On screen she’s a homicidal maniac. But as the world watched Cersei Lannister unleash devastating revenge on her enemies, the actress who plays the brooding “Game of Thrones” villain was in Greece displaying a far more compassionate side.
Lena Headey went to Lesvos, the island at the heart of Europe’s refugee crisis, and two migrant camps in northern Greece to visit refugees stranded by Europe’s closed-door policies.
On Friday, she told The Associated Press the trip had been life-changing.
Co-stars Maisie Williams and Liam Cunningham joined her on the trip organized by the US-based relief agency, the International Rescue Committee.
They had little to say about Season 7, still unconfirmed by US pay television channel HBO despite drawing a domestic audience of 8.9 million for the season finale last Sunday. But when asked about the refugees they met, they finished each other’s sentences.
More than a million migrants and refugees have traveled from the shores of Turkey to Greek islands since early 2015. Families crossed in dinghies and unsafe boats and continued to mainland Europe during the crisis, which triggered border closures across the continent. It also started an explosive political debate that emerged as a key issue in Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union, and is likely to play a role in upcoming elections in Germany and elsewhere.
Headey described Europe’s treatment of people fleeing war in Syria and other countries as “utterly ridiculous.” Here are some of the actors’ thoughts about the situation:
The British actress spoke with refugees who have been trapped in Greece for months.
“They just want a voice. That’s what they all said to each of us – ‘tell my story, tell my story’ – and that’s what were going to do,’” Headey said.
“It was a life-changing trip to see firsthand the enormity of the loss of humanity that’s at stake. These people can and want to contribute to the world. They are smart with education and skills and were not allowing them to. We just stop them living. It can’t continue.”
Refugees, she said, were being deliberately misrepresented as a financial burden and security threat.
“I’d like to just erase the complacency and fear and replace it with humanity,” she said. “You go to these camps, and people communicate with their hearts. They have nothing left. It’s a connection that we’ve lost in our complacent society. So it’s incredible moving, and uplifting, and inspiring, and horrifying. We need to re-find ourselves and not shut our doors.”
Dozens of refugee camps have sprung up across Greece this year, most set up by the army and assisted by aid agencies like the IRC.
Maisie Williams, who plays orphaned teenage noble-turned-assassin Arya Stark, was struck by her visit to Lesbos and a camp where dwellers tend to a small vegetable patch.
“They came up with the idea to give this fresh produce that they worked so hard to grow to the poorer families of Lesvos. These people have nothing, absolutely nothing, and they are still giving back. They don’t want to come (to Europe) to take from these other countries. They are just people.”
The 19-year-old native of Bristol, England, said she was concerned about the migration debate back home, where a surge of anti-immigrant hate crimes has been reported since the EU referendum.
“For me the scariest thing about leaving Europe is just the unknown,” she said. “The general consensus is just to shut the door and walk away, and that really disappoints me. The responsibility for us is to hear (refugees’) stories, bring them back and diminish this weird, false stigma around them.”
‘Appalling human beings’
The harshest criticism of Europe‘s policymakers came from Liam Cunningham, the bearded Irish actor popular for his portrayal of philosophical smuggler Davos Seaworth.
“There is a desire (by politicians) not to have these people here. They won’t come out and say it. They won’t be honest about it. So they do the old foot-dragging, bureaucratic foot-dragging. They want to make Europe undesirable to visit. That’s the intention,” the 55-year-old said.
“I’d love to grab those people by the back of the neck and take them to the camps and say: ‘Look what you’ve done.’ ... They are right-wing appalling human beings.”
He added: “There are (refugees) in these camps who are oncologists, judges, successful people who’ve had everything taken away from them ... I was angry before but when you meet these beautiful people who are our children, our brothers, our sisters and you see what’s been done to them. It’s shameful.”