Features and Columns · TV

Game of Thrones: The Perfect Season 6 Roles for Ian McShane

By  · Published on August 3rd, 2015


Right at the onset of the weekend, it was announced that Deadwood star and eternal badass Ian McShane would be joining Game of Thrones for season 6. Even though everyone is excited by the mere idea that McShane will be traveling to Westeros next year, we still don’t have much of an idea who he’ll be playing.

His role is listed as unspecified.

I have my own theories as to why the Game of Thrones creative machine isn’t announcing the role. It probably has a lot to do with more casting announcements being on the horizon. It also could have something to do with my theory that they are very much trying to avoid spoiling major moments from George R.R. Martin’s upcoming book, “The Winds of Winter.” Because well, that book could very well be on bookshelves before a new season of Game of Thrones is streaming to your HBO Now account.

No matter the reason, McShane’s character remains a mystery. But that won’t stop us from making some educated guesses in the spirit of speculation. I miss aggressive speculation. It has me yearning to record more episodes of A Storm of Spoilers with my friends Joanna and Dave. For now, this will have to suffice. But first, a warning from our Lord of Spoilers, as we’ll be diving into some details from the existing books:

Let’s first take into consideration the kind of actor Ian McShane has been over the course of his career. He’s often played maniacs – see Deadwood – and he’s played infamous badasses such as Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean, and he’s played complicated, mean-spirited father figures, as he did in the Andy Samberg led Hot Rod. He’s got the grit to play a character whose outward appearance screams bad guy, but whose internal self is more nuanced. With that in mind, I’ve ranked the characters he could very well play:

1. Septon Meribald

The casting announcement for McShane cites his role as being small, but a key role in the season. This first perfectly with Septon Meribald, who is presumed to appear in season 6. The original casting announcement called him “gruff,” “no-nonsense” and “salt-of-the-earth.” In the books, Meribald is a warrior septon who wanders the Riverlands preaching the Faith of the Seven. We meet him as part of Brienne and Pod’s journey through the area. His appearance could be brief, but it would indicate that Brienne and Pod are heading back to the Riverlands, where encounters with Lady Stoneheart and potentially a journey to the Quiet Isle, where it’s believed that The Hound may have ended up as the Gravedigger. If season six ends up having a theme of resurrection, look for the return of more than one fan favorite, especially if we go gallivanting around the Riverlands.

2. Randyll Tarly

In the initial season 6 casting calls, there are placeholders for the rest of the Tarly brood. We know from the end of season 5 that Sam and Gilly are heading to Oldtown with a planned stop in Horn Hill to visit Sam’s homeland. This lines up with the books, in which Sam drops Gilly and her baby off at Horn Hill to keep her safe. This means we’re going to meet his father Randyll, his mother, at least one of his sisters and his more preferred, warrior-type brother. The part of Randyll is a juicy one, described as being a hard man in his 50s or 60s. He’s the iron-willed fellow who sent his fat, sensitive son Sam to The Wall because he deemed him an unworthy heir. The only thing that might prevent McShane from landing the role of Randyll is that the Lord of Horn Hill could turn out to be more than a small appearance, as he’s also the highest ranking general in the cause of House Tyrell. We don’t know where the story of Margaery and Lady Olenna is going, but if things come to blows with the Lannisters (or the Sparrows) in King’s Landing, it seems as if Randyll would be the kind of guy to lead the armies of The Reach. So not entirely a small part, as has been described for McShane. Nonetheless, having someone like Mr. McShane there to be adversarial with Samwell Tarly could be interesting.

3. Euron Greyjoy

If you’ve been reading/listening to spoiler talk all season (or if you’ve simply read the books), you know that a huge storyline about the Iron Islands has yet to be touched by the show. This includes the death of Balon Greyjoy (Theon’s father) and the Kingsmoot that follows in which the Iron Islanders decide who will be their next ruler. These sequences in the book are a little complex and ultimately seem a little bloated in the end, but they do introduce Balon’s fun siblings. It’s become speculation of record that Balon’s brothers Euron and Victarion will probably get efficiencied, morphing together to become a single brother. It’s all but confirmed by the initial casting calls that we’re getting a single seafaring warrior. Let’s assume that it’s Euron, whom I always pictured a little bit younger and more dashing. This is why McShane doesn’t fit, at least for me. However, he would fit right in with the grumpy Greyjoy brood, so we can’t rule it out. As well, I wouldn’t see this Greyjoy Brother To Be Named Later role as a brief one either, as they could very well send him after Daenerys and her dragons. That’s potentially a multi-season arc.

4. Howland Reed

There have been a number of locations for season 6 that have pointed to potential flashbacks – most likely in the form of Bran touching trees – one of which includes a tower that could stand in for The Tower of Joy, where Ned Stark found his dying sister following her abduction by Rhaegar Targaryen, something that was referenced several times in season 5. It is here where Ned made her a promise that is part of one of the greatest fan theories about Jon Snow’s parentage. In the books, one of the people present at The Tower of Joy was a young Howland Reed, who later fathered Bran’s buddies Jojen and Meera. A present day Howland could be a key figure in the story going forward, especially if Jon Snow’s parentage must be revealed to explain, perhaps, a mystical resurrection or greater significance for the recently slain Lord Commander. If you think about it, the only people who could have possible known who Jon’s parents were are dead or missing – this includes Ned Stark, his brother Benjen, and maybe Maester Aemon. Howland Reed would very much be in the know. And an appearance might be brief, but magical.

5. The Elder Brother

In keeping with the Septon Meribald storyline above, there’s also the role of the Elder Brother, whom Brienne and Pod meet when they travel to the Quiet Isle. He’s a brief, but memorable player. Although what’s interesting is that the purpose of the Elder Brother is to tell Brienne that Arya Stark was with The Hound, not Sansa as Brienne had assumed in the books. In the show, everything is more clear to Brienne, so this may all change should these two characters meet in the show.

There are plenty of other possibilities. There’s a new Northern Lord role that could be important in Sansa and Theon’s future, though it’s more likely to be one of the Manderly’s (where Rickon and Osha were headed). The Manderly’s are large, hulking Northern people. McShane fits in termperment, but not in bear-like size. And there’s the possibility that he could play someone in a Bran-flash. Perhaps a Targaryen king of old. Maybe even The Mad King. Plenty of interesting roles are on the table. Personally, I’d rather see him as Septon Meribald or the older Greyjoy brother. He’s the perfect match for a formerly fierce warrior whose wisdom will be useful to other characters.

No matter who he ends up playing, the presence of Ian McShane on Game of Thrones is going to be a good thing.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)