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Liam Cunningham as Ser Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones.

"When someone gets killed in our show, sometimes it's disgusting; it's horrible. But if we didn't show this ... we wouldn't be showing life as it really is," says Cunningham, seen here in Bangkok.

A voice of reason in the Game of Thrones

Liam Cunningham, who is Ser Davos Seaworth on the show, talks about the factors that have made it such a massive hit.
Jul 14, 2017 5:50 AM

SEX, violence, politics and, of course, a huge budget - Game of Thrones had all the makings of a successful TV series when it first premiered on HBO back in 2011.

Even so, the cast and crew were taken by surprise when it amassed an almost cult following worldwide. The series has won dozens of awards, received critical acclaim and seen viewership rise with each season.

"Nobody knew (how big it was going to be)," shares Liam Cunningham, who plays Ser Davos Seaworth on the show, during an interview with the media while on a promotional tour in Bangkok.

"People try to make it the best they possibly can. Nobody knew it was going to be as good as it is. We've got dragons, we've got magic, we've got people coming back from the dead," he laughs.

"It sounds ridiculous but that's merely the canvas," he adds. "What's brilliant about it is the interaction with the people and the intelligence with which it is written."

Based on George RR Martin's book series A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy TV series chronicles an epic conflict between noble families for control over a vast kingdom.

It has won numerous Emmy Awards and is known for its controversial scenes, which include rape, flaying, skull crushing, decapitation - the list goes on.

But Cunningham points out that the sex and violence were not included merely for the shock value.

"People say it is really violent and you go: 'Violence is disgusting'. But it is not a dance; it is not a ballet. When someone gets killed in our show, sometimes it's disgusting; it's horrible. But if we didn't show this ... we wouldn't be showing life as it really is. It also would be patronising to the audience," the Irish actor opines.

"We sail close to the wind; close to the edge. If we didn't do that you wouldn't be sitting here, and I wouldn't be sitting here. It just wouldn't be as interesting."

But perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of the fantasy TV series isn't the epic wars, sex or violence; it is the way the writers manage to manipulate viewers into shifting their allegiances - not unlike the way the characters shift theirs.

Cunningham brings up the example of Jaime Lannister, a character that made his debut in Season 1 having an incestuous affair with his twin sister and pushing a boy off a tower for catching them in the act.

"In the first season, he was an idiot. Everyone hated him. He was horrible, self-centred, a Mr Gorgeous that just cared about himself and his sister," Cunningham explains. "But in a later season, he and Brienne (a female knight pledged to a rival camp) were captured and he sacrifices his hand and shows this spark of humanity."

Then there are allegiances fans had no choice but to give up.

In an iconic scene in Season 3, an entire family thought to be in the lead for winning the Iron Throne was killed off in a brutal fashion. The event was aptly labelled as The Red Wedding, and remains a sore spot for fans even today.

It is scenes like this that makes Game of Thrones such a huge hit, according to Cunningham.

"Sometimes I am out with friends, some of whom don't watch television. When they ask me to tell them about the show, I go to a YouTube video on The Red Wedding reactions. It's about six minutes long ... and when they see the people sitting on the sofa gasping and screaming, I go: 'This is why you should watch this show'."

With all the morally questionable decisions being made by various characters, having a voice of reason definitely makes the show a lot more palatable. And that's where Cunningham's character comes in.

"In the old westerns in America, the bad guy would wear the black hat and the good guy would wear the white hat. It was very clear-cut who is the bad guy and who is the good guy. But in our show it isn't.

"Davos is one of those characters who puts their hand up and says this is wrong morally and ethically. You need somebody to speak up for the audience. Characters like myself and Samwell Tarly ... they are the conscience of the show."

The upcoming seventh season will be its penultimate one. Season 6 was the first that overtook Martin's book series.

While that has ruffled some feathers of diehard book fans, Cunningham says it doesn't affect his portrayal of Ser Davos at all.

"I never read the books," he states. "My bible - the thing that I base my character on - is the script."

"I think the biggest compliment (show-runners David Benioff and Daniel Brett Weiss) have had is the people who really love the books realise and appreciate that they've stuck to the spirit of the story, but at the same time, made it their own," he notes.

Naturally, Cunningham remains tight-lipped about what's going to happen in the new season. Ask him for a hint of a spoiler and he only gets coy: "One of the wonderful things about this show is the surprises," he answers.

Though he doesn't shy away from teasers. When asked what he has planned after the show wraps up, he replies: "I have to find another life. After next year, for Game of Thrones, no more Davos, I suppose. Or maybe it's this season I go. I'm not telling you!"

  • Game of Thrones Season 7 will premiere on HBO (StarHub TV Ch 601) on July 17 at 9am, with a same-day primetime encore at 9pm. The series will also be streaming on HBO on StarHub Go and HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Ch 602)