'Game of Thrones': Nathalie Emmanuel on How Reaction to Missandei's Death Is a Lesson for TV (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Nathalie Emmanuel thinks the backlash over her Game of Thrones character's death should be a lesson to others.
The actress' character, Missandei, was killed halfway through the HBO series' final season, after being captured by Cersei (Lena Headey), put back in the chains she had escaped as a slave, and brutally beheaded in front of her queen -- and perhaps closest friend -- Daenerys (Emilia Clarke).
Missandei showed strength in her final moments, choosing to use her last words to tell Dany to light them all up -- but the death still caused outrage by fans. Some mourned the support she offered to Dany, while others pointed out that it was a savage way to kill off the show's only woman of color.
"It sparked a conversation about representation and the treatment of actors of color, which I think is very welcomed. It should be had, absolutely," Emmanuel told ET at Hulu's Television Critics Association summer press tour on Friday, while promoting her upcoming series, Four Weddings and a Funeral. The Mindy Kaling-created project is notably extremely diverse, with a majority of its leads people of color. "I think it's really important to say... I was given so much to do with Missandei over the course of the seasons that I was in, and the beautiful scenes and words that I got to say, like, and the kind of nuance of the scenes that I got to do was so amazing. But there is a wider issue of representation."
Emmanuel joined Game of Thrones in season three, and continued to play her character through season eight. She and co-star Jacob Anderson, who survived the finale, were the only main castmembers of color.
"When you have the token characters -- I don't think they tokenize us in the usual sense -- but when you have one or two characters, people who are used to being othered or of a minority background, [viewers] will look for the closest thing to them, and I think so many people are so rooting and invested in those two characters," the actress, 30, explained. "And then specifically women and women of color [identified with] Missandei, so I expected the reaction to that, but I wasn't quite prepared for the size of the reaction and, like, very prominent people were writing about it."
"I was kind of excited that that conversation was being had. But it's something we can learn from going forward, about how we cast things, especially because it was a fantasy series," she noted. "There's fantasy, there's so much more possibility. And ...that way, if you try to cast as inclusively as possible, when the only one goes or is no longer in the show, there's not so much of a heartbreak, because you feel represented throughout, as opposed to by just one person."
"I was very grateful for Missandei's exit and how she went in a way... Missandei is vulnerable because she's about to die, but I was very certain that she had to go with strength and with agency and the ferocity of it was really important to me," Emmanuel revealed. "Because we rarely see Missandei be angry. She's very still, very quiet, inserts herself very gently. And it's only really when she feels quite strongly that she'll insert herself."
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"She's used to being a gentle, quiet support, as opposed to being this strong, ferocious woman, and it was important to me to feel that when she went, because she knew that could happen to her when we first meet her, and she fulfilled that in a way, and it was important that she left with power," she added. "I was grateful for that."
The actress is thus open to working with Benioff and Weiss again as they tackle their next project, a new series of Star Wars films.
"If they want to cast me in Star Wars, I will be totally fine with that. Absolutely," she shared.
"They're awesome. I love those guys. They're really good guys, and very talented writers, and I feel very privileged to have worked with them," Emmanuel continued. "They're really good men, and I definitely feel kind of sad that this whole chapter is over. I'm so excited to see them fly, because they did something that is damn near impossible, and they made the whole world fall in love with their show."