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'Game of Thrones' Actress Gemma Whelan: Yara's Same-Sex Kiss Was Improvised

Gemma Whelan, who plays Yara Greyjoy on HBO's "Game of Thrones," talks to NBC News about her bisexual character and last week's much-talked-about kiss.

by Trish Bendix /
Actors Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) on HBO's Game of Thrones.Courtesy HBO

WARNING: For those who haven't watched the latest episode of "Game of Thrones," this interview contains spoilers!

"Game of Thrones" hasn't had the best track record when it comes to its LGBTQ characters. Oberyn Martell, Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell have all met their untimely deaths — and that’s just to name a few. So when Yara Greyjoy emerged as a significant power player and was also revealed to be bisexual, fans were nervous but excited. Her season 6 flirtations with Daenerys Targaryen had viewers salivating for more, but despite the Queen of Dragons’ bisexuality in the books, HBO doesn't seem to want to explore that further. But for Yara, perhaps, things were possible. The season 7 trailer teased a Sapphic kiss for the the Queen of the Iron Islands, and on this week’s episode, we finally saw it in action.

 Actors Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) on HBO's Game of Thrones. HBO

Fans went wild when Yara and co-conspirator, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), shared a lusty moment on the longship, but it was too short-lived, as they were interrupted by an attack led by Yara’s uncle, Euron Greyjoy. An all-out battle ensued with both Yara and Ellaria being captured, and Yara’s brother, Theon, dismissing an opportunity he was given to try and save her.

“I think some people have made some great points about him having PTSD, and the fact he couldn't really have done anything on his own right then,” Whelan told NBC News. “And so he jumped ship, literally and metaphorically, and I think he feels completely defeated at that point. He wasn’t strong enough."

“I don’t think it’s coming from a nasty place,” she continued. “I think he’s having terrible flashbacks and isn’t able to cope, and perhaps in some way Yara understands that, that he has no choice, and maybe she would agree that would be the right decision, too. I don’t know, but it gives him a quest, doesn’t it?”

Whelan said she’s been watching fan reactions on Twitter, and she’s been happy to see there’s been “so much confusion and talk about” the episode.

“It’s brilliant,” she said, adding when she first read the script for the episode, she was most excited about shooting the battle scene, despite shooting at “3 o’clock in the morning when you’re covered in water and burning embers.”

“The sort of full-length battle was really, really something I wanted to be a part of, so yeah, [I was] thrilled. Not thrilled to be captured, obviously,” she laughed, “but that makes it more dramatic.”

 Actors Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) on HBO's Game of Thrones. Courtesy HBO

Yara’s kiss with Ellaria wasn’t in the script, according to Whelan. She said she and Varma just went with the feeling of the lusty scene. And while Whelan can't say anything about the future of their relationship, she said she’s “very open minded” and up for “whatever the script writers decide to do with her.”

“I think a lot of people have made the joke ‘Oh, you were just about to get some! Terrible timing,’” Whelan said. “It’s been made a joke on Twitter, and people have been very witty about it. I think people are more concerned that she might be dead, actually. I think a few people misunderstood and thought that was me on the bow of the ship. It’s not me — I’ve been taken by Yeuron, and then we don’t know where she goes from there."

"I don’t think she’s one way or another," Whelan said about her character's sexuality. "As she’s said before, you know, she’s not fussy — she’s up for anything.”

Related: How 'The L Word' Changed Lesbian Television Forever

"Game of Thrones" is one of the most-watched and highest-rated international shows of the last decade, so Yara’s bisexuality is not only craved, but demanded by audiences who are looking to see themselves reflected, especially on a series with such a huge ensemble cast.

Part of Yara’s appeal, especially to LGBTQ women viewers, is her enviable confidence — she walks with a swagger, bearing androgynous armor that really helps Whelan bring the character to life.

“I couldn’t be Yara in my civil clothes, you know. It’s a whole transformation,” she said. “I think when you put on those big thigh-high boots and the leather trousers and the armor, it’s quite difficult not to feel quite full of yourself.”

Yara’s unapologetic bravado matches that of the men she shares the screen with, and so her well-being, as well as the hopeful promise of a fleshed-out relationship for her with Ellaria, has LGBTQ "Game of Thrones" fans anxiously awaiting next week’s episode. However, Whelan warns that in Westeros, plot lines are never, ever predictable, and no one is safe.

“I think always with 'Game of Thrones,' whatever you presume about things is never true,” she said, “so just wait and see.”

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