Curtain Call: James Faulkner & Tom Hopper

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By Luka Nieto and Paige

When Randyll and Dickon Tarly were cast for season six, who would have thought they would become so much more than mere foils for Sam’s side story in Horn Hill? Game of Thrones surprised us by fleshing out this father and son duo with very little screen time. Now they’re gone, and we are here to pay our respects to these characters and the wonderful actors who performed them: James Faulkner and Tom Hopper.

Randyll Tarly’s reputation preceded him. In Season One’s “Cripples. Bastards and Broken Things”, long before he ever appears on-screen, Sam tells a story about his father.

“On the morning of my eighteenth nameday, my father came to me. ‘You’re almost a man now’, he said, ‘but you’re not worthy of my land and title. Tomorrow, you’re going to take the black, forsake all claim to your inheritance and start north. If you do not,’ he said, ‘then we’ll have a hunt, and somewhere in these woods your horse will stumble, and you’ll be thrown from your saddle to die. Or so I’ll tell your mother. Nothing would please me more.'”

That is our introduction to Lord Randyll – ruthless, formidable and ice-cold. And James Faulkner filled his imposing boots like they were made for him. Arguably best known for his role in Da Vinci’s Demons as Pope Sixtus IV, Faulkner has also lent his considerable presence to Downton Abbey, Underworld: Blood Wars, and the Bridget Jones trilogy, as everyone’s favourite creepy uncle, Geoffrey. Yet it has been as Randyll Tarly that he has caused waves among fans everywhere.

Randyll Tarly is impossible to like. When we first meet him, in Season 6’s “Blood of my Blood”, he berates Sam for being bookish, and soft. He’s bigoted, insulting, and you want someone – whether it be Gilly, Sam, or Sam’s wonderful mother – to smack him in the mouth. And you cannot stop watching him. All Faulkner’s Randyll has to do is look at Sam with that steely eyed gaze, and your blood runs cold. Randyll made a fine addition to the considerable canon of Thrones villains that we love to hate.

Blood of My Blood_Randyll Tarly

But Randyll was not only a man of insults. When verbally sparring with Jaime Lannister, we see Randyll’s pride in his House. For me, it brought back memories of our much-loved Stannis Baratheon. To my own surprise, I found myself liking Randyll. I fully credit James Faulkner for that. I hate Randyll, but I was enjoying watching him. I wanted to see him and Jaime spar more. I wanted to see more of Randyll.

His end came all too soon. In his death scene in “Eastwatch”, we were given something I doubt any of us expected – tenderness. Ready to face his death, but unwilling for his son to die alongside him, he insists that Dickon is a no one. He is an idiot speaking out of turn. He does it out of… love. We see the man underneath the armour. A man who is protecting his son. It is an incredible performance. Then the final, heartbreaking gesture. He grasps Dickon’s hand, as they face death as father and son. On paper, few would be upset about the death of Randyll, a man who would murder his eldest son out of his own pride. Yet that scene is worthy of tears, in credit to the perfect final performance of James Faulkner, a man who took a character made of steel, and turned him human.

Coming next for Faulkner is a voice role in the new Watership Down mini-series, alongside such talents as The Force Awakens’ John Boyega and Sir Ben Kingsley. In the meantime, we get to enjoy his wonderfully funny Twitter. I salute you, James.   – Paige


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Tom Hopper, meanwhile, had even less screen time to impress us, as Dickon’s brief introduction in season six was taken up by Freddie Stroma. Hopper looks remarkably different, so as always there were some doubts about the recast, but after “The Spoils of War” there has been nary a complaint. And that’s because Hopper did a wonderful job!

The English actor appeared briefly (yet iconically) in Doctor Who (“Get a girlfriend, Jeff!”), but he is best known for his later and much beefier roles in Merlin and Black Sails. Personally, I know Hopper from the latter, as the fictional Billy Bones; he didn’t just get to show off his absolutely incredible physique but his acting talent as well.


Despite my appreciation of the actor, I had no great expectations of his appearance in Game of Thrones, but I was delighted to be proven wrong in “The Spoils of War,” when Dickon opens up to Jaime and Bronn in a way he tragically never could to his father. At first he is compelled to mimic Randyll’s discipline and bellicosity, but at Bronn’s insistence, Dickon laments killing the men he once called friends and fighting the house his family was once pledged to. Here we realize Sam wasn’t the only son that Randyll impacted negatively, as Dickon was terrified of showing any vulnerability.

One could argue he never did again: in “Eastwatch”, he refused to bend the knee even when his father told him to. As Paige described above, Randyll surprised us when he lovingly touched Dickon’s hand before they burned together. I can’t imagine there had been many such gestures before. Sadly, that was a first and a last in poor’s Dickon life.

Tom Hopper’s life, however, continues, and we can hope and expect he’ll continue having a much more successful career than his Game of Thrones character! – Luka Nieto

37 responses

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    1. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I wound up caring about Dickon- I expected him to burn this year, but I didn’t expect to give a damn. I give a lot of that credit to Tom Hopper. (He’s great on Black Sails, people should watch that show.)

      And James Faulkner was great from his first scene in S6, steely and terrifying. Easy to see why Sam turned out the way he did!

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    2. I wish more people would follow James Faulkner on Twitter. He is truly funny. The article didn’t mention his role as Herod in I, Claudius which rivals GoT in several surveys. The cast of I, Claudius is first class with James Faulkner, John Hurt, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Brian Blessed, and Sian Phillips. You may not recognize Faulkner with black wig, but the man has acting chops!

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    3. well I have to confess I feel bad about Dickon because Tom, he is so hot!!! I can’t even….. is such a shame… he wouldn’t be perfect for Sansa…. ohhhh well….

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    4. Couldn’t have chosen better actors. James Faulkner was perfect as Randyll ( I will never forget the scene where Sam tells Jon the story, I felt terrible for him), and the last scene between him and Dickon was so well done. Uh…pun not intended! I really did not expect Randyll to want Dickon to kneel, at all. It was surprising. I haven’t seen Merlin or Black Sails, but Tom Hopper was great. As soon as he dropped the false bravado, and especially when he saved Jaime, we were made to like him, and know he was therefore doomed.

      Rare performances! Well done!

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    5. Billy Bones… Tom Hopper is a treasure and everyone should check Black Sails ! 🙂

      Thanks for that snippet bringing me back into the wonders that this show was !

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    6. Well, I guess no one is pursuing Sam regarding Heartsbane now!

      I’ll remember Lord Tarly/Faulkner for his “difficult choices” remark to Tyrion. Excellent facial response too. I don’t quite comprehend his logic to destroy his house after bending the knee to the real Mad Queen (Cersei) but it is what it is. Faulkner played Sam’s abusive father and solid military man with conviction. I definitely could extrapolate him to the abrasive and dismissive character Brienne met briefly in AFfC along her descent into Westeros hell.

      Dickon expired too quickly! A perfect “wish we could have had more” character. Hopper’s restrained interactions with Jaime were memorable and humorous. In the end he truly was “daddy’s boy,” sadly preferring immolation to capitulation.

      Faulkner and Hopper, thanks for playing!

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    7. Great job by both actors. I’m kind of bummed the Beautiful Death poster didn’t feature the end of Randyll & Dickon. If only the artist had featured the Dothraki last week then he could have done death by dragonfire this week. Their deaths are certainly more meaningful to the show than Gendry mashing a couple of random gold cloaks.

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    8. Lord of Coffee,

      I was shocked and bewildered by that too. No idea why Ball chose to dedicate a Beautiful Death to nameless redshirts when two named characters (with familial ties to a major character, no less) died in the very same episode.

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    9. James Faulkner was simply the perfect Randyll. Not only did he look exactly how I pictured him (though maybe I imagined a bit more beard), but his performance nailed Randyll to a tee. From his very first appearance in season 6, it becomes immediately clear why Sam fears this man.

      Especially for a character with relatively minimal screentime, Randyll could easily have been a one-note character, but James (and the writers) made him more than that.
      Obviously, we’re meant to hate him for his treatment of Sam, which is awful… but even in that first scene with him, we see a glimpse of some other sides. He has pride in Dickon; He has at least some degree of respect for his wife (as she was able to yell at him without retribution); We even see him give something resembling a warm smile to Talla.
      And in season 7, we see him as a skilled and experienced commander, leading men in battle, and torn between allegiances, having to make a difficult decision to turn on the house he served all his life.

      And through it all, James Faulkner was just brilliant.

      His expression when Dickon refused to bend the knee conveyed a lot. He was both proud and heartbroken by his son’s decision… and to make it worse, it was kind of his fault: He had raised Dickon to be this kind of person – A strong soldier who would never back down. Dickon died because of how he was brought up… and Randy knew it. In the end, all Randyll could do was clutch his son’s hand, in hopes of conveying everything he felt: Sadness, pride… regret? Fear?

      Though he only had a few episodes, I thank James Faulkner for what he brought to this show.

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    10. As for Dickon… For such a minor character, I was surprised by how much I cared for him during that battle, and how much I was begging him to bend the knee afterwards. With just one conversation with Jaime, the writers showed a lot about who this man was. Though much more fit for battle than his brother Sam, Dickon was also somewhat afraid of his father and didn’t want to disappoint him.

      Out of earshot of his father, however, we learn that Dickon, like Sam, doesn’t really have a cruel or bloodthirsty streak. He was genuinely saddened by having to kill loyal Tyrell bannermen who he grew up with. Tom Hopper’s performance in that scene, as well as the look of fear on his face, when Drogon was burning their men alive made me legitimately worried about the fate of a character I never expected to be anything but indifferent towards. And when he saved Jaime… I’ll admit, I cheered.

      His refusal to bend the knee was both touching and sad. Despite everything, he still loved his father and wouldn’t let him die alone. I was highly impressed by his bravery, and I think Randyll was too.

      For someone with only a few scenes, Tom Hopper certainly made an impression. Best of luck to him in the future. (And I’ll have to watch Black Sails at some point…)

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    11. Azor Asshai,

      Ball doesn’t choose- HBO does. If I had to guess, HBO went with Gendry and the goldcloaks because Gendry’s return is a big deal, and we’d just had a beautiful death poster that was all about the dragon dealing fiery death. It might’ve been repetitive.

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    12. James Faulkner was note-perfect as Randyll Tarly. As Paige notes in her excellent tribute, the character cast a long shadow before he ever appeared on screen. With his formidable reputation established, it was critical that the show find an actor who could carry that weight when the time came for him to make his Game of Thrones debut. Faulkner was more than equal to that task.

      I first saw Faulkner in Downton Abbey, where he gave a great performance as another cold, calculating, prejudicial lord. As such, I knew that Randyll was perfectly suited to his talents. But even so, I was still surprised at just how completely he justified his character’s legend. Even when Randyll was sitting silently, watching his family at dinner, Faulkner radiated intensity. The sharp authority inherent in his voice commanded attention whenever he spoke. And when his anger erupted, it was fearsome to behold. It was easy to see why Sam – who by then had clearly proven himself to be no coward – would find himself quivering in fear and shame when confronting his father’s wrath.

      Randyll may have been a cruel and deeply flawed man, but I appreciated that for all his faults, the show depicted him as a character with a personal code, and one capable of love (if sadly not for all of his children). When Jaime was attempting to talk Randyll into backing Cersei over Olenna, Faulkner injected the perfect amount of pride and contempt into his condemnation of the Lannisters’ treacherous tactics, even though his political pragmatism eventually led him to take their side. I also loved the moment when Randyll attempted to save Dickon from the fiery death that he had voluntarily chosen for himself, and later reached out to grasp his son’s forearm as they faced the dragon. Few people could have so convincingly stared down Daenerys Targaryen when she was promising fire and blood. Randyll Tarly, as portrayed by James Faulkner, proved himself to be one.

      James Faulkner himself seems to be a joyful, fun-loving man, about as far from Randyll Tarly as one can imagine. That’s a great testament to his talents and the performance that he gave on Game of Thrones. I’ll echo those shouting out his Twitter feed, which is excellent. I look forward to seeing him on screen again soon, and I wish him all the best.

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    13. Tom Hopper, meanwhile, deserves great credit for the pathos and humanity that he brought to the role of Dickon Tarly. Fans were primed to laugh at the character because of his name, a fact that the show wisely lampshaded with Bronn’s amused reaction upon learning it. But by the end, many of those same fans were justifiably torn up to see Dickon depart, because Hopper made every moment of his limited screentime count.

      While Dickon had technically appeared before in both Season 6 (hat tip to Freddie Stroma) and Season 7, one could make the case that not since Birgette Hjort Sørensen as Karsi or Bella Ramsey as Lyanna Mormont has an actor so efficiently and effectively endeared a minor character to the audience as Hopper did with Dickon in “The Spoils of War”.

      I knew Hopper from his performance as Billy Bones on Black Sails, so I had no doubts about his ability to convey Dickon’s physical prowess. But I was extremely impressed at just how much Hopper was able to make me care about Dickon in such a short time. In addition to his openly conflicted feelings about the Tarlys’ role in bringing down House Tyrell, there was the moment the Dothraki screamers were charging the Lannister/Tarly lines, and Dickon, his fear openly evident, nevertheless resolutely drew his sword in preparation for battle. There was the look of horror on his face when Drogon’s flames set a score of soldiers on fire. There was his intervention to save Jaime, which earned him the older man’s respect.

      And of course, there was the moment in “Eastwatch” when he faced down Daenerys and her dragon, his loyalty to his father overriding his instinct for self-preservation. Whether Dickon’s decision was foolish or noble, I found myself thinking about the famous counsel that Ned Stark once gave to his children about how a man can only be brave when he’s afraid. Hopper ensured that his character’s unquestionable courage shone through his fear right up until the end.

      In his brief tenure on Game of Thrones, Tom Hopper forever established Dickon Tarly as a decent man caught in a terrible situation beyond his control, but rising to the occasion nonetheless. I’m grateful that he got to make such a worthy contribution to the show, and I wish him all the best with whatever comes next!

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    14. Was sorry to see both Randyll and Dickon depart from the show (and in such a brutal way), but I could see something like that was inevitable. Certainly for Randyll, but surprised Dickon opted to die with his father albeit that Randyll gave him a nod to save his life and bend the knee.

      Both James Faulkner and Tom Hopper were good choices to play those parts and best of luck to them in future roles they may have.

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    15. Love this! James Faulkner was terrifying as Lord Tarly; Hard, cold and caustic, just as he was on Downton Abbey playing Lord Sinderby. In fact, the characters were really the same. Tom Hopper was fantastic and wasted in the meager role of Dikon. I would have cast him as Prince Rhaegar- that would have been an even smaller role, but physically he seems perfect for the part.
      Their last scene together as father and son was really poignant, memorable and very well done. Bravi!

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    16. Tycho Nestoris,

      There’s no alternates. They tell the artist every week what the subject of the poster is going to be (what scene/death), and the quote apparently. And then he interprets that for the picture. He doesn’t get advance notice- he sees the episodes when we do.

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    17. I shouldn’t have cared about their deaths, but I did, and that’s a huge credit to both actors. Tom Hopper put a human face in the terrible cost of war, and James Faulkner even made me feel something for Randyll. I just wish he could have shown a modicum of tenderness toward Sam, but that wasn’t his way. Regardless, they lent tremendous talent to the show, and I applaud them both.

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    18. Sue the Fury,

      Ah, that does indeed make sense. I assumed he had more autonomy with the artwork than he actually does–though I knew he collaborated with HBO to some degree, I wasn’t aware that they effectively assigned the concepts to him. In that case, though, I think your reasoning for that decision is probably spot-on.

      Granted, I would have loved to see what he came up with for these two, though.

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    19. Agree with all that has been said regarding the actors and Tom Hopper is great in Black Sails but no spoilers please I haven’t seen the last series yet. However I have said it before and I’ll say it again he was my choice for Rhaegar.

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    20. Oh my gah. I forgot James Faulkner played pervy uncle Geoffrey! That’s so hilarious!! 😂
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YZy2deJstI

      It’s strange, because when I read the books I didn’t immediately hate him. I agree that in many ways he mirrored Stannis’s hard enforcement of justice. He made his soldiers rebuild Maidenpool, he punished thieves, and gelded rapers ….. but then he basically told Brienne if she stuck around, it would be her fault if she was raped. Then my opinion of him just dropped. Faulkner did sooooo well portraying Randyll that I can’t really imagine anyone else who could’ve played him. And I’ve loved Tom Hopper since Merlin! Their final scene together was emotional and amazing! Valar Morghulis

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    21. Carole H,

      I’d thought of Tom Hopper as a possible Rheagar – and another Merlin alumnus, Bradley James (King Arthur) as somebody suitable for the role. I’m not sure if you’ve read the ASOIAF books but I know some people had fancast Angel Coulby (Guinevere) for Arianne but her character was pruned from the TV show.

      Well done to both actors for carrying out their roles as the Tarlys albeit their screentime was somewhat limited.

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    22. Faulkner is one of those actors , like Charles Dance, who are more than excellent but kind of fly underneath the radar until they hit a sweet spot and are noticed. I remember him from I Claudius the great BBC series back in the 70s.*
      Was hoping to see more screen time for him in GoT, alas the blivit problem again.

      *Supposedly HBO has the option on I Claudius , but have not heard anything about development. Considering how good ROME was and not-stage-bound version of the Graves novels really sounds attractive to me.

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    23. Dame of Mercia,

      Yes I have read the books but only because I watched the series, believe it or not I don’t like fantasies either watching or reading but something about GOT grabbed my attention from the cold opening in ep 1 and hasn’t let go of me since. I am sure Nina Gold will wow me with her casting of Rhaegar as I can’t think of anyone, off the top of my head, that I felt was miscast.

      Boojam,

      Absolutely agree I would love to see I Claudius brought up to date. Although the original probably looks ‘cluncky’ to the young people it was a fabulous series, well imo anyway.

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    24. Randyll Tarly was one of Westeros’ worst fathers. Ok, lightweight compared to Craster, but still. I was not sad to see him go, but I am grateful to Mr. Faulkner for showing us, in such an accomplished way, the reasons why his character chose to die rather than side with Dany. He was a fool, but a human fool. And his attempt at saving his son was so touching.
      Dickon Tarly was a foolish young man and I blame his father for bringing him down. But he was also an apparently nice young man, and if I remember correctly last season, he was by no means mean or insulting towards his bookish elder brother. Too bad he had been brainwashed to the point he couldn’t see that it is better to be a coward for a moment than dead for eternity, as a very wise man said. Respect to the beautiful Mr. Hopper for making us really care for Dickon – wished he could stay a little longer. Not a chance of doing a Kevin Eldon, or better a Dean-Charles Chapman on us?

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    25. Sou,

      I wrote a similar sort of eulogy earlier but it disappeared into a void three times when I tried to post it, so thanks for saying all that which broadly echoes what I wanted to say!

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    26. Sou,

      Beautifully expressed! I agree wholeheartedly.

      I enjoyed these two performances and will keep my eyes open for other roles each will have in the future.

      Thanks for the Black Sails clip!

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    27. Charlie Stark:
      well I have to confess I feel bad about Dickon because Tom,he is so hot!!! I can’t even…..is such a shame… he wouldn’tbe perfect for Sansa…. ohhhh well….

      Its funny you say that. I said the same thing to my sis in law. I think Sansa would have liked that, lol.

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    28. As written by Paige, Randyll Tarly was introduced as a quite detestable character in the very first season even if we only meet him in person in season 6.

      James Faulker perfectly depicted a cold hearted, steel character, ready to kill his first born for the wellness and name of his house.

      I was surprised he could show a bit of warmth (no pun intended) towards Dickon before they get roasted by Drogon.

      ==========

      I was a bit taken aback when we heard that Dickon Tarly would be recast last year, I thought Freddie Stroma did well in season 6.

      I had never seen any work from Tom Hopper (even though I already saw pictures of him, the lad is quite charming) and I think he did a good job interpreting Dickon.

      Especially in Spoils of War, he appeared a bit lost in his armor too large for him, as he also appeared a bit lost on the field after having to fight against men he had known since they were children.

      As Jared said, his attitude when he refused to bend the knee was both noble and foolish but I am glad he could accompany his father in death.

      Thank you to both actors for bringing to life their characters.
      All the best !

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