Curtain Call: Clive Russell

Clive Russell as Brynden Tully

Long before we worried about Victarion Greyjoy or Arianne Martell getting cut from the show, it was the Tullys who looked to be the victim of the Adaptation Axe. When no Tullys appeared in either season one or season two of the series, most fans were becoming resigned to the fact that the fish-obsessed family would not be seen on screen. But then, prior to season three, came word that the Tullys were in and with them came everyone’s favorite cranky old uncle, the Blackfish.

Clive Russell, a veteran Scottish character actor, is no stranger to playing gruff characters. He’s made a name for himself in British television doing just that. So when he was cast as the Blackfish, most people felt he was a good fit from the jump. And he proved it in his first scenes, showing his annoyance and disdain for his nephew: first at Edmure’s inability to light his father’s pyre and then later while they are counselling Robb Stark. But then we see that the Blackfish has a softer side, and it’s brought out by his favorite niece, Catelyn. It was only a few scenes, but Clive Russell proved he had the chops to portray both sides of the Blackfish’s personality.

Jaime and the Blackfish

This year, the Blackfish returned after a two season absence. He had limited screen time but again Russell makes the most of it. His stand-off with Jaime Lannister was one of the best scenes of the season and showed the Blackfish’s toughness and resolve. And then again we see the affection he had for his niece when he remarks on how much Sansa reminds him of Cat. Ultimately, that remembrance softens his view of Brienne and he assists her in her escape from the castle, once the Lannisters claim it. Even so, it still doesn’t shake his conviction. The Blackfish died the way he promised he would, defending his castle and his home.

Russell brought all of this to his portrayal of Brynden Tully and for that we thank him. His performance showed that there was a depth to the character. I constantly marvel at how many characters Game of Thrones has, yet they almost all somehow manage to be memorable in some way. The writers are great at highlighting these minor roles in their scripts and giving the actors a chance to shine, and Clive Russell was more than up to the challenge.



  1. Clive Russell was a great Blackfish, and really made you understand the character and his motivations. Yes, it would have been great to have seen more of him, but I’m extremely grateful for the time we did get, and I’m glad that D&D gave him a fitting ending. I do think that if D&D were to do the series again they would cut characters out like the Blackfish, but I’m glad that in this version of reality they kept him.

  2. Great job making a small role into a memorable one! Still love the disgusted looks he gave Edmure as he missed with the flaming arrows and then launching one of his own and doesn’t even watch it hit true.

  3. He was great as BF, but his death was handled horribly by the episode director.

    He should have been in the TV show more, great actor that was underused.

    David and Dan are laughing at us, i can hear them in my sleep!

  4. As a long-time fan of Clive Russell’s, I have to say the casting of him as Brynden “Blackfish” Tully was a stroke of genius. I don’t think there’s an actor out there who could have given the “thousand-yard-stare” as well as he did. It was truly impressive.

    Thanks, Clive, for the wonderful portrayal of a relatively minor character by bringing him into everyone’s view.

  5. We better get used to these curtain calls (again). It feels like we could be having a lot of them coming…

  6. he was great, and the off screen death should be no problem to a viewer with an imagination.

  7. Sister Kisser:

    I think that was the westerosi mic drop.

    Very true. It was perhaps the best mic drop example there’s been. That along with Daenerys literally dropping the Master’s whip as she left Astapor with the Unsullied of course.

  8. An off screen death on TV made non sense. If I need my imigination for a death, the books are enought for me, I don’t need a tv version.

  9. Such a small role (and rather insignificant, all things considered), and he managed to make viewers feel as if the Blackfish was really a major character.
    That says it all.
    As for him dying off screen, it really didn’t bother me. The Blackfish was an honourable, old school man who got obsolete the minute his less brave but maybe more realist of a nephew decided to accept what was offered to him, and his soldiers and countrymen chose life over honour. Actually seeing him die was not necessary.

  10. Clob,

    Hey, was there curtain call for McShane? Did I miss that? Or is it that one episode actors don’t get curtain calls?

  11. I still think he got away. He’s the Blackfish. 😉

    Thank you Clive Russell, for being such a likable curmudgeon and the Tully with guts. We’ll miss your wonderful stinkeye stares. 🙂

  12. Even if I wasn’t a big fan of Blackfish in season 3 (too much of a bully in my opinion), I’ve seen him in completely new perspective in season 6. Despite his brief apperiance, his performance this season was incredible and I could perfectly understand his character. Yes, I’m a bit saddened that we haven’t seen him die or they could at least show his dead body. But I think it was a pretty satisfying conclusion for his character. Like I said in my main review, his death really reminded me of Brutus (played by Tobias Menzies) in TV series Rome, when he loses his friend Cassius along with entire army in battle. He removes his armor and when the soldiers are about to capture him, he starts fighting them and basically forces them to kill him. So yes, great job by Clive Russel.

  13. He was really great. His scene with Cat in S3 was one of my favorite scenes in this show. And his scenes with Jaime and Brienne in this season.

    She is just like her mother… 🙁

  14. OMG I was sooooooo sad when the Blackfish drew his sword at the end of last episode in order to gain his honor back since he fled from the Red Wedding and certainly felt extremlely guilty for it. Brynden “Blackfish” Tully is the embodiement of the 3rd and last word of the words of his house : honor.
    And Clive Russell just perfectly embodies the whole character of the Blackfish.
    I loved his scenes back in season 3 (his really moving and heartbreaking scene with Cat really made an impression on me back then and it’s one of my favorite dialogues of the season).

    I just could not believe it when I found out they would make Jaime’s Riverrun storyline this season and I was more than happy when I learned Clive Russell would be back.
    His scene with Jaime was exactly the way I viewed it when I read it in AFFC, Clive Russell nailed as the Blackfish once again and it felt as if he had never left the show.
    Clive Russell and D&D did more than just do justice to the character, he was given the honorable end the Blackfish always wanted and hoped for even though I would have loved to see him go with Brienne and join Sansa but it is not what the Blackfish is.

    The Blackfish made his exit through the front door in the most heroic, honorable and respectful way possible for him.

    R.I.P. Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, I will miss you :'(
    Clive Russell, I will never forget with how much talent you portrayed the Blackfish of the Tully family, the grumpy old uncle, the stubborn military commander, the loving uncle and the war hero who sacrificed himself for whatever was left of his house, all at once.

  15. Fish swim, even black ones!

    Grateful for the time that we had with the Blackfish. Clive Russell was perfect casting. He embodied the Tully words – Family, Duty, Honor – until the very end.

    And I agree that there will be many more Curtain Calls coming in the next two weeks.

  16. Sou:

    Hey, was therecurtain call for McShane? Did I miss that? Or is it that one episode actors don’t get curtain calls?

    Birgitte (Karsi) got one, and she was only in one episode.

    On topic though:

    Clive Russell was an excellent Blackfish. Like most actors in this show, I hadn’t even heard of him before this, but could not be more happy about his casting. As WinterPhil says, he nailed both the no-nonsense, badass warrior, as well as the caring uncle. I got a little misty-eyed when he said “she’s just like her mother”. Mainly due to Clive’s perfect delivery. And of course, his confrontation with Jaime was definitely one of the best scenes this season.

    When he drew his sword at the end, I was very sad, but at the same time, it felt very right to me. I disagree with the decision to kill him offscreen, but that’s for a different topic.

    Thank you, Clive Russell, for giving your time to this amazing show. You definitely contributed to said amazingness, despite having a relatively small part.

  17. Clob,

    Yes, that is one of my favorite moments from the show, not just a BF moment!

    Loved BFs character in the books, and was eager to see who’d play him. Was not familiar with Mr Russell, but he certainly looked the part! And wow, did he ever fill the part. Wonderful performance. Thanks for making BF come alive for us. Looking forward to seeing you in other roles!

    ETA Well I guess I have seen him before. Just read this:” Russell first performed before an audience in 1960 on The Shari Lewis Show, ” Probably my favorite show as a kid. So I definitely know him! 🙂

  18. Ravyn,

    Indeed. She is worth her weight in gold, but she’s probably heard that before (its ok I’ll show myself out)

  19. As Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, Clive Russell may have delivered the most memorable entrance of any minor character on the show. Even the most casual fans I know remember the moment where he snatches the bow from his nephew, shoots a flaming arrow into the sky, then walks off without looking to see if he made the shot, because he knows damn well that he did. It was a triumph of visual storytelling, because we knew immediately that the character was a force to be reckoned with, a renowned warrior respected throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

    Russell shouldered that responsibility by projecting a fierce degree of intensity into every hardened stare and carrying himself with a confidence that few actors could match. Whether he was chastising Edmure for his blunders, dropping Rickard Karstark to his knees with a single blow, or staring down Jaime Lannister on a drawbridge in a castle under siege, I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he was onscreen … and not just because his black, scaled Tully armor was wicked cool (easily one of the best costumes on the show, for my money, which is no mean feat).

    But he could be gentle as well, especially in his scenes with his niece. The scene where Brynden comforts Catelyn in “Walk of Punishment” as she stares out the window of her childhood home and finally breaks down under the weight of the devastating losses their family has suffered is one of the great unsung scenes in the series. Russell was key to it, offering up a beautifully restrained performance to balance Michelle Fairley’s cathartic breakdown, softening the edges of his rasping voice to offer quiet reassurance and empathy.

    He also has one of my favorite moments of understated humor in, of all episodes, “The Rains of Castamere”, when several rather unattractive members of Walder Frey’s brood start ogling him and he quickly looks away. It was a testament to Russell’s range as an actor that he could play such diverse tones so effortlessly, all while remaining unflinchingly grounded in his character and his worldview.

    The impeccably timed piss that saved the Blackfish’s life at the Red Wedding became a running joke to rival Gendry and his rowing, but it persisted primarily because we were so eager to see Russell’s character again. The news that he would be returning for Season 6 was a thrill, and to actually see him onscreen, swaggering into frame in his badass black-scale armor was a cheer-worthy moment. It was like he had never left. Sadly, he couldn’t stay, but I thought that Russell’s scenes in “The Broken Man” and “No One” were a worthy payoff to his character’s story.

    The tragedy of the Blackfish was that he was the last man fighting yesterday’s war, keeping it going by sheer force of will. “As long as I’m standing, the war is not over,” he snarled at the man he refused to address as anything but Kingslayer. Now that he has fallen, that war is finally done, and a chapter of the Seven Kingdom’s history had been definitively closed. A new age had dawned, and not necessarily a better one. One of the core ideas of this season and of this series has been the passing of an older generation as younger hands assume the reins of power, for better or worse. Brynden had already lived to see the rules of his world change, and madness ensue. It had cost him everything. In that light, I’m not surprised he didn’t want to run off and face the wars to come. It was time for him to make his stand.

    Emotionally, I would have liked to see the Blackfish go with Brienne and travel North to serve Sansa, or at least see his death. But logically, I understand why he was determined to hold his ground, and why his decision to die carried more weight than the audience actually seeing the swords and arrows pierce his body as he fell. I thought it was completely in keeping with his character, and I won’t allow my own selfish instincts to compromise my appreciation of his story. Besides, all I really wanted was to see was the base pleasure of seeing the Blackfish bury his sword in a Frey’s neck. But thanks to the indelible image of the character that Clive Russell has provided for me, I can picture that perfectly on my own. And what a damn fine image it is!

    Thank you to Clive Russell for bringing the Blackfish to life! I wish him all the best in the future.

  20. He was amazing. He only appeared in 7 episodes, and that was enough to make him one of my favourites. I wasn’t even a fan of book!Blackfish until I saw his portrayal in “The Broken Man”.
    Clive showed us an aged warrior, tired of running from injustice and willing to die in the same place where he lived against those who dragged his family through the mud.
    The only criticism I would make regarding the BF in Season 6 is not showing his death.

    As long as I’m standing, the war is not over. This is my home. I was born in this castle and I’m ready to die in it. So you can either attack or try to starve us out. We have enough provisions for two years. Do you have two years, Kingslayer?

    Farewell, Clive. You’ll be missed ?

  21. Oh Blackfish Tully… Books or show I think one tends to be either a fan of The Blackfish or Edmure Tully but not both. Being a floppy fish supporter the BF always got on my nerves… And with Clive Russels portrayal it was just the same! I got where he was coming from perfectly – I didn’t agree with his worldview, but I got it 100%!

    So great job portraying a crusty, curmudgeonly, occasionally bullying but totally consistent blackfish. I just wish he’d had the courage to put family before a pile of rocks… But then if he had he wouldn’t be the blackfish. As Jaime said to Brienne “he’s more stubborn than you!” And that’s saying something…

  22. If we didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. I’m in denial.

    But I quite enjoyed Russell’s portrayal of the BF, especially when he was introduced in early S3. Thx for playing the game, CR!

  23. I was so glad when Littlefinger mentioned the Blackfish was alive. And even happier I got when Walder Frey confirmed it. That just says how much I came to like Clive Russell’s Brynden Tully in Season 3. And he was just as great in his couple scenes in Season 6. Pity he couldn’t have done more…

  24. Pigeon:
    I still think he got away. He’s the Blackfish.

    Thank you Clive Russell, for being such a likable curmudgeon and the Tully with guts. We’ll miss your wonderful stinkeye stares.

    Ser Brynden was not so much a minor character as a noted warrior and family oddball we only saw a little of. Jaime as a squire practically fawned all over him to hear him tell about his wars. He was a respected advisor and war leader to Robb. He was the beloved uncle who listened to the Tully girls when they needed a sympathetic ear.

    The castellans defying their besiegers is the best trash talking in the books, and Clive’s Blackfish did not disappoint. To me the Blackfish lives on as in the book, because Clive Russell’s portrayal was so powerful.

  25. The off screen death was fine. If they would have shown it as some legendary worriors last stand it would have felt like selmy2.0… Or if they depicted it realistically it would have been sadly underwhelming. As he pointed out he was an old man who was out of practice. Leaving it to the imagination allows the legend of the blackfish to remain intact in the audience minds.

  26. The Blackfish really should have taken up Brienne’s offer and left with her and Pod in the boat! However, one could see he was a man of honor who would fight probably knowing it would be his last.

    I’d say this much though… He was a great archer and knew after Edmure’s failed three attempts that his burning arrow would reach Hoster Tulley’s funeral boat 😉

    Kudos to Clive Russell who did a great job of portraying the Blackfish. I’ll miss that character…

  27. I remember Clive Russell from ‘Cracker’ and ‘Neverwhere’ ( where he was great in tandem with Hywel Bennett), he was a bit of a go-to hard man! He was also very good in ‘Spaced’ in more of a comedy role playing ” a massive wanker” 😀

    Has a huge list of credits in all kinds of drama and very much “I’ve seen him before” without being a household name.

    Very much enjoyed his portrayal of the Blackfish, and as he is happy with the off-screen death of the character I have zero qualms about it either.

  28. Shame Blackfish went out off screen but Clive Russell played his role magnificently. I would have been awesome to se im fight. His scenes with Jaime, Cat, Robb were among the best.

  29. I mentioned on another thread that in one version of “The Mayor of Casterbridge” Clive Russell played the sea-captain that Michael Henchard (the eponymous mayor played by Ciaran Hinds) sells his wife to (before he became a mayor). Jodhi May (Maggi the Frog) played Russell’s character’s daughter and David Bradley (Walder Frey) played a councillor. Well done Clive Russell.

  30. I love the character of Blackfish in the books and on the screen. Thank you Clive Russell for bringing him to life. Truly a memorable performance.

  31. thank you, clive russell. you were a great blackfish! he really should have left with brienne.

  32. Damn it, I still don’t want to accept that he’s really dead. There’s so much left to resolve in the Riverlands with the Freys and Lannisters holding Riverrun. They cannot end the story like that.

  33. ash: Russell first performed before an audience in 1960 on The Shari Lewis Show, ” Probably my favorite show as a kid. So I definitely know him!

    Let me guess: He played Lamb Chop?

  34. I loved Clive Russell as the BF. I was so happy when they were bringing him back this season. I am sad that we are not getting any more episodes with him

Comments are closed.