Warning: There are spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched season 5, episode 2 of “Game of Thrones.”
Sunday night’s “Game of Thrones” episode set into motion many interesting plot lines, including Arya’s reunion with Jaqen H’ghar in Braavos and Daenerys’ struggle to keep Meeren under control.
But the most interesting revelation in the episode was a large deviation from the book canon — Jaime and Bronn are heading to Dorne to rescue Jaime’s daughter, Myrcella.
In the book series, Jaime spends this time in the Riverlands on actual diplomatic missions, and he brings along Ilyn Payne. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the the royal executioner in King’s Landing, the one who cut off Ned Stark’s head.
His tongue was removed as punishment long ago, so he lives as a mute knight in both the show and the books.
Since Ilyn is a skilled swordsman as well as a mute, Jaime brings him to the Riverlands (in the books) in order to practice fighting with his left hand. Jaime trusts that Ilyn cannot spread rumours about his lack of skill without his right hand.
Last season, we saw hints of the pending substitution when Bronn was the one helping Jaime practice sword fighting.
So why has the show swapped out Ilyn for Bronn?
Bronn, played by Jerome Flynn, quickly became a go-to source for both comic relief and great fight scenes on HBO’s adaptation. His quips with Tyrion and general forthrightness about his lack of honour make him a rare character on the show. Rather than following leaders based on respect or sworn oaths, he is a sellsword through and through; whoever pays him the most gold gets his services. The show creators were probably already looking for ways to keep him on screen, since his story arc in the books petered off once Cersei bribed Bronn to leave King’s Landing and marry Lollys Stokeworth.
As fate would have it, a bittersweet opportunity presented itself when Wilko Johnson, the actor who played Ilyn Payne, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 2012.
Johnson initially issued a statement saying that he would not be seeking chemotherapy treatment, and the showrunners were left to decide how best to respect Johnson in light of the tragic news.
Seasons three and four of the show aired with no re-casting of Payne’s character, but they did mention him twice, indicating that the character was still alive. This worked well since Payne didn’t have much plot in those sections of the books, but many fans speculated how they would handle season five and Payne’s role in the Riverlands.
Sunday’s episode answered that for us, as we saw Jaime recruit Bronn with promises of bigger castles and more money if he helped him journey to Dorne and bring Myrcella back. This is good news for those who were going to miss the banter between the sellsword and Tyrion, since a budding bromance with Bronn and Jaime is probably the next best thing.
And the good news continues! Wilko Johnson announced late last year that he underwent surgery, and doctors successfully removed a tumour and he is now cancer free. Initially given just 10 months to live, Johnson came to peace with the diagnosis and lived as best he could for that time. When he realised that his health wasn’t deteriorating as rapidly as expected, doctors re-evaluated his condition and decided that the tumour was actually operable.
Johnson is still in recovery, but his friend Charles Shaar Murray posted an optimistic message on Facebook, stating:
“Wilk’s still in the comparatively early stages of recovery from his MASSIVE life-saving surgery, but he’s in good spirits (though he’s no longer drinking any), working hard to rebuild strength and stamina, itching to resume maltreating Telecasters in public and even speculating on returning to Game of Thrones once Ser Ilyn Payne is no longer ill in pain and he’s strong enough to wield the Big Sword once more. And he thanks all y’all for the good vibes.”
Perhaps we will see the formidable Ilyn Payne on screen again soon, but in the meantime, Bronn’s substition is warmly welcomed.
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