When it came to finding Rayder, “Thrones” producers sought a strong, rugged and charismatic actor. Rayder, a former member of the Night’s Watch, has managed to unite all the disparate tribes of the North. Yet author George R.R. Martin’s saga also subverts readers’ expectations by depicting Rayder as a rather unremarkable-looking man who can pass for an unassuming and wily musician.
“Of all the various kings vying for power, in some ways Mance has the greatest challenge,” showrunner David Benioff says. “He wasn’t born to be a king. He wasn’t even born a lord. It’s not a hereditary title, and he’s not ruling over one homogenous group of people. He’s brought together these various tribes who speak different languages. What he’s done is, in my mind, more impressive than what any of the other pretender-kings have done. In order to capture that on screen you need somebody who has that charisma.”
When producers announced the 60-year-old Hinds for the Rayder role last year, fans were divided: Some thought the casting was fantastic — Hinds was compelling as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome. Others say they pictured Rayder differently — younger, mainly.
“Ciarán has such an inherently regal presence on screen,” says showrunner Dan Weiss. “It takes a certain kind of person with a certain gravitas and charisma to convince all those people to lay down their arms and put their differences aside and follow him … for us, that’s what Ciarán brought. He just commands respect from others — they way people felt around him as a person — and that carries over into the performance.”
This season Jon Snow (Kit Harington) must convince Rayder he’s truly defected to the Wildlings while he gathers information about their impending invasion of Westeros. Harington said he was “overwhelmed” when he learned of Hinds’ casting.
“He’s one of our national treasures, one of our great British actors,” Harington says. “He’s incredibly magnetic. He’s perfect for Mance. He’s got these crazy intense eyes. It’s another paternal figure for Jon to look up to, in a strange sort of way. He wants to hate Mance, but ends up liking him.”
And in Westeros’s South, in King’s Landing, we’ll meet another regal figure in season three. She is Lady Olenna, the grandmother of Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) latest bride-to-be Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). Olenna, also called The Queen of Thorns, is sharp-tongued and quick witted. Expect her to take an interest in Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and her granddaughter’s impending marriage.
For the role, producers chose 74-year-old Rigg, who starred in the original 1965 TV series The Avengers and whose Bond girl character married 007 in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It was one of those castings that everybody agreed was spot-on (plus, she’s Dame Diana Rigg, so now Thrones has nobility playing royalty).
The producers recall having their first meeting with Rigg after she had caught up watching the show. Weiss says the actress gave the producers a big charming smile and said, “There’s an awful lot of bonking, isn’t there?” Rigg then arrived for her first table read and blew away the team by having already memorized her entire role for the season. “It was inspirational for the other actors,” Weiss says. “We knew she was the perfect Lady Olenna.”
Only hours to go; can we collective say, Winter Is Coming!?