Jorah, son of Jeor, of House Mormont lost his life fighting to protect his one true queen, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, in the Battle of Winterfell. Game of Thrones has killed many a character over the years, but none has or will ever be harder for me to stomach than this one. Many of you will have seen my Avatar whenever I post in the comments, or perhaps you’ve seen my profile picture on Twitter. I’ve often struggled with peoples’ reactions to this character, who often elicits a polite nod, a shrug, or even disdain from some in the fandom. But I know exactly what drives me to love him so much: The spectacular once-in-a-lifetime talent that is Iain Glen, whose portrayal will go down in the annals of TV history.
I’d like to revisit 8 scenes – one per season – that highlight how Iain Glen made the character of Ser Jorah Mormont explode in his transition from book to screen. Join me, as we celebrate this incredible actor, won’t you?
Jorah met Dany on her wedding night to Khal Drogo, under the assumption that he’d be entering Viserys’ service in his bid to reclaim the throne from the usurper Robert Baratheon: “Gods be good, I hope to always serve the rightful king.” Yes, yes, he was a spy for Varys, but I’m able to look past that – people change, OK?! Case in point, he was already changing within the first season. As Jorah observed Viserys’ inherent weakness and cruelty, he catches Viserys trying to steal Dany’s dragon eggs, realizing he has been backing the wrong horse:
Viserys: “Does loyalty mean nothing to you?”
Jorah: “It means everything to me.”
Viserys: “And yet here you stand.”
Jorah: “And yet here I stand.”
Can’t you just hear Iain Glen’s velvety voice in that exchange? When he first came to Daenerys’ wedding night, he had anticipated hiding himself among them out of shame for his slave-bartering past, and awaiting the moment Lord Varys would secure him his journey home to Westeros. But Jorah’s transition towards affection and the loyalist protection of Dany wouldn’t work without Iain Glen at the helm. Just watch as he counsels Dany and, yes, even Viserys in the first few episodes. There’s a shift in Jorah’s gaze (no, not the romantic one from the books) that takes a fine actor to attempt, and a better actor to achieve. By season’s end, Jorah finally had found his purpose for the rest of his life: Get this woman on her throne.
Daenerys: “What do you want? Tell me.”
Jorah: “To see you on the Iron Throne.”
Jorah: “You have a good claim, a title, a birthright. But you have something more than that. You may cover it up and deny it, but you have a gentle heart. You would not only be respected and feared – you would be loved. Someone who can rule, and should rule – centuries come and go without a person like that coming into the world. There are times when I look at you and…I still can’t believe you’re real.”
There’s something that gets me every time I hear this exchange. Season 2 is, to say the least, a downer of a season for the Dany and Jorah plotline. They wander in the desert aimlessly for the first half of the season, wander around Qarth for a good chunk of the middle, and then race to the House of the Undying to reclaim Dany’s dragons…eventually. But through it all, Jorah, and by extension, Iain, remains steadfast and true. Trying ever harder to shed his shameful past behind him, the character does what he can to keep Daenerys’ spirits up, and most importantly give her good counsel. And I dare you to not get a warm fuzzy feeling when you hear Iain recite the above monologue. I always hated that the Internet made fun of Jorah and called him Lord Friendzone because Iain made him SO much more than that. As we’ve learned over the years, Emilia Clarke’s (Daenerys) and Iain’s friendship and his mentorship of her has been a constant over 8 seasons. This was only season 2 but you can see the real human people they are beneath the surface of the acting. The connection is so real.
Jorah: “There’s a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand.”
This one I would put in one of the all-time great GOT quotes, as I’m sure you have all seen the season 3 trailer as many times as I have. As Jorah, Barristan Selmy, and Dany traverse Slaver’s Bay and see the collateral damage, it’s hard to imagine Jorah wasn’t slightly talking about himself at this moment and his own misdeeds. But it’s so iconic in its own way – I’m deadly serious when I say I could listen to Iain Glen read my shopping list back to me. Season 3 offers many quiet, good Iain Glen moments for all those wishing to revisit it, but this is the true standout for me.
Season 4 is my favorite season of Game of Thrones, an enjoyment to which Iain naturally made valued contributions. And Iain once again delivers one of the lines that is most strongly indicative of the motif of the entire show: “It’s tempting to see your enemies as evil – all of them. But there is good and evil on both sides of every war ever fought.” If Game of Thrones is an examination of power, this helps explain that. But while his smooth jazz lips move mountains with this quote, it’s not the strongest indicator of his exceptional acting ability. That would go to the scene where Daenerys dismisses Jorah:
Jorah: “Forgive me. I never meant–please, Khaleesi, forgive me.”
Daenerys: “You sold my secrets to the man who killed my father and stole my brother’s throne…”
Jorah: “I have protected you, fought for you, killed for you…”
Daenerys: “…and you want me to forgive you!?”
Jorah: “I have loved you.”
If ever there were a time he deserved his long-overdue Emmy, it was Iain’s delivery of the realization that all his years of lying finally caught up to him. As an actor, he pushes Jorah through every tactic to get back into Daenerys’ good graces, but as we all know it does not work. The saddest moment of season 4 wasn’t Oberyn Martell dying; it was Ser Jorah Mormont being dismissed from his Khaleesi’s service. Iain puts me through the ringer every time.
Jorah’s season 5 journey through the kidnapping of Tyrion has its ups and downs, but their journey was largely in service of giving Jorah greyscale, and getting him back into Daenerys’ good graces. For me, the largest standout is when it was when Iain Glen finally popped up in season 5 (took long enough). At the end of episode 3, ‘High Sparrow,’ I remember the huge sigh of relief on my face when I heard Iain Glen’s voice come to the ‘rescue’ with “I’m taking you to the queen.” I had chills then, and I do now.
Unfortunately there wasn’t too much Jorah in season 6 because he leaves to find a cure for greyscale halfway through, but Iain’s best work is definitely the scene where he where confesses his feelings to Daenerys and departs. Iain stops talking and lets his face do all the work – never was there a more expressive actor on Game of Thrones:
Jorah: “All I’ve ever wanted was to serve you. Tyrion Lannister was right. I love you. I’ve always loved you…Goodbye, Khaleesi.”
Daenerys: “Do not walk away from your queen, Jorah the Andal. You have not been dismissed you. You pledged yourself to me. You swore to obey my commands for the rest of your life. When I command you to find the cure, wherever it is in this world, I command you to heal yourself. And then return to me. When I take the seven kingdoms, I need you by my side.”
In season 7, the bear returned to his queen in a scene for which I waited all season. In the span of one episode, ‘Eastwatch,’ Jorah had reunited with and then departed from his queen. But it gave us this utterly iconic picture on the right. I know I’ve said this over and over but Iain Glen doesn’t need to talk to express his feelings. He walks into a room (or on to a beach) and his heart tells you everything you need to know: “I will return to you.” That’s not the quote, but it’s what he’s saying.
This brings us to season 8, or as Friends would call it, ‘The One Where He Goes Out Like a Damn Hero.’ ‘The Long Night’ only aired this week, yet I’ve rewatched his death scene three times already. One, because I hate myself and two because it’s too beautiful to get over. Jorah died doing what he loved: protecting his beloved Khaleesi. And Iain Glen got to experience his final moments doing what he loved: sharing the screen with his best friend of the last 10 years. Emilia and Iain have often waxed poetic about their kinship, and I truly am here for it:
Iain’s an accomplished stage actor, Shakespearean and otherwise, prolific film and TV actor (Sir Richard Carlisle anyone?), and will soon be portraying Batman/Bruce Wayne (?!?!?!) in DC Universe’s Titans season 2. His resume and body of consistent work over the last 10 years is impressive, considering he’s been a main cast member since season 1. And with that, one of our true original main cast members who appeared in the pilot, someone who gained the ‘With’ status in the title sequence in season 4 and beyond has finally moved on. Jorah may be gone, but Iain Glen thankfully lives on, amassing a truly staggering body of work.
Iain Glen brought Jorah Mormont to life on the screen in a way he never came alive in the books. While some may suggest it was the writing who toned down his more uncomfortable book character, I’d remind those people that writing can only give dialogue to a character, but it takes the right actor to give that character their voice. Iain surpassed all expectations and then some. Having read the books first, I’d always thought Sansa and Jaime were going to be my two favorites once the show aired, but Jorah threw me for a real loop. Iain’s acting prowess and natural instinct to take the temperature of whatever scene he was in and inject exactly the right amount of chutzpah into it was unparalleled. I can’t think of two actors other than Emilia and Iain who have shared more scenes together over the entire 8 seasons. Other characters parted ways, or went off in scenes on their own, but those two were almost always together scene after scene, season after season. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
RIP Ser Jorah Mormont, the Andal of Bear Island. And long live Iain Glen.