The living took on the hordes of dead Sunday night in an epic, bloody episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones titled “The Long Night” that will no doubt be debated intensely for weeks as the series prepares to wrap up its eighth and final season. Many fans from the country music world weighed in on Twitter, but one performer was closer to the action than all the rest: Chris Stapleton, who makes a brief cameo as a fallen Wildling-turned-White Walker outside Winterfell as Jon Snow tries to charge the Night King.
Stapleton, who considers himself a huge fan of the show, had his management reach out about the possibility of casting him in a bit part. Other musicians have made appearances in previous seasons, including the metal band Mastodon, Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Ros and, famously, pop singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.
“I was like, you know, I would gladly fly to wherever in the world just to be a small part and get to watch that show going down,” says Stapleton, who (along with his bass player J.T. Cure and tour manager) filmed with the crew in Northern Ireland. “They were gracious enough to let me come participate that way.”
Stapleton’s wife Morgane posted an Instagram video that pauses on the brief moment his bearded, undead visage shows up. “Episode 3. . . my wildling is a white walker,” she wrote.
As previous Game of Thrones episodes like “Hardhomme” have shown, the Night King’s recruitment tactics are pretty foolproof: kill indiscriminately, raise arms like Jesus, and presto! In “The Long Night,” he calmly reanimates legions of dead Unsullied and Wildlings, chillingly depicted by icy blue eyes popping open. Stapleton got some instruction from the directors on how to handle the moment of his transformation.
“They knew we weren’t actors,” he says, laughing. “So the direction was basically, we’re going to place you, and when we tell you to, open your eyes. And they trained us on how White Walkers are supposed to stand up and move when they’re first waking up. We had a crash course in that.”
And while things looked pretty grim for a big chunk of the episode’s run time — spoiler alert — darkness ultimately didn’t prevail this time around, thanks to Arya Stark’s ninja-like attack on the Night King. Which, considering the show’s staggeringly high mortality rate for beloved characters, seems almost unusual.
“I was betting that the most Game of Thrones thing that could happen would be that the White Walkers would win,” says Stapleton. “That was what I thought was going to happen and that’s off the table at this point. I don’t really know. Once again, they do a bang-up job of keeping you guessing as to what will happen. That’s why it’s the greatest television show certainly of modern times and possibly ever.”
Fortunately, a very living, very talented Stapleton will resume his day job this summer, when the All-American Road Show Tour kicks off a series of U.S. dates starting in June. Joining him on select dates of this leg of the tour will be Margo Price, the Marcus King Band, Brent Cobb and Brothers Osborne.