Beloved Character Actress and Game of Thrones Tyrell Matriarch Dame Diana Rigg Dies at 82

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2020 has long been considered the worst year in modern history, but now my fellow Game of Thrones fans and I have officially been kicked while down. Our utterly beloved Queen of Thorns – the Matriarchal Tyrell Rose of Highgarden, aka Olenna Tyrell – Dame Diana Rigg has died, leaving an unfillable hole in our hearts. It is with immense sorrow that I write this, as few actors on Game of Thrones have ever left such a mark in their time on screen as did she.

When Olenna Tyrell died, WOTW writer Paige gave Dame Diana a wonderful sendoff, so I won’t beleaguer the point too much. She was exceptional as Olenna Tyrell, more than any of us could have dreamed, and we all knew it. Whether you knew the character first from the page, or discovered her for the first, and perhaps only, time on screen, the Queen of Thorns came roaring to life vividly with the help of Dame Diana’s acerbic tongue. “A sword swallower through and through” she candidly told Charles Dance’s Tywin Lannister of her grandson Loras Tyrell. It was moments like that, small scenes amidst a larger story, where Dame Diana made the character’s mark feel indelible on a per-word basis.

On a more personal note, I was lucky enough to catch Dame Diana in her final live theatre performance in 2018, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center in My Fair Lady, where she played Mrs. Higgins, echoing the parallel role she had previously played in Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre in London 7 years prior. You knew from the moment she set foot on stage that she commanded each scene and nothing else mattered; watching her live from the third row was breathtaking and I’ll never forget it. I’ll leave us all with her final Game of Thrones quote, a moment for which she’ll eternally be remembered:

Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.

Rest in peace, dear Queen.

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54 responses

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    1. There’s nothing like a Dame ❤️ We were so stoked when her casting leaked at WiC. What a treasure, we were so lucky for every scene we were blessed with, with Diana Rigg. Endless wit and dagger sharp brilliance. That’s a queen, with or without a crown.

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    2. RIP Dame Diana Rigg.

      What an exceptional career, spanning six decades, from the 1960s to the 2010s. Another one of the greats is now gone and the world is a poorer place for it.

      Diana Rigg was PERFECT as Olenna Tyrrell. Her portrayal of the Queen of Thorns enhanced my enjoyment of GoT immeasurably. Now, when I reread the books, it’s her I see when reading about Olenna Tyrrell.

      Thank you, Diana!

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    3. A tremendous actress!

      Many generations were fortunate to watch her talent either as the sharp-tongued Olenna Tyrell or the iconic Emma Peel in The Avengers. She was one of the best, if not the best, Bond girls. This is the work I’ve watched from her. I’m sure she was equally amazing in everything else she did as an actress.

      This is a video of some of her interviews in the 70’s for the BBC. I think they’re worth listening. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuAaoz4Qx3Y

      Rest in peace, Dame Diana!

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    4. What very sad news and what a great actress. My condolences to her family and loved ones. It was such a stroke of fortune to have Diana Rigg on Game of Thrones, I can’t think of anyone better for the role. And what incredible work she’s done over the span of her career. I hope she rests in peace.

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    5. I’m saddened to learn this. It must be in the genes because I’ve liked some of the work her daughter, Rachel Stirling, has done as an actress too.

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    6. Sue the Fury:
      There’s nothing like a Dame ❤️ We were so stoked when her casting leaked at WiC. What a treasure, we were so lucky for every scene we were blessed with, with Diana Rigg. Endless wit and dagger sharp brilliance. That’s a queen, with or without a crown.

      As a latecomer to GoT, I hadn’t followed casting.
      My first reaction when Olenna Tyrell appeared on my TV screen was “Holy sh*t! That’s Emma Peel! OMG. They got Diana Rigg! What a coup!” She was truly a multigenerational superhero.

      ”Endless wit and dagger sharp brilliance. That’s a queen, with or without a crown.”
      Yes!

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    7. Such a particular character, and I mean that in the very best way possible.
      RIP, Dame Di, you were a blessing to us all.

      (Haven’t been here in ages, but this sad news made me long back to the community that shared my love for the lady behind the QoT)

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    8. Her portrayal of Olenna was wonderful and she brought such dynamics with her role in GoT in my opinion. I can’t think of a scene with Olenna that I wouldn’t like.

      Rest in peace, Diana Rigg.

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    9. Very sad news.

      But it was great that a new generation worldwide was introduced to Diana Rigg via her wonderful performance on Game of Thrones. She’s now immortalised in some classic scenes from the show, but I think a certain scene sparring with Charles Dance is definitely one for the ages. Whatever is your favourite GoT scene involving her, remembering it does make you smile — and I’m sure she would have loved that too.

      My condolences to Diana Rigg’s family and friends.

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    10. Not to distract too much from our mourning for Diana Rigg, but GoT fans have been here before. Other venerable old actors, who graced GoT with their great skills and precence have also passed on.

      “Old Nan”, Margaret John (14.12.1926 – 2.2.2011; 84 yrs). A BAFTA winner, her career spanning from the 1950s to the 2010s. Who can forget her knitting needles going click-click when she tells a bedtime story to Bran. “Fear is for the winter. When snows rise a hundred feet deep… the Long Night… mothers smother their babies… the Others came…” click click click. Margaret John was perfect.

      “Maester Aemon”, Peter Vaughan (4.4.1923 – 6.12.2016; 93 yrs). His film debut was in 1959. Never a star but a capable character actor. Perfect as Maester Aemon – by the time he took on the role, he was nearly blind himself, very old, and he brought so much authencity and wisdom to the role. “Egg..? I dreamed I was old!” (Makes me cry every time. Peter Vaughan’s delivery was so perfect.)

      “Three-eyed Raven”, Max von Sydow (10.4.1929 – 8.3.2020, 90 yrs). Screen debut in 1949, last role in 2018. That’s a career spanning EIGHT decades. Ingmar Bergman’s go-to actor (they made about a dozen films together), awarded, accoladed. His role in GoT is but a footnote in his CV. Boy, weren’t we lucky to get him! He brought gravitas to the “magical” Three-eyed Raven but also showed some very human doubts, indecision. The only way a seemingly superhuman character can be played.

      I’m sorry, I have a niggling feeling I’ve forgot another GoT cast member who’ve died since. Help me out, I want to pay tribute to them as well.

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    11. She was such an amazing and memorable addition to “Game Of Thrones”. A great actress and human being. It was such a pleasure seeing her act the hell out of the Queen Of Thorns! She soo completely disappeared in that character, to the point one had to remember the actress embodying her. Just outstanding!

      I am glad that she had one more chance to showcase her talents on GOT, and as a fan I will be forever be grateful for her presence on the show.

      RIP Dame Diana Rigg.

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    12. “Bright eyes, burning like fire
      Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
      How can the light that burned so brightly
      Suddenly burn so pale?
      Bright eyes”

      Rest in peace Diana!

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    13. talvikorppi,

      Here are some others in the role of honour, GOT stars who have passed on:

      Andrew Dunbar. He died in his early 30s. He was the body double for the GoT character Theon Greyjoy

      Neil Fingleton, who played GoT character Mag the Mighty

      Roy Dotrice who died at the age of 94. Was known to GoT fans for his brief role as Wisdom Hallyne the pyromancer in season 2.

      B.J. Hogg. He was 65. He was Lannister bannerman Addam Marbrand.

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    14. The greatest of great ladies. A true Queen to the end.

      Back when Olenna exited Game of Thrones a few years ago, I wrote this excerpt as part of her Curtain Call: “It’s been such an extraordinary privilege to have Dame Diana Rigg on Game of Thrones for the past five years, playing this role. On a show renowned for, among countless other things its incredible achievements in casting, Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns represented the very pinnacle of that achievement. She was sharp. She was cutting. She was charming. She was ruthless. She was fiercely loyalty to those she loved. She was brilliant. She was wonderful. And faced with this effusive abundance of flowery praise, I’m sure that she would have had the perfect incisive and eviscerating comment to cut it all down to its proper size. Alas, I can’t come up with such a remark on my own. That was her genius, and even if I could think of the perfect cutting line in tribute to her, I could never deliver it in such a way as to do her justice.”

      All of that holds even more true now. So I’ll leave it there. RIP, Dame Diana

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    15. Somebody mentioned that the film ‘Evil under the Sun’ had been on British TV recently (rats I missed it though I had seen it before). Diana Rigg played the rather silly murder victim so was acting against type but apparently the word ‘B*tch’ which Diana Rigg’s character aimed at Maggie Smith’s character. Although it was some years ago both were well established actresses but it’s always fun to see competent actors together. There are (or were – I haven’t checked recently) some snippets of old (like 1960s) TV programmes on YouTube with actors/actresses who later became well known. I was never able to spot them myself but there are (or at least were) some clips from a 1960s version of Shakespeare’s history* plays where Patrick Stewart and Sean Connery played bit parts.

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    16. * I didn’t say that I of course understand that ‘history’ as applied Shakespeare’s thus termed plays is somewhat loose.

      Anyway, here are Dames Diana and Maggie having a b*tchy sing-off from film mentioned in my previous post from the days before they were ‘Dames’ in the ennobled sense. https://youtu.be/dvGgaaRjzdE

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    17. Dame of Mercia:
      * I didn’t say that I of course understand that ‘history’ as applied Shakespeare’s thus termed plays is somewhat loose.

      Anyway, here are Dames Diana and Maggie having a b*tchy sing-off from film mentioned in my previous post from the days before they were ‘Dames’ in the ennobled sense.https://youtu.be/dvGgaaRjzdE

      Very classy duo. Fun stuff.

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    18. A well deserved rest. Dame D got much love from colleagues while she was still alive, which, along with her work, speaks for itself. Rest well Madame

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    19. I honestly found out by randomly searching “Game of Thrones” on Twitter yesterday and couldn’t believe it when I saw it. One of the absolute best actors and characters on the show. Whenever she was in a scene with someone else of her caliber like Charles Dance or Jonathan Pryce, it was truly an embarrassment of riches to behold–and while she always had some of the best lines (her dialogue remained razor-sharp to the end), her impeccable delivery was what really sold it. She was second to none.

      RIP Dame Diana.

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    20. Dame of Mercia,

      Thanks for the clip of Dames Diana and Maggie. How shiny were all the costumes, LOL!

      Speaking of costumes, Diana Rigg’s Olenna costumes were perfect, she had her own signature style. Evolving from light blue and gold (mirroring Margeary’s costumes) to dark with some gold accents to black by the end. Brava, Michelle Clapton! Brava, Diana Rigg, who wore them so well!

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    21. Dire Guineapig,

      Thank you, Dire Guinapig.

      Roy Dotrice was the one I was thinking about, couldn’t quite remember.

      Next week, my niece is taking her school-leaving (“A-level”, “Higher”, “Abitur”) exam in English. (In my country you can take some exams in the autumn, the rest in the spring.) To prepare, she got the book A Game of Thrones AND the audiobook read by Roy Dotrice. She said it’s really good for hearing and learning to understand different accents – the exam has a listening comprehension part.

      (Next week, the niece will also have her driving test. Taught by yours truly. The boyfriend, also taught by yours truly, passed his driving test at first go this week. I’m probably more nervous than the teenagers about their driving tests, lol. In my country, they’re quite strict and few people pass at first go, usually 2nd or 3rd go. Two years ago, a nephew, also taught by yours truly, passed on the second go. (I’m supremely smug that back in the day, I passed at first go, while my brothers had to do 5 and 3 driving tests respectively before passing, haha.))

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    22. talvikorppi:
      Dame of Mercia,

      ….Speaking of costumes, Diana Rigg’s Olenna costumes were perfect, she had her own signature style. Evolving from light blue and gold (mirroring Margeary’s costumes) to dark with some gold accents to black by the end. Brava, Michelle Clapton! Brava, Diana Rigg, who wore them so well!

      I wish I had an eye for such details. I know how much work went into the costume design.

      I’ve been trying to select my favorite Diana Rigg as Olenna scenes. It’s difficult. Almost every one was a highlight thanks to Diana Rigg’s delivery of her lines. Off the top of my head, in no particular order:

      – Shutting up the Sand Snakes in S6e10
      – “Not now, Mace.”
      – Explaining to Margaery that she had warned Mace that backing Renly was treason.
      – Convincing Sansa to confide in her about Joffrey’s true nature.
      – Expressing her disappointment to Tyrion that he turned out to be a browbeaten bookkeeper.
      – Verbal sparring with Tywin (ending with snapping the quill).
      – Telling Marg the story about seducing Lothar (?).
      – Casually confessing to Marg that she was behind the poisoning of Joffrey.
      – At the Purple Wedding, feigning concern and shouting to “you idiots” to “help your king!”
      – Bashing Cersei.
      – Telling Cheese Boy she wanted the cheese “now!”
      – Guzzling the poisoned wine after receiving Jaime’s assurance it’d be painless… and then launching into her confession that she’d poisoned Joffrey and wanted Cersei to know.
      – Telling Jaime what a sucker he was for loving Cersei.
      – Her words of admiration for Brienne upon meeting her.

      I could go on and on…

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    23. talvikorppi,

      ”… Roy Dotrice was the one I was thinking about, couldn’t quite remember.

      Next week, my niece is taking her school-leaving (“A-level”, “Higher”, “Abitur”) exam in English. (In my country you can take some exams in the autumn, the rest in the spring.) To prepare, she got the book A Game of Thrones AND the audiobook read by Roy Dotrice. She said it’s really good for hearing and learning to understand different accents – the exam has a listening comprehension part.”

      Thank you for mentioning Roy Dotrice’s ASOIAF audiobooks narration. (I have not started the books yet; if and when I decide to I might opt for the audiobooks version.) I’ve long been a fan of Roy Dotrice – as well as GoT’s ageism-defying casting of accomplished actors and actresses in significant roles, i.e., not just stunt-casting of famous actors and actresses from past eras, or “aging up” actors with prosthetics and makeup.

      Without going too far off-topic, I was going to mention GRRM’s association with Roy Dotrice from the “Beauty and the Beast” TV series; Roy Dotrice’s original casting to play Pycelle before he had to bow out for health reasons; Dotrice – almost unrecognizable- returning to GoT as Pyromancer Hallyne and his excellent “voice acting” in that role; and finally, Roy Dotrice’s appearance in one of my top 5 “Guilty Pleasure” movies of all time: “The Cutting Edge” (1992), playing a Russian figure skating coach.

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    24. Ten Bears,

      I haven’t listened to Roy Dotrice’s reading of the ASOIAF audiobooks (I don’t do audiobooks, I’m not an aural person, my attention wanders…) but the internet community and my niece agree that his reading is excellent.

      His small role as Wisdom Hallayne was memorable, excited and pleased seeing how the “substance” went off in the Battle of the Blackwater, almost rubbing his hands together and cackling.

      Sorry to have temporarily derailed this thread, which is about the magnificent actor Diana Rigg was.

      “Not now, Talvikorppi!” said in Diana Rigg’s decisive, incisive Olenna voice.

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    25. Talk about perfect casting. I loved her introduction scene in the garden. Too bad she never won an Emmy for the role, but at least they had the sense to nominate her a few times. One of my favorite characters ever. Amazing performance by amazing actress. R.I.P. 🙁

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    26. Ten Bears,

      I especially enjoyed her delivery of rude words.

      “You can smell the shit from five miles away!”

      and, near the end, referring to Joffrey:
      “He really was a c*nt, wasn’t he?”

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    27. AnnOther:
      I think all scenes including Olenna are among my favorite GOT scenes – she IS my Queen.

      And I’ll always remember Olenna as the killer Queen who rid the realm of the evil Joffrey.
      Every scene showed she was well-versed in etiquette, and extraordinarily nice.

      Which leads to today’s Musical Interlude dedicated to the Killer Queen of Thorns…

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    28. talvikorppi,

      talvikorppi

      I wish your niece good luck with her driving test. A big moment in anyone’s life. I passed on my second attempt, in the UK. Now I live in Belgium and our oldest daughter will do her test within a few months – hopefully she’ll do better than her dad!

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    29. Dame of Mercia:
      * I didn’t say that I of course understand that ‘history’ as applied Shakespeare’s thus termed plays is somewhat loose.

      Anyway, here are Dames Diana and Maggie having a b*tchy sing-off from film mentioned in my previous post from the days before they were ‘Dames’ in the ennobled sense.https://youtu.be/dvGgaaRjzdE

      seven hells, her voice! thank you for this gem!

      i remember the GoT scene when Lady Olenna was upset about “hear me roar” being the more impressive words of a house than “please water the plants”, or whatever camouflage the Tyrell words were.

      and now, i heard her !roar! the word “camembert”. reference intended, D&D?

      (get out of my head, pictures of Dame Diana rehearsing her scenes by just roaring “the bear, the bear and the camembert” off camera! get out!)

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    30. In honor of our Queen of Thorns, here’s your Burlington Bar Reaction Video from season 7 episode 3:

      (The Olenna and Jaime scene starts around 15:05)

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    31. Decades ago, Seattle band The Allies waxed eloquently about the joys of watching Diana Rigg, appearing on late-night television in old episodes of The Avengers:

      My house is empty, my girlfriend left me;
      I don’t go out, I’ve got no friends;
      But I’ve got a TV
      Emma, you move me
      And I’ll be happy — until the re-run ends!

      Given what happened to House Tyrell, I couldn’t help but think, My house is empty, when I got news of her death. Rest in peace, great lady!

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    32. Talented and beautiful to the very end!

      The older actors on GOT were well cast and showed how great acting can enhance a drama. In particular, Riggs and Dance were among giants’ shoulders that lifted GOT.

      Rest in Power, Diana.

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