Curtain Call: Ian McElhinney

Barristan

Last week in “Sons of the Harpy”, Game of Thrones lost yet another long-standing cast member. In “Kill the Boy”, his character briefly appeared as he lay in wake – as elegant in death as he had been in life.

Ian McElhinney is a veteran of the Northern Irish screen who has had an extensive career in both acting and directing spanning over thirty years. By all accounts, that career looks to be expanding even further in the near future.

Ian displayed a multi-faceted range of acting prowess during his time on the show as Barristan Selmy. And what a time it was – he has graced our screens since the very first season.

For many, Ian’s most memorable scene was in Season 1’s “The Pointy End”, when Barristan boldly turned his back on the newly-crowned Joffrey, threatening his Kingsguard brothers in the process. He completely sold the world-weary intensity of a man who has survived more battles than any other, while still retaining the vigour and will to do it all over again at a moment’s notice.

3979483-9410200601-31981As adept as Ian was at selling the strong, noble side of Barristan, he was equally as talented with his character’s quieter moments, such as his light-hearted chat with Daenerys about Rhaegar in “Sons of the Harpy”. With a warm, caring smile and measured, gentle speech, you knew that this was as true a man as ever walked the Seven Kingdoms. He lamented the past, and truly believed that his new queen could emulate and renew the days of old.

Despite his sudden departure from Game of Thrones, Ian has been (and will continue to be) no stranger to the cast members. He recently appeared in two BBC shows  – Ripper Street with Jerome Flynn and Clive Russell, and The Fall with Michael McElhatton. Earlier this year, he began shooting BBC’s The Truth Commissioner with Conleth Hill and Roger Allam, and the feature film A Patch of Fog, also with Conleth Hill.

If there was ever a knight in Westeros who came close to the fabled Arthurian ideal, it was Ser Barristan Selmy. He was a knight, a sword sworn to serve, protect and die for his liege. Thus, Barristan died as he lived – upholding the chivalric principles he believed in, and valiantly defending the honour of his queen. Barristan the Bold – a name honestly earned.

Here’s to Ian McElhinney, who so vividly allowed Barristan to shine both before and during his final moments. Simply put, it was a pleasure to watch him.

Now, in the spirit of Barristan and Rhaegar, let’s all raise our glasses to Ian, sing a song, and get horribly drunk.

Ian McElhinney

45 responses

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    1. I think that it is a crying shame that they hired an actor of McElhinney’s caliber but killed him off before his biggest book plot could be reached. It seems a poor use of his talents.
      (McElhinney didn’t seem pleased by this either in the Thronecast interveiw last week…..)

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    2. Barristan the Bold! Too soon, too soon! Dany has lost her rudder if and when she returns to Westeros. He will be missed.

      Thanks for your memorable contribution, Ian!

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    3. “Then come,” said Barristan the Bold.

      I would have loved to see more from Ian. He seemed like a fantastic actor whenever they gave him enough to do to demonstrate it.

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    4. Marsha Green,

      It was incredibly unfortunate that the show could not give him more screen-time. Ian was an excellent B. Selmy, I could not personally imagine anyone better suited for the role. He will be truly missed.

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    5. Ser Barristan was one of the few thoroughly likeable characters on the show – it puzzles me why they killed him off so soon.

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    6. Ah, Barristan Selmy-down-the-river. Certainly one of my favourite book characters and unfortunately one of the undeniable victims of the TV adaptation. He was awesome in season 1 but thereon after he became completely pointless – he served little purpose with Dany and in fact was rudely disregarded or contradicted by her at almost every turn. The only scene where she demonstrated any warmth for him was the one which telegraphed his imminent death.

      I am in awe of the job D&D have done with this adaptation, but he is one character who didn’t do so well from it.

      Aesthetically I don’t think his look from season 2 onwards did him any favours either. He looked wonderful in Season 1 – trim, shaven and fully armoured. His screen presence diminished in his plain black tunic and scruffy beard (yes I know this is true to the books, it’s just a superficial point).

      As for McElhinney, he did a wonderful job portraying a wonderful man (not many of those in Westeros) and I wish him well. He is clearly a passionate fan of the books and I’m sorry he didn’t get to sink his teeth into what could have been a very meaty role this season.

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    7. I thought I could handle it, but really? Why even cast Barristan at all?
      Really hard for me to understand.
      Thought now more then every l am looking forward to book 6.

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    8. His death is the only time i have really been ‘annoyed’ with D&D and a change they have made. It was obviously done just so they could say they killed off a ‘major character’ and to give Dany a reason to open the pits and get married, but they really could have reached that point a million other ways

      Ian McElhinney was great and Barristan was one of my favourites (in the books and show). Sometimes ive felt that D&D have favoured other characters (mainly Jorah) over him but i was hoping he would get to shine this season

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    9. Ser Barristan – the benchmark of knighthood! You will be sorely missed Ser Grandfather!

      Ian McElhinney is way too good of an actor for the abbreviated role he was given in the show but he brought everything he had and it was marvelous to behold!

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    10. BlackTalon:
      Ser Barristan was one of the few thoroughly likeable characters on the show – it puzzles me why they killed him off so soon.

      That’s probably why they killed him off 😉

      I don’t remember seeing Ian very much although he did a lot of TV here, he was in ‘The Fall’ but though I watched that series I don’t remember his character ( I don’t recall ‘Roose’ Michael McElhatton in it either but he was also in the same episodes ). Made a very good Ser Barristan and loved his showdown scene with Joffrey.

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    11. Thank you to Ian McElhinney. His time with us was much too abbreviated but he was an excellent Ser Barristan! (Also have enjoyed his work on “Ripper Street.”)

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    12. You will be missed Ser.

      Regarding his death, I think the reasons behind it are quite similar to the ones behind Pyp and Grenn deaths last season. Sure, it provides some drama for the Unsullied but, also, it limits the number of players in any single plot location.

      Last season, Grenn and Pyp died just before Stannis arrived at Castle Black.
      This season, Barristan dies just as

      Tyrion is making his way there and as Jorah is coming back. It is a shame though, I would have loved to see some Tyrion/Barristan talks.

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    13. Ian McElhinney was absolutely brilliant as Ser Barristan. His mic drop in Season One continues to be one of the highlights for me–if they haven’t already, someone should really make a Barristan the Bold cake knife! Ian’s equally fun to read or watch in interviews–so lovely for an actor on the show to be such a passionate fan himself. Wishing him many, many more great roles!

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    14. Ser Selmy. your comet was bright and shiny. You will be missed.

      Ian McElhinney, when a door closes – a window opens. Thank you for a memorable character portrayal in our beloved GoT’s. Though the water be wide, I will look for your happy self on the other side of the pond.

      Cheers!!

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    15. Arya havin’ a larf?: That’s probably why they killed him off

      I don’t remember seeing Ian very much although he did a lot of TV here, he was in ‘The Fall’ but though I watched that series I don’t remember his character ( I don’t recall ‘Roose’ Michael McElhatton in it either but he was also in the same episodes ).Made a very good Ser Barristan and loved his showdown scene with Joffrey.

      How could you not remember “Roose” in The Fall?

      Dude blew his brains out in the police station!

      I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a fairly memorable scene… 🙂

      Which reminds me… I still haven’t gotten around to watching series 2 of The Fall. Definitely have to get on that when GoT finishes up!

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    16. Simeon: How could you not remember “Roose” in The Fall?

      I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a fairly memorable scene…

      Which reminds me… I still haven’t gotten around to watching series 2 of The Fall.Definitely have to get on that when GoT finishes up!

      I have terrible memory! Honestly I don’t remember that at all ( nor much about the series apart from Ms Anderson ) – and likewise I haven’t watched the second series which is still on my PVR.

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    17. Isabelle,

      I’m on board for purchasing the Barristan the Bold cake knife.

      Another favorite moment, “You’ll never be alone with her again.”

      So thankful we got to see him paint that corridor red, first!

      Curtain call? I’m not even out of the denial stage yet. You are well loved Ser Ian and we’ll miss Ser Barristan in the wars to come.

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    18. Strange to say goodbye to Barristan when he’s alive in the books. McElhinney was all the Barristan we could have ever asked for. A lovely actor. Seeing him in shows like Ripper Street when he’s a total jerk really shows you when a good actor he is, so different from Selmy.

      RIP to the Bold.

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    19. Well done, Ser Barristan. The reality is that he’s a classic “tweener,” a character not important enough to be one of the primary characters, not minor enough to be relegated to secondary supporting work in a limited number of areas, someone who had a stronger backstory in the books than could be adequately served by the show, unlike Eddard Stark, Tyrion, or Dany. They did the best they could, and gave him a good exit, at least.

      But Ian was great.

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    20. I am utterly convinced that Barristan faked his own death (and Daenerys was in on it), as a sort of reverse-Arstan Whitebeard, in order to hunt down the Sons of the Harpy.

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    21. Gatehouse Ami:

      I’m on board for purchasing the Barristan the Bold cake knife.

      Another favorite moment, “You’ll never be alone with her again.”

      Yeah, that was a great one, too. The Bold will live on!

      There’s one drawback to the knife idea–IDK the numbers, but would hazard a guess that the reason most people buy a cake knife is to cut a wedding cake. Would you want a GOT-themed knife at your wedding? 😀

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    22. Understand why he had to go this season, but hate the way they did it. Completely undramatic and without any concern for a coherent arc for the character. I imagine when the series is done, this will be one of the handful of real sore spots I have with it. Anyway, this isn’t the place to whine. Will miss him.

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    23. Ian McElhinney was the Barristan that I imagined, he WAS Barristan. His death is still really fresh in my mind and I’m still not over it, as other have said this is the first time I’ve been upset with D&D’s decisions and I can see why Ian as a fan of the books and show would be too.
      I’m so sorry to see Ian McElhinney go, he’ll always be my Barristan. 🙁

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    24. Hate that Barristan is gone although I understand why. McElhinney embodied this role perfectly. I hope to continue seeing him in other roles.

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    25. I was sooo looking forward to hear him being called “Ser Grandfather”. And he’s one of my favorite characters in the books.

      I’m gonna miss him.

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    26. He was woefully underutilized in the show. It’s really such a shame, the man’s not only a great actor, he also perfectly fits with the Barristan I envisioned in the books. In a show that is remarkable for the performances of its cast, he was one of the absolute best thespians.

      I’m really just so sad. They started out so well with his character, ending in that great speech when Joffrey gives him the sack. After that, his character is just shat upon. Relegated to sipping wine with Dany while Ser Jorah and the others do the real work.

      He should have fought before his death scene in episode four. Viewers should have seen why Barristan is such a legend. He should have fought the champion of Meereen, he should have tore through the Yunkishmen while GW, Ser Jorah and Daario 1.0 are having trouble coping. But all for nought.

      Luckily, his fight scene in episode 4 was awesome. I just wished the Unsullied viewers would have known him in his full glory. McElhinney would have excelled in all the aspects of the character.

      The Dragon Demands:
      I am utterly convinced that Barristan faked his own death (and Daenerys was in on it), as a sort of reverse-Arstan Whitebeard, in order to hunt down the Sons of the Harpy.

      That sounds utterly crazy, but God damn, if it was true I would be totally okay with it. It’s not going to happen though.

      Ross:
      Ah, Barristan Selmy-down-the-river.Certainly one of my favourite book characters and unfortunately one of the undeniable victims of the TV adaptation.He was awesome in season 1 but thereon after he became completely pointless – he served little purpose with Dany and in fact was rudely disregarded or contradicted by her at almost every turn.The only scene where she demonstrated any warmth for him was the one which telegraphed his imminent death.

      Yeah, I agree.

      Ross:
      Aesthetically I don’t think his look from season 2 onwards did him any favours either.He looked wonderful in Season 1 – trim, shaven and fully armoured. His screen presence diminished in his plain black tunic and scruffy beard (yes I know this is true to the books, it’s just a superficial point).

      I liked the beard, but I agree on the outfit. Not really fitting garbs for a LC of the QG. He should have gotten a new kind of armour after a while.

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    27. He was a perfect Selmy. We were never going to get into his backstory, and he was never going to be as important a character as Jorah, but Ian brought a lot of gravitas and presence to the role. He had a handful of small moments to shine throughout and he killed it.

      I think his convo with Jorah in “Kissed by Fire.” The nostalgic memories, his concerns about serving a ruler he respected, the tension with Jorah…loved that scene.

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    28. I wish we could have seen more of Barristan and that he’d been a larger part of the series when he arrived at Daenerys’ court. She’s needed his advice and will surely need it once she gets to Westeros. I felt a bit cheated when we didn’t get to see him fight in Yunkai.

      I was in a round table discussion with Ian at TitanCon in Belfast 2.5 years ago and remember his passion for the story and how excited he was for Barristan’s chapters in A Dance with Dragons. I think his passion showed in his dignified portrayal of Barristan the Bold.

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    29. I liked Mr McIlhinney’s portrayal of Ser Barristan, who as people have already commented, is one of the few really decent characters in the story. I am sorry to see him go, though as I live in Olde England I will no doubt see him on TV again before too long in something home grown.

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    30. It sucks. I enjoyed Mereen through his eyes in Dance. My guess is they killed him to rid Dany of good counsel. The mad queen indeed

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    31. Ian McElhinney was wonderful as Barristan Selmy, As someone who loves the show and the books in equal measure, I have no interest in joining those who are lamenting – be it in sadness or in anger – that the character was underserved by the translation of this story to TV. Nor am I interested in criticizing the writers for dispatching him while his counterpart in the novels remains alive (for now). I would rather focus on how glad I am that such an immensely talented and deeply kind man was afforded the opportunity to play one of the most beloved characters in this series, and that he embodied that role so perfectly.

      Ian McElhinney was one of the Originals – a member of a special (and increasingly small) group of actors who have been a part of Game of Thrones since the first season. Back then, the show was an unproven commodity – a far cry from the widely-beloved global phenomenon it is today. In those days, the series faced the challenge not only of attracting a sustainable audience, but of convincing fans of the novels that it would provide a worthy representation of the story and the characters they loved. McElhinney played a small but significant role in forging that bond. From the beginning, he lent his own grace and charisma to the man who was widely acknowledged by both his peers and the audience as the greatest living knight in the Seven Kingdoms. While most of Barristan’s legendary deeds took place years before the show began, McElhinney carried himself with such confidence and dignity that the oft-cited accounts of his honor and his valor seemed obvious and beyond reproach.

      Barristan is one of the few people in Game of Thrones who fits the classic definition of a heroic character – I’ve seen several writers compare him to an Arthurian knight, albeit one out of place and time. One of the tragedies of this series, of course, is that such characters are rarely rewarded for their persistent attempts to do the right thing. In keeping with this, Barristan and his idealism faced no shortage of challenges during his long life. “I’ve burned away my years fighting for terrible kings,” he told Jorah after he had been exiled on a petty technicality and subsequently crossed an ocean and a continent to pledge himself to Daenerys Targaryen. “Just once in my life, before it’s over, I want to know what it’s like to serve with pride. To fight for someone I believe in.”

      It’s up to the interpretation of the viewer whether or not Daenerys proved herself worthy of his faith. But I would say that Barristan found a renewed sense of purpose in her service, and in doing so fulfilled his finest ambition. I really appreciated that, immediately preceding the battle, Barristan got to share a lovely scene with Daenerys in which they spoke freely and with such tangible respect and affection for one another. That scene showcased Ian McElhinney’s great strength as an actor, honoring the quiet gravitas and warmth he brought to the role during his time on the show. And in the battle that followed, I thought that the writers paid appropriate tribute to the character’s martial prowess and his willingness to defend those in need. It’s true that, in the novels, Barristan never found himself facing down the Sons of the Harpy in one of Meereen’s dark alleyways. But if he had, I believe he would have indeed run towards the sound of his friends in trouble, sword drawn. And he would have given his enemies absolute hell until they met their end, or he did. So in my mind, Game of Thrones’ Ser Barristan – as brought to life by Ian McElhinney – remained true to form until the character drew his last breath.

      So here’s to Barristan Selmy, the painter who only used red, for fulfilling the promise he made back in Season 1. “I am a knight,” he declared, when Joffrey and Cersei ignominiously tried to put him out to pasture. “I will die a knight.” As a man of honor, he remained true to his word until the very end. And here’s to the brilliant Ian McElhinney – a talented thespian, a generous spirit, and a wonderful ambassador for both the character and the story on which he most definitely made his mark.

      Many songs will be sung for both men, in celebration and in mourning. As is unfortunately customary for the dead, Barristan Selmy won’t hear them. But hopefully Ian McElhinney will, and he will know just how deeply we appreciate his contribution to this world and to the man they so deservingly called Barristan the Bold.

      Go in peace, Ser Grandfather. And good luck with whatever comes next!

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    32. Much like with Mance Rayder, I’m sad that Barristan had to die in the show…

      But Ian McElhinney did a great job. When ADWD first came out, right after GOT Season 1, I couldn’t help but picture (and hear) McElhinney every time I read about Barristan! He’s one of the actors who really replaced my previous mental image of the character.

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    33. Jared,

      wow, you sure said what I was thinking. I loved Ian McElhinney’s Barristan every bit as much as I loved Barristan in the books. He made you respect and like the character in all the little mannerisms etc. I will miss him, but will hope more of his stuff comes to the US so I can see him again.

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    34. Easily the stupidest thing the show has done yet, and likely to be remembered as one of the few major show blunders. Hastily done, half-assed reasoning for why.

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    35. I’m very disappointed that the show never gave him a white cloak or any sort of armour at all in his service to Dany.

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