A character has to make quite an impression to be missing from a story for two full seasons and still be counted as a favorite after he returns – but when you have someone like Richard Dormer in the role, it’s not hard to imagine.
Last week, the body count was high after the grueling, epic battle at Winterfell between the living and the dead, and regrettably the leader of what remained of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Beric Dondarrion, was part of it. It was a not-entirely-unexpected death, to be sure, but it reminded us of Beric’s crucial role in the story, and of Dormer’s superb handling of a complex character who – despite his sporadic appearances throughout eight seasons – we cared deeply for.
If you had looked at Beric’s brief Season 1, Episode 6 appearance – when he’s portrayed by David Michael Scott – you would be forgiven for thinking that it was the last we’d see of the Lightning Lord. He’s charged by Ned Stark to capture and execute the Mountain, which certainly sounds like a death warrant (which it was, technically). However -as book fans knew he would – Beric resurfaces again, this time in Season 3, and we’re greeted by an entirely different person. This is no clean-shaven, clear-eyed youth accepting a mission of honor and sacrifice; this is a man who has stood toe-to-toe with the horrors of war and watched himself die more than once. And yet, he’s also a man who has never let those experiences make him bitter or vengeful.
Dormer brings this new Beric to life in a way that no other actor in the role could have, even though we only see him for a handful of episodes in Season 3 — his last appearance until the end of Season 6. By Dormer’s own admission, he’s been drawn to somewhat damaged characters throughout his career, from a small-town sheriff with a dark secret to Irish punk-rock legend Terri Hooley. Certainly, we could call Beric damaged as well — a man who’s died and been resurrected half a dozen times isn’t exactly in tip-top mental or emotional shape.
However, Dormer took this man who could have been played as cold and aloof and made him instead exude both confidence and compassion. He drew on his background in theater to make his interactions with others work on a number of levels — not only making us believe he was invested in the intimate nature of a conversation, but never failing to speak to his “larger” audience: the great war, the threat of evil, the fight against the enemies of R’hllor. Beric was unquestionably devout and given to proselytizing, but he was also non-judgemental toward the people who didn’t buy into the Red God, instead letting his own confidence and rock-solid faith guide him to the belief that they would eventually see the light (pun intended).
It was an attitude that certainly made people think twice about dismissing Beric out of hand – Sandor, although not a devout believer, at least came around to the possibility – and one that became crucial to the role that he found himself in as leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group that believed truly in the protection of the smallfolk. Beric and Melisandre had the same god, the same goals, the same beliefs — but Beric was out among the common people, seeing how both the literal war and the Great War would affect them, and his faith was simple and straightforward. Melisandre was at a much higher level, both literally and metaphorically, whispering in the ears of kings and more actively trying to untangle prophecy and meaning. Beric was known among the people; his wounds and scars were not unlike their own.
Dormer’s smiles were welcoming behind his thick beard and his voice, gravelly yet warm: a clear example of someone who’s been through so much and yet still believes so deeply. When Dormer spoke, we heard every wound he taken – every time he had been hung, stabbed and speared – and every reason he had for still keeping firmly to his faith.
In the end, Beric’s faith and his singular focus in trusting that the Lord of Light was bringing him back for a higher purpose resulted in saving the life of Arya Stark — what I thought was a beautiful callback to Beric’s original mission being handed down by her father. And although we all knew the chances were high that we would lose our Lightning Lord in last week’s battle, it struck me as strangely satisfying to know that Beric was heading into something so dangerous that would ultimately allow him the chance to do what he had earned: to rest.
“He’s died six times. He’s tired. He has been to the Darkness and seen there’s nothing there,” Dormer said in an interview with the BUILD Series in April of this year. “I think he’s literally going to run to the arms of Death. But he will do so if he thinks it’s a good enough sacrifice.”
Beric’s sacrifice was worth it, and Dormer showed us why and how in a way that no other actor in this role would have done. We’ll miss you, Beric.