game of Thrones. But for actor Iain Glen, who’s played the role now for seven-plus seasons, it’s hardly his favorite mode of transportation. “I always find a bicycle,” he says, sitting in a Midtown Manhattan green room, speaking about how he prefers to get around since the show catapulted its cast into the stardom stratosphere. It’s simply the most practical—not to mention safest—way to travel, these days.
In some locations, especially Spain, he notes, fans don’t hold back when they spot the lovelorn lord. "They’ll attack you," he says. "They’ll just grab you and start snogging you without invitation.” It's not exactly a violent response, but it does make getting around difficult. "They just want to hold you," he continues. Cue: a set of wheels. “I don’t know what it is,” he admits, “They stop looking. They don’t associate actors with bicycles. So [I] just always sneak out the back, get a bicycle, and find a hickey restaurant on the outskirts of town. That’s my modus operandi.”
New York is a bit easier, and he insisted on arriving at our April interview on foot even though a few blocks away fans have been camping outside of the hotel where the Thrones cast is staying for the premiere of Season Eight. Fans in the city recognize him, but let him get on his way. "It's lovely, actually," he admits, laughing. "It reminds me of London."
Historically, the attention has been confusing for Glen's younger children. (He has one son and two daughters.) His youngest is six and, as the actor says, frequently taken back by the approach of strangers. He chuckles, recalling her questions: Do you know that person? Why do people keep speaking to you? Why are they calling you Jorah? But for Glen, it's welcome. He says his wife actually put it best: "Who would not want someone to pat you on the back and tell you you're fantastic a few times every day?"
For many of Glen’s young costars, Game of Thrones marked the very beginning of their careers. (Bella Ramsey, who plays Jorah’s cousin, the spunky Lyanna Mormont, hasn’t even seen most of the series on the account of only being 15 years old.) But the 57-year-old Scot has been working consistently across film, television, and theater for decades. One of his fondest memories of New York, he says, almost wistful, was when he and Nicole Kidman starred in Blue Roomon Broadway in 1998. He lived near Central Park and spent his down time perusing the Met, freely.
“It’s a great deal to take on when you’re that young,” he says of co-stars like Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner who began filming as young teens. “But they all seem to be managing incredibly well.” And, as only an actor seasoned by years of rejection can, he quips, with a laugh: “And, if I’d been Kit’s age or Maisie’s age when I started, I certainly wouldn’t be complaining!”
A wizened perspective actually made him more measured in his acceptance of the role, initially, he recalls. “When you accepted the job, you had to commit for, I think it was four years,” he says. “And they wouldn’t tell you if you were gonna die.” Glen said his team pressed HBO for details: “I asked for a breakdown, going forward, season by season.” His quest turned up few details, but something about the little he learned inspired him. “Listen, you go out for stuff, and there’s some things you really want and some things you don’t,” he says. “I really wanted this. I remember saying to my wife that I had a funny feeling about it. I felt like it was going somewhere.”
As we all know now, he was right. The show is watched obsessively, by millions. (The Season Eight premiere drew a record 17.4 million viewers, making it HBO’s biggest night ever for streaming.) And in the age of Netflix binges where watching on your own time is the norm, it remains a can’t-miss, Sunday night event.
That reality is a treat for the cast, as much as the viewers, assures Glen. A long career means the actor is exponentially more aware of how special it is to have been involved. “It’s very unusual to come back to something again and again and again,” he muses. “The life of an actor is very ephemeral. That’s what we’re used to; getting thrown with a bunch of strangers and getting to know each other really quickly and then saying, ‘Right, I’m gonna completely forget about that and now I’m going to jump into something else.’ Certainly, in my experience as an actor, I’ve never done anything like this. And to come back to something that everyone is saying is just going fantastic, that’s a very binding thing in itself. That was very winning.”
Much has been made over the years about some of the brutal shoots the cast has had to endure each season. (See: the Battle of Winterfell, which required 11 weeks of freezing, night shoots.) But for the most part, Glen was lucky. “In the early seasons, I was part of the Dothraki/Daenerys storyline,” he explains. “We were always on the move, always traveling. But we were always coming into rather fantastic, gorgeous, sunny warm spaces. We were filming the bit that the crew always looked forward to each season, before they went back to shitty, wet, cold weather.”
And then came the greyscale. When the disease had gotten to its worst, Glen spent eight hours with the costume department, getting a full prosthetic outfitted on him before each shoot. “It was like coming in at midnight and being ready to shoot at eight, to then do the ten-hour day,” he recalls. “It reminded me of some of the drugs I’ve taken. At university, I was pretty spaced out—but in a nice, helpful, acting way.”
It was also during this time that Glen thought his run on the notoriously deadly show was coming to an end. “I thought my number was up,” he admits. “[Creators] Dan [Weiss] and Dave [Benioff] really enjoy fucking with the actors—not giving them any sort of clues. So I asked them both individually, because I couldn’t get the answer.” He still came up short. “One of them said ‘I’m not saying.’ The other, when I said, ‘Do I survive the greyscale?’ said, ‘You do this season.’” (Turns out, the actors know just how you feel, wondering about their characters’ fates.)
Ser Jorah is not Jon Snow. He doesn’t have a hero storyline and he's not a contender for the Throne, so it wasn’t a give-in that he’d earn such a passionate fanbase. And yet the Jorah fan accounts on social and thirsty fan fiction on the internet has run wild over the years. Glen attributes it to his devotion to Dany, the Mother of Dragons. (Even, yes, when he betrays her.)
“In a chaotic, mad, dangerous, and violent world in which people are generally out for themselves,” he begins, “the purity of his desire to support her—to be there for her—is a nice contrast to the rest of the show. For the first two, three seasons, it was about this desire to express that from his point of view, but never doing it.” He follows up, “Do you know what I mean?”
Um yeah. Jorah as the head of House Friendzone is the material that’s spawned, to be exact, a gajillion memes since the show’s 2011 debut. The way he looks at her, even now, oozes with a desperation that viewers can’t help but melt over. “I think they modulated their journey really beautifully throughout the seasons,” he says of the writer’s attention to Dany and Jorah. “I think they found a really compelling root through it, where for you, as an audience, it's hard to stand from the outside. And I'm not the best person to ask, but people tell me, that you have such a mixture of emotions watching. At first you think, ‘Oh please, go on and say it!’ But then very quickly it's, ‘Oh god! You shouldn’t have!’”
On a show that has to divide time between so many characters each week, there’s an inevitable risk that some storylines will feel one-note or under-developed. Glen’s refuses this in his portrayal of the former slave owner mightily, instead bringing a weightiness as well as a readiness to recognize internal conflicts to his turns on screen. “It’s like real life,” he says of his careful approach. “Isn’t it? With people that we fall madly in love with, there’s always a moment of, ‘Fuck, I never realized you were such a shit when I fell in love with you.’”
It’s been a delight, truly, for audiences. But Sunday night, the pensive stead’s run finally came to an end. After leading legions of troops into the Battle of Winterfell, near the end of the one-hour, twenty-two minute episode, he fulfilled his final mission: protect Dany with his life. He lasted as long as the battle and Dany held him as he drew his final breath. For the fans who've loved him, they know it's exactly how he'd have hoped to go.
According to the Game of Thrones creators, David Benioff and D.B Weiss, this was the appropriate ending for Jorah.
"We talked about various endings for Jorah for a long time, but when you think about Jorah, from the very first time met him, he was with Dany," Benioff explains on HBO after the episode. "And from that time, he's been mostly by her side."
"Part of Jorah's tragedy was that he was in love with a woman who couldn't love him back," he continues. "He's accepted death for quite a long time, but at the same time he was going to fight for her as long as he could and as well as he could."
"There had never been a moment where she more needed someone to fight to protect than this moment, and if he could have chosen a way to die this is how he would have chosen to die, so it was something we thought would be powerful to give him," Weiss adds.
“I feel very happy with his story arc,” Glen tells me. “When we read all six episodes before we started at the beginning, in a big room in Northern Ireland—Belfast—I thought the writers had managed it incredibly well and thoroughly, in terms of looking after everyone. It’s one of the hard things when you write big, sweeping, epic dramas like this. How do you look after everyone’s storyline, individually?” We’ll continue to see as Season Eight continues its March towards a May 19 series finale.
But the moment he’s actually most fond of a shoot from Season Five when Ser Jorah, following a brutal journey with Tyrion Lannister, offers his life to Dany in the Fighting Pits in Mereen. It took several days—and five or six other fighters—to film, something Glen loves, but it was what was going on behind the camera that he enjoyed most. “My family was there,” he recalls. The crew dressed his then seven-year-old up as a mini Ser Jorah and let her call the shots alongside director David Nutter. “They put her in the gear and put scars on her face. It was so, just great.”
Looking ahead, Glen joins the DC Universe. Earlier this month, it was announced that the actor would take on the role of Gotham City’s most notorious billionaire, Bruce Wayne, on Titans. It’s unlikely that that show—or any role—could eclipse Jorah’s rabid fandom but that hardly bothers Glen. “I’m proud of the product and I’m proud of any association with that,” he explains. “You can walk around thinking, ‘Didn’t you see my Hamlet?’ or ‘Where were you when I did Henry VI at the Royal Theater Company?’ but you’re wasting your time. [Thrones] is kind of the Holy Grail, to be critically approved but have a massive following? That’s the ticket.”
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.