His big break was as loveable hedonist Chris in Channel 4’s Skins, and he was last seen as an ex-soldier in BBC2’s unusual crime drama Murder, but to Game of Thrones fans Joe Dempsie is Gendry, unacknowledged son of King Robert Baratheon.
Adapted from George RR Martin’s epic seven-volume series of novels, HBO’s breakout hit is a rare beast – a sword-and-sorcery drama loved by both fantasy devotees and those who wouldn’t usually touch the genre with a ten-foot lance.
“It’s mostly a drama about politics and hidden agendas – the dragons and battles are few and far between,” says Dempsie. “Fantasy has a bit of a stigma attached to it for a lot of the wider public, so you have to ease people into it. Hopefully we get them hooked, then hit them with some supernatural stuff.”
Judging by what we witnessed at the end of series two, that supernatural stuff is on the rise – but by now fantasy-averse viewers are likely to be too gripped to be be scared off. Undead army the White Walkers are on the march and the dragons – though currently only the size of chihuahuas – announced their arrival proper with some fiery vengeance on behalf of their adoptive mother Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen.
Although reticent to share too many details – “They’ll have my balls!” – Dempsie says viewers can indeed expect more fantasy elements from series three.
“I can’t give much away, but [the dragons] are coming more and more to the fore as the series progress. And, obviously, at the end of series two, the White Walkers were getting closer and closer to the Wall [which divides the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from the uncharted, frozen North].”
To those who know the books, that may not be too much of a surprise. Plotwise, the first two series have stuck pretty closely to the original texts and Dempsie says that will continue into the third – and even a fourth – series.
“The third and fourth books are essentially the same time period split into two separate narratives, so [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] are incorporating both books – weaving the strands together – but making them into two series.
“They do stick fairly closely to the books but one of their main talents is in identifying which elements will work well on screen and which won’t – as well as which characters they can bring more to the fore to make it more engaging.”
Some of those new characters have already been revealed, with several high-profile British names confirmed in the roles alongside Dempsie and the already star-studded ensemble cast.
Former Avenger Diana Rigg will play Lady Olenna Tyrell, the matriarch of the Tyrell clan, also known as “The Queen of Thorns.” The Office’s Mackenzie Crook sounds equally well cast as Wildling raider Orell – a “Warg” or “Skinchanger” with the ability to take possession of animals. And Tara Fitzgerald is Selyse Baratheon, wife of Stannis, who can look forward to spending much of her time confined to a gloomy tower.
And what about Dempsie’s character Gendry – what does the future hold for him? As Sean Bean knows only too well after his own character Ned Stark was beheaded at the end of series one, no-one is necessarily safe from the chop.
With season three not premiering in the US until 31 March 2013, there’s still a significant wait to find out. Unless, of course, viewers decied to turn to the source material – George RR Martin’s books may be notorously weighty tomes, but eight months should be long enough to manage even two of them.