Guess which Nordic actors have featured in the fantasy saga…
We’ve loved them in films, Nordic Noir series and a variety of dramatic roles in their native and alluring tongue. However, the Scandi stars have been appearing in more and more English-language TV shows: Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal (2013-2015), Joel Kinnaman solving The Killing (2011-2014) and Thure Lindhardt as part of The Borgias (2011-2013) to name a few. Therefore, it is no surprise that the exotic shores of Essos and Westeros have attracted the top Nordic talents. Can you name which Nordic actors have performed to the Song of Ice and Fire?
We can note the Nordic-English etymology with Beric Dondarrion, played by Richard Dormer in season three. Although he is not actually Scandinavian, the Northern Irish actor has made an impact as the gruff Norwegian Sheriff Dan Anderssen in the international, sci-fi mystery set in the Arctic Circle of Fortitude (2015- ). Similarly, London star Stephen Dillane – the feuding Stannis Baratheon heir to the iron throne – marks another connection to the Nordic Noir realm, playing detective Karl Roebuck in The Tunnel (2013- ); the British-French remake of Swedish-Danish crimes in The Bridge (2011- ).
But who are the true Scandinavian stars to cross swords, concoct duplicitous plots and fight to survive in the fantasy world penned by George R. R. Martin? Take a look at our guide to the international Nordic influence in Game of Thrones…
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister of House Lannister
Perhaps one of the most controversial characters from the outset, Jaime Lannister (also nicknamed “Kingslayer”) is one of the greatest villains of the show and is also one of the few main characters to remain from the original cast. His provocative relationship with his sister Cersei (Lena Headey) launches a vengeful vendetta against the Stark family in season one. Jaime’s definable characteristics are his beauty, his blonde hair (a signature trait passed down through the Lannister lineage) and his skilled swordsmanship, as a member of the Kingsguard. From the second season, Jaime’s right hand is cut off by Locke, a bounty hunter from House Bolton, and eventually replaced with a golden prosthetic in season four.
Hailing from Denmark, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is no stranger to playing the “baddie” with charisma, as Clas Greve in the adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters (2011). Interestingly, his TV show career actually began in the UK in Lock, Stock… (2000), influenced by the 1998 Guy Ritchie gangster comedy. Waldau went even further afield to the US with the sci-fi crime series New Amsterdam (2008) as an immortal Dutch inspector. Returning to his homeland, the actor also starred in a miniseries depicting the real-life political crimes committed by The Left Wing Gang (2009-2010), opposite Ulrich Thomsen, Thure Lindhardt, David Dencik and Søren Malling.
Waldau’s movie credits include: Gods of Egypt (2016), A Second Chance (2014), Oblivion (2013), Mama (2013), Firewall (2006), Wimbledon (2004), Black Hawk Down (2001), Bent (1997) and Nightwatch (1994).
Pilou Asbæk as Euron Greyjoy of House Greyjoy
We haven’t had the dubious pleasure of meeting Euron yet. However, he is set to be introduced in season six, episode two: Home. The latest addition to the cast, Euron is the brother of King Balon (Patrick Malahide), Lord of the Iron Islands and the uncle to Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara (Gemma Whelan). The Greyjoys first appeared on-screen through the character of Theon, who grew up as the ward of Ned Stark (Sean Bean). Nevertheless, Theon’s power has fluctuated and tainted the House name, after taking Winterfell in the second season and later being tortured for his deeds. With Euron’s imminent arrival and his infamous reputation as a pirate touched by madness, can the Greyjoy’s history get any darker?
Another celebrated Dane, Asbæk briefly appeared in The Killing II (2009) with Sofie Gråbøl and Waldau in The Left Wing Gang, before starring alongside Sidse Babett Knudsen as the Prime Minister’s spin doctor Kasper Juul in the political drama Borgen (2010-2013). Towards the end of Borgen, Asbæk explored international roles, taking on the part of Paolo Orsini in the third season of Neil Jordan’s The Borgias. From the Italian Renaissance to the Second Schleswig War, Asbæk studded the ensemble cast as Didrich in Ole Bornedal’s 1864 (2014) – the biggest budget Danish miniseries ever made.
Asbæk can be seen on the big screen in Ben-Hur (2016), A War (2015), April 9th (2015), The Absent One (2014), Lucy (2014) and A Hijacking (2012).
Kristofer Hivju as Tormund Giantsbane, Wildling
The great and powerful Wildling raider broke out onto our screens in season four and has continued to hold our attention ever since. Having fought in the Wildling army, under the leadership of Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), Tormund is a revered General due to his bloodthirsty stamina in combat. His love for Ygritte (Rose Leslie) helps to cement an unpredictable bond with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), after he is wounded from an attack on Castle Black against the Night Watch. Tormund embarks on a campaign with Jon Snow to convince the Wildlings to join forces to fight their common enemy: the White Walkers.
Recently, the 6’ Norwegian actor stepped into the large vacant shoes and long shadow of Gunvald Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt), following his departure from the long-running Swedish police procedural Beck (1997- ). Having formed a contrasting relationship with the headstrong Larsson, Martin Beck (Peter Haber) is partnered up with new Oslo detective Steinar Hovland, played by Hivju. Prior to this, the star landed roles in crime dramas such as Fox Grønland (2001-2003) and Størst av alt (2007), as well as an episode in the third season of Lilyhammer (2012-2014).
In cinema, Hivju has starred in The Last King (2016), Force Majeure (2014), In Order of Disappearance (2014), After Earth (2013) and The Thing (2011).
Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Karsi of Hardhome
We may have only seen her in one episode in season five, however, Sørensen took command as Wildling leader in the village of Hardhome. Here, she is drawn into becoming another unlikely ally to the Night Watch when Jon Snow and Tormund enlist her people’s help to battle the White Walkers. Sadly, her character is killed during the epic siege but we catch sight of her being revived by her fearsome foes. Will she return now she has been brought back to life by the necromancers? We will have to wait and see…
Sørensen’s portrayal as Katrine Fønsmark – the journalist and news anchor with moxie, as well as Asbæk’s love interest in Borgen - has made her a well-known face on Danish television, on BBC Four, and to global celebrity fans, including Hillary Clinton. In the UK, the actress has featured in some of our beloved televisual institutions: from Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013) to the episode of Midsummer Murders: The Killings of Copenhagen (2014), with Marie Askehave (The Killing I and Borgen) and Nicolaj Kopernikus (The Killing I and Heartless, 2014- ). This year, Sørensen has starred in Vinyl (2016- ), set around the 1970s music scene, produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger.
Watch Sørensen in the following films: Sommeren ’92 (2015), Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), Someone You Love (2014), In Order of Disappearance (2014), Marie Krøyer (2012), Julie (2011) and At World’s End (2009).
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson as Gregor Clegane of House Lannister
It is not surprising that this Icelandic actor’s character has also been christened as “The Mountain That Rides” due to his gargantuan stature. From season four onwards, Björnsson turned Gregor into a meatier, frequent fixture to the Lannister clan, having formerly been played by Conan Stevens in season one and Ian Whyte in season two. The sadistic wrath of Gregor can be seen in the face of his older brother Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann); the grotesque disfigurement the result of pushing him into a brazier of fire. In the fourth season, Gregor is appointed by Cersei as her protector and thrust into a trial by combat against Tyrion’s warrior. The victory is tainted as Gregor is wounded and poisoned with manticore venom. Luckily for Cersei, he is cured in time for him to join the ranks of the elite Kingsguard.
Following a knee injury, the 6’9 basketball player turned actor, has notably taken home the title of Iceland’s Strongest Man in 2011 and 2012! In 2015, Björnsson became another champion (this time in real-life) after breaking a millennial weightlifting record at the annual World’s Strongest Viking competition that took place in Norway.
Game of Thrones is Hafþór’s first sojourn into television. However, you can catch Hafþór in the upcoming Swedish action horror Zon 261 (2016) with Malin Arvidsson (Arne Dahl, 2011- ) and Dag Malmberg (The Bridge, 2011-2015), as well as the gangster thriller Devilish Deeds (2017).
Max von Sydow as the “Three-eyed Raven”
The veteran actor will become the entity manifested as the “Three-eyed Raven” that haunts the dreams of Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) in season six. The fateful vision that has granted Bran with an enlightened sense of foreshadowing his future began in the first season. After awaking from his fall at the hands of Jaime Lannister, the Starks and Lannisters have been plunged into an abyss of anarchy. The raven appeared in the moments leading up to the death of his father Ned Stark – executed as a traitor to King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in the treacherous capital of Kings Landing. Now, we will see more of what the raven has to offer!
Max von Sydow, born in Kurt Wallander’s stomping ground of Skåne, Sweden, is best known for a plethora of Hollywood icons, such as Father Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon (1980), King Osric in Conan the Barbarian (1982), the uncredited voice of Vigo in Ghostbusters II (1989) and Lor San Tekka in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015). In television, von Sydow has starred in the miniseries Christopher Columbus (1985), as King John of Portugal and as Cardinal Von Waldburg in the third season of The Tudors (2007-2010).
Game of Thrones continues to be one of the top-grossing original series to be broadcast on Sky Atlantic. In the US, a staggering 25 million viewers tuned in for season one, increasing to 68 million by season four. Not only this, the official sponsors of Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic are Sweden’s own Volvo. So this could be read as a clear Scandinavian endorsement of the show – the show that has welcomed a collection of celebrated, contemporary and rising Nordic stars in one of the biggest international shows of our time!
Words by Antony Smith